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Friday, June 18, 2010

Critique Partners

You wrote a book. Now what?

If you’re like me, you wrote another and another and...

I wrote five books in two years, all without the aid of writing buddies or critique partners. I read some books on craft and received helpful feedback from contest judges, but my writing pretty much stayed at the same level until March 2008.

That month I found out I’d finaled in the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® contest, and a whole new world opened up to me. I got to know my fellow finalists as well as other talented writers and authors.

I've met many awesome writers, two of whom are now my critique partners.

I’ve asked some of my guests on my other blog, Romance Writers on the Journey, what advice they would give new writers. One answer that comes up regularly is to get into a critique group. I’ve seen agents and editors give the same advice on their sites. When my agent, Rachelle Gardner, and I first talked, she asked if I had critique partners.

Contest judges have really helped me. I thank each of the generous writers who’ve given of their time and experience, sharing their suggestions and steering me to resources. But I needed more.

Enter my CPs.

Benefits of Having a Critique Partner

•Two-way communication

Contest feedback can be helpful, but if I don’t understand something a judge says, I have no way of finding out what was meant. Being able to ask my CPs for clarification is great.

•In-depth feedback

Having served as a contest judge numerous times, I learned we’re supposed to keep our feedback encouraging, our primary goal being to support and gently educate the entrants. In a CP relationship, however, we build trust and learn to share at a deeper level than a contest judge can. Plus, we can ask our CPs for help in specific areas.

•Unlimited feedback

Contest judges focus on major areas and choose which need the most attention. We can’t address everything we see. However, my CPs and I don’t have such limitations. Thus, I get much more feedback from a CP’s edit than I can expect from a contest judge.

•Learning from your critique partners’ strengths

I’m blessed with two amazing CPs. Each has a unique voice and different areas of expertise. Together they make an awesome team.

Anne Barton writes witty, entertaining Regency historicals with endearing characters. She serves as my micro reader, although I value her comments on big picture issues as well. We've been working together two years, and she's taught me a great deal. She provides my line and copy edits. And, wow, is she ever good at helping me strengthen my transitions and scene endings. Plus, she’s a math-teacher and has a great way of quantifying contest feedback, which I find very helpful.

Jody Hedlund is one of my agency mates who is also represented by Rachelle. Jody writes inspirational historicals set in the United States, as do I. Her stories are filled with action, emotion, and strong characterization. She serves as my macro reader. Because we write for the same market, she can assess my work in terms of the parameters of our genre. Whereas my strengths as an editor are of the line/copy edit variety, Jody is more of a big picture person.

I not only learn from my critique partners' feedback; I learn from reading their awesome works. (And I have fun, too.)

•Discovering your strengths

As I work with my CPs, I learn how my stories can be improved, but I also learn what I do well. I'm a detail-oriented reader and have been told by others that my technical skills are strong. I have a degree in Mass Communication with a print journalism focus, and I worked as an assistant editor for a small textbook publishing company at one point. I’m able to serve as an unofficial copy editor for my CPs.

I seem to have a knack for descriptions. I’m able to point out places my CPs have done a great job setting the scene as well as places they may want to add a bit more detail.

Finding out what you do well builds confidence. It also enables you to let potential CPs know in which areas you’ll be best able to help them.


Next week, I will take an in-depth look at critique partnerships on my other blog, Romance Writers on the Journey, as a way to celebrate its first two years. During Critique Week, which will run June 20-26, I'll have daily posts that touch on different aspects of the critique partner relationship such as where to find critique partners, ways to provide feedback, and how to create a personal style sheet to use as an aid in critiquing.

And because this is the blog's birthday celebration, I'll be offering at least two different drawing prizes every day. I invite you to drop by and share in the fun.

• • • • •

I wanna know . . .

Do you have critique partners?

What are your strengths as a critique partner?

What aspects of critique partnerships do you find most helpful?

