“I’d like to have a critique partner, but . . .”
Have you, at some point in your writing journey, said something like that? I think many of us have, although we’d have different ways to end the sentence.
But. It’s a little word with a lot of impact.
In a sentence like the one above, the words that follow but often precede something that could be defined as a challenge, an obstacle, or—dare I say it?—an excuse.
OK, you might not be guilty of offering excuses for why you hesitated to seek a critique partner, but I was. Of course, I put a positive spin on things and referred to my excuses as reasons. The truth is—despite what I called them—they held me back.
I like the definition of hurdles in my Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “an artificial barrier over which racers must leap.” Three of the words in the definition caught my eye.
Artificial means man-made, which is fitting because oftentimes the hurdles that kept me from pursing a partnership early in my journey were of my own making.
I see the words “must leap” as important. We must leap if we’re to move beyond thinking about a critique partnership to taking the steps necessary to form one. If we jump or spring over a hurdle, we’ll reach new heights.
The definition says “must leap,” not might leap, could leap, or even will leap. There is a feeling of being compelled in the words that seems fitting. Anytime I’ve been to a track where a hurdle has been left out, invariably someone will attempt to bound over it. The very presence of a hurdle begs people to surmount it.
So, if we can view the obstacles that have stood in our way of seeking a CP as hurdles of our own making that beg to be overcome, I believe we can find what it takes to do just that.
The standard number of hurdles in a race is ten, the number of concerns in connection with forming critique partnerships that visitors have left in comments this week. I’ll list them, in no special order, along with my thoughts on how we can conquer each one. However, I don’t have all the answers and can use your help. I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas of how to handle these hurdles.
“I’d like to have a critique partner, but . . .”
Hurdle #1 – I’m scared to show my work to others. — It may help to know that most of us feel the same way. Sharing our stories involves taking a risk. One way to minimize this is to arrange for a trial period and agree to send a small portion of your story, perhaps just a chapter at first. If you’ve entered any contests, you’ve probably sent at least that much to be read by others. And you survived. Try telling yourself that since you did it once, you could do it again.
Another way to deal with this fear is to remember that other writers experience many of the same feelings we do. They may be just as afraid to show us their work as we are for them to see ours.
A third way to battle this fear is with truth. If we want to be published, we’re going to be putting our work out there for the world to see once we have a contract. Sending our work to a CP is good practice.
Hurdle #2 – I don’t have the time. — We make time for what’s important to us. I’ve interviewed close to 200 novelists on this blog, and I’ve yet to have one say she or he has time to kill. Without exception, they struggle to find time to write and tend to their other writing-related activities. Some have children at home, work full-time, are dealing with aging parents . . . and the list goes on. In spite of the challenges they face, they make their writing a priority—and they complete stories.
One way to fit reading for a CP into our schedule is to eliminate something else. One of my guests gave up TV in order to have time for her writing-related activities. Several of my writer pals choose to start their day earlier, giving up some sleep. Others limit their time online.
If getting feedback on our work is important to us, we can carve out time to read for a CP. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.
Hurdle #3 – I’m concerned she won’t like my work. — This is a valid concern because tastes vary. My suggestion is to have a trial period during which either partner can decide things aren’t working for her and end the proposed partnership—with no questions asked. This last part is important. This is how a potential CP can bow out gracefully. If someone doesn’t like your work, she can simply say, “Thanks for giving this a go, but it’s not working for me.” Because you haven’t invested much time and aren’t too emotionally involved yet, the parting can be amicable.
Hurdle #4 – I’m a macro reader, but I need a micro reader. — This issue can be addressed when we begin discussing the possibility of forming a critique partnership with someone. It’s important for us to be clear about what we’re offering and what we’re seeking. My Dream Team consists of a macro reader and a micro reader. However, I’m far better at providing a detailed edit than I am a big picture read.
When I approach a writer to talk about being CPs, I tell her upfront what type of read I can offer as well as what type I’m looking for. Since I believe it’s important to have both reads, others may feel the same way. Thus, there are sure to be writers looking for the type of read that is their strength, too, as well as those seeking a CP who offers the type of read that isn’t their forte.
Hurdle #5 – I’m afraid I won’t get honest feedback. — In the early stages of a critique partnership, I’ve seen a tendency for writers to feel hesitant to offer a tough read. They’re afraid of being too honest and potentially hurtful. My thoughts on this are that trust develops over time. This is why I advocate beginning a CP search by starting with those whom we already know. If we have a relationship established, we’ve already begun to build trust. This could make giving and receiving honest feedback easier than if we’re exchanging work with a writer we just met.
Another suggestion is to use the trial period to model the type of read we’d like to receive. We can prepare a potential CP, letting her know that we want to help as much as possible, which means we offer an honest read. If she agrees to the trial knowing that, we can then edit with the level of honesty we’d like to receive. If she’s uncomfortable with the feedback and we’ve agreed that either party can terminate the trial without stating a reason, she could do so. If we find that her read isn’t what we’re after, we’re free to do the same. Thus, by making use of a trial period, we enable ourselves to be more honest in our editing.
