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...