On Writing a Novel: Critique Partners*

Writing Rambles


(*This post will be about Critique Partners. I know, I said it was going to cover more topics. Critique Partners are too important. They need a whole post.)

Revision is now complete. You have read through one more time for good measure. You are about to write your query—

Hold on. You are not ready just yet. Reel that trigger finger in and holster it.

Everyone has a first reader, many writers are already blessed to have Critique Partners — don’t forget to show them love, good Critique Partners are manuscript currency— and some are at the point where finding a Critique Partner is the next logical step in their writing journey.

Critique Partners: What are they? Where do I get one?

Critique Partners — or as they will be referred to henceforth, CPs— are other writers that you exchange manuscripts with, giving and receiving feedback.

It wasn’t until I was on the fifth draft of Redhunt (FYI: There is now a 6th. Revision isn’t over until the book is printed.) that I began seeking readership outside my husband and a few close friends.

CP Tip #1: Find an online community of writers and connect with them. Check out writer’s groups in the area. Take a workshop. Reaching out to other writers is the best way to find one you might connect with.

I took a workshop through Mediabistro taught by the illustrious Nova Ren Suma. Beyond Nova’s invaluable critique and feedback on pages from Redhunt, there were eleven other students giving feedback. I loved all the awesome people I met through this workshop, but a few of us started exchanging work and haven’t stopped since. In many ways, that workshop was the best $600 I have ever spent.

Pro Tip: You may not have sold a book, but technically you are a business operating at a loss as you pursue publication. Classes for writing are totally deductible.

CP Tip #2: If you can’t find someone who writes in your genre — sub-genre if you write YA — at least find someone who likes to read what you write.

I have three CPs and none of them write YA high fantasy. Susan writes Adult magical realism and YA urban fantasy. Sam writes YA paranormal and contemporary, and Jess writes YA paranormal and contemporary. The thing we have in common is our love of YA and our enjoyment of each others genres.

CP Tip #3: There are all kinds of CP relationships. Learn what works for you and them, and how to get the most out of critiquing each others work.

Besides my three CPs, I frequently read and exchange notes with screenwriter and Middle Grade writer Alex, as well as Courtney, who writes upper YA/NA. I am buds with YA writer, Sara Biren, who has a critiquing and editing business (and shares my love of the Ruby Red Trilogy).

Not to mention, I occasionally give feedback on queries, synopsis and read pages from some local writer pals and others I have met at various locations. And whenever possible, Lindsay Cummings and I hang out and write, talk through book problems, and read pages.

All these CP relationships are different, and come with different levels of commitment. Make sure you are clear about what you expect before you embark on a new writing friendship.

CP Tip #4: When you find a CP (or many), be generous with feedback, be kind with criticism, and don’t rewrite the book for them.

As readers, it is very easy to jump on a CPs manuscript or critique it into a book the writer just is not writing. There are many ways to tell a story, but when you are the writer, you are telling the story as only you can. As a CP, you must embrace the writer’s vision while helping them to strengthen the prose, see plot holes and other drafting problems, and present options for revision. The most valuable critique involves asking questions that will prompt the writer to find a solution.

CP Tip #5: Along those same lines, when you receive critique DO NOT argue with your Critique Partner.

Not every piece of feedback is going to resonate with you. Reading is “incredibly subjective” as you will be reminded countless times when you begin querying. And you know what? It’s true. The purpose of critique is to illuminate your manuscript in a way you as the writer couldn’t. Every note has merit because your CP is a reader — a much more forgiving reader than you will find in an agent you cold query or a teenager at Barnes and Noble —and whether or not you ultimately decide to revise is up to you.

Pro Tip: Some things are worth fighting for. Others are worth letting go. Those things are the barnacles on the belly of your manuscript.

CP Tip #6: Have fun with critique. I am so close to one of my CPs (though I love them all equally) that when she goes on vacation for a week and I don’t hear from her as much, I find a Susan shaped hole in my heart.

Here are some famous CPs (and a pic of Susan and me thrown in!):

Next up: Polishing and Preparing to Query



My Writing Process

Writing Rambles

CoverFinalSM-LoveAndCupcakesI was tagged to do the My Writing Process Blog Tour by my ridiculously talented, embarrassingly prolific, fabulous fangirl friend and critique partner Susan Crispell. Susan writes quirky, romantic magical realism and paranormal for both YA and Adult readers. She has a knack for writing friendships you want to replicate and boys you want to jump in the back of a car with —erm, marry. Her debut novel, Love & Cupcakes from Swoon Romance is about a woman who bakes desires into food but can’t get her own romantic life in order.

I am thrilled to be a part of this tour and hope you guys enjoy learning about the writing process from some super cool writers, add some new books to your TBR lists, and gain some knowledge along the way.

1) What am I working on?

My current work-in-progress is a yet-to-be-titled-though-I-have-some-ideas YA fantasy set  in the Islands, a shimmery, ancient world on the brink of early industrialization. The main characters are sixteen-year-olds Aliyah and Aiken, best friends bound by the law to live as brother and sister, forced into circumstances beyond their control by their families, and secretly, desperately in love with each other.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My stories are high fantasy based in worlds not usually explored within that genre. I tend to stay away from stories with easy answers, instead I write big and bold. I meet my characters at the moment their life is about to change, and then they tell me how that makes them feel. While I write about life-altering, global conflict in the worlds I’ve created, the heart of my stories comes from the human experience within that conflict.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Because I am a glutton for punishment. No, really? For me to pursue something, I have to feel like I’m in a chase. Either literally, like in my first novel Redhunt, where the main character was being hunted through her dangerous, brutal world with a boy trained to protect her, or in this novel, where the ticking time bomb of change could go off at any moment. I am curious about how people react when they are given no way out. But, really more than anything — and I think this cuts to the core of why I write YA — I am still figuring out who I am, even at twenty-nine, and so I write about that journey, that question, that quest for identity.

4) How does your writing process work?

Hmph. It works for me, I’ll say that. I read this Stephen King quote once— it was in On Writing, but I can’t find the direct quote now so I am paraphrasing — that stories are “found objects” that must be excavated with care, like archaeological finds. And I think that is a beautiful way to relate to your writing.

When I approach a story, I approach it first through the characters. I do what I call “method writing”, much like an actor would, where I see the world through the characters eyes, examining every part as they would. There is time later to add in details necessary for more intricate world building.

I also do not plot. Ever. I usually have a vaguest of vague sense of where I am going and why, but details are no where in that scheme. I write on feeling. I will keep notes of thoughts or things to elaborate, come back to, use later, and when I get to the end I will usually write out little scene synopses to make sure I don’t forget anything. More than that and I start to rebel.

Up Next Week are two super talented writers that also happen to be awesome people: Sara Biren and Adrianne Russell.

Sara is repped by Steven Chudney of The Chudney Agency and she writes YA contemporary that is character-driven, heartbreaking, but hopeful.

Adrianne lives in the Midwest but retains claim to her southern roots. She also writes YA contemporary that is edgy, snarky and fearless.

Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to check out their posts next week for more insights into the writer’s cluttered mind.