Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How to Have a Healthy CP relationship

I've heard, "Your CPs are too close to your books." a couple of times. I think that what people are really saying is that my CPs are too close to ME.

I don't think that's true. First of all, I haven't ever actually met my CPs in person. (I mean, seriously. For all they know, I could be a 50-year-old chain smoking prisoner in Colorado. One who writes cute books about superheroes and kissing, but still.) BUT because I think that's irrelevant, I'll give a different reason.

My CPs are my CPs because they're more invested in the health of my work than anything else. And because that depends on the health of me AS A WRITER, they have their work cut out for them. It's a tough balance to strike. It's a mixture of cheerleading, encouragement, sympathy, and understanding, balanced with a ruthlessly tough and objective eye.

Wanna be awesome like my CPs? Here's how.
(Note: These steps are for my "close readers"  - I also have betas, who do an overall read and don't get their hands nearly so dirty, which also has its super-important place.)

1. Gush over the book during the first read through. This shows your CP that you love the project and you are invested in helping her get it into tip-top querying shape.

My CPs raved on Twitter, as you know, but I also got big fat emails from them with initial reactions. Either or both of these will work, but it gives the writer confidence that she hasn't made the wrong decision by sending her stuff out for crit, and that it's good enough for other eyes to work on.

2. Tweet lines you love and other fabulous stuff as you critique.  It's really easy to use the hashtag #amcritiquing and tag your CP. My ladies will even quote a bit of the book with the hashtag #lineswelove every once in awhile.

It's easy for a writer to get stuck in an edits/revisions slump and convince herself that not only is she going to have to completely overhaul her book, but also that it will never ever EVER be finished. If you can manage to toss out little bits of love here and there, it not only assures your CP that you're actually working on her stuff, but buoys her confidence, piece by piece, to get her ready for the third (and technically most important) step...

3. Tear that sucker to shreds in (regularly sent) crit.

(Photo Credit Anne Mini)

Obviously, this is where the actual "critique" in "Critique Partner" comes in. You need to find every single problem in that manuscript and suggest a fix if you can possibly think of one. You need to be the eyes where your sweet writer friend was blind, either from love of her characters, desire to make the story flow just the way she envisioned it, and, maybe most treacherous, attachment to her darlings.

For example: Chessie just sent me the critique for the first five chapters of ONE, which, remember, we all know she loves. Here's what she did:
  • Told me to cut a supporting character
  • Told me that another supporting character just seems like a plot device (which OMG he is, so I've gotta cut him too.)
  • Called me out on countless run-on, confusing, and clunky sentences
  • Alerted me to every single place my main character made her roll her eyes (which, spoiler: wasn't none.)
  • Brought up a major flaw with the way my main character views those around her
  • Caught several instances of sloppy writing (example: I changed the villian's name about halfway through the book, but left his old name in Chapter 2)
  • Told me I should probably combine the first two chapters into one, effectively cutting half the stuff.
  • Left 110 comment bubbles and tons of in-line edit marks, changing everything from typos to bad punctuation.
Not huge changes, no. But there is a LOT of critique there, and it's just the beginning. 
How do I feel about it? PSYCHED. Because I know that she seriously combed these chapters and called out everything she could see that was wrong or that bothered her. I know she'll keep doing it, and I'm 100% confident my other close readers will do the same.

My point is this. Gushing over a book on Twitter and loving on your CP will only get her so far. It's only worth anything - is only a healthy CP relationship - if you're going to step up and help your writer friend make her stuff even better. 

So, get to work bringing the pain. Your CP will thank you for it.

(For another post about welcoming devastating news from your crit partners, check out this one that I wrote while Gina was critiquing THE TRAVELERS.)

What are your tips for making sure you and your CPs have the best critiquing relationship for you?  Tell me in the comments, so I can add to my arsenal.

12 comments:

  1. I'm loving having someone else's perspective on my story. While I may have eventually picked up on the spelling and grammar issues, there are plot and characterisation issues I never would've picked up on.

    The best example is my MC, who gets too angry too often. I'm chilling her out, but I'm ensuring I strike the right balance between the suggestions and what *I* still want my story to be. And my MC can't be totally mellow. I just need to rein it in a bit.

    And I have created my first shipper. I'm so happy ^_^

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  2. I did a post once on the importance of honesty from critique partners too, because it can't be all sunshine and kittens or you're not doing your CP's any favors.

    I had to laugh at how you changed the villian's name halfway through and left it. Your bad habit in TT was having people disappear from scenes halfway through and I'd be thinking WTF... did I miss something?? LOL

    Can't wait for my turn to read! So glad I'm round 2, because now I'll be able to give the attention it deserves :)

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  3. Oh my God. 110? I think I might've reached 110 about halfway through TT...

