07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Monday, August 3, 2015

Good Critique Partners are Hard to Find

The one thing I think all writers should have in their arsenal of writer tricks are good critique partners.  I don't mean beta readers. People who read one of your works in progress once in a while. I mean someone who reads all your work, knows your style, and understands how you work. Someone who you know is looking out for you and will tell you the truth and not try to undermine you.

Way back when I first started writing with the hope to become a published author, I struggled with whether or not my writing was good enough or if there were areas that needed help. Friends and relatives all thought what I wrote was wonderful. But I knew in my gut it wasn't good enough. I had a short story published in a magazine and wrote freelance human interest articles for the local papers, but I wanted to write novels- specifically mystery novels.

Trying to get into a mystery writer group back then was hard. You had to be published in the genre to be allowed in. I wasn't. I wanted help honing my skills so I could make a sale.

I switched genres and started writing western historical romance. At a writer's conference I was directed to Romance Writers of America. I was ecstatic to see they had workshops and conferences to help me hone my writing skills. They also had contests. A way to get feedback on my writing.

I entered one of the contests. I waited with anticipation to see what the judges would say and how they would help me with my writing. The packet arrived with the judged pages. The first judged entry had my eyebrows knitting together. The judged didn't explain what I did wrong only changed my sentences - lots of my sentences, with no explanation.  I put that to the side and picked up the next entry. The same thing. The judge rewrote my sentences but didn't explain why. I was confused and a bit hurt that they'd practically rewrote the whole entry and not a word about what I was doing wrong.

The third entry sat on the table. I eyed it hesitantly. Would this be a duplicate of the first two? I picked it up. Yes, it showed reworded sentences. But in the margin was explanation after explanation of what I was doing wrong. I was excited. This person was teaching me what I wanted to know. And at the end of the entry, she'd made a notation that she wrote historical western romance too and would love to connect with me. Her email address and name were on the back page of my entry.

I emailed and thanked her for explaining what I was doing wrong, and we became critique partners. She had the structure of writing knowledge and I had the western lifestyle and horse knowledge that she needed for her books. We were critique partners for six years until her life took over from her writing. We are still good long distance friends. I knew she wanted the best for my writing and I wanted the best for her.

I've had a couple other critique partners since my first CP and now I have two wonderful ladies who have my back and I have theirs. We send finished manuscripts to each other knowing we'll get truthful and helpful comments. One is a friend I met through a local RWA chapter. She's a horse person and we clicked from the get go. She writes contemporary westerns and is good at asking why a character does this or that, keeping me honest in what is happening and true to the character. The other CP is an author I contracted and edited while I was an editor with a small press. When I left the press she asked if I would be her critique partner. I agreed. She has a knack for story and can tell me when I need more emotion or have strayed from the concept of the story.

I would never publish a book without the input of both of these critique partners. Critique partners, to me, are essential in putting out a good book that editors, publishers, and readers will want to read.

Writing into the Sunset


Judith Ashley said...

Good information, Paty. I have someone I call my 'first reader'. She is ruthless but not brutal. When I hear the words "as a reader", I know she's going to point out something I need to pay attention to. She is an editor but of non-fiction so she also catches punctuation and grammar errors although she uses more commas than I do. I also pay a professional editor who catches other things in time line issues and characterization, etc. My first reader is not a true critique partner because she sends nothing to me for my input...but she is invaluable.

Paty Jager said...

Judith, Everyone has their own way of doing things. Your system works for you. I believe in my CP's and all the help they give me.

Diana McCollum said...

I agree with both Paty and Judith! I have three beta readers and three critique partners. After my work goes to my editor I have two people who read it again. I'll take all the help I can get. Happy writing!

Danita Cahill said...

It's a joy being one of your critique partners, Paty. I appreciate your honest input on my writing, too. Appreciate it so very much.

Lauri said...

One of the fun things about being a critique partner is that you learn with each book you critique for someone! It's amazing what you pick up on in someone else's story but never see it in your own!

Paty Jager said...

Diana, It is always good to have several people look at your work. Besides by Cps I have someone who is a beta reader and one who is a proof reader.

Danita, I value your input as well!

Lauri, I agree! Seeing things other writers do helps your own writing whether it's learning a writing technique or seeing what not to do.

Judith Ashley said...

I totally agree with Lauri about learning from other authors. I do judge in contests although I'm not a CP and I do learn from each manuscript. My process does seem to be working for me, Paty but I am not opposed to CP's. Finding good ones is not an easy task - or perhaps its more accurate to say finding ones where your styles and expectations mesh well is not an easy task.

Sarah Raplee said...

I have a critique partner who understands my voice and gives me great feedback! I am so lucky to have her!

Paty Jager said...

Judith, it is hard to find good CPs. Ones that get your writing and don't try to change it.

Sarah, Good ones are hard to find and oh so great to have. Congrats on finding a CP that works.