What aspects of critique partnerships do you find most challenging?


Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I don't have a critique partner now. I did exchange a few short stories with another new writer and it was helpful. I am looking for another critique partner who is a fiction short story writer.

I do appreciate the "red mark" edits and look forward to getting and giving those as well as encouragement and "well dones". I know that it can only make me a better writer!

Katie Ganshert said...

You and Jody are lie the dream team!! What an amazing partnership.

I have two critique partners. Erica Vetsch and Jeannie Campbell. Jeannie and I write the same genre - contemporary romance. Erica's way ahead of me as a multipublished author...I'm blessed to have such awesome partnerships.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I have three critique partners, all found through blogging and they are the best! I am constantly thinking how wonderful it is that they all have particular strengths. Everything from line editing to the bigger picture with plot. They have improved my stories immensely.

I'd say, if it's possible, have more than one critique partner. That way you get feedback from a different angle and it will improve your stories that much more. Also, by reading your CP's stories, you can find strengths in them and learn a lot about your own writing.

Jill Kemerer said...

What a blessing critique partners are! And Anne and Jody are surely wonderful partners to have.

I love my cp's. I'm more of a big-picture and character critiquer.

Have a terrific weekend!

Jody Hedlund said...

What a wonderful post, Keli! You did a fantastic job of outlining the strengths of a critique relationship. And thank you for your kind words today, too! Looking forward to your posts next week on the various aspects of critiquing! You have so much to teach others about the editing process!

Diane said...

I don't have any crit partners.... only friends that are probably biased :O)

Anne Barton said...

Hi Keli! Thanks for the kind words. I'd add another benefit to your list: CPs can turn into wonderful friends. You're the best. :)

Anne Barton said...

oh my gosh, I almost forgot--happy birthday to RWotJ! I can't wait to see your Critique Week posts over there.

Terri Tiffany said...

Jill, Wendy and Cindy are my awesome critique partners:)) We each look at a story in a different way and that helps so much. I think we are getting bolder about pointing out needs as we slowly bond with each other. I wish I could meet them in person some day!

Sherrinda said...

Hi Keli! I loved this post! I was in a crit group for a few months and it was very helpful. But I found with my time constraints, critiquing so many people's chapters were just too much for me. I now have Pepper Basham as my crit partner and she is fabulous. She is very descriptive and knows romance! I'm very blessed to have her.

I am really not sure what I excel in as a critter. I know that I am good as seeing the "staging" and knowing if the action makes sense. I'm NOT good at description, so Pepper is invaluable to me! lol

Can't wait for your posts next week!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I think it says something that each of my critique partners have already commented. We represented on this post. ;)

I've been pushed and have grown from those relationships. I love how we go beyond the work and encourage in times of need as well.

I'm likely to address words that could be stronger, repeats and whether more conflict needs to be added.

Am deeply thankful for these bonds. I'm glad you have a group you feel strongly about as well.
~ Wendy

Nishant said...

only friends that are probably biased
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Heather Sunseri said...

I've loved reading more about your journy as a writer, Keli. I liked what you shared on Romance Writers on the Journey (today, I think). I can't remember if I commented over there, but still, I love hearing more about you.

I have on Critique Partner. She has helped me tons. I'm getting closer to wanting to add another, hopefully one in my genre.

Jessica Nelson said...

I'm in a crit group that I love! Each lady is amazing and they know how to be kind and yet honest. Honesty is so important. It's really helpful for me to have multiple viewpoints on my story because it helps me see what's subjective and what's not. I also have a dear writer friend who reads everything I write. She doesn't write my genre, or even for CBA, so I find her thoughts helpful because they're different, if that makes sense.
This is an excellent post! Should be an article. :-)

Congrats on your anniversary!

Lynda Young said...

I've been training my husband to be my crit partner. I also have a couple of writer friends who are helpful too. Hardest part of finding a partner is making them feel comfortable enough to tell me the truth.