Breaking Up With Your Crit Partner

Let’s face it, the world isn’t a very nice place sometimes.  Fickleness isn’t confined to junior high cliques or boyfriend break-ups. Instead, it can seep into writing groups, over-take an other-wise rational crit parnter or  rear it’s ugly head in our beta readers.

So what do we do with crit teams gone wrong?

Well, let’s start with the basics and first try to give you a solid foundation.  If you’re new to the whole critique group/beta reader/partner thing, hop on over to From the Write Angle and see what seasoned crit parnters have to say about finding a good crit fit. 

If you’ve been in the crit business for a while, but are not quite sure what your role is, Joyce Alton shares her secrets regarding successful critique groups at Yesternight’s Voyage

But for the sake of this post, let’s go back to high school for a moment and discuss two reasons to step away from the clique.

Critique teams can become our besties.  We fall in like with them, invite them over for slumber parties and tell them our deepest desires.  We spill our souls to them–on and off the page.   Beware, oh fellow scribes, of this comfort zone.  Over time, crit partners can become desensitized to our words and over-sensitized to our feelings.  Instead of giving us the dirty on our manuscripts, they may pass along shallow encouragement.  This is the time to toss your bestie aside and find a critter who likes you enough to be honest, but not enough to lie to you.

Which brings us to the second reason we may need to cut and run.  Not all besties love us.  Sometimes they stick daggers into our backs every chance they get.  Other times they become passive/aggressive and say things with double meanings.  Rarely, if we’re lucky, they simply fall away from us by hanging with a new group of friends and giving us quiet lip service whenever we meet in the halls.

Crit partners can fall into these same patterns.  They can get down and dirty when their green-eyed demon red-lines our pages.  They may simply provide weak and thoughtless commentary in their haste to hang with cooler kids.  Or, they may simply  grow apart from us on our journeys through life and literature.

So what do we do?

Give Up the Wishy-Washy.  You’re nice.  I know.  On occasions, I am too.  We hate to hurt feelings and hope that maybe, just maybe, things will get better given enough time.  Well guess what?  Your time is valuable.  If you don’t get what you need in the lunch room, it’s time to walk.  Quit straddling the fence.  Get off the pot.  Give up the wishy-washy and use your writing time wisely.  If you don’t your crit partner will.

 Which reminds me: how does one gracefully break up with a partner?  If you’re anything like me, you hate confrontation and have realized that drama is best left to the theatre.  So, because I love you, I’ll give you some sample break-up lines to help pave the way:

-Dear CP, I don’t feel qualified to provide the kind of feedback you deserve at this point in your journey. 

-Dear CP, I apologize for making time commitments I am unable to keep.  Please allow me to bow out of our agreement. 

-Dear CP, I feel as if we are both at different places in our writing journeys.  Because of this, I am unable to give you the time your writing deserves. 

-Dear CP, I underestimated my time and ability to maintain a critique partnership at this time.  Please forgive me for stepping away from our agreement.

If you’re in a crit group with a moderator, privately share your frustrations and let her handle the situation.  Just know that it might take some time to resolve the differences, as an organized critique group typically has guidelines in place for dealing with member concerns.  And resolution doesn’t always mean a boot to the behind, because sometimes, the problem might be you.

 I did warn you that the world can be a cruel place. 

How do you assess whether you and your writing partners are compatible and the feedback effective?  Who makes up your crit team and how do you hammer out any difference?     

 Curious minds want to know.

7 responses to “Breaking Up With Your Crit Partner

  1. I don’t have a “team” as such, but I have a few critique buddies, and they ROCK. One is my geographically proximate writing buddy and one is a copy editing Nazi I know from the library (the woman is a walking manual of style. It’s insane.).

    I think you know it’s right when you get excited about implementing their feedback because it feels like an “AHA!” moment. And when you’re reading their story, and you think “this is good. And this, this, this this and this would make it even BETTER!” And when you can’t stop commenting–not just thoughts about how to improve the story, or questions about things that confuse you, but also finding things that you like enough that you HAVE to comment.

    If you groan when it’s time to critique their work–because it bores you, or because you feel like it’s SO broken that you’ll be there all day trying to give useful but kind feedback–you’re probably not a good fit.

    And if their feedback has you completely and utterly baffled, or if it all feels WRONG? Probably not a good fit.

    I think ideally, we’ll admire our critique partners without being in awe of them, and they’ll have the same feelings about our work.

    That’s a hard balance to strike, though, which is why I avoid joining critique GROUPS–too many variables, and more chances of striking out. I prefer to get to know individuals and their writing and find partners that way. So far I feel like I’ve been really lucky in finding excellent writing buddies. But maybe it’s not luck. Maybe it’s that I tried on a whole lot of partnerships before I found the ones that really work.

    • But that is your team. Not all critters must know each other. It’s your individual relationship with them that creates your team.

      You’ve raised some great points about what makes a good fit for crit buddies and why groups sometimes don’t work well. Juggling the different personalities and needs can be difficult at times and may take more work than you get out of it. One writer I know–whose debut novel is coming out next year–refuses to work in a group. She likes the individual relationships like you do.

      I think that’s the point, over all. Every writer has different needs, different methods and different successes. There is no right or wrong answer that works across the board when it comes to the writer’s journey.

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. It’s nice to see what works for some and why!

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  3. I recently joined a critique group, and I like the different perspectives because people with different backgrounds catch things that I miss. That said, I recently had a session where two people in the group had completely opposite opinions of what I wrote. One wanted me to cut it, the other said she thought it was perfect for the scene. It just goes to show it really is a subjective business.

    I like your diplomatic examples on how to break up with a crit partner. Let me ask for some advice on my situation. I have that critique group I mentioned, and there is one member who doesn’t actually come to meetings. But he does give me feedback over email. His feedback, however, is like out of left field and I don’t feel it applies to my work at all. I thought maybe he was just being humorous, but another person said he’s always serious with his comments. 😕 So I was thinking of just not sending him my stuff anymore. But I don’t want to be mean, and what if the earth suddenly stops spinning and he shows up at a meeting? Any advice?

    • Your example of how different readers perceive our words is so important for us to keep in mind. Particularly if we only have one partner. The tendency is to follow commentary because someone else looking in must see something we don’t. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t make their feedback invaluable. It just means we need to stay on our toes regarding what we do with it.

      Which leads to the next part of your post. Balancing a healthy crit team can be difficult. If you’re in an otherwise viable group, I’d personally continue sending out my swaps to said critter. At some point, something may resonate that could change your manuscript for the better. Unless he becomes obnoxious, I’d simply temper my reactions to his crits and give his feedback less weight. If he becomes confrontational, I’d drop him like a hot potato. Nobody needs to go through that.

      But, another thing to consider is how you feel about his writing. Do you get something from critting his work? Then it’s a valuable swap. Even if you don’t buy his feedback for your own work. If you dread reading his stuff and can’t ever think of anything positive to say, it may be the chemistry between you that doesn’t work. IN which case, it would be helpful to both of you to drop the relationship.

      Like all things in writing, even critting is very nuanced. Think long and hard about your answers and how you feel about the relationship over all before making a decision. Sometimes we don’t see the benefit of something until it’s gone. And yet, you don’t want to waste valuable time and energy on a poor relationship that will never net anything positive.

      Best luck~

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