June 11, 2015

Do Critique Partners Mess with a Writer's Inherent Genius?

I’ve read several posts lately about why people don’t believe Critique Partners (CPs) or writing groups are for them. I think it’s totally fine if authors don’t want to work with others—IF they don’t want to be published.

Here’s the thing. Writing is a beautiful and solitary pursuit. Publication is not. Those of us who intend to eventually be published are not writing in a bubble. Writing becomes about more than only what we like or what we think works. I read one post that said, “I know I’m not going to take the suggestions anyway, so why bother?”

To this I say, 1) If you feel like you have all the answers and nothing to learn from others, then you probably suck as a person, and I don’t want to read your books anyway. And 2) Then you probably haven’t found the RIGHT critique partners yet. Because, honestly, I feel pretty confident about my writing and about the things I like and don’t like, but I can’t possibly think of everything from every angle.

For example, in my writing group, I’m the only female. For those boys, I get to be the angry feminist who tells them when they’re using manic pixie dream girls or gratuitous violence against women or other plot devices that are stupid and sexist and overused (I hope I add more to the group than that, but we joke about how that’s my role).

And in turn, I have one group member who is a genius with plots. He knows what works and why or why not. He can point out plot holes and pacing issues in ways I’ve never seen anyone else do. The other guy is so great with characters. He has a gift for infusing realistic characteristics into flat archetypes. He’s also very positive and allows me to see the good in what I’m writing, even when it’s mostly crap.

I also have a critique partner who is HILARIOUS. Any time she comments on my stuff, I end up adding so much more voice to it because she oozes personality just by being alive. Me? Not so much. I’m more the boring writer type. I have another reader who is honest and blunt and tells me when something sucks. Personally, I need ALL of those things.

I don’t always take every suggestion that all of them make, but it’s helpful to see how other readers might view my work, and if it’s coming across the way I’d intended.

However, writing for publication comes with an audience, and being able to gain perspective from others helps to anticipate that audience—whether it’s actual readers, agents reading my sample/query, or editors I’m hoping will buy my work. They’re all people whose perspectives I can better anticipate because I have sounding boards BEFORE I submit my work to them. I really believe that even people who prefer to work alone need that.

The one exception might be that I’ve heard a lot of published authors say they don’t have time for CPs or groups anymore—their first audience is their agent or editor. I hope I never get THAT busy, because I find the process of working with CPs invaluable. But what do I know? I’m not a published author yet.

I guess my point is, if you’re an aspiring author, and you feel like you have no need for outside readers/input—whether it be every step of the way or at least before you submit the book—then I think it’s important to ask yourself why. If it’s because your ego’s too big to take feedback from others and really measure its relevance to what you’re trying to accomplish, then I think you should reconsider.

In my experience, Critique Partners have made ALL the difference, and I think they can for most people, as long as they’re working with the right ones for them.

What do you think? Are you anti-CPs/Writing group? Have you had any really good or bad experiences with them?

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