Therese here. Today’s guest is author Adrienne Giordano, whose debut romantic suspense novel, Man Law, releases tomorrow from Carina Press. (Her second book, A Just Deception, will be available in September.) Adrienne is also the co-founder of the popular Romance University blog, which is “[d]edicated to helping writers establish and advance their careers, introducing readers to a variety of authors, and delving into the ever-inscrutable male mind.” I’m thrilled Adrienne is here today to talk about dangerous critique partners. Enjoy!
Five Reasons Your Critique Partner May Be Toxic
I’ve often compared finding a good critique partner to finding a spouse. There may be plenty of first, maybe even second dates, but then the novelty wears off and you’re back to the hunt. And rightly so. You wouldn’t enter into a marriage (I hope!) with the attitude that you could always get divorced if it didn’t work out. For me, entering into a critique relationship with that attitude can be just as emotionally taxing.
Over the years, I’ve been through a few critique partners. Well, maybe more than a few, but critique dating takes time and a whole lot of patience. The one thing I can say about every critique partner I’ve had is I learned something from them. The lessons may have been along the lines of yeah-I’d-never-say-that-to-someone, but I walked away garnering something from the relationship.
After years of searching and finally (finally!) grabbing on to fabulous critique partners, there are five things I know for sure can be toxic to the relationship.
What are those five things you ask?
1. Your critique partner is unresponsive.
As someone who writes on very tight deadlines, I’m lucky to have peeps who turn my pages around in a relatively short amount of time. Just yesterday I wrote a scene and needed a fast turnaround. I fired it off to two of my crit partners and within the hour I had it back. I don’t expect that kind of response every time because that would be unreasonable, but these ladies knew I was on deadline. The time will come when I need to return the favor, and I will happily do so because they did it for me. That’s the beauty of a solid critique relationship. As a side note, we all have an agreement if we can’t turn pages around fast, we can be honest about it. No harm, no foul.
Open communication keeps the relationship honest and healthy.
Trouble begins when you have a critique partner who doesn’t communicate with you. Do you send him/her pages and never get a response? Are you then expected to turn their work around in a timely manner? If you aren’t getting as much out of the relationship as you are giving, there’s a problem.
2. Your critique partner talks negatively to others about your work.
I’ll make this one quick. If this is happening to you, don’t just run from this person, run screaming. No one has the right to tear down your work. Not to you. Not to anyone. This, in my opinion, is an absolute deal breaker. The critique relationship is a sacred thing and you don’t need someone you trust bad mouthing your work.
Two words. Run. Screaming.
3. Your critique partner’s comments paralyze your writing.
Have you had this happen? Your CP gives you feedback that is so harsh it confuses and hurts you to the point where you are physically unable to write? I had it happen once when I was part of a large critique group. One person’s critique was so nasty and degrading I couldn’t write a single word for three days. From that point on, I never read that person’s comments.
Harsh? Maybe. After all, this person took the time to review my work, and I was thankful for that, but no one has the right to be so malicious that they leave a writer unable to move forward. I always thanked the person for taking the time to review my work, but I gave myself permission to not read the comments. I simply could not risk destroying my confidence because the individual didn’t like my voice. As writers, we are allowed to shield ourselves from potentially crippling situations.
This is something that seems harmless, but if your critique partner is harboring resentment because you didn’t do everything he/she suggested, you’ve got problems. This is your work. It has your name on it. You get to protect that work in the way you see fit. As long as you’re gracious and are reciprocating in the relationship, you should not be made to feel bad about not following every bit of advice. Whenever I critique, I always like to say “I hope my suggestions help. Use what you can and disregard the rest.” That, for me, tells my partners that I won’t be offended if they don’t agree with something I’ve said. I, in turn, receive similar messages from them. It goes back to open communication. It’s understood that we all won’t follow every single morsel of advice. And that’s okay.
5. Your critique partner only offers carb-free poop sandwiches.
Okay, so maybe poop wasn’t the word I was thinking, but you know how that goes. J If you know me at all, you know what word I was thinking!
What is a carb-free poop sandwich? Well, if you’ve ever tried to eat your favorite sandwich without the bread, you know it’s just not the same. What’s great about your favorite sandwich is you get a nice fresh slice of bread, then you have all the middle stuff (I’m a burger girl myself) with all your lettuce, tomato and condiments and then another nice slice of bread. Overall, it’s a pleasurable experience.
When you get a poop sandwich, you get the nice bread all on the top and bottom, but the middle is—well—poop. If that sandwich is carb-free?
You’re sunk because you’re not even getting the nice bread you love so much.
What does this mean in critiquing terms? In a healthy critique relationship you’ll get some comments that tell you all the things you did right. Think of that as the nice bread. Those nice comments might be wrapped around all the things you did wrong. That’s not so bad because we need to know what’s not working so we can fix it. It helps us grow as writers.
When you get a carb-free poop sandwich, you get none of what you did right. Carb-free means your critique partner has told you all the things he/she doesn’t like, but hasn’t balanced it with things you did well. I truly believe we need both. Hearing what we did right lets us know we connected with that person using a certain technique or style and we should do more of it. If we don’t receive that feedback, we can only make assumptions. Assumptions can get us into trouble.
How about you? What experiences, good or bad, have you had re: critique?