Friday, December 20, 2013

The Gift of a Perfect Match: 4 Keys to Finding a Compatible Critique Partner (Part UNO)

A she said-she said account—Amy and Pepper Style

Okay, so perfect might be a stretch! We all know perfection as something we strive towards but never fully achieve. I mean, let’s face it, no matter how many times we nip, tuck, and thigh-master our words, our manuscripts will never be perfect. We are extraordinarily imperfect. Our spouses aren’t perfect. (Well, yours is pretty close, Ames. Admit it.) Shoot, our kids are obviously not perfect (Except mine are pretty close, mwhahaha - NOT ;-), so how monumental is the task of trying to find a good fit for a critique or writing partner if opinions, styles, and personalities vary as wide as the Atlantic?

If you’ve been trying on crit partners like shoes on the clearance rack, perhaps you should shake up your tactic.

Totally agreed, Ames. I do think timing has a lot to do with it too. I only knew Amy for a grand total of a month before I realized this gal might be what I’d been praying for in a crit partner. It can be a long process – but, just like in baby-name choices -- you want to be picky. The right fit DOES matter – now and in the future.

Ahh, Pep… I love ya! So, having been blessed as crit partners that more than meet each others needs, we thought we’d share some key pieces to look for in that elusive ONE!

1. Writing Match: What this really means…

ALS: You might think this refers to matching genres or styles. Not necessarily. The match up doesn’t have to be that “matchy-matchy.” For example, Pepper writes, well… everything, but mainly Historical and Contemporary Romance. I write Romantic Suspense. The subject matter and personality that grace our pages are vastly different… so how it is that we are compatible? Simple. We understand each others motivations for the story. We talk openly about our intentions for the message and tone we hope to convey, and we also talk candidly about our strengths and weaknesses. This arms us with the best insight into giving the kind of feedback that will strengthen each of our unique styles.
Also important, since you will undoubtedly spend countless hours combing over each others work, be sure to look for a style that doesn’t irritate you. Because regardless of how well it is written, if the type of story or the author’s style doesn’t float your boat, you are in for long, tedious months of likely unpleasant and unhelpful feedback. Anyone been there? Or gotten feedback from someone who simply wasn’t even close to your target reader? Finding a writing match is critical in maintaining a long term partnership which will be a great building block for long term growth. Your thoughts, Pep?

PB: Totally agree here, Ames. One of the things that really confirmed the match for me was how much your pacing, style, and even…our shared ‘overwriting’ ;-) worked well for my reading and writing style. It was a wonderful complement. I LOVE reading your work and I think that has to be a giant consideration when determining the right CP-fit. Amy is a mom of two (almost 3) really young kids. I’m a work-outside-the-home mom of five. We have to be careful of the writing time we DO have – and critiquing something that matches our style and interest makes the time we spend worth it! SO worth it!!! (Whole-heartedly agree!) One of the reasons I think it goes smoother in this area too is because I don’t have to do a lot of ‘guessing’ about her intentions in her writing because we ‘get’ each other. My style is similar enough that I understand her intentions (most of the time) and she does mine. This helps maximize the time we spend critiquing.

2. Personality Match: You mean I have to actually like the person?

ALS: Generally, yes. This is a relationship. When we actually like the other person things tend to go more smoothly. Lines of communication are less likely to be bungled and feelings less likely to be hurt. Again, this doesn’t mean that your personalities are the same. But having similar temperaments, or working with someone who ‘gets’ you is a bit like having a boss you can actually stand. (Not that I would know what that is like. Sheesh!) But honestly, our stories are very close to our hearts, and sharing them with someone you can relate to makes even tough critiques more credible, and all the more palatable.

PB: This is REALLY important! Next to my family and colleagues, Ames has to put up with me the most. Since writing is a ‘hopeful’ life career for both of us, we’re planning on being in each others’ lives for a long time to come. We have similar traits in the fact that we’re both more ‘extroverted’, but within that we have very different personalities too. (Amy’s more direct with a sassy edge. GREAT for suspense writing). Thankfully those personalities complement each other more than annoy J J

"A faithful friend is a strong defense."
But here’s the clincher: The key ingredient to our healthy personality match, I believe, is our mutual positive regard. We care about each other, personally and professionally. We chat about dinner and kids and crazy movies. We’ll throw writing stuff in there too, but, for us, it’s more than that. It’s a real friendship.

