Wednesday, September 9, 2015

All Critique Partners Are Not Created Equal

I wrote, just recently, about the need for authors having outside assistance with their writing. Obviously one of the best approaches an author can take is to rally together a few other authors and create a critique group. You now have a network you can send those rough drafts to, a group you can commiserate with when you get those rejection letters, and on weekends, a social group to drink with (OK maybe not but you get the idea).

Before you dive into this, I want you to really think this through. As the title of this post suggests, all critique partners are NOT created equal. In fact, I have seen a lot of authors ruined, or their writing completely sent off track by bad critique groups. It isn't that these groups are out to ruin other authors, and these are not cases where we hear of critique partners "stealing" other authors writing. This is simply wasted time and bad advice.

Consider first the experience level of the people in the group. If all the members of your group are beginners and you are all trying to figure things out together, then you end up with a case of the blind leading the blind. This is certainly not going to help you. If you don't know what goes into a synopsis, asking others who are in the same boat with you will certainly not get you anything.

This also goes for things such as grammar, structure, plotting and so forth. I don't care if the other authors have "good intentions" simply relying on your source books to get the advice is not going to help. You need people who understand how to write.

There is a leadership model I use a lot when talking about cooperative learning situations. This comes from the Scouting program called WOODBADGE. The competency is KNOWING AND USING THE RESOURCES OF THE GROUP. In the case of critique groups or critique partners, before you start committing to working together, take the time to assess what each group brings to the table. Find a well rounded group that can help out everyone. I would also add that even if your best friend wants to work together, don't commit yet. Maybe this is not one of those situations where you want to mix business with pleasure. Keep the friendship and find someone else.

Now we come to the aspect of the social side of critique groups. This is a WORKING group. Yes, you can have fun together, and yes, you can certainly have snacks, drinks and so forth when you are working, but the focus has to be on work. If you block out one day a month to get together for critiques, and you leave with nothing accomplished other than a full stomach and a pile of new gossip, this is not worth it! If your group or the person you are looking at for a critique partner is more of a social butterfly, skip this person or group and move on.

Finally, because this is a professional working group, you have to establish the rules for your critique group. This can include things such as when manuscripts will be submitted for critiques, how much time each person gets to provide feedback, how it is to be sent (email, snail mail, etc.). Now here is the thing. If the person you are looking at for a critique partner has terrible follow through. In other words, this person will always have a personal problem, or something is always coming up, or they think on time is an hour late, then skip on this person.

There are a lot of people who really do want to help you with your writing. Keep them around for that positive feedback, but when you need someone to really help you, take the time to shop around. You may end up finding that, for a while, you are on your own. That's ok. Getting the bad advice will certainly send you in the wrong direction and you don't want that.

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