Being critique partners is a lot like establishing and maintaining other relationships. In fact, it's a lot like dating, when you think about it. Here are some Dos and Don'ts.
- Don't commit to marriage before the first date. Swapping full manuscripts when you hardly know someone? Maybe it'll be a match made in heaven ... or maybe you'll be stuck in a 300-page pickle. It's not a bad idea to get to know someone and their writing before making a big commitment. Try swapping a chapter or two. See how it goes.
- Do communicate your needs/expectations. Chances are, your new critique partner isn't a mind-reader. If you don't mention that you don't want grammar nits pointed out, you can't really complain if that's all your partner focuses on. Worried about plot holes and consistency? Character development? Historical authenticity? Say so.
- Don't tear your partner down. This can be a tricky one, especially in conjunction with the next. The point of a critique partner is to help us improve our work. But if it's all, "Fix this, fix that," we can get discouraged to the point of not moving forward. When something works well, be sure to let your partner know.
- Do be honest. In my opinion (well, all of this is my opinion), if all we want is cheerleading, there are other ways to get that. Critique partners need to do more for each other. That means pointing out when we feel there may be issues in the manuscript. Pretending problems aren't there won't make them go away.
- Don't feel locked in. If the relationship isn't working, you can walk away. There's nothing saying that great writer-friends will necessarily make great critique partners. Amicable break-ups are possible. It's okay to play the field until you find the right match.
- Do have an open relationship. Er, I guess I could mean this in a couple of ways. It can be good to have more than one critique partner—long- or short-term. Some might be more suited to certain manuscripts. Some you might rely on for their particular strengths (which likely match up with your weaknesses). But also, within a single relationship, be open and receptive to what your partner says. If a critique is a little hard to hear, step away for a bit, then come back to it. Your partner may be right or wrong ... or their feedback might trigger something entirely different in your mind that'll make your story better.
Another thing to remember is that the early days of critique partnering are like the early days of dating. You'll likely need to be on your best behavior as you get to know each other's styles of critiquing, figure out what works for you.
With any luck, someday you'll be like Mindy McGinnis and me. I'm pretty sure we're at the "old married couple" stage where we can pretty much say anything as bluntly as we'd like. We know the love is there, and we know our own weaknesses, so there's no need to tiptoe around. ;)
What tips do you have for making a great critique-partner connection?