I made a comment about this on a recent (and brilliant) post over at Dahlia's blog, and I've kind of been meaning to write some more about it ever since then. There's a lot of advice out there about how to find critique partners. There are some fantastic forums, including CP Seek, and Authoress Anon hosted a CP match-up not so long ago (info here).
These are extraordinarily helpful things.
But there's not so much written about what you should do if you have a CP who just. doesn't. help.
I've got an amazing bunch of CPs. They get me, my sense of humour, and tell me to STFU and work when I'm faffing around on twitter during Writing Time. And when they're critiquing my work, they know exactly what type of feedback I'm looking for, and spot the things I'd miss in my own editing. They are BRILLIANT that way. They enjoy my stories, too, which kind of helps.
But they don't stroke my hair and tell me everything I write is pretty and perfect. In fact, what they tell me sometimes stings like a mofo. This is what I need so that I can improve as a writer.
However, you don't always find this with every writer you swap critiques with. Sometimes, you don't gel. Maybe they pick at things that you actually know you're doing right. Maybe they hate the MC you love, and it's just because. Or maybe you've read their work and realised, actually, our styles are so different, I just don't see this working out.
Maybe this CP makes you feel like you just watched someone smack your child, and then expected you to thank them for it. (Yes, I have felt like that. No, I do not have children, so it's probably not a valid comparison.)
Then comes the awkward part: The Break-Up.
There are a couple of ways you can deal with this. My preference is the first one, because I'm not that big on confrontation.
- Avoidance. Politely swerve the next time you're due to exchange MSs. This is the chicken's way out, but is minutely less awkward than #2.
- The Dear John email. This really only works immediately after you've received their critique (by which I mean within a week, not minutes, or it'll look like knee-jerk peevishness). Leave it too long, and you look like a brooding psycho. So, time it right, and nicely explain why their critique wasn't working for you (less is more here - think "we're not on the same page with where I want to take my MS" rather than "your ideas SUCK") and be sure to thank them for taking the time to critique for you.
Both these avenues are pretty squirmy, but if you find yourself with a CP who leaves you feeling like you want to kick something - repeatedly - then you really need to cut the ties. But there is a way you can avoid getting into this situation in the first place.
Maybe you don't exchange MSs right away. Maybe you only exchange query letters or the first chapter, and make it clear beforehand that if either of you doesn't feel it's a good match, you (virtually) shake hands and walk away with no hard feelings. Much, much easier at this point than after you've laid out your darling before them and watched them tear it apart.
Even if you're in the situation where you've been CPs for a long time, if either of you consistently feels like they've been beaten up after receiving a critique, after a little while you won't be friends any more. It's tough, but it happens.
So isn't it better to be a supportive friend than a harsh critic?