Hurdle #6 – I only want someone in my sub-genre. — Since I’m a firm believer in clearly stating what we want from a CP relationship during the formative stages, we can simply state that we’re seeking a CP who writes in our sub-genre. If a potential CP doesn’t, you can choose not to pursue a partnership.
If we know we want someone in our sub-genre, we can bear that in mind as we communicate with our writing buddies. We can take note of what others write when we read blog posts, writer and author interviews, messages on our loops, etc. When we discover a writer pal who writes what we do and whom we think might make a good CP, we can contact her.
Hurdle #7 – I’m afraid there could be an imbalance. — If this is a concern for you, I advocate being clear about your expectations in the formative stages. If having an equal exchange is something you want, be sure to state that.
Having read for several writers over the past two years, I think it’s important to note that there is the likelihood of an imbalance. Outside influences can come into play in a positive way, one that can generate a writer’s need for a quick read. When one of my CPs receives a request or is under deadline to get material to her agent or editor, I will do all I can to help her get her manuscript ready to go—even if this means setting aside my work for a time. I’ve had a CP drop everything for me as well, and her willingness to do so helped me get an offer of representation from my Dream Agent.
Another factor that could lead to an imbalance is that we write at different speeds. Some writers work outside the home and won’t be able to spend as much time writing as those who write full-time. Story lengths vary, which will affect the number of manuscripts each writer produces.
Hurdle #8 – I could have trouble meeting deadlines. — I think this could be said of all of us. Our schedules are full. Life intervenes. Deadlines loom, forcing us to put some things aside. My solution is to keep the lines of communication with your CP open. If you are hit with an unexpected bump in your path and foresee that you won’t be able to complete a read by the time you’d agreed upon, let your CP know as soon as you become aware of the possibility. Since she’s likely had the same thing happen to her at times, she will probably be understanding and sympathetic. Your heads up will allow her to make alternate plans.
Hurdle #9 – I’m afraid I might end up writing to please a CP. — I can relate to this concern because I’m a people pleaser. At one point in my writing journey, I ran an idea by a writing partner. When it didn’t resonate with her, I was tempted to make a plot change so she’d be happier with my story. I stewed for days, and finally I decided that I wanted to be true to my vision.
For people pleasers like me, the temptation to write a story our CPs will like can be great. However, reminding ourselves that a CP’s suggestions are just that can help.
Another way I combat my eagerness to produce a story that will make a CP sing my praises is to remember that no two stories are the same. I read multiple stories for one writing partner, and, although they are all great, I had a clear favorite. This happens with published authors, so it’s bound to happen with our CPs as well.
If our desire to please a CP stems from the fact that she really doesn’t like—or “get”—our writing style or our Voice, this could be a clear indication that we aren’t well matched and that it could be time to end the partnership. Again, my counsel would be to make use of a trial period at the outset so that taking this step is less likely to cause hurt feelings.
Hurdle #10 – I’m shy, and approaching others would be hard for me. — I’m a charter member of the Shy Writers Club and a self-professed introvert, so I empathize with those who find approaching potential CPs difficult. When I prepared to contact one of my writer friends to discuss the possibility of forming a critique partnership, my knees turned to castanets and my mouth turned to cotton. My head was filled with voices, and they weren’t the welcome ones of my characters. These were pesky voices, which mocked me and told me to play it safe.
I didn’t listen to the voices. Instead, I talked back to them. I used a phrase from my wise husband. When I told him about my doubts, he said, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Well, that was easy to answer. She could say no. I could deal with that. After all, I’d be no worse off than I’d been before. But, she just might say yes. If I didn’t ask, I’d never know and might miss out on a great opportunity.
• • • • •
Earlier this week, I shared some ideas for establishing a critique partnership. Today, I gave a few suggestions on how to overcome hurdles we may encounter as we attempt to do so. I haven’t dealt with all of these hurdles myself, so I have limited information to offer. However, my wonderful visitors have come to my rescue, mentioning more hurdles and ways for overcoming hurdles in their comments. Be sure to check them out for additional information.
Tomorrow, the focus shifts to the actual critiquing. Join me then to learn my Feedback Format. If you return on Saturday to wrap up Critique Week, you will learn how I use a Style Sheet to help me perform my critiques.
• • • • •
I wanna know . . .
Have you encountered any of these hurdles in your attempt to find a CP? If so, which ones? How did you deal with them?
Do you have suggestions for dealing with these hurdles that could benefit other writers seeking a CP? If so, please share them so we can learn from you.
Double the Fun Drawing!
In honor of my blog’s second birthday, I’m giving away two prizes a day during my Critique Week, one each to two winners. To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this post by midnight Pacific Time and leave your email address when prompted. (This way you don’t have to add it to your comment.)
I’ll hold the drawing the following day, post the winners’ names here, and contact them via email to get a mailing address (which I won’t share with anyone or add to any mailing lists.)
Congratulations to Susan Mason, winner of the ceramic tile plaque.
Congratulations to Lisa Jordan, winner of the set of cat note cards.
Note: Offer void where prohibited. Odds of winning vary depending on number of entries.
And here are today’s prizes: