Someone the other day told me that we all tout the importance of Critique Partners (CPs) (Which we do. We all do.) Then asked how you find them. And while I don’t really have the time to write a huge long post about it, I wanted to get something out now, because the time is right. You don’t have long. I mean, you have forever. But this specific opportunity is almost over.
You see, in a week or so, people are going to start assuming they still have a shot at this Pitch Wars thing or they don’t. They’ll be right, or they’ll be wrong, but either way, the community will start to shrink. And with it, your pool of possible CPs shrinks.
A lot of people have written about this. But I’m too lazy to find the links. I’m a writer. I write.
So how do you find this mythical CP? Well, a good CP is like a marriage. You’re going to partner forever and ever, and love each other and help each other and fight with each other and confide in each other. Or, it’s at least like a long term relationship, if that’s your thing. So how do you find a spouse? You don’t just walk up to somebody on the street and ask them to marry you. I mean, unless you’re in Bangkok and you’ve had half a bottle of bourbon. But that’s a different story for a different day.
You date. You go out with someone, you see if you hit it off, then you know, maybe you go out again. You hook up. It’s going well, you move in together. Who knows? Pick your metaphor. But first, you date. A CP date consists of exchanging pages. Not all your pages…you know…unless you’re that kind of person. I suppose you can put out 4 minutes into the first date. It’s a free country. But it may not lead to the long term relationship you’re looking for, you know? Swap a chapter. Critique for each other, and trade. See what you can offer each other.
Now here’s the key. Don’t be an asshat. Are you the best writer in the world? I’d suggest that if you were, you wouldn’t be here right now reading this. Have you ever seen the movies where the schlubby guy dates the super model? We’ve all seen those, right? Yeah, those aren’t real. When you start out, your CPs aren’t going to be perfect. Neither are you. So find something that works. Date a lot of people. I swapped pages with anyone I could find in my genre, when I was looking. Not all of them worked out. Some of them did. Date more.
Okay, Mike, that’s great. I date. But I don’t know where to find people. I ask on twitter, and nobody answers. How do you find a date in real life? Do you walk down the street, yelling ‘somebody, anybody, want to go out with me?’ If you do, let me know. That would be youtube gold. But you don’t. You go where the dates are. You go to bars. You go to parties. You go to church socials. Whatever your jam is, you go to where the people are that you want to date. And that’s where Pitch Wars comes in. There are communities that have sprung up around the contest where hopefuls go and congregate. Facebook groups, mostly. If you write Adult SF/F, like I do, there’s this one, here. I don’t know who runs it. I got the link from ReLynn Vaughn, who is one of the people who subbed to us in the contest. There are other groups as well. Ask around in the #PitchWars feed.
But there’s more. When you get to the group, interact. If you went to a bar, looking to meet somebody, but you just sat in the corner, that probably wouldn’t work out. Mingle. Put yourself out there. I know it’s hard. Believe it or not, I’m an introvert. Big time. Doesn’t seem like it, does it? That’s because I force myself to get out there. As a writer, you have to. Meet people, and go on dates. Trade chapters.
But Mike, I’ve tried all that! I go to the places and I interact with the people. I’ve even traded chapters. But it’s not working out.
Okay. I’m with you. That happens. So control what you can control. Some dates aren’t going to work, and that’s fine. Maybe it’s them. But you know…maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re not a good date. So be a better date. Work at it. When you give feedback, give the best feedback you can. Make yourself say something on every page. I don’t care what you say. Look, if you don’t know anything about anything when it comes to writing, you still know how you feel. So say that. Your Main Character made me not like her here. If you can, say why. But comment. Tell the person something.
Work to get better at it. Give the best feedback you can, and give better feedback every time. When you do that, people are going to start ask you for second dates. Because you know what? They want good feedback too. People crave it. If you give it, you will never be dateless. And here’s a secret. As you critique other people, you get better as a writer. Because you have to explain what they’re doing wrong, and to explain something, you start to know it better. And then it flows into your own work.
Focus on what you’re good at. When I came to Pitch Wars, I didn’t know very much about writing. I entered without any CPs, and without having sent my work to anybody. Spoiler alert: I didn’t get in. So I started swapping pages. I traded chapters with a lot of people, but I’m going to focus on Colleen Halverson, who is still my CP and all around writing confidante today. Colleen has a PhD in literature. I…I do not. But at the time, both of us were pretty new to the spec fiction writing game. Colleen knew a lot about writing (Duh. PhD.) I did not. But I could do one thing well. I wrote good action scenes. I’ve been in a few fights, and I kind of know how these things go, and it’s just been a strength of my writing since I started. Colleen had a book that had a ton of action scenes in them. So I helped her make her action scenes better, and she helped me…well, learn to write. It was painful, for both of us. It took a ton of work. But we were strong where the other one was weak.
We both had other CPs as well, too. And those people filled in gaps. Jessica Bloczynski is responsible for half the feels in my novel. Red Levine is the reason why I can describe things in just a few words. Becka Enzor is the reason why I haven’t gone on a three state rampage, destroying every implement of writing in my path. Like I said…we all have our strengths and weaknesses.
So do it. Put yourself out there. Find a group of like minded writers and find your tribe. Everyone has said it, throughout this entire Pitch Wars experience. You win if you get better. CPs are the way you get better.