Monday, July 26, 2010

The Crit Partner Arsenal

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:

The Plotter
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.

The Cheerleader
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.

The Mechanic
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.

The Developer
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.

The Critic
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.


  1. I <3 you. (Yes, I less-than 3 you!) (Okay, fine, I [heart] you. A lot. And this was all good stuff, as usual, which is why when people write me and ask for advice on writing I give them YOUR blog address instead of mine...)

  2. What a great post. I love how you've broken all this down! It's true - we can't have someone for all these things - they usually need to be different people!

  3. This is so excellent, I'm printing it out to refer to. It's especially useful to me as this is my first novel and I'm deep into second revisions, and my one feedback (crit) is less helpful than I'd hoped for. Can one of us be all things to another person? I don't think so.

  4. This is great! :) I love that you have so many people to help you become a stronger writer. I think that is the best thing someone can do. :)

  5. Great post! I'm definitely a mechanic. I could never be a critic--I'm way too chicken. My one beta is a critic though, but I love her for it. She could probably go head to head with Nathan for politeness. :D

  6. You're right. It DOES take a village. Great post. Thanks!

  7. Aww, what a lovely team you've got!

    I think an important thing to remember to is that not everyone who fits these roles is going to fit these roles FOR YOU. In other words, there might be someone who cheerleads for you, but unless you trust and respect them, that won't mean much. There might be someone who criticizes your work, and even gets it right sometimes, but if you don't care about their opinion, you're less likely to take their advice to heart.

    That's something I didn't realize at first, but now I'm learning how to recognize when someone is truly part of my team, and when someone is just a friend/fan who I appreciate but don't necessarily call on for my writing.

  8. Kristan, that is an excellent point. I've had readers who clearly had a style that didn't gel with mine. Finding crit partners is a very personal thing.

    Sometimes it's hard to track them down or explain that "click." All I can say is you know it when you find it.

  9. Great post, as usual.

    And yes, I'd definitely be The Mechanic, as opposed to, say, the category of The Copy Editor. (lol)

  10. I find myself to be a mechanic and a plotter. Regardless, I'll still be sure to find people suitable in these categories when it comes time for them to read my own writing :p

    Great post!

  11. Oh great post, Natalie! Thanks for sharing. It's nice to see an actual list of types, and I totally agree that some people focus on certain things. I hate to say that I'd probably be the critic, lol.

    So what are you for all of them? Are you the copy editor or the cheerleader? I'm interested in knowing what roles you play.

  12. Great post! I totally agree you need a team -- and a wide array of viewpoints! -- to get the best out of your work. It looks like you have a solid team!

    Like Kristan said, there's certainly a difference between a willing reader and someone who can offer the crit you need and more. (Thanks, Kristan *grins*) I've had friends offer to give me "another pair of eyes" but as you said in your other post, a crit partner isn't about simply having a reader. You need someone who not only gets your style but someone who can help take what's on the page and make it better, to tell you what works and what feels flat. Aaaand tell you if it's filled with nonsense and typos.

  13. Amanda, you know, I'm not sure! I think I probably fill different roles for different people. I am certainly not Kiersten's Critic, for example. I'm her cheerleader.

    I do tend to focus on character, I think. I really like to connect with characters, and I let people know when I'm not.

  14. Excellent post and just in time for me. I'm just starting on letting other writers critique my stuff. I was terrified, but it's been great so far and your post will help make it better.

  15. Great post! I agree with the need for all of these. If everyone critiques the same way or has the same strengths, chances are something will be missed.

  16. Great post!

    Sadly, I think I'm The Critic. But also sometimes The Cheerleader... and The Developer.

  17. There's nothing wrong with being the critic! Like I said, I wouldn't give mine up for the world. A trusted critic is the best.

  18. Weee I made the list!

    It definitely takes a village to write a novel -- hence the usually LONG acknowledgments sections at the end of books. Three cheers for crit partners!!

  19. From now on, I shall read your manuscripts with grease stained fingers. And maybe a shirt with my name stitched on the pocket.

    Um. Yeah. I've been editing so long that I'm no longer funny. This may be a problem. ;)

  20. It's amazing how many people it takes to write a good book! I've learned this over and over, and I've also learned how important it is to get good, honest feedback. You've helped with that!

  21. Wow. That is a great breakdown of your "village". I'm so envious. ;-)

  22. You've got a team!!! That's fantastic! It's wonderful to see how everyone's different strengths can help contribute to someone's craft!

  23. Thanks for sharing this. It's fun to see how your different CPs contribute.

  24. I've got a few crit partners and now you have some valid points that have me looking into finding some more.

    You have also given me some more blogs to check out. Thanks for the insight.

  25. I love the way you break this down. My own critique group has some of the same strengths, but I never looked at it this way.

  26. Excellent article, thanks! We can't stress the importance of trust enough when it comes to writing critique.