Another important addition here – expectations!! Ames and I are SUPER busy ladies. One of the beautiful elements of this relationship is that we both ‘get’ the need for flexibility in reading, writing, and critiquing. There are times when I CAN’T get something back to her as quickly as I’d like – and vice versa. Life calls first! Writer after. We have this agreement and understanding
for flexibility around the writing. Praise God for that!!

So there are a few ideas to get you started. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavor. Spend some time in prayer about it. Strike up a conversation; be honest about what you are looking for. Who knows, your perfect match might be closer than you think.

Your turn: What are you looking for in a critique partner? Or what elements have you found work well for you? Which ones don't?


                                Merry Christmas!!!
                                  -Amy & Pepper


Unknown said...

Ah Pepper and Amy, you girls are fun. :)

My critique partner is Lindsay Harrel. She's one of the coolest people (persons? I never know what's grammatically correct!!) I know. We met online in 2012 when she sent me a super sweet email and had an instant connection. I think one of the best things we did was do sort of a trial period to see how well we worked together, match up our expectations, that kind of thing. Our goal was "friendship first," so we didn't want CP-ing to get in the way of that. And it definitely hasn't.

We also switched up how we critique. We used to send each other our writing once every week or so...but that got cumbersome. Now we wait until we have larger chunks or even full drafts to send...and in the meantime, we brainstorm together, chat about scenes that are or aren't working, hold each other accountable with our goals, pray for each other...and basically talk in some way, shape or form most days. :)

We also have a small group with two other writers--Gabrielle Meyer and Alena Tauriainen. So we all brainstorm together, pray for each other, even have retreats together. Just the other night we did a Google Hangout just to catch up and pray for each other. It was awesome. LOVE these ladies!!

WOW...long-winded answer today. :)

Pepper said...

The 'friendship' aspect has been my favorite - and I think for Ames and I to work together it HAS to be one of the top things on the list.
You hit on a key component too - (which Ames and I will cover on Monday) The spiritual aspect.

What a blessing!!

And the added 'group' dynamics! Definitely a plus. Having my CP also be a part of my 'sisters' The AlleyCats - makes the the relationship 10 times sweeter!! It's a dynamic only GOD could have fashioned!

I like the chapter-by-chapter critique for my schedule, but I love that the way you and Lindsay have worked together to find your creative groove :-)

Ryoma Sakamoto.Japan said...
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Julia M. Reffner said...

I love the way God brought you two together in a unique way.

I've had a CP for a few years now that is face-to-face. She's a fabulous writer, goes to church and has strong morals...but I don't think we are in the same place spiritually and that can make it challenging.

I have a few new friends who write this year. And I'm hopeful that at least one may not lead to a CP, but at least a writing support partner. I'm very introverted so having the support locally has helped me grow.

My favorite picture of you two is the last one. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

melissa- I love seeing you and Lindsay banter on FB... reminds me of Pep and me and how good God is to orchestrate that perfect match! And I agree... the friendship comes first, and is the most important aspect! What a gift!

and ohh... a retreat. Pep, when is it that you are coming to STL again? I'm starting to have withdrawls. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Aww, Jules... that's so great that you found someone who was so compatable! And what a blessing that she is so close that you can meet face to face. I am green with envy there!

Julia M. Reffner said...

And to encourage others, I know a lot of us Alley Cats have had a long journey to finding a CP. Pepper, you were without one for a couple years right? So I think that can encourage others that it can happen, even if you've been waiting for a while.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Loved this, ladies!

And basically...yeah, what Melissa said. Except SHE'S one of the coolest peeps I know. ;)

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great post and I know it's so important to find that perfect partner. I noticed mine when I won a self-pubbed book of hers--I loved her lyrical writing style and the depth of emotion she pulled out of me. I knew I needed a partner who could help me access those emotive depths but who GOT my writing and my all-over-the-place genres. Also needed someone who was driven, like I am. At one point, my future crit-partner prayed for me in an email and I was so moved. I think we started emailing, and then developed a mutual appreciation for each other's writing styles and goals. We're not the same--we have different writing styles (I'm sparse and first person, she's lyrical and usually third), and somewhat different genres. But we're definitely linked in so many ways. I could go on and on...but suffice it to say I'm ALWAYS happy when she has some new writing to send me! And my crit partner is Becky Doughty, author of Elderberry Croft and many other wonderful books. I can't say enough good about her. God answered my prayers!

