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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?