I’ve worked solo, belonged to critique groups, attended workshops, and worked with critique partners. Some were good. Some were bad. And some are just downright awesome.
Over the years I’ve tried a number of critique groups and I’ve come to the conclusion they just don’t work for me. Just as too many cooks ruin the soup, too many critiques ruin a story. Plus, there’s some unwritten law of the universe that every single critique group (and/or workshop) must have at least one member who is a complete and total know-it-all jerk. This person either mistakenly believes that the point of a critique is to tear apart a manuscript, or, that their opinion is the “right” way of doing things. Bad feedback from someone like this can derail a writer’s motivation and damage their creative process.
Also, a lot of critique groups tend to do most of their work using the mathematical formula: for every negative remark you make, you should make two positive remarks. But here’s the thing: this leads to dishonest feedback if you think a manuscript has more wrong with it than right. What are you supposed to do? Lie? Say, “Your overall pace didn’t work for me, but hey, your characterization of character A, and the setting in the graveyard scene were great.” When really what you’re thinking is that the pace sucked, but at least the character and the setting didn’t make you want to gouge your eyeballs out.
For those reasons and the fact I find it hard to keep track of more than three or four stories (including my own) I’ve decided critique partners are the best choice for me.
I can tell you from experience that it can be a challenge to find a good critique partner. The first time you exchange work is like a first date. (We all know how some of them can turn out!) I’ve been through my share of not-so-great critique partners (which isn’t to say the fault was with them, but rather with “us”) but for the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to have two AWESOME partners.
Interestingly, I can share the same piece with both women and they rarely point out the same issues with my work (if they do, I KNOW I’ve got to fix it ASAP). They each have different strengths, which is why I learn so much from them. (Oh, and neither writes the same genre as I do, which I know some people consider to be a detriment, but I think it’s a huge advantage.)
Here’s why I think my relationship works with each:
1) We’re a GOOD FIT in terms of personalities. I like being able to laugh with my crit partners. Just last week when I voiced my frustration with the publishing field, one of these fantastic ladies said, “I know there’s an issue with the real world right now….” It’s had me chuckling ever since.
2) We’re reliable. We don’t leave each other waiting for feedback for weeks or months at a time.
3) We’re invested in helping each other improve, rather than trying to tear each other down.
4) We know what we want from each other. (It’s important to discuss this up front. Tell potential critters what you’re looking for: overall impression, help with typos/grammar, plot, characterization, structure.)
5) We don’t take offense if the other person doesn’t take our advice. (Well, okay, there’s one story I really, really, REALLY want one of my crit partners to finish (the synopsis and sample chapters ROCKED) and I’m kinda miffed I haven’t gotten to read the whole book yet, but for the most part I don’t mind that they ignore my advice.) After all, feedback is just an opinion.
6) We’re honest and encouraging. (If I say I like something, it’s not because I’m trying to jack up my ratio of positive comments. It means I actually like it.)
What about you? Do you prefer to work alone or do you rely on the feedback of others? Have you had rough experiences receiving critiques? Is there someone you can always rely on to give you outstanding feedback? What traits do you think a critique partner should possess?
And….do you believe in the two positive remarks for every negative equation?