NOW. Comparing critiques to performance reviews.
Most of us, at some time in our lives, have received a performance review. Many of us have also prepared them. For those of us who are writers, if we're lucky, we have found one or two people to share the critiquing process with.
Giving and receiving either can be anxiety factories. How to encourage and inspire? How to edify and uplift? How to evaluate and learn? What to receive and what to reject?
Here's where they're the same: there are certain fundamentals that must be mastered. On the job, you have a skill-set that translates to productivity for your employer. On the keyboard, you have a skill-set that translates to productivity for your reader.
There are objective and subjective areas in both. Quantifying results and management style. Grammar and artistic license.
Here's where they're different: a performance review has the power to change your life. From a promotion to a demotion to a you're-outta-here, a performance review can alter the fundamental way you survive.
With a critique, you can accept the comments or toss them out with the coffee grounds. A good critique leaves the power with you, the writer.
THE BELL CURVE
I've thought about this a little and believe that in the beginning, when everyone is learning the basics of writing, there is no problem with writers of different genres critiquing one another. The subtleties of suspense compared to romance compared to fantasy can all be layered in during later learning. The basics of POV and backstory issues are the same in every genre.
The curve widens where craft concepts need to fold into genre styles and elements. This wider part of the bell may be better served with writers who are on the same learning curve and writing in the same category. Pacing is different with suspense than it is with womens fiction.
At the other end of the curve is where you'll find writers who are comfortable writing their chosen genres, who have figured out a couple of key elements, and who understand enough about the other types of books they can identify the subtle differences. At this level, I think multiple-genre critique partners can work as well as they do for the beginning writers.
TO HAVE SOMEONE CRITIQUE OR NOT?
Personally, I love another set of eyes. Sometimes what's in my head about a certain situation never actually made it to paper.
I have grown as a writer because other writers have given me criticism, both positive and negative.
But not every writer wants or needs a critique partner. There are authors out there who never share their work while they write. My guess is they have established themselves and work with editors who understand their weaknesses and strengths from the get-go. I have to admit I'm a little curious as to the level and complexity of the edits they receive from the publisher.
WHERE TO FIND A CRITIQUE GROUP
Join an association of writers. Most organizations have online critique groups available to their members.
Check with your local library. If they don't have one (or they're all full) start one of your own.
Technique is noticed most markedly in the case of those who have not mastered it.
CR: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen.
It's all better with friends.