Partners in Crime

Partners in Crime

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Used under Creative Commons license. Photo by guldfisken.

Fellow author and partner in crime Eric Stone has been blogging for a few days about criticism, and yesterday, he wrote specifically about working with me.

I have said on more than one occasion that I don’t belong to a writer’s group. This is not to say there is anything wrong with them. But writer’s groups and I are not well suited for one another. I do my first draft in a bubble. I don’t share my outlines while I work. I don’t read anything remotely close to what I’m writing. And I don’t give out so much as a single page until the whole bloody thing is done. At which point, I hand it off to my 3 first readers, and we all tear it about. Then back together it goes and off to my agent, who tears it apart again. Back together and then to my editor. And around and around we go. For me, those are more than enough opinions. There is only one exception: Eric.

Eric and I met when I was setting up speaking events for authors, and he was an author doing speaking events. That was five or more years ago, and we’ve been working together ever since. We meet once a week under the pretense of eating or drinking, and we talk about an awful lot of things. But the thing we’re always coming around to is whatever we’re both working on. He’s the only person I tell when things are going awry. I hash out plot points with him. Kvetch. Bemoan. Celebrate. He still doesn’t get any pages until I’m done with the first draft. But he’s smarter than I am, more experienced than I am, and I take his opinion very seriously. There’s almost nothing he could or would say that would hurt my feelings. I rely on him to be absolutely honest, and I am absolutely honest with him. We don’t always agree, but we always talk.

The question Eric seems to be driving at over at his blog is: What makes a critique relationship work – whether one-on-one or in a group – and makes it not work?

For he and I, there seem to be a few factors that work in our favor. First, we began as colleagues and became friends. There has always been a professional aspect to our relationship. Second, he and I both began our careers as professional journalists. We’re very accustomed to editors, critics and deadlines. Our hides are made of rhinoceros skin. And finally, we’re close. We trust each other. We mean only the best.

So what about you? If you’re a writer, what do you think makes for a good critique relationship?

2 Comments

  • Eric

    18.10.2011 at 16:43

    Very kind of you to say so, but considering that I have many more years of killing brain cells behind me than you do, it is my considered opinion that you are smarter than me – which is one of the many reasons why you are so useful to my writing.

  • Colin

    18.10.2011 at 16:44

    Trust, honesty, and a thick skin. You must trust a) that your critique friend has the best interest of the book at heart, and they aren’t just being picky for the sake of it–that they want the best for you and your writing career; b) that your critique friend will be honest with you. Honesty means saying both what’s good and what’s bad about the book. At first the friend may be hesitant to discuss what’s bad, but my experience is, they soon get over it (I had to tell mine that it was okay to tell me what worked too!). And if all these are in place, that makes the thick skin easier to acquire. Sensitivity to criticism is dulled, I think, when you trust the person critiquing, and you know they are telling you truths (that you probably suspected yourself all along) to help you make your novel better. Distancing yourself from your work helps too: looking at it as if it were just another book.

    That’s what I think makes for a good critiquing relationship. 🙂