Monday, May 3, 2010

Maintaining Full Time Critique Partners

The perfect mesh of a full-time critique partner, a CP outside of a critique group, is a mix between an accountability partner, a cheerleader, a boot camp drill sergeant, and a critic who isn't afraid to call fie on the prose: There for the long haul, ready to celebrate the baby steps, demand weekly progress toward those all-important career goals, and shred mercilessly the pages and chapters they get.

Most full-time CPs take on one or more of those tasks and expect, as they should, reciprocation. It's a relationship of giving as well as requesting, and it requires a contract of commitment, and a promise of dependability. There's nothing quite like meshing with someone enthusiastic about writing and dedicated to the craft who can jump into those multi-hat-wearing roles when their time permits.

So what can be done to keep these long-time crit partners happy? To make sure that the relationship stays nurtured? Here's my list! Keep in mind these depend on what the established working relationship is, and are in no particular order:

1. Set a turnaround schedule. If the fastest I know I can crit and send back a chapter is a week, (this means I can do a read as a reader, then spread out the more analytical work over my lunch breaks during the day job work week so I don't bite into my own writing time in the evening), then I say so. Make an arrangement for the max number of pages expected weekly or monthly on either side--get at least that much done, and if it's exceeded, more's to the better!

2. Be there in times of crisis. An agent contest coming up on a blog that your crit partner wants to enter? Be there, double-checking her entry as much as needed until she's happy with the submission. A request from an agent or an editor? Virtual martinis all around and a last readthrough of the synopsis and/or pages for a final spit and polish. Wanting to tie the muse up with bungee cords and throw her over the tallest cliff? There's the time for an encouraging email, virtual chocolates, and a picture of a LOLcat. Crises, one should keep in mind--are not every day or every week. Just the big events. I try to give as much notice as possible with these--and I suppress my normal critique chapter request for the week in leiu of the timely entries.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. This is so, so crucial for keeping and nuturing a CP...lack of emailing and informing of delays can break this kind of business-friend relationship. So can habitual delays. If I'm going out of town for a week, I send a note to let my crit partners know in advance. If I wind up in the ER and can't get the pages critted on time (as happened a few weeks back), I can't predict that, but I let my crit partners know as soon as possible the cause of the delay and when my revised turnaround time will be. Keep the email flowing and your crit partner in the loop instead of dropping the ball on your return crits and falling off the face of the planet.

4: Cheer them on! If my crit partner shares minor or major victories, I'm right there with a happy dance, too. If they've got a strength in their manuscript that stands out, or a scene that makes me chuckle, I'm sure to let them know. The road to publication is long, and a good pat on the back can soothe the sting of rejections and necessary revisions and serve to brighten up the day of the person on the other side of the computer monitor. Likewise, if I've achieved something with my manuscripts I'm sure to tell them, because chances are it wouldn't have been possible without them!

5: Stay current, stay educated. This means sharing the good blog posts and the announcements for the classes or conferences that you know will be perfect for your CPs, based on their interests and strengths as much as their weaknesses. I've begun to work through books on craft and writers' journeys with one of my CPs, and we'll use the opportunity to help each other to grow and improve. This is an encouraging process as well as a constructive one--building each other's writing foundation up and up and up toward success.

How about you, fellow writers? What qualities do you look for in a career crit partner? How do you maintain the relationship?

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