Once again I’ve sent a manuscript off to be read by my critique partner. I trust her to tell me what’s working, where I’m doing well. But I also trust her to tell me what isn’t working, where I’m failing and flailing, to type in clear language whether this story is ready for me to suit up and fling into the world.
And it’s nice knowing she expects the same from me.
Sometimes when I’m critiquing, I’m worried that I’m being mean, even if in retrospect, and when comparing my critiques to others, that never appears to be the case. It’s what I want from other people, to flatly say “I don’t understand” or “This is boring”, “I don’t believe your character” or “This whole page needs to go.” I need to know how someone outside of my brain is effected by my story, and that’s what a good critique partner wants right back.
Still, I’m so anxious about making people upset, about having someone angry at me (I will stress for days if I say something weird in a text message and a friend never responds), and I too often equate my being honest with being mean. It’s how I wind up being too passive-aggressive from day-to-day. But, there’s no being passive-aggressive, or pandering, when you’re critiquing — none of us have time for that. We need to know what’s wrong, so we can fix it, editing and rewriting and scribbling circles in a notebook until the solution snaps in our heads like a firecracker.
It’s wonderful, to find other writer-people that you can be honest with. People who trust your opinion, who know the difference between constructive criticism and petty meanness. People who you aren’t overly concerned with hurting their feelings (they’ll get hurt eventually) because you’re focused on helping them mold their story into the most near-perfect shape you can.
And if you can trust them to give the same back, that’s a pretty good deal.