A Conversation between Critique Partners: Trusting Your Own Work

So this isn’t really a conversation post this time–more like me adding onto Sarah’s last post. Mostly because she touched on something I feel very strongly about:

The idea that having a critique partner somehow means you don’t trust your own writing.

Just as Sarah said in her post: that’s not true. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and (excuse my language) call bullshit on anyone who says something like that.

Because it is just so, so, SO wrong. Having a critique partner is a sure sign that you absolutely trust your writing. In fact, it means you trust it enough to think it’s actually shareable. It means you believe in yourself enough to want to improve as a storyteller. It means you know your manuscript is not the best yet, but that you’re willing to make it better.

And above all, it means you trust your critique partner’s writing. You trust your CP and believe in him/her so fully you are actually willing to use your valuable time to read their work and offer feedback.

More than anything else, that giving is what makes a critique partnership strong. It can’t all be take (and should you ever find your CP only takes-takes-takes, then it’s time to move on [Sarah: I owe you, so I’m just waiting for you to send me something that isn’t already in spotless condition and actually needs critiquing]). Not only should you trust yourself enough to share YOUR unpolished, unperfected writing, but you must trust in your CP enough to take their own unpolished, unperfected writing.

It’s a careful balance, critique partners. It’s a relationship that grows as your writing skill improves. Gosh, when I think about some of the stuff I let my CPs read a few years back, I cringe. And I bet they do the same. We weren’t at the writing level we’re at now; we grew together.

But even though I wasn’t the best I could be then (and I am certainly not the best I can be now; I’m always working at it), I trusted my writing. I believed in it, and I knew that I was strong enough to take a bit of criticism–and that I would only become stronger from each comment, each track-change, and each plot-hole-uncovered.

Actually, a lot of pursuits or hobbies or skills are honed by trusting yourself and trusting someone else. Back when I used to do karate, my sensei would pair the class up during drills. Sometimes he would put me with a higher belt, but more often than not, he would pair me with someone of a similar skill level. As a purple belt, I’d go with a green belt, a brown belt, or another purple. Then, during the drills, I would push myself like mad.

Example: We had this AWFUL drill called “zombie-keep-away” that required you to use all the power in your front thrust kick to keep away the “zombie”…who was really just your partner holding a giant pad. Because my partner would always be pushing me (quite literally), I would max out my effort–no holding back. And then when it was my turn to hold the pad, I wouldn’t go easy either. Me and my partner would grow stronger together; our skills would get honed together; and we trusted each other to not only help all the way to the end of the drill, but to also push all the way to the end.

You can’t improve if you aren’t pushed to your limits. And just as my thigh muscles would always SCREAM at me after a particularly rough round of zombie-keep-away, I was stronger by the time next week’s drill rolled around.

It’s the same with critique partners. Our feelings ALWAYS sting in the face of criticism–no matter how long you’ve been doing this or how close you are with your CP. But with time, it’ll sting less. It’ll become more of a “huh, I guess she’s right. I’d better redo that.” Plus, the more you critique, the better you get at spotting your OWN mistakes. I have learned more about writing from my critique work than I have from any workshop, text book, lecture, or convention combined. It’s just like martial arts: you can get the gist from a book or kata, but zombie-keep-away will really test how strong your front thrust kicks are. 😉

So the next time you hear some a$$hole say, “I don’t believe in critique partners. It’s a sign you don’t trust your own writing,” you can give them a nice front kick in the stomach and count that as one zombie kept away.*

*You probably shouldn’t do that, actually. I think that could potentially get you arrested. But you can flick them an ever-so-polite bird instead. 😉