Friday, February 18, 2011

Guest Post: On Finding a Worthy Critique Partner

Stolen Borrowed from The Rejectionist   
Hey Rejectionist,

I am in a bit of a dilemma if you will. I can't find a critique partner worthy of my work.

Now let me explain before I make myself sound any more like a Pretentious Bitch.

Currently, I am in a critique group with people I love. I mean, these people are really great. But there are problems with this group.

1. They write all genres. YA, Horror, Sci-Fi ... nothing is off the table for anyone. So no one's particularly focused in any one style.

2. I don't write genre. My heroes win Prestigious Awards. One day, I want to win Prestigious Awards.


from Pretty Pink Unicorn Land
Ha ha! Oh, dearest Author-friend! You DO understand that asking us "where do I find the Ideal Reader" is sort of like asking us "what bar should I hang out in to meet The Great Love of My Life" or "in what city would I find the Perfect State of Enlightenment" or "is there something I can eat that would make me Realize My Fullest Potential, and can you tell me what it is, thank you." The Ideal Reader is like a fucking UNICORN, okay? You hang out in the forest for a couple hundred years and act REALLY AWESOME, and MAYBE you will get lucky. Brilliant editors are as rare, and as precious, as brilliant writers. Editing is a skill like no other, and it is a skill that very few people have. It requires one to be diagnostician, surgeon, and diplomat all at once; to see where it is a writer is going and why it is she is not getting there, AND the ability to explain this to her in a way that helps her move forward. Although many great editors are also great writers, hello Betsy Lerner, plenty of great editors are not great writers at all; they are not really gifts that have much to do with each other. 

However! That is not very useful to you, now, is it. Okay. Well. First, in your situation, which we have certainly been in, we would look deep into our secret heart and ask ourself if we are the proverbial Workshop Butthead. There is nothing WRONG with being Workshop Butthead. The Rejectionist is absolutely, truly, irredeemably Workshop Butthead (and is ALSO a Pretentious Bitch, now that you mention it). We have, as we mentioned on Wednesday, made people fucking CRY in workshops. PEOPLE as in PLURAL. There's not much you can do about it, if you are Workshop Butthead, but it is an important thing to know about yourself, because it means you have no business being in workshops. Here is the secret of workshops: you WILL encounter people who are terrible. TERRIBLE. Not just people you THINK are terrible; people who are OBJECTIVELY TERRIBLE. MFA, online, hometown writing group, middle of Brooklyn or middle of South Dakota, it doesn't matter. You will be exchanging your work with people who are terrible and who are not going to get better. And the unwritten contract you sign, when entering the Workshop, is that you will give their work the same attention and courtesy that they are giving yours. Even if YOU are not terrible in the least (in all fairness, back when we were in workshops, which was a Very Long Time Ago, we were pretty fucking terrible). The payoff for entering into this agreement is the optimistic assumption that, at some point, you will find someone whose feedback is useful to you--and make no mistake, it will have NOTHING TO DO with how good a writer they are, what kind of work they write, or what they read for fun. We mustn't EVER assume that someone cannot tell what makes a great story because s/he writes YA, or science fiction, or romance, okay? OKAY. Even if s/he writes GODAWFUL YA, or science fiction, or romance. Plenty of great stories ARE YA, or science fiction, or romance.

To read the rest of the article, click HERE.

I've been lucky enough, for the most part, to be working with people who are actually quite good at offering feedback.  I've also personally invested a fair amount (sometimes, an ungodly amount of time) into gathering together said people into said feedback group.  People willing to read one's work and offer suggestions, do not simply fall into one's lap; people willing to read who are excellent, are, in fact "like a fucking UNICORN" as the Rejectionist puts it.

from SupaNet - Bath Spa Universtity course
in Contemporary Circus and Physical Performance
Here's the thing.  If your goal is to SELL A BOOK (or a screenplay,) all feedback is useful, because, you're looking to sell it to everyone - aren't you? You're not looking for an audience solely made up of left-handed circus performers with Lithuanian fathers and Brazilian mothers, right?

So, if it doesn't grab the sci-fi writer or the young adult writer or the genre romance writer in your group, people who really and truly want to like your work... what makes you think the average reader browsing a Borders Barnes & Noble or Walmart will decide to buy it?  

Maybe the problem isn't that your readers don't understand your brilliance, maybe the problem is that your project needs work.

So, be grateful for what you have, and if you don't have, quite, what you need in terms of readers, follow The Rejectionist's excellent tips in the rest of the article for finding additional readers to polish your work.  Knowing that you are going to have to put in the energy, time and patient need to capture that Unicorn.

Much praise and pettings to the effing Unicorns I've found
(you know who you are.)

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