I’ve been blessed with three wonderful critique partners: Syd, Ellie, and Pat. I’ve been blessed with several fantastic test-readers: Jenny, Steph, Marcy, Vannah, Vicki, Elyssa, Jill, Kim, and Eric. I also have many friends and family who generously agreed to read my first novel. In my opinion, the difference between a TR and a CP is somewhat like the difference between a one-way street and a four-lane highway.
Let me explain. CPs have a partnership—I critique their novels and they critique mine. If I send a CP an email, approximately half the time it’s about writing (one lane), and the other half is about personal stuff (the second lane). If I receive a CP’s email, it’s the same fifty/fifty situation (two lanes). Thus, the partnership is built like a four-lane highway. And when my car breaks down at the side of the road, a CP will make an illegal U-turn to come help me.
TRs are more of a one-way street. I throw the book at them, and they read it with no hope of anything in return. I can’t critique their novels because they haven’t given me any to read—yet. I’m still holding out hope! In the meantime, they drive down the one-way street of my story and offer fabulous feedback. Vannah and Vicki are close to being CPs though; I imagine they’ll reach the highway soon.
Don’t feel obligated to find three CPs and nine TRs; that’s not your assignment. But I would recommend finding at least one CP if you haven’t already. If I had to choose only one CP, I would choose Syd. Not because she’s superior, but because she’s the most like me. Syd is my twin in so many ways.
You’ve probably heard the advice, “Write for yourself,” or “Write a story you love to read.” Good advice except for one flaw: I’m biased about my stories. I can try to look at my manuscript with a critical eye, but I’ll never be completely objective. I’m too involved, too connected—parts of my heart and soul reside in that story. The next best thing to writing for yourself is writing for a CP. In the book ON WRITING, Stephen King says, “I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader.” His ideal reader is his wife, Tabitha. Later he states, “… she’s the one I write for, the one I want to wow.”
Syd is my ideal reader. If I wow her, then all that time writing was more than worth it. If I’m doomed to never be published, I’ll still be content to keep writing stories for Syd. Sunday I talked to her on the phone. It was the first time we’d chatted since … I don’t even know when. Too long ago. We’ve both been busy with real life stuff, and I haven’t sent her anything to critique since last year.
We caught up on all our personal life issues, and then I mentioned how I was struggling with my second draft. I had finished Ch. 1, but I kept worrying about the present tense. I didn’t want to go further until I knew I was on the right track; but I also wanted to wait and send her the whole story at once, instead of one chapter at a time.
Syd finally persuaded me to send her Ch. 1. Her response after reading it: SEND ME MORE.
Which is a compliment, in case you were wondering. Now she’ll keep nagging me until I send her more chapters. Hello, motivation.
Five Characteristics of a Great CP:
1. Trained in trickery. Syd knows how to threaten convince me to write. She motivates me when I can’t motivate myself. She chases away my worries and excuses.
2. Contagious enthusiasm. For me, writing the first draft is exciting. The second draft … not so much. That’s when I start having ideas for different stories, and it’s more tempting to write something new than revise something old. But if I give the second draft to Syd, her excitement for it rubs off on me. She makes the story feel new again.
3. Honest critic. Syd doesn’t sugar-coat or beat around the bush; she bluntly tells me what works and what doesn’t. However, she doesn’t just tell me, “This sucks.” She tells me why it sucks so I know how to make it better. And if she says she loves it, then I know she really does love it—she’s not just being polite. It might take awhile to reach this level of trust, but it’s worth waiting for.
4. Owner of many hats. Syd can be my writing therapist, muse, confidant, friend … whatever I need at that particular time. She does it all.
5. Personal coach. Writing for Syd makes my story better than if I just wrote for myself. She inspires me, and I strive to keep improving.
I could go on and on about CPs, but I should get back to work on Ch. 2 before Syd comes after me. Please add your thoughts about CPs in the comments! Have a great week!