There are beta readers, critique partners, and then there are comrades in arms. K.B. and I have been working together for more than four years and at this point, I can’t imagine doing this crazy writing thing without having her down in the trenches with me. (Actually, I can’t imagine doing it without all three of my kick-butt writing partners. I know – I’m spoiled!)
K.B and I long ago passed the tentative, sugar-coating stage – you know, the one where everything is book-ended by “I think you maybe might want to” and “but that’s just my opinion” – and moved into a strategic and honest partnership that has made both of us much better writers. One day, my husband overheard me talking to K.B. about the possibility of killing off one of her characters. I didn’t think my comments were particularly blunt, but he gave me a goggle-eyed look and said, “You talk to her like that and you guys are still friends?”
The question caught me off guard and I had to laugh. The answer is yes, and she talks back to me just as bluntly, and neither of us takes it as an insult. Because it’s not. We each know exactly what the other is capable of doing, and we are as committed to seeing each other succeed as we are to our own success. So, when she tells me something sucks or needs fixing, I don’t argue. I listen. And then, we get down to the real boon of our relationship:
It’s one of the things we do best together. (Shopping for make-up and getting inked are close seconds.) We don’t say something isn’t working and leave the other hanging. We get on the phone as soon as possible, roll up our mental sleeves and go at it until we’ve solved the issue. A good brainstorming session can fix a major plot hole, talk whoever is on the ledge back down, and/or get the writing rolling hot and fast. Besides, it’s always entertaining. It usually goes something like this:
Katy: I’m stuck. Not sure what happens next. Maybe she shoots him in the ass?
Lisa: You’re running short on explosions. Blow something up. Either that…
Katy: or zombies?
Katy: No time. Bounty hunter is incoming, and quickies suck.
Lisa: Bar fight. Chopstick to the eye of the jerk who stole a grope. With sound effects.
In unison (with gusto): CHOPSTICK.
Katy: Wait, writing that down.
(sound of pen scratching)
Chopsticks. That reminds me. Your chapter 5 made me want Indian food.
Lisa: (laughs) Guess what we’re having for dinner?
Katy: Us, too. Finn’s hot. But I want to get more in his head in this scene.
Lisa: (snorts) Or his jeans.
(mad giggling from both)
Katy: Dude. We’re going to hell.
Lisa: Nah, he’s fictional. Besides, he’s an elf. He’s just pretending to be 18. He’s really like, 150 or something.
Katy: Oh, thank god.
If this sounds like a conversation between old friends, the ones who can finish each other’s sentences, that’s not accidental. In the course of cementing our working partnership, we became close friends. That’s true for me in all three of my CP relationships, and I think it makes a world of difference. If you take the time to invest in each other beyond the writing, it strengthens your partnership and makes it easier to communicate honestly. Besides, we’re not just writers – we’re people living busy, complicated lives. It’s nice to be