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Mar 5, 2021

Courtesies That Catch a CP

By: Jessie Schat

Whether new to CritiqueMatch (welcome!) or a long-time resident, finding a solid, dependable critique partner (CP) is vital. No pressure, right? Unfortunately, some can’t seem to keep a partner around after the first read, or a CP flakes after so long. If that hits home for you, I’m sure you’ve wondered that famous “Why?”

And no, I don’t believe it was your onion breath this time.

Most CP relationships begin with swaps, and later, once you’ve become grounded and more comfortable in the critique scene, you can either expand or refine your trusted inner circle. However, nothing chases away potential partners faster than harsh words and bad—and I mean really bad—advice.  

After diving into the critique scene myself, here are 5 critique courtesies I’ve learned that are highly sought after in a CP.

1) Know When To Say “No”
As ironic as it is, my first tip about gaining CPs is knowing when to turn them down. But I promise, I cannot emphasize enough how vital this is. 

If a project doesn’t interest you, or the writing style isn’t one you’re going to mesh well with, there is less harm in declining a project than pushing through and giving advice that doesn’t serve the author’s aim/purpose. This also may be a reason if you find it hard to keep CPs around (they might not be the right fit for your work). 

However, it’s courteous to state this before ghosting fellow CPs—no one likes being haunted by those nasty whys late at night. 

2) Cue Laugh Track 
Being on the receiving end of knowing when a joke lands or when the waterworks didn’t happen is a huge help. It’s also encouraging when a CP puts what they love. Critiques don’t always have to be cynical! I personally go all out in this department because, as authors, we adore reactions to the characters, world, and story we’ve cultivated. There’s nothing better than reading in the comments: 

I looooooooooved what you did here!!!
OMG, bawling!

I get not everyone talks like this, but you can’t deny these comments lift the spirit. 

3) Umm… What?
Once, my sister asked me if I had a watch. My answer was “yes” before a long and awkward silence. What she’d actually asked me for was the time. 

When critiquing a fellow’s work, remember the courtesy of explaining the what’s and why’s of your comments. Our assumptions don’t always match up with another’s interpretation. Elaborating reduces the receiver’s confusion and helps them grasp your reasoning, enhancing their ability to apply it to not just their current work but future projects as well, making them a better writer—gold star for you! Also, if the advice you’re giving is difficult, providing your logic behind the comment can ease a possibly stubborn author into, “Well, I guess they do have a point…”

And articulate. Make sure your comments make sense!

4) Don’t be that neighbor (Mr. Rogers would not be proud).
Imagine you just bought a place and worked obsessively to decorate it just how you want it. Excited, you invite the neighbor over—because you just have to share this awesomeness with someone!—but then the neighbor starts giving you advice on where the chairs should sit and what wall the mirror should hang, and pretty soon their redecorating your place to look like theirs. 

This addresses two important points. First: knowing when to say “no” goes both ways. Second: if you’re that neighbor, don’t expect to be invited back for the block party. 

An author opening themselves to share their work is something that should always be respected, and it’s a courtesy to remember that this is their project, their vision, their voice, and a CP should always honor that.

5) Be Kind. Doctor’s Orders.
When someone breaks their nose, one of the first musts is to reset it. Yeah, it hurts. It makes a gross sound. According to some, it can hurt worse than the initial break. 

But it’s necessary for healing correctly.

Sometimes, a CP will have to give advice or point out a flaw that may feel like a punch to the face on the receiving end, when in fact, we’re trying to mend an error. This error may be obvious to us, but not everyone. Kindness is a courtesy that, when used, is like a balm to what potentially could otherwise be a debilitating blow. No matter the subject of your comments, they should be framed in a way that encourages the writer. Example:

You think that’s funny?
That joke didn’t land for me personally.

See the difference? (If not, I recommend the ophthalmologist on Main St.)

CPs are not acquired because we want fans for our work. They’re here to make us better writers, give tips, notice weak spots, and bad grammerz (oops). They’re giving their time to improve your project. The least you can do in return is be respectful, honest, and kind.  

Lastly, it is a courtesy when receiving such a critique to respond with kindness despite whatever hurt you may feel. If another is rude to you, that’s on them, but it’s your choice if you’re kind. 

In the end, after all the comments and errors and complaints, what matters most is we keep writing, and, when critiquing, encouraging others to do the same. Outside of facts, all else is subjective opinion, and we as writers are not mandated to cater to every opinion. That said, being a CP is a privilege, a joy, and sometimes the beginning of a genuine friendship. If you’ve had trouble catching a CP, apply these tips and see what happens!

I’m cheering for you!

About the author:

Roo (pen name to Jessie Schat) is a writing enthusiast who adores getting her hands dirty when helping fellow authors shape their works. She enjoys most fiction, but her soft spot will forever be fantasy. Having completed multiple manuscripts, she’s currently in the query trenches seeking traditional publishing, and is building her author platform (you can follow her on Twitter @JessieSchat).