Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

Critique Partners

marked up paperWhenever I hear about a writer’s critique partner, I always wonder: Does that partner help or hurt? Partners tend to be/ turn into friends. Don’t you want your friends to like you? When you’re both writing, it must be rough to strike that balance between friendship and truthfulness about the person’s work. You want to be nice, but not seem mean or competitive. If you’re a writer, you need the absolute truth. You need to hear: This is fantastic, show it to an editor immediately or this is really crappy (but in a helpful way).

I really like the truth when it comes to what I write (not for this blog, though :)). It means someone’s taking me seriously. When I need an editor, I think of friends who will give it to me straight–none of this tactful “You might think about possibly doing blah, blah, blah.” Usually, my friends lie by omission or forget my request, so I turn to my mother. I know, bad idea, but she tells me a version of the truth (“This is good, but make it more positive! Can’t he just go to rehab and not shoot himself?”). My feeling is that, for my truth-seeking criticism, commerce would need to play a part.

My prayers were answered. I had an experience of penning a project proposal, something my author base does regularly. I could do it, too, right?  No problem. I read enough proposals so I can just whip one up. I did my assignment fast–because I’m naturally brilliant–and figured that was satisfactory. Fast is often acceptable and I am lazy enough to think that my version of acceptable is everyone else’s “amazing.” Then I got my proposal back with all kinds of nasty red everywhere. I mean, it was nicely put and constructive, but not the glowing praise I expected. Mommy?

For twenty-four hours, I blocked out the ego-bruising and did a puzzle. Maybe I slipped in a few Housewives and Downton Abbeys. Then I turned and faced the computer again. If I gave up or did it half-heartedly, I’d have regrets. Do I want to do things the same way? Definitely not. I needed to listen to the truth. My critic put in a lot of effort with the red ink all over my work. I revised a page, agonizing over every sentence. For hours. Days. And completely rewrote the thing, methodically addressing every single point. It made me remember Francine Prose’s excellent book  Reading Like a Writer, which inspired me as an editor, reader, and in this instance, as a writer.

Now on the sixth draft, blasting Frankie Valli as inspiration, I’m thoroughly driven to keep re-crafting and putting better words together, thinking about what a reader might like to read, the heart of what I want to say, and staying positive about it all. I’m grateful for any constructive feedback, the absolute truth. I may not dish out the truth as well as I take it, but this journey is certainly helping me as both a writer and editor.

And now, I’m going to watch a lot of television.

4 thoughts on “Critique Partners”

  1. My CP is a lifesaver. (Not the round candy. The person who talks you down off the ledge. That kind of lifesaver.) We’ve been working together for a few years, through three books each, or thereabouts. We actually came together through a mutual author friend’s blog, believe it or not, These days, we are BFF’s, CP’s, and brutal teller’s of truth to each other. Nicely, of course. I’d be lost without her. Also, she’s a brilliant writer, which helps. I even helped her get her agent (someone in the same agency mine belongs to) so she owes me big when she finally gets a major book deal 🙂

    We have learned through trial and error how the other one needs to be told the cold hard facts, but they do get told. I think we both start out by saying what works in the manuscript (which is always a lot) and then hit the major points that don’t work. We also do line edits for each other (we’re both decent editors, thank goodness) so that our work goes out to agents and editors looking as polished as possible.

    I will confess, however, that my mother is one of my first readers too. She is a former librarian and a writer herself, and one of the best folks I know with the technical use of language. She has *almost* cured me of my overuse of commas… Mom’s are the best.

    Let me know if you even need someone to read something for you. I’m good with honest.

  2. Wow, you definitely found a great critique partner. I love to hear about writers supporting each other through thick and thin. Creativity heals the world!

  3. Absolutely. (Although I admit, I was really lucky here.) In this case, we started as CPs and ended up as best buds. Too bad she lives across the country! (Although she sends me chocolate for the holidays, so it’s worth hanging on to her…)

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