Ashley Clark said...

You guys are so cute! Great post! As for things to look for in a critique partner, one of the things I love about Angie is the way she calls me out when something needs to be changed, but always does so in a way that doesn't sting... Usually, she'll even offer an alternative. She likes my style, so she's able to tell me when I need to tone things down, add more humor, etc.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

See, mutual affection at work. Love it, Linds!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

I agree Jules. It's a process of first determining what you want and need in a cp and then beginning a long prayerful search. perhaps for some there isn't just one. Perhaps others work with different people who will strengthen and encourage them for a season. THere is no wrong answer. But when it's right, it's mutually beneficial and almost effortless. That is something to strive to.

And I'm not saying this to rub my luck in anyone elses face. But it is important to know what to look for so you can invest your time wisely.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

What a great story, Heather. Pepper and I started in a similar way. Just friends, prayer partners, brainstorming buds... then it made a natural segue into more intensive critiques.

And I agree, compatibility doesn't mean parallel. Pepper and I write very differently. Style, genre, strengths, weaknesses (for the most part), even reading preferences. But we are both drawn to eachothers writing, and can see the things we ourselves become blind to. :) So glad you came by the Alley today!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Yep, Ash, so important to have a partner that gets you... and even deciphers your intention when it doesn't come across on the page. There is a lot of shared intuition that goes on between CPs. OFten times, I actually can predict what Pep might say about a certain section so I make adjustments beforehand. :) Love you and Ang as partners. Match made in heaven!

Angie Dicken said...

GREAT post girls!!!! Makes me miss you all so much! I love Ashley as a crit partner because she is so insightful into my characters and what points I am trying to make, and she pushes me to shine...When I know I am being lazy in developing something, I can be sure that Ashley will push me to dig deeper and write stronger. We write totally different kinds of things, but we both understand eachother's voices well enough to have a great chemistry! I agree with what you all are saying so much!

Pepper said...

Btw, Ames - I LOVE that pic of you with the fortune. How timely, right!!

Pepper said...

Right, Jules.
Nobody could put up with me ;-)
In all honesty, I think Amy and I clicked well for several reasons. Our writing styles matched well and our personalities, but I think what worked really well for me was the fact that it was relaxed. There is a mutual understanding of grace. Amy is so faithful with her critiques - solid, and it really matches what I need.
It' REALLY is a God-thing

Pepper said...

Totally agree with what Amy said, Heather.
I am "drawn" to Amy's stories - and that was another clear indicator of a match :-)

Pepper said...

Great, Amy is into mind-reading now.
Sigh.... I'm doomed

Pepper said...

Miss you back, Ang!!
Good gracious, Amy is definitely a pusher!!! LOL. In the best, not drug-related kind of way. She's great a making me strive for my best...though she's probably going to be a bit bummed that I'm leaning toward historical on my next WIP ;-) Let's see how she handles THAT!! ;-)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

That's funny Pep, cos I hear Amy is leaning toward an Amish vampire techno-thriller for her next novel...

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

You gals are so cute together. :)

I miss my crit partners - I was in a little group with four other girls, and we became such close friends through it. But after baby #3 arrived, something had to give. I spend a LOT of time on critiques, so doing four each week added up to 4-5 hours just on critting. I got to the stage where I didn't have any time left over to do my own writing, and I just couldn't keep up the pace, so I pulled out.

I think I'm in a season where one partner would be a better fit, time-wise. But I'll be pretty wary before I jump into a new partnership, because I need to know I have the time to keep up with it before I commit. I hate to let anyone down.

Pepper said...

Awesome...wonder what genre that is, Karen!

And her hero juggles 'stake' knives? (Amy has a thing for knives)
Amish vampire juggling hero meets Protestant werewolf astronaut heroine.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Hahaha! Okay, now you're just being silly. ;)

Angie Dicken said...

Oh,Pepper...your stuff is so fun to read regardless of time period! I am sure Amy will be intrigued regardless!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

Two of the best crit partners in business. Beautiful, talented, and kind. Love you both!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Ah hahah!!!! Pepper and Karen, you are cracking me up!! And I've already read some of the thornbearer and loved it, Pep! I can handle your historical. Besides, there are little historical snippets in JTWYA. And I loved that!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Aww, Laurie.... I know I'm not old enough, but can I adopt you? xoxo

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