Overcoming Hurdles in Critique Partnerships

“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.

These days, I’m working to have a more positive outlook on life, including my writing life. Instead of reasons, I’m going to call the words that would complete the sentence hurdles.

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.

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“I’d like to have a critique partner, but . . .”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And here are today’s prizes:

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Ceramic tile plaque that reads: "Think Big. If that doesn't work . . . Think Bigger!"

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Set of 16 cat note cards

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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21 Responses to Overcoming Hurdles in Critique Partnerships

  1. Lisa Jordan says:

    Another great post! I’m loving your posts this week on CPs.

    I’ve been in a variety of crit groups through the years–some have worked and some havent. However, I learned something new from each one of them.

    I don’t post rough draft work to my groups. I write my rough draft, and then post chapters as I get them revised. Once I get crits back from my group, I do another round of revisions, and then submit the book for a final read through.

    Initially, it is hard to submit to a new group because you’re not sure of expectations, but it gives you good practice of having others read and comment on your work. If a writer is seeking publication, editors, agents, and readers will be reading and commenting on their work, so a crit group is good place to start.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Lisa,

      I like your positive take on critique groups. Viewing each partnership as having value and offering us new things to learn is a great approach.

      You bring up a great point with regard to what to submit for critique. Like you, I send my work to my CPs after I’ve performed a self-edit. I respect the fact that they have limited time, so I don’t ask them to wade through my drafty versions. I don’t want them to get distracted by minor issues I can easily fix; I want them to focus on the story.

  2. Susan Mason says:

    Hi Keli,

    One of my biggest hurdles to overcome was confidence in myself as someone knowledgeable enough to offer valid opinion.

    When I was a very new writer and asked to judge a contest, I did not feel qualified to do it. “Who am I to give criticism when I’m still learning?” I thought.

    But as time went on and I learned so much more about the craft, I attempted to judge some contests. Luckily our own Toronto contest gives its judges a mini on-line course in judging, going over in detail each point on the scoresheet. Once I started judging, I gained a lot of confidence and now feel I do have something of value to offer! And I always try to give as much positive feedback as negative, something I appreciated when I got comments on my own work. I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes.

    This really helped me in being a good critque partner! To all those shy writers, it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone! Especially on line – it’s easier to be brave! You won’t regret it.

    Cheers,
    Sue

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sue,

      Thank you for your comment! You added such helpful information to the post that I’ve updated it to let visitors know great ideas await them here in the comments section.

      Lack of confidence in our ability to offer helpful feedback is definitely a hurdle I encountered. Your ideas for overcoming it are great. Studying craft, taking courses, and attending workshops will help us grow in our knowledge.

      Serving as a contest judge will help us learn to offer constructive feedback. Like you, I strive to give a contest entrant a balance of compliments and suggestions for possible improvements, which is my goal in my critique partnerships as well.

  3. I am loving this entire week. I have been doing a trial run with a new CP and so far we seem to be in sinc … Your suggestions as to how to overcome our basic fears are helping me go to the next “hurtle.”

    Thanks again 🙂

  4. Sherrinda says:

    This is a great post, Keli. I tend to not think I could be a good crit partner. I’m still so new, I don’t believe I have the experience to be of much help. But I have a partner now and find that I can “see” things that could improve. So, I’m gaining confidence and hopefully can be of help. It’s a learning experience and I am loving it.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sherrinda,

      My dear friend, please don’t sell yourself short. You are a talented writer. I realize you don’t have years of experience, but you have a great deal to offer. I’m sure your CP would readily agree. May you continue to gain confidence.

      And, just so’s ya know, if my first story had been half as good as yours is, I’d have been pleased.

  5. Keli,

    You do know those hurdles, and I take inspiration from your words on overcoming them. Here’s another one: I’m a flaky writer, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t have enough to show anyone. In other words, I get enthused about an idea, write, then something (life) causes me to delay. By the time I get back to it, I’m excited about another idea; and so the cycle continues. with folders of ideas but nothing completed.

    So, now that I think about it, if I had a CP, I would have to stick with a story line. But then, many of those other hurdles keep me procrastinating. Which is why I’m so excited about your topic and that book. I want to be the best I can be when I offer to critique.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Julie,

      I love how you touch on an important point, one I didn’t think to mention. Having a CP can be a wonderful motivator. One of my CPs will gently nudge me at times, asking me how my writing is going and when I expect to have something for her to read. I appreciate that little push.

