North American Field Guide to Critique Partners – Part One

Today I’m starting a multi-part post on critique partners. I’ve had a few in my time, some of them wonderful and some of them so bad that they made me wish for a root canal instead. Sadly, most of the horrible ones I’ve met have been via writer’s sites, the easiest and most accessible place to network and form reading groups. The mediocre ones—who do no harm but do no good, either—seem to stick to workshops, which are harder to come by and sometimes cost more than my budget can afford.

The great ones—the rare bright spots in an otherwise depressing landscape of unfulfilled literary dreams—you just stumble across. When I lived in New York I had the opportunity to meet some great people at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop. Off an agent blog I met a high school teacher in Canada who had the ability to not only create a good story, but to recognize what her students would like. She told me where I went off track with my YA novel, pointing out where I was showing my age on slang and where what the character was going through would ring false. Those types of partners are like gold in a mine full of tin, and they make the process of having your writing picked apart a pleasure. You know what they’re telling you will help to make your story better, and they make you feel anchored in the hurricane-lashed sea of agent queries and publisher rejections.

My first entry in the “North American Field Guide to Critique Partners” is, sadly, NOT one of those great folks. Rather they’re a type common on writer’s boards and library writers’ groups near you:

North American Field Guide to Critique Partners

  • Superiosis Literasus
    • This creature thinks it’s Hemmingway but is more closely related to one of the infinite monkeys pounding on infinite typewriters.
    • This breed is especially susceptible to “Perfect Grammar Syndrome.” PGS’s primary symptom is writing that’s so perfect that it’s like reading an instruction manual. Early signs of PGS are wooden dialog, meandering descriptions, and plot holes you could fly the space shuttle through. Later stages include 5000 word blog posts analyzing the meta aspects of the semi-colon, along with a vocabulary that consists entirely of multi-syllabic words of 10 letters or more. There is no cure for this disease.
    • All Superiosis Literasus are extremely aggressive, including those who don’t suffer from PGS.  Any comments made to them beyond “Wow, I wish I were as talented as you” will elicit an immediate attack on your mother and possibly your dog. One example of such a reaction is when an agent dares to suggest areas for improvement to S.L. The Superiosis Literasus will become red in the face and puff up its plumage, and then explain why they will not change a single comma or adverb of their work. They will rant about how corrupt and close-minded the publishing industry is, and set fire to any bridges in the immediate area.


Next week we’ll learn about the Rosus Glasseus, an amicable creature who lives in a very special world.

(Please note that no real Latin was harmed in the writing of this blog. All Latin appearing in this blog is specially trained stunt Latin and was monitored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Languages.)

11 thoughts on “North American Field Guide to Critique Partners – Part One”

  1. I wish I had a dime for every bad article I’ve read lately. I also wish other writers had your talent and style. Thank you.

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