Oh, crit partners. Of all the questions I get asked, I think this is the most frequent. Perhaps it's because I happen to have amazing crit partners, ones I like to praise often. I've written a big post on finding crit partners, but today I want to add another post to the discussion.
I have a fairly wide variety of crit partners, an arsenal of different styles, you could say. Each one is important to me, and I want to highly recommend gathering partners with various strengths if you can. I'll be talking about mine as examples:
Kiersten is my go-to girl on plot problems. She is The Plot Queen, after all. I know she'll point out any hole or lull in pacing or unnecessary passage. That's not to say that I don't work on my plots, I just mean that she will, without fail, pick up on any major issues I miss.
I have a few, really: my husband Nick, Kiersten, and Kasie. These people keep me going when I want to give up, and that role is not to be underestimated. I'd probably get nothing done without their encouragement. Getting things done is important.
I can always count on Carrie and Renee to pick up on the technicalities. They'll be like, "Yeah, that's not medically possible." Or something like, "That hold would be way easy for a ninja to escape, how about this one?" And even, "Um, you have your MC sitting on the bed four times in this scene."
I love my mechanics. They force me to solidify my world. They make sure to pick out all the things that might take readers out of the story.
Since she's so busy, I haven't had Steph read a lot of my stuff, but her comments on character development opened up my story, made it more real, and propelled me into a fuller realization of the book. She also has an amazing ability to get me to dig around and explore the world of my book, to make it more three-dimensional.
The Copy Editor
I'm a typo queen. My fingers don't listen to my brain, so I have all these wonky typos I constantly miss. Sara, Kiersten, and Kasie usually pick these up for me, the poor dears. They're also really good at picking up when I go out of voice or use confusing sentence structure. Seriously, sometimes it's like I don't even know English, which is sad, seeing as I graduated in English linguistics. But that's how it goes—after spending so much time with a project you just stop seeing, and I'm grateful for the fresh eyes.
Warning: American Idol Comparison Ahead. So you know how everyone "hates" Simon, but in reality they actually value his opinion most and do what he says?
As uncomfortable as it is, I would highly recommend finding a "Simon" for your writing, too. Someone that pushes you further than you think you can go. Someone who is honest, even when the news isn't pleasant. Someone who gets what you're trying to do, but at the same time sees where you're missing the mark. (Disclaimer: I don't think ALL of your readers should be true critics, though. It's hard to wade through their disagreements that way. One or two is plenty.)
For me, that would be my agent. (Note: That doesn't mean your agent should be your critic. It's different for everyone. I have friends whose agents are not in any way The Critic, and they get on just peachy. This happens to be how it turned out for me.)
Now, don't get me wrong, Nathan is far, far politer than Simon. If there was an Olympic sport for politeness, Nathan would win gold. But he is my critic—he looks at my work and points out every flaw (very politely, but he still does). Why? Because he knows I can do better.
This is the most important part of the critic relationship: Trust. If you do not trust your critic, then you will fight the sometimes hard things they have to say. You will think they're picking on you. You won't take their advice. But if you DO trust your critic, you'll understand that they believe in your potential. You will take their advice, and when the revisions are done you will be intensely proud of the work. You might even be shocked that your writing could be that...good.
Then, somehow, your trust in your critic will grow. You will be glad they said all those hard things because the story is better for it—you're a better writer for it.
It really does take a village, doesn't it? Well, at least it does for me. I'm so grateful to all the people who help make my writing better. I'm grateful for their strengths, for their positive, helpful feedback. I'd be a mess without them.