      And now for a dose of truth. Take a deep breath, Julie. OK, are you ready? Here goes . . .

      Perfectionism can be a hurdle, too. Since I’m a recovering perfectionist, I understand the desire to “be the best I can be” before I submit my work. However, I realized recently that I have to learn to let go.

      The very reason for having a CP is to help one another improve our stories and our craft. My CPs don’t expect perfection. My agent doesn’t either. And my editor, when I have one, won’t.

      Revision is part of the process for all writers, published and unpublished. Guess who told me this? My agent Rachelle Gardner did when she called me to discuss the Revision Notes she’d prepared for me.

      Phew! The hard part is over. And you did so well. I didn’t even hear you moan or groan.

      Now for some fun info. Treasure the fact that you have so many ideas vying for your attention. That proves you’re a natural storyteller. What a gift!

      Perhaps you could quickly jot down some major points when a story comes to you and return to your wip, knowing the other tale is ready and waiting to be told–in its time.

      And the fact that you’re able to move from one project to another will serve you well when you sell. Published authors often have to work on three books at once: editing one that’s already been submitted, completing their wip, and planning their next one. You’ll be a natural. 🙂

  6. Aw thanks, Keli! I didn’t think of my hopping around as good—just as an inability to focus. I’m sure that if ADD or ADHD had been around when I was young, I would have been labeled. Thank you for letting me see it in that light.

    And you’re right about the perfectionism. I took Margie Lawson’s Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors in January and have been working on that aspect (among others). Your two paragraphs starting with “The very reason” and ending with “prepared for me” were exactly what I needed to hear.

  7. Sherrinda says:

    Thanks, Keli. You are always so encouraging. I am getting better. I think, after reading your comments to Julie, I tend toward that perfectionism issue. I either work on those first few chapters over and over, or I know there’s so much work in the rest of the story, I don’t want to even touch it. I think it’s hopeless. (I don’t think that anymore, but it is hard to force myself through these edits!lol)

    Perfection is unattainable. Like trying to be holy, we miss the mark each and every day. We just do the best we can, and submit to our CP and let them help us with those pesky imperfections.

    I just love this series Keli. You need to list them on your blog under a tab For The Writer or Writer Resources. These posts are great tools.

    • “I either work on those first few chapters over and over, or I know there’s so much work in the rest of the story, I don’t want to even touch it. I think it’s hopeless.”

      OMGosh! You said it Sherrinda!!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sherrinda,

      I suppose it’s comforting to know I’m not the only writer struggling to overcome perfectionism. Sounds like another support group is in order: Recovering Perfectionists United.

      I like your idea of referencing these posts under a special page tab. Will do.

  8. Sherrinda says:

    LOL…Julie, are you my long-lost twin? We seem to be quite similar in our writing woes. 🙂

    • lCould be! LOL
      That’s why I’m a great starter, but not a finisher.
      And Keli, I agree with Sherrinda. These posts, including your insightful tips in the comments need to go under Writer Resources.

      • Keli Gwyn says:

        Julie (and Sherrinda),

        Thanks for the suggestion to add a new page to the site. I did. Now visitors can click on the “Critique Partnerships: Tip and Techniques” tab above the blog header, which will take them to a page with clickable links to these Critique Week posts.

  9. Sherrinda says:

    Looks GREAT, Keli! It is a great tool to have that tab there.

  10. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to all the visitors for such great input on a tough subject.

    I held the drawing. The winner of the ceramic plaque is Susan Mason. The winner of the cat note cards is Lisa Jordan.

    Congrats, Sue and Lisa. I’ll be in touch.

  11. Tonya says:

    I have encountered a few of those hurdles with out the search of a CP! 1, 3, 5, and 8 seem to be the main ones. I’ve always been a little reluctant to show my work to “new” people. I’m overcoming that by realizing if I ever want to make it in the writing world…it has to be seen.
    I’m overcoming most hurdles these days, one day at a time, one prayer at a time.
    Another great read – thank you.
    P.S. Do you belong to My Book Therapy? I saw Lisa Jordan had won a gift and she is on MBT. It is a great place. We’ve had a blast over there writing for Nanowrimo this past month.

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