More on "The Entire Freaking Internet"

— February 02, 2011 (11 comments)
NOTE: Apparently, I'm not the only one who decided it was Critique Week. On Monday, LT Host wrote about the different kind of beta readers, and Natalie Whipple is running a crit partner classifieds. I'm starting to feel redundant, but I'm nothing if not lazydetermined. Let us press on!

Stop me if you know this feeling. You find a critique group only to discover its members are where you were five years ago. Their comments are glowing because they don't know what to say, or else they're pedantic nitpicks that don't help you improve.* You'd prefer a critique from that recently-agented blogger you follow (or Neil Gaiman, if we're being honest), but they stopped answering your e-mails after that "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" comment you made on their blog.

What are you supposed to do?

Fortunately, God and Al Gore made the internet. Do you know how many unpublished authors of every skill level are out there? Thousands. Blogging, commenting, tweeting, and most importantly, critiquing. What you need to do is find the ones who (a) are around (or above!) your skill level and (b) like you a little. Then ask as politely as possible if they want to swap critiques.

How do you know if they like you? Comment on their blog, respond to their tweets, and be a friend. Don't be creepy. Don't be overly-friendly if you hardly know them. And DON'T interact just to get a critique (people can smell that).

How do you know their skill level? Most of the time you don't until you swap a critique. But generally, I say if you've got the time then swap. You can learn something even from beginners, and friends are friends regardless of (current) skill level.

Critiquing an 80,000-word manuscript is a big undertaking, so you need to know what you're asking of people. This is why you swap. This is why you're always professional. This is why you're understanding if they say no, regardless of the reason.

And this is why you're always, always thankful when someone does accept your offer. Even if this is the only manuscript of yours they read, you're making a friend, and that counts for a lot.

* I once got a critique for Pawn's Gambit that said, "Let me send you a story written in Scottish dialect. You deserve it for the headache I got from reading your story.... I suspect no matter what I say you're going to continue trying to write fantasy dialog."

Fortunately, by then I'd had so many people tell me they loved Air Pirates slang that the critique just made me laugh.

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  1. I completely agree. This is very true. I happen to be really lucky in the critique group I have, but I have to say that I also spent a few months getting to know the people I asked before I approached them. It's worked out well because we all are relatively close in level of experience, which, as you point out, is key.

  2. Finding good crit partners is an on-going task. Not only because you advance in your writing skills, but other people do too ... more quickly or less so, depending on how much time they can spend on the craft. I squee when an author I respect asks me to crit their work, and happily swap crits with people that aren't as far along the path as I am. Because some amazing crit partners helped me get where I am today (and continue to do so!).

    p.s. well, that critiquer was right about one matter what he says, you'll still do that cool slang thing that you do!

  3. yikes! what a cruel thing that guy said! i agree with not being phony-friendly... like in general- for the entirety of life in addition to regarding crit partners. :)
    it is really hard to find someone who you respect and can trust to look at your writing and give you genuine feedback. and for most of us- i think there is that fear of being ripped apart and hated for what we write, that makes finding the right people so hard... man, i hope that makes sense!

  4. I've had this problem for a while, not only finding crit buddies at my level, but also finding people who click with me stylistically, which may be even more important for me at this point. Part of the problem is that I don't produce a lot and end up giving more crits than I get, so I'm taking a crit break until I have something to swap.

  5. I'm glad that nasty critique didn't stop you from writing pirate slang.

    You do have to be a friend. I think Natalie is doing a great thing for people who aren't sure how to find CPs, but I'd rather find my own.

  6. You've always got to take a chance on stuff like that. I met my current crit partner (and now best friend) via blogging. She set the both of us up with two others and we do a regular crit-swap. It's more than I could ever have imagined for my writing.

  7. This is true. I wish I had a larger critique group, but I am so lucky with the few - spaced out though they are - that read for me. I'd be happy to read, and offer suggestions, for others.

  8. @Matthew: You're right. All my crit partners were people I spent time getting to know before we swapped MSS. That's key, I think.

    @Susan: It's true. You never know who might give you that critical piece of advice, or who might become a key friend to know later on.

    @aspiring: I've never had something ripped apart, except that one time. What helped me there was having many people crit my work, so I knew it was just one guy being snippy.

  9. @Sherri: That's a good point about not having anything to swap all the time. Most of the folks I've met online, though, are willing to crit on faith (as am I). When I have something ready, I just shoot an e-mail to them seeing if they're still interested.

    @Myrna: Actually, it looks like Natalie is just organizing data, not setting people up. If it works, those classifieds could be useful for anyone, even folks who don't submit their info.

    @Elena: Agreed, you've got to take a chance. Those chances can be minimized, though, if you "stalk" a potential crit partner online a while before approaching them, just to get a feel for what they're like.

    @Elaine: A couple of good crit partners can be better than a large group sometimes too!

  10. Oh, yes. This whole week is just Al Gore's way of telling me I need to get out more on his great invention and start doing...just what you (and LT and Natalie) said. Maybe moving overseas is going to help me with that. Maybe actually opening my mouth is going to help even more. :)

  11. Thanks for the clarification. I think that's a better idea and a whole lot less of a headache for her.