Critique Partner Etiquette: a bit of a rant

About a week ago, I saw a post on the NaNoWriMo forums by a person who was looking for someone to help them edit their book. Helping people edit their books – or anything, really – being one of my all-time favorite things to do, I offered to help them out.

I love editing, in spite of all the whining I do about editing Summer Rush (which, in case you were wondering, is almost done! Whoop!). And I love helping out my fellow NaNoers. I met my first ever crit partner on the NaNo forums, that being the amazing and fantabulous Mary Kate. Plus, major bonus, this person said they’d gone over their novel with a fine tooth comb already.

The experience has not turned out to be as pleasant as I anticipated.

They did not go over their novel with a fine tooth comb. Not unless they have no grasp of grammar whatsoever. I’m talking basic grammar, folks, such as using periods and commas (although commas can be tricky little buggers sometimes).

Be honest about your writing mechanics.

If you’ve struggled with the mechanics of writing for the longest forever, be honest. And don’t say something vague like “my grammar’s not the best.” Your editing partner needs to know just how deep they’re getting into a project so that they can be honest about how much time they can put into it.

I would have liked to be warned about the enormity of grammatical problems, but that’s okay. I can deal with that. It’s easier to correct grammar than to have to tell someone their novel’s structure is faulty. Which leads me to problem number two. Within reading the first chapter, I found myself bombarded with all sorts of glaring errors. So, as gently as I could, I tried to convey them to the writer.

Within minutes of sending the writer an email with suggestions and the grammatically corrected chapter, I got an email back. This person thanked me for correcting the grammar then proceeded to explain why the plot/character errors were present and why they would not be correcting them.

Don’t ask for help if you’re not going to take it.

By no means am I saying this writer was a moron for not taking my suggestions. I’m not that full of myself (I sure hope not, anyway!). What irks me is that the person never truly stopped to consider that there could be any merit behind my concerns. How do I know that, you ask? They could not possibly have given my suggestions any thought if they returned my email within five minutes of receiving it.

To become a better writer, you have to face the reality that you can’t do it all on your own. I think most of us will always be blind to at least some of the faults of our writing, and that’s why it’s so important to have our writing critiqued by other people, as well as to be open to those critiques.

The fact that I was dismissed so easily after the work I’d put into my critique was a lot like getting an F on a test you studied hard for and thought you did well on, but it wasn’t that that made me lose all faith in this writer.

For kimchi’s sake, DO NOT accuse your critique partner of wanting to steal your work.

In the email containing the writer’s novel, there was a thick paragraph informing me that (basically) by opening the attached document, I swore on my mother’s life that I would not steal the work in the attached document, and all hell would break lose if I did.

I appreciate that this writer is concerned about keeping their work safe from plagiarizers (this baby is almost 200,000 words long, so they clearly put a lot of work into it). But I don’t think that is the best way to begin a critique partnership. It’s too… hostile and accusing are two words that come to mind.

We writers – those of us serious about pursuing our craft with integrity – are a good bunch. And we have far too many projects of our own to want to rip off someone else’s work.

It’s not an easy undertaking to find a critique partner who you work well with, whose opinion you trust, and who is willing to put some blood and sweat into your novel as well as her own. (I happen to have one who is absolutely amazing, BUT YOU CAN’T HAVE HER! GET BACK!… just kidding). So when you find one, hang onto him/her. They are worth their weight in gold.

8 thoughts on “Critique Partner Etiquette: a bit of a rant

  1. YIKES! This sounds like a total nightmare :/
    I’ve worked with people like this before and it is no fun. I’ve been editing a lot recently and have established a few ground rules.
    First off I make it a point to talk a bit with the person via email/skype/just reading their blog/etc. before I decide to take in their work.
    Second, I ALWAYS tell them at the outset that I will send them their first chapter with edits in the first week, and if one of us doesn’t feel like the relationship is working out then we can just end it. No hard feelings.
    And Three, before any of this I always ask for a synopsis. If their synopsis is well written and professional, then they usually are too.

    … wow i had a lot to say (a post on this later???)

    Anyway, I too am thankful to have my own awesome critique partner. If only everyone I work with could be that way…

    1. I love that second rule, and I will probably be following it in the future.

      My current situation IS a bit of a disaster, but the person really, really, REALLY needs the help, so I’m going to try to soldier through. Fortunately, they’ve only written one novel, so we’ll be done with each other when this project is complete.

      Yes, you should write a post on this! As you can tell, some of us could use the pointers!

  2. That’s an awful situation to be in, especially considering you’ve only got the other person’s interests at heart. That kind of attitude was one of the things that has put me off quite a few writing forums in the past – when people ask for proofreaders, it seems that most of the time what they actually want is praisereaders (not a word, I know :P). Proofreaders are so important, and as you said you can’t spot all the flaws in your own work, so people should be grateful for their opinions. Of course, as a writer, it is our perrogative to choose what criticism to accept, and what to ignore, but even then we must remember that those who give it have taken the time to think about it. Just because we don’t agree doesn’t negate the person’s effort.

    Also, just to annoy them, you should also critique the paragraph about not stealing…

    1. I like that word, “praisereaders.” It’s perfect to describe some of the writers that I know. When you think about it, it’s actually quite amazing that someone could spend so much time writing a piece of literature when they’re clearly not serious about perfecting their craft.

      Getting a critique partner was the best thing that ever happened to me as a writer, not only because we could help each other, but because I finally got an understanding of just how work-intensive this whole writing gig is.

      By the way, I saw that we have the same blog theme. Great minds think alike!

  3. Hey Gabrielle! Loved this rant, err, post! (And not just because it had my name in it… ;)) I hope you did find my ‘critiques’ helpful way back when I read your novel in 2008/2009 — goodness that feels so long ago! Honestly, you had gone over your book with such a fine tooth comb, there wasn’t much I could help you improve upon. (And, if I haven’t offered already: I would be more than happy to critique any more of your novels. I know you will have made it the best you can before sending it to me and that you will consider all the comments I send back.)
    Honestly, I feel sorry for this person. You, being an amazing author, quick on the keyboard, and fast to respond (unlike me…sorry I take so long to reply to emails and such!), would make the ideal critique partner! I hope they end up seeing that in you and thank you for it before all is said and done.
    Soldier on, girl! You can do it!
    Happy critiquing,
    Mary Kate

    PS: @Hyperteller — Totally agree about critiquing their “don’t steal my work” para! Lol 🙂
    @nkeda — Nice rules! I need to write those down…

    1. It’s crazy to think we’ve been friends for so long! It feels like just yesterday that I saw your NaNoMail in my inbox. I don’t tell you near enough how grateful I am for you helping me out when I was really just starting to take writing seriously, and for being an awesome friend. And thank you for offering to help even more! I might have to take you up on that offer soon. Haha.

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