Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Advantage of Critique Partners



Anyone who knows anything about me knows just how much I value critique partners and beta readers.  I never knew about either of these two years ago when I started writing my first novel.  It wasn’t until I finished and decided I might like to publish that I discovered the need to have others evaluate my work. 

At first, I gave my manuscript to a nearby friend who offered me only limited feedback, saying it was good, but sagged a little in the middle.  I passed it to another, an attorney and avid reader.  He awarded me with considerable praise, though he always believed I would have to compromise on the “terrible awful” thing my protagonist did.


That was all good, and I enjoyed what they had to say, but I needed someone who could really help me understand the mechanics of the story and tell me how well I accomplished what I sought out to do.  That’s when I discovered Nathan Bransford’s blog, and through it, my soon-to-be best friend, Lisa L. Regan

She was interested in exchanging manuscripts and I jumped on the chance, particularly since our stories ran along similar lines.  Well, that was a humbling experience, to say the least.  Lisa is a highly educated and experienced writer, and her writing and story blew me out of the water.  But it was those very qualities that helped me both expand and improve my writing and story. 


Frankly speaking, I’d be a big, fat loser without her.  She is an absolutely amazing writer, and a particularly dedicated critique partner.  She helped me add layer upon layer to my story, all the while telling me how amazed she was as my raw talent, which seriously boosted my morale and intention to see the process through to the end.  The best thing was, we became as close as sisters.  Maybe even closer.

As good as that experience was, I still needed a wider perspective, so I searched for more critique partners.  I found quite a few, and each had wonderful things to teach me and therefore add to my story.  It became richer and fuller after each critique, and all the while, I was querying and submitting, even though my manuscript wasn’t quite there yet.  Close.  But not quite.


Then I met Jeff O’Handley, The Doubting Writer.  After reading one of his posts, I offered to critique for him, if he wanted to share.  A few weeks later, we exchanged manuscripts.  Again, here was someone whose skill far, far surpassed mine, and whose story, though of a more literary bent, intrigued and enthralled me.  I learned a lot just from reading his novel.  And what’s more, Jeff, ever tuned into what the characters were feeling, pulled more out of me than I ever imagine possible. 

It wasn’t until after Jeff’s critique and my subsequent revisions that I thought I was finally and completely ready.  But even though my query was also revised and ready to go, after several prior months of querying, requests, and submissions, my head just wasn’t into it yet.  I did, however, query a small press who requested my full.  I received a response that excited me, but also had me questioning that “terrible awful” thing my protagonist did and if sticking to my guns was worth it.  My reaction?  I asked a couple other writers to read it and give me their honest opinion.


One of those writers was Carrie Butler, and let me tell you, though I’ve been a follower of hers for quite some time, I never knew just how talented she really is.  She agreed to read and evaluate my manuscript, and, since I offered to read hers, she passed her manuscript along to me, as well.  This woman has a flair I cannot even label, let alone describe.  Her writing and story are just so completely…accessible, so easy, so fluid, and, well…yummy.  Yeah, that’s it.  It’s just so damn yummy. 

I’ve never read anyone who can write dialogue like Carrie does.  It’s about as real as anyone could ever make it, without any useless words.  And she doesn’t really use any tags, only perfect incidental action to invoke movement, emotion, and tension.  But her greatest skill is her use of voice, and the voice in her novel is magnificent, full of vitality and personality, spark and spunk.  I couldn’t pull off in a million years what she did with her novel. 


All in all, I learned I have a tremendous talent at picking the best critique partners out there.  They have each taught me things I never could have learned from a class or a book.  Each time, I’ve come away feeling a better writer for having not only their critique of my novel, but from reading their stories, as well.  In fact, I feel quite inferior and all too envious of their exceptional skills and talent.  I can only continue to study their manuscripts and cull as much knowledge as possible from each of their areas of expertise.

So if you’re thinking whether or not you should ever use a critique partner, my advice is: hell yes!  I know it’s hard to put your stuff out there, to make yourself vulnerable.  God knows, I had one CP experience that scarred me, but in the end, although he was mean, he was also right.  So...

        

31 comments:

Jaye Robin Brown said...

100% agreement. Couldn't do it without mine.

Shelley Sly said...

I remember when I first started writing seriously, I had no idea that critique partners were so valuable. I thought you just wrote, had one round of self-editing, and submitted it for publication. *smacks forehead* Now, I have a regular beta who I send everything to, as well as a few one-time critiquers (critics?) with whom I've exchanged. Their feedback is so valuable!

JeffO said...

Aw, thanks, Nancy! I will turn this right around and say that I learned a ton from you as well, and you hit upon many, many things in my own work that I failed to see.

It's also interesting how the act of critiquing someone's work makes you see the flaws in your own. Just as you're about to make a mark or note saying "Don't do this" or whatever, that voice pops up in your head: "But *I* do that..."

L.G.Smith said...

