Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Crit Partner 411

by Cat Woods

When writers talk betas and critters, they don’t mean fish and insects—though sometimes it feels as if critiquers just blow bubbles up our kiesters or try to get under our skin like a bad case of scabies.

So why bother? Because all writing needs a fresh set of eyes at various stages for various reasons. Which leads me to my point—betas are great, critters are fabu, but a complete team can make the difference between helping and hindering our writing efforts.

So what makes a good Crit Team? That, my fellow scribes, depends on you. A good Crit Team will motivate, support, lay down their lives for you and (gently) slap you in the face with a good dose of reality. Essentially, they are puzzle pieces who fill in the blank spots of our abilities.

How to Assemble a Crit Team:

DEFINE YOUR WEAKNESSES. Can’t spell to save your life? Got flat characters? Does your writing have more plot holes than a Minnesota tar road after the spring thaw? Description, grammar, dialogue, consistency? Name your downfall(s) and determine your biggest needs in terms of writing feedback.

CAST YOUR NET. Writers' conferences give individuals the opportunity to meet and assess critters face to face. Conferences off limits? Join an established and respected group in your genre (SCBWI, RWA, HNS) and get to know other members who share similar interests. This can be done on or offline. Hop on over to your library and see who else has inquired about a writing group. Newspaper ads can also work, as well as contacting your local arts council. You might be surprised what a little sleuthing can reveal.

Writers in your area fewer than June bugs in January? Join writing communities on the web. AgentQuery Connect is my go to, although I’ve heard that finding like-minded writers on blogs, twitter and facebook is effective as well.

INTERVIEW POTENTIALS. Make darn sure you know who you buddy-up with and what they have to offer. Not every aspiring writer—and potential crit buddy—makes a good critiquer. Some can’t keep to a deadline. Some want more than they plan to give. Some spell hangberger worser than you do. Others may impose their writing styles onto your work and get grumpy when you don’t follow their advice. Still more will let their green-eyed monster out of the box when red-lining your pages. And let’s not forget the back-patter who has more kind—and useless—words than your great grandma or the genre-challenged who just can’t understand why your chapter book MC doesn’t silently murder the bully in the middle of the night.

Other Tidbits You Might Want to Consider

Be up front about your needs and expectations. Discuss how things will work regarding swaps and what you’re looking for from each team member. Give your team a trial run. After the first swap, do you feel compatible? Like you gained anything useful? Like you had anything useful to give in return? If not, this is the perfect time to gracefully walk away and reel in another critter.

You get what you give. Be the kind of writing partner you expect from other Crit Team members. Do not over-extend yourself or partner with other members who have poor no-saying skills. If you want a heart-felt critique, give one first.

Be flexible. Understand that sometimes you may need to find a fill-in for certain projects or aspects of a project. If your Crit Team members do not have a crucial skill you need at a given time, don’t be afraid to reassess your needs and cast your net until you find someone who can.

Will a Critter really lay down their life for you? Tune in on Friday, June 3 to find out. Also, learn why you need a pair of big-girl panties before engaging in a critique swap and experience hands on what you can do with the feedback you receive. Even if it stinks worse than an unclean fish tank and makes you itch more than a head lice infestation.

How do you find crit partners? How do you assess whether you and your writing partners are compatible and the feedback effective? How, when and where do you swap? Spill the beans on what makes your crit team tick, or ask those niggling questions on the logistics.

We’ll all learn together.

To learn how to conduct yourself as part of a team, join Joyce Alton at Yesternight’s Voyage.

Need to gracefully break up with your crit partner? Nab some sample starters at Words from the Woods.


Christopher Hudson said...

My team is a party of one ... partly by choice and partly because I have so little to offer in return ... I may be the world's worst proofreader (which is hilarious, because that was my first job) and a maddeningly slow reader ... by the time I've finished critiquing a manuscript, the author has moved on to another career.

Matt Sinclair said...

Great crit partners are hugely important. I'd add that if your subject matter touches on something that's not entirely in your bailiwick, you might want to add a critter who tramples those fields often. Got a guy who hunts in your story but you don't know the difference between an AK-47 and a .44 caliber? Well, you might want to see if you know a reader who has deer heads hanging over their mantle. Also, I think it's ok to not have other writers on your team. A good reader isn't always a good writer. But they know what they like.

Cat Woods said...

LOL. You have humor and charm going for you, however.

You can try Ms. Napoli's bribe method. "Will hire reader for chocolate" should draw in some interest.

Cat Woods said...

Matt, well said. A good reader can be an outstanding critiquer by virtue of the sheer number of words they consume in a year.

Some of my best betas have been kids in my target audience. And if you want honesty, kids' eyes don't lie when they begin to glaze over!

Jemi Fraser said...

I totally lucked into a crit group when I really didn't even realize what that was. They've made me and my writing stronger & I hope I've helped them as much in return. They're golden!

Leslie Rose said...

Our critique group really meshed well. Everyone brings a different flavor of critical eye so I always feel my work goes through many filters. We trust each other, which is important when you are putting your creative self out on display.

catwoods said...

Jemi~ it's nice to find a gem--especially when you don't even realize what that may look like at the time. Glad it all worked out for you, as a great crit group can really make a difference.

Leslie~ I think you hit on a great topic regarding crit groups. Trust is essential and multi-faceted when talking about writing.

Thanks for the great commentary and another perspective on the subject.

Rebecca Kiel said...

This is a great post. Very thorough. I could not do it without my readers.

Jennifer Merritt said...

Cat, headlice and fish tanks - eww! Great post. Betas and ctritters are so important.

Cat Woods said...

Rebecca~ thanks for the comment. It's nice to hear from so many writers with great critique groups/partners/teams. They are such a great resource for us and one of the easiest ways to really learn our craft--besides writing, that is.

Best luck.

Cat Woods said...


Welcome to my world where nothing is mundane and everything is potential fodder!

Thanks for stopping by.

clarekirkpatrick said...

This is really helpful, thank you. I blogged about how confidence and critique recently, and it was eye-opening doing the research for it:

Going to link back to your post from my blog.