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How to Find a Critique Partner (CP)

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.

13 Comments

  • I’ve had to join a bunch of different writing groups to find people who I can get valuable feedback from. I also trade chapters with several people, although it’s been very difficult to find people to do this on a regular basis & I’m always looking for more writers.

    As a side note, Michael, you wrote that whole blog without once mentioning what CP meant. I didn’t figure it out for a couple of paragraphs.

  • Jamie says:

    Fantastic analogy. I’m grateful I met mine through my publisher, but I’m still looking for more. You’re never in a position where you can’t learn something from someone.

  • Okay, all the life partner references in this one brings a little paranormal feel to the blog. I found my CP in a writers group 8 years ago. And while we don’t write in the same genre, I married her 3 years later. She’s my toughest editor (I wrote copy in an agency for 6 years), my biggest fan and my favorite writer in any genre.

    • Well, that actually violates my number one rule of Critique Partners, which is don’t hit on your CP. But in your case, we’ll make an exception since it worked out 🙂

  • This post explains so well why I am single.

    OTOH, my new CP and I traded FULLS tonight! THE SCANDAL!

    And, I have “One Night in Bangkok” stuck in my head. Off to listen to the Chess soundtrack. 🙂

    (This really was an excellent post. I was on Scribophile for a while – technically still am – and have one CP who carried over into “real life” from there, but she and I have too much of a mutual admiration society. I joined the FB group you mentioned so I can get second opinions.)

  • I’ve found great CPs in my friends, surprisingly. They say never use your friends as CPs because they’ll sugarcoat things. But my best friend Greg really “gets” the particular story I’m working on now, and he always has a ton of great ideas for how to lean it up and round out the characters. Friends are also far more reliable about getting back to me. I’ve done a stranger beta round before and half just flaked, because they had no connection to me and didn’t really care to help me that much.

    I do have writer CPs as well though, and I’ve found them over the years through WordPress and Livejournal. It seems organic that way, to befriend people first and really see if you’re on the same page. However, me and a total stranger just ran into each other on a PitchWars Facebook page yesterday and we’ve already swapped our entire manuscripts because we realized we were that similar! So, much like dating, you almost have to take your foot off the gas and coast, because putting yourself in a place where other writers are will let you bump into the ones who connect with you. I never had as much luck actively hunting for one.

    • I’m friends with all my CPs. When they say don’t use your friends, I think it more refers to non-writer friends. Writer friends — good ones — understand how important it is to *not* sugar coat things. The best CPs know what you need. Some days you need tough love. Some days you need someone to tell you that you’re great. Your CPs who are friends will know the difference.

    • Michelle – so funny that we both commented on this! 🙂

  • CHG says:

    It gets even harder to find a good critique partner since many Betas have decided they are too good to just read your MS and now charge for their “service” – last week I got an offer from a 15 year old who must be a studied editor from her price list 0.0

  • Brie Paddock says:

    Great post! It’s important to remember the bravery of putting yourself out there, over and over again. This was a good reminder for me.

  • Great post! You’re so right about the time being now. It’s rare to find so many writers gathered. A good CP is golden, and hard to find a good fit relative to pace of writing.

  • I saw the analogy and liked it: exchanging the 1st chapter is like a first date.

    No harm, no foul if you don’t mesh, but if you do, maybe send some more chapters.

    🙂

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I am a Soldier and a Science Fiction writer. Usually I write about Soldiers. Go figure. I'm represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency. If you love my blog and want to turn it into a blockbuster movie featuring Chris Hemsworth as me, you should definitely contact her.

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