Saturday, October 20, 2012

The CP from H-E-Double-L (Choosing Critique Partners Wisely)

Over the years, Critique Partners (CPs) have assisted me in the writing learning process in two extreme-opposite ways. On the positive side, these fellow writers have guided and encouraged my writing voice, style, and processes. The other side, one not so pleasant, was when a critique partner's feedback evolved into negative, critical stifling edits that undermined my confidence and stifled my ability to trust my own creative process and writing voice.

According to this CP, initially, my writing was: 1) overly descriptive, 2) too passionate, 3) excessively detailed, etc. Then, when I adjusted, my writing became too stark, too flat, etc. Despite continued efforts, I never was able to, according to this person's feedback, discover "just the right" style. I exchanged a few chapters with this CP, then stopped sending my writing.

Since I was committed and the CP didn't seem to notice my not sharing, I hung in through the publication of the book I assisted in critiquing. At this point, the writer developed what I have come to call Newly Published Authoritis, which translates into a condition where a writer asks for multiple critiques, but doesn't consider they need to implement any of the critique suggestions because they are now published and know it all. (I still don't have an answer as to why a writer would ask for feedback repeatedly and not implement at least some small portion of that feedback. If a particular critique, or CP relationship, isn't working, why not say so and move on? Why would a writer waste another writer's valuable time in such a manner? Another symptom of Newly Published Authoritis, perhaps.)

After numerous reviews of the same beginning chapters, with the same major this-isn't-working issues still in play, I snapped. I got to my I-can't-take-it-anymore stance and gave a scathing critique that listed, bluntly and harshly, everything I had noted in the earlier versions, to include, IF this is a romance, why do we not meet the hero until page 40?

For the final critique I shared with this critique partner, I responded in the same manner in which she had critiqued me. I am not proud of this nor do I recommend this critique-jabbing response in reaction to the same. In looking back, I am ashamed for letting my resentment build, continuing in the situation, and lashing out in that manner.

Heaven help me, I devolved into a dreaded CP from H-E-double-L. Ugly. Unbecoming. Acting that way was not who I am and is not something I choose to or will repeat. I am determined not to repeat the CP from H-E-double-L experience ever again, either on the giving or the receiving end.

I wish I could say that after I "blasted" out that final critique and terminated the CP relationship -- if given the opportunity, yes, I would apologize for responding in kind -- I shook off the uncertainty and lack of belief in myself the interaction with this CP generated, and went on to be a prolific writer.

YEARS. As a matter of fact, several years later, I have finally returned to close to my original writing style. Although I've eased up somewhat on the "flowery" descriptions, I've regained the passion that I lost (in my style, voice, pacing, character-reader connection, etc.)

Did this CP intend to cause me harm? Probably not. (At least, I  prefer to think that is the case.) Also, in lieu of writing this post, I googled this former CP. This writer has just released the book being written when we parted ways and serves as an editor for several independent small publishers. So, apparently and thankfully, no negative effects there.

For my part, I have learned, if I can't critique something in a positive manner, I choose not to critique. I won't go there. If someone disregards my suggestions, I respect that and their style. I also have boundaries in place so that I choose not to review the same material numerous times.

The other thing I have learned is discernment as to whether my CP's critiques are positive and constructive or criticial and constrictive.

Part of my current CP's process is to use document highlights. One color indicates sections she likes and relates to as a reader, another highlight color shows areas that lack character-reader emotional connection, etc. She's positive and encouraging. With honesty, professionalism, and positiveness, we build each other up. Which is as it should be.

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