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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Critique Partners II: A saint, a sinner and a whole lot of snark...

Apologies for being late on this post. My vacation became a cluster toward the end and culminated in the worst day of travel I think I've ever had.

We’re all familiar with the platitudes that get spouted when a date or relationship goes down the toilet.

“He/she wasn’t right for you anyway.” “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” “When you fall off the horse you have to get right back on.”

And while I would I normally make a cynical comment, huff, and walked away, I didn’t. I wanted a critique partner, so I got right back up on that horse, baited my line and waited for another fish to swim past.

My first bite after the Great Dairy Product Fall-out of 2009 came in the form of a surprisingly pleasant letter. She seemed friendly, funny, and, most importantly, serious about writing. That e-mail and one conversation with her told me a lot.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Writing Exp: Extensive
Strengths: Copy editing, incredible listening skills and an unmatched ability to cut the BS
Pet Peeves: High Fantasy and apostrophed funny-sounding names

We knew instantly that we would work. We shared similar backgrounds, loved all things supernatural, and had a standing Sunday date with Ice Road Truckers. Hazaa! I had my critter – The Magazinista.

But in the infancy of our love there came another e-mail. An e-mail that came from a person I believed at the time to be a forum hobbyist, an optimistic joiner, and frankly someone whose opinion I didn’t take very seriously, mostly because of the following bit of his message.

“I would suggest posting something for others to go on. If you're looking for a more intimate bond with your crit partner, something I can appreciate, you need to provide folks with an avenue to understand you and your writing better before they consider jumping into a crit commitment. Then again, the net being what it is, I suppose they could always just ignore you later on or vise versa . . . but that wouldn't be so nice.”

Who was this guy? I thought to myself, “Apparently he thinks he’s the Dr. Phil of writing relationships.” To me, it sounded like he was suggesting we all sit in a circle while I put my writing on the block, then we could all make s’mores and talk about our feelings. Not really my gig. I wanted to do my dating in private.

I wrote the know-it-all jerk off, after e-mailing him to say thanks, but no thanks buddy. Well… That’s a lie. I couldn’t let his message go. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way and I had to find out who this mythical guru was. (After all, the forum was thick with rumors about him.)

I sent him an instant message and we got into a debate about why I was unwilling to share my writing and why that was wrong. To this day, he thinks that I came to him as a wide-eyed babe with my first chapter in hand. My recollection is that we bickered back and forth for a long while before I caved and said, “Well, do you want to read it (if you’re so amazing)?” Recently, we came to an agreement on how we ultimately argued ourselves into a critter love affair.

Attila: I was like "would you just shut up and listen to me."
Me: Yeah. Cocky jerk. Check.
Attila: And you were like, "Uh, no, you're wrong and you're stupid, and you're an arse, and . . . . "
Me: Yeah. Elitist witch. Check.
Me: How do I have this wrong again?

He earned the name Attila because of the bloody critique he gave me on that chapter. A river of red ran down the margin and I could hear the ghosts of screams when I opened the file. Now, I know that’s just his way. Survive trial by fire and he eases up.

In spite of the vastly different ways in which I found them, they are exactly what I set out to find. I wanted people who would do more than help me with grammar, voice and pacing. I wanted them to know me and my characters intimately and to be able to tell me when things in my story had gone amiss. I needed to know that when they got a frantic message because I was screaming at my computer screen and didn’t know what was wrong and needed them to help me fix it that they’d even speak to me.

Amazingly, they continue to do so.

They pull me up every time I feel like I've hit bottom. They read, shatter me with their critiques, tell me to shut up and take it when I complain, and then help me put the puzzle back together. And it's always better. I couldn't have found better people. People more devoted to the craft of writing, who believe that writing is creative catharsis and who can't be themselves without the expression.

Age, genre, writing level and understanding of the business are all important in their own right, but they aren’t number one in my mind. The best advice I can give to anyone looking for a critique partner is to find someone whose company you enjoy and to make a commitment. If the two of you mesh, the rest will fall into place. The more intimately they know your work the better it will become.

I think that critiquing is quite possibly the only area in which it helps to know your attacker. I’ll confess that I’m naturally defensive. I hate criticism and will argue all day long, but that’s changed since I got critique partners. I feel like it’s easier to take criticism if you aren’t unfamiliar or intimidated by the people doing the criticizing. You respect their opinion and are less inclined to whine.

There are a multitude of good places to look for critique partners on the internet if you can’t snag a live one, which is difficult to do for more reasons than one. Social networking searches, surfing blogs and reading forums are all good places to start your search. Here are a few more targeted resources.

Critters – An online writing workshop brimming with thousands of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writers looking to critique and be critiqued. It’s a great resource and you can make great connections there, but it is highly organized and may not be for the faint-hearted or the on-again off-again critter.

Matchwriters – Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match. This site has a good bit of information on writing and giving and receiving feedback. It’s also a good place to post a personal if you’re looking to find that special someone. There’s even a writer search for the assertive seeker.

Critter Love Connection – Courtesy of YA author Maggie Stiefvater and her fan site, this message board is dedicated to matching up writers looking for like minds. Post a little about yourself and your work in progress, connect with others, and wait to feel the romance. (You do have to create an account to access the message board.)


  1. Uh, where's the part about how Attila told you to totally redo chapter one and you threw a tizzy, "nuh uh, you're stupid, I don't have to do that." Then you calmed down, redid it, and now it's totally awesome. Huh? Huh?! Where's that part.

    Man, no love. I tell ya.

  2. There is much love, babe. There just isn't a lot of reality between the two of us.

    And yes, your awesomeness is beyond compare. However, to say Chapter 1 is "totally awesome" now would imply that you actually read it. Wherever did you find the time?