All hail the great critique partner. And, seriously, if you get ahold of a good one, never let them go. Glad you found some great people to work with.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Yes, crit partners are crucial (just blogged about dealing w/those crits!). There are good critters and bad critters for YOUR particular book, but once you find one you can listen to, whose advice you respect, they're worth their weight in gold!

Bonnie Rae said...

I love my CP's! It seemed like I looked forever for the right ones, but once I found them I never looked back!!

Hektor Karl said...

Inspiring post. You have quite the team!

"I learned I have a tremendous talent at picking the best critique partners out there."

Good people attract good people. :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

So agree that a critique group is important. And like you say getting more than one opinion is important. I'm hoping to join a new local group soon.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Have you come to a decision on your MC's terrible deed? Or are you waiting to hear back from Carrie?

Al Penwasser said...

Sounds like you received some great advice from some great people. Me? I can only do limericks.

Carrie Butler said...

Aww, thanks, Nancy! This post gave me the warm and fuzzies. :)

You're so right. Good critique partners (or critters, as I call them) are invaluable. It only took me a couple days to read through your MS, and I was blown away by it. I learned so much in that short amount of time. It was a wonderful experience. :)

tfwalsh said...

Critique partners are invaluable.... I wouldn't be where I am without them... Great post

Kelley said...

Great, great post. I LOVE reading posts like these. I think I'm gonna send a big ol' love email to my CPs right now. :)

Empty Nest Insider said...

Glad you found such wonderful critique partners! It really seems like they've gone above and beyond! Something tells me that you're also a fantastic CP! Julie

Lynda R Young said...

Any writer who doesn't have critique partners is crazy. At the moment I have only one reliable CP so I'm on the look out for more.

Elise Fallson said...

Great post and like everyone else, I agree having CPs are so important. I would love to have a CP but haven't found anyone willing to work with me other than my editor who is an amazing woman and a truly talented writer. But, I need to branch out and have others read my MS. Close friends have a hard time giving honest critiques, but that is what's needed the most. I also know I need to get out of my writer's closet if I want to improve and move forward. (:

Tara Tyler said...

exactly! you always learn something from a cp! our books will be loved, liked, ignored, and even bad reviewed. each cp like each reader will have different opinions and we need those other perspectives to make our writing the best. and know we wont please everyone!

Margo Berendsen said...

I've had some similar amazing CP experiences, too. Thank goodness for the internet allowing us a broader range of writers to meet; my local writing group provided companionship, but very limited feedback.

Jasmine Walt said...

Good critique partners are invaluable. I'm so glad you found such great ones for your novel, Nancy!

Lisa L. Regan said...

I couldn't agree more. The more writers I work with exchanging manuscripts, the more I learn. Jeff and Carrie are tremendously talented and amazing writers and really, really nice people too. In fact it was privileg for me to work with all three of you! Thanks for the shout-out. Definitely the wide array of crit partners has worked in your favor because the last time I read The Mistaken (in January) I was absolutely blown away by how flipping great it was! And I already thought it pretty darn good before that so it really knocked my socks off this time. (Now if I could only get back to my own WIP I could take advantage of my own awesome crit partners!)

Lisa L. Regan said...

I meant privilege. Damn Phone.

Aldrea Alien said...

I haven't had a CP look over my work since my last foray into the querying world was to a small indie publisher who liked the story and all that (to be fair, it was an echo of those who’d read it). But after several months, they decided they didn't feel they'd the money to market it as the characters and setting were too unusual (which they liked) and would only be attractive to a small percentage of the sci-fi/fantasy market.
So I guess I will have to look into finding at least a few people to look over a current story. Problem is, I’m not certain I’d be able to reciprocate and I’m not the sort to ask when I cannot give in return.

Julius Cicero said...

The most potent weapon in a writer's arsenal!

Nancy said...

What a humble post from someone who clearly writes so well. I know they are glad to have you too. There really is no substitute for someone willing to help you improve your craft.

Shain Brown said...

I am so glad I found your blog and I could not agree with your more. I am beginning my CP/BR journey, it is difficult, but in the end I hope that I have the fortune of finding people as great and as helpful as you have. Thanks.

McKenzie McCann said...

I have a better question. What are the disadvantages of having CP's?

I passed The Lucky 7 Meme onto you, but I see now you already have it. Oops.

Sarah Pearson said...

This is where I am right now, and I agree with you totally!

jamieayres said...

I guess I need to search for a new critique partner--the one I had got a full-time job and has no time for me now:(

Joylene said...

honestly, Nancy, I didn't read your blog before I did mine. LOL. Honest. We're just on the same wave length. And yes, I wouldn't be where I am today without my critique partners. I called them my critters.

Medeia Sharif said...

I wish I knew about manuscript exchanges years ago when I started. I would be a stronger writer today.

I don't know what I'd do without my critique group and beta readers.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Julie Musil said...

I absolutely agree with you on all counts. Putting our work in the hands of others is terrifying, but so worth it. My beta readers are WAY more talented than I am, and I learn so much from them every time we exchange our work.

And I want to hear more about your exciting Facebook news! Details, woman, details!