Ode to Critique Partners

Ode to Critique Partners by Te’a Cooper

(posted for & on behalf of Te’a)

My critique partner and I shared a major milestone last week – we both made the iTunes Top Paid Historical Romance list. It got me thinking about how important my critique partner is to me. She’s my sounding board, counselor, penpal, best friend, editor, mentor and mother all wrapped into one! And she’s honest — brutally sometimes — but that’s what it is all about.

I resorted to the dictionary, just to check she was fulfilling the role!

Critique: An article or essay criticising a literary or other work: a review.

Partner: A sharer or partaker: an associate.

She fits the bill but what do you expect from a CP and how does it work?

I joined the RWA Critique Partners scheme, that in itself was daunting. I had written one novel but it hadn’t been accepted for publication and I was expected to post a sample of my writing. Lesson One – it’s all about learning to share your writing. I was allocated a “code name” on the CP Scheme. It’s sort of a cross between an Internet dating site and a masked ball and I waited, rather like a shy wallflower for someone to ask me to dance. Nothing happened! I went back and read about everyone and made a dance card (short list). I wanted to link up with someone who wrote contemporary and historical romance…and before I had been brave enough to put in any requests I got an email from the RWA telling me someone was interested in contacting me. I’d been asked to dance! We exchanged emails and the rest, as they say is history.

In retrospect that was the easy part. First and foremost I wanted honesty but that only comes with trust. We had to build up a relationship and create shared and common goals.  We discovered we were pretty much on the same page, we had both written one contemporary romance and so our critiquing evolved.

Eighteen months down the track we have a system. We exchange our first rough outlines for a new story – then basically we go chapter by chapter – somehow it is a little less daunting that way. It means you never send or receive pages and pages of manuscript. The job stays quick and easy and any changes can be slipped in before it impacts the rest of the story. The best compliment is when she says, “Hurry up I want to know what happens next!”

After that it’s the full manuscript read through – the whole, completed, finished story. That’s exciting because no matter whose story it is there is a sense of achievement!

All of this without every actually having met face-to-face, we finally accomplished that a couple of weeks ago. After four books each believe me I didn’t have any trouble finding her when she walk through the gates at the airport but I’m really glad I didn’t have to write all the words we exchanged over the weekend. We talked non-stop for 48 hours – probably enough words to fill The Lord of the Rings twice over – and thank goodness we didn’t have to critique them!

I’ve heard people suggest that you have a critique partner because you don’t trust your own writing. I disagree. Your CP is your first reviewer and although writing might be a solitary task, one day, hopefully, your story will, like a child, face the outside world. Not only that the more you critique the more you notice your own mistakes. Each track change, each plot hole discovered and each “Huh?” is one more step along the road for both of you. It allows you to grow together and that is why it was so exciting to hold hands on the iTunes Top Paid list!

Thanks you, Eva Scott!

If you are looking for a critique partner I highly recommend applying to the RWA CP scheme. It’s an online register – sort of RSVP without the photographs.  You need to be a member of RWA http://www.romanceaustralia.com/ then you post your details and wait for a call (email) then you do a bit of a trial and say yes or no. If you go here, log in and select critique partners from the menu on the left you’ve taken the first step and accepted an invitation to the ball. Enjoy the dance.

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5 thoughts on “Ode to Critique Partners

  1. Wow, Tea`, I know all about the RWA Critique Partner scheme, but I hadn’t seriously thought about it. I have readers (family & friends) and I have my writing group and a wonderful story editor. BUT listening to your experience and the relationship you’ve formed with your partner, it makes me wonder if I should try it? Congratulations on your latest success.

  2. I love my CPs 🙂

    You’re right though Téa, you do need to build up that level of trust. I found my first few times swapping critiques were very tentative on my behalf (‘what if she gets offended by what I’ve suggested’ etc) and probably not very useful. Hopefully we’re past that now though!

    “sounding board, counselor, penpal, best friend, editor, mentor and mother all wrapped into one!” Couldn’t agree more 🙂

  3. It’s really good to see the scheme still up and running. I was involved with the initial setup in 2009 and then for a few years I ran the database. It;s a great critique scheme, and members of not only RWAustralia can join, but RWNewZealand. It’s called the RWZ-RWNZcp matching scheme.
    Since leaving, I have found a few critique partners who are truly a blessing. Where would we be with out them?

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