    Well, at least I know I'm doing my job! And honestly, I think it's a huge mistake to think that just because someone says they love something means they can't/won't find anything wrong with it.

    And I do love ONE. Which means that those 110 comment bubbles were comment bubbles of love. I feel like first-round CPs are like the nurses that make sure your baby is okay to leave the hospital after it's born.

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  4. How did you find your CP's/decide you wanted to be CP's? Do you also critique their work?

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  5. I'm gushing I'm so proud of you! I still marvel over how much you have learned, and so FAST! I really can't wait to read ONE!

    I'm particular about my crit partners. It's a long story... but I think a bad crit can really ruin a good work. Or, too much crit can ruin a good work. And, taking all the crit you get... can DEFINITELY ruin a good work.

    My main three CP's are all professionals. One is a book/movie guy, one is an editor, and one is an author. They don't really spend a lot of time gushing over my writing. It's either marketable, or not. It's either worth their time, or not. But, the fact they are there... reading my pages and sending notes... shows they are invested enough in Camp Paradise to make it the best story it can be! That is, at the end of the day, worth more to a writer than just an empty compliment!

    But, my other CPs are also just as helpful. Sometimes, they simply reiterate what the professionals said and sometimes they give a fresh perspective that I (and others) haven't seen! It's all helpful!

    And yes, they are also more likely to gush on my book. But, I absolutely need that, TOO! Because, it doesn't matter how great your story is... or how many contacts you have... or who is waiting for your MS at the end of the day, this is a tough and fickle business and there are NO GUARANTEES! Sitting down to a blank page and having to create IS HARD! And, pouring your heart and soul into a story that may never see the light of day, IS TORTURE! That doesn't change whether you're a "newbie" or not!

    But, knowing that someone loves your story, believes in your MS, and is ROOTING FOR YOU... can make all the difference in the world whether you finish the book, and persevere through the business of writing, or not!

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  6. Great post! I'm big on encouraging and getting excited on the first read. I've been learning a lot this year about critiquing. I think it's important that you and your CPs are always learning, making yourselves better so you can help one another. Always be honest too. It's better coming from you than an editor or agent!

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  7. I love this post so much! You say my thoughts perfectly.

    It is so important for CPs to be encouraging as well as completely honest, because without a healthy dose of each, the relationship just doesn't work. And the writer and work suffers. It's very hard to find a group of good critters like that.

    It sounds like you have a great group of CPs!

    What? Me? Jealous? Nope. Not at all...

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  8. I do think there needs to be a certain amount of distance with some CPs--so that it is more of a professional relationship--that doesn't mean that CPs can't become friends--it is just a certain kind of friendship.

    In my experience, becoming too close can change the way one critiques. I have this "problem" with Marie--we know each other and our writing too well. So in reading her work, I kind of know what to expect and I give her certain liberties I wouldn't give to other writers. That doesn't mean it isn't a useful partnership, it just means that I get certain things from her critiques and I need to look elsewhere for those other things.

    What I do get from her is a kind of bluntness that I never get anywhere else. So I guess there is a lot to be said for having one or two CPs who feel that comfortable with you.

    Honestly, I think that is why I am a little more distant sometimes--not doing to care packages, twitter, etc. It's not that I don't enjoy interacting with my online CPs, it is just that I want to create a relationship that is about the writing.

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  9. Great post and many good points and reminders for those new and old to being a CP :)

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  10. @Miss Cole - I've already had kind of the same experience. My MC's reactions made sense in my head, but not in my CP's.

    @Gina - I love how you can laugh at me even when it's not your turn to crit yet. :P

    @Chessie - I'm a third of the way through ALEX and I'm up to 500. So we're good.

    And I know you love it. :)

    @Amanda - I stalk them on blogs and contests based on how awesome their work is and then beg them to read their stuff.

    @Jean - Oh, I <3 you. And I'm sure when I'm as good of a writer as you I'll have less dependence on line edits and gushers. :)

    @Christine - One of my CPs just compared my crits to pouring hydrogen peroxide on a wound. I tihnk they're honest. :)

    @Elizabeth - THANKS!!! I'm grateful every day.

    @Heidi - Thankfully, you and I aren't besties (yet.) So you can pour your fabulous blunt crit on my book. <3

    @Hannah - Thank yoU!!!

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  11. Oh man, being a good CP is totally all about finding the perfect balance between slavish-adoration-cheerleading and Simon Cowell. Sounds like you've got a good crew. :)
    Hope you're having a happy Hanukkah! (Which, sounds like you are. ^_^)

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