This post was inspired after I read this article, entitled "I Will Not Read Your F***ing Script." It applies to writers of fiction as well. Now, I haven't really had the problem the author of the article had. Actually, my problem has been the opposite -- who do I ask to read my stuff? Not so much a problem when I was an active member of the Novels-L list on the Internet Writing Workshop. But once I branched into writing romance and erotica, I'll admit my shortlist of critique partners shortened even further.
I am lucky that my best friend is an editor and reviewer of romance and erotica. And being that we are like sisters in many ways, she has no problem telling me if something sucks or not. Fortunately, she almost always has suggestions for de-suckifying it.
My husband has the mechanical editing portion of my life covered quite nicely too, because being a former newspaper reporter and editor, he's good at that. He might question plot issues he doesn't understand, but then I take those points to my friend, who can either say he's right or he's a man, ignore him. *LOL*
But I am one of those writers who, unlike the author of the article talks about, WANT the negative feedback. Not without the positives, if there are any, of course, but I don't want you to say, oh, this is great, don't change a thing, have a nice life. I want you to call me out on errors I make. I want you to politely brutalize my writing so I can... wait for it... get better at it.
I mean, seriously? If we're training airline pilots, if they crash in a simulator, we don't pat them on the head and offer them a "great job!" and a lollipop, do we? We say no, that's NOT how you do it, you killed them all. Here's where you screwed up and doomed them to death. Try it again until you get it right.
Okay, so that's dramatic. But I know there is a flip side to this too, that there are people who will gladly rip something apart without pointing out the strengths. That's as worthless as a meaningless "great job." People need to see where they got it right as much as where they screwed it up. I think as an effective critique partner, you must be able to fill BOTH columns -- strengths and weaknesses -- for the writer asking your input. And yes, it's damn hard to find good CPs. I get that. But handing everything over to your mom or your best friend who doesn't want to hurt your feelings isn't helping you. And then if you end up with a good CP, you get your feelings hurt because they pointed out where you need work.
And don't be quick to take every criticism to heart. If only one person mentions an issue, it might not be an issue, just a reader opinion. If several people start hammering you on the same issue, however, that means you probably should take another look at it.
Don't be upset if someone won't read your manuscript for you though. See, I always feel bad asking new people to read something unless they've previously and spontaneously said, "I'd love to be a beta reader for you." And I am VERY squickish about asking fellow writers for comment blurbs or reviews. That's just me. I always worry they'll think I'm an a$$hole or something for asking. Now, when I read something I love, I make no bones about cheerleading it to others. And I always get the warm fuzzies when fellow writers read and positively review my work as well. (Who wouldn't? *LOL*) I've been lucky not to be placed in the position of the article's author, but I have the legitimate reason that I'm totally swamped at this point. (That's the reason I'm not currently of the Novels-L list, I don't have time to do reciprocal critiques required to maintain membership.)
So when you find effective critique partners, treat them like gold, because they're certainly woth their weight in it.