Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Breaking up with a CP

"It's not you, it's me..."

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.

  1. 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.
  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.

Start small. 

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?

14 comments:

  1. Excellent post and the first time I've seen this touched on. I have found, through hard experience, to always exchange one or two chapters before committing to anything further. This way you can see if this person is sympatico with you. I once had a girl do an awesome critique on my first page, only to exchange chapters and have her rip apart every single thing I loved about my book. Half her critique didn't even make sense to me and I was SO glad i hadn't given her my whole book/signed on to crit hers.

    I wrote her a very nice note thanking her and pointing out that I didn't feel our writing styles were similar enough to work as critique partners, but thanking her profusely for taking the time to comment on my book. We parted amicably.

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    1. Thanks Tamara, and I'm glad you were cautious and able to part ways without hurt feelings/butchered darlings. :)

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  2. Good CPs are so hard to find! Someone whose criticism you can take, but it still feels awesome to get.

    I've had some bad ones, but I've had some BRILLIANT ones. I'm particularly fond of this little Welsh chicky I stumbled upon...

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    1. D'awwww, you! <3

      And YES, I also am lucky to have the BEST CPs in the world. Especially the Fizzy ones! :D

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  3. This is good advice. It's so much easier with a new-ish CP than an established one.

    But I think it's important to consistently evaluate how the relationship is working. You may also need a break-up when your CP's voice is too much in your head and you find yourself not trying things in anticipation of how he/she will react. Or when you get to the point where you can't see their weaknesses because you're so familiar with their style, you understand what they're trying to say, even if they could say it better. Like any relationship, it needs fine-tuning as you go. :)

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    1. I absolutely agree! I haven't reached the point with any of my CPs yet where we've exchanged so many MSs that we can basically anticipate exactly what each other's feedback will be, but I think it's definitely something to watch out for.

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  4. Love this post! (And thanks for the shoutout!) I am such an advocate of getting out of toxic relationships, but I totally go the immature avoider route, or, at best, the passive-aggressive. It's not my finest trait, but I do love the CPs I've got so at least I'm doing something right!

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    1. *Passive-aggressive high five* I'm a master of the swerve.

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  5. One of the biggest challenges of a CP relationship can revolve around writing "skill." We all know how much your writing improves in, say, the first year of writing novels. It's tough when you realize a CP may not be following your trajectory. Eventually, if your writing isn't progressing at the same "rate" (due to timing, writing pace, personal motivation), you may have to part ways. That is a difficult break-up.

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    1. Definitely a tricky one, that! I think, as Richelle said above, it's one of those things you just have to keep tabs on as the CP relationship progresses.

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  6. Some good advice there, I'll certainly keep it in mind when I'm looking for CPs :)

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  7. This is definitely a tricky subject. The worst is when you're friends first, and then the critique relationship doesn't work. My first writing group included 3 of my best friends, and even though we were great as friends, we definitely weren't in the same place as writers. I left every single critique group meeting in tears, doubting myself and hating my manuscript. And it's not even that they were mean in their critiques. It's just that, more often than not, our critique group meetings would turn into social time, and before I knew what was happening, it was 2 in the morning, and we still hadn't found the time for anyone to give me feedback on my MS. I felt like I was putting way more into the relationship than I was getting out of it, but I couldn't figure out how to get out of the group without hurting our friendship.

    Luckily, I managed to find a new critique group that was a better fit for me and happened to meet on the same day/time as the first group. And my friends totally understood when I explained that a group of fellow YA writers was a better fit for me than a group of friends who didn't understand my genre. Still, it was super hard to break the tie to the group without breaking the friendship in the process!

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    1. Wow, it was lucky you were able to get out of such a tight spot without bruised feelings! Glad it worked out, and you found a critique group you can get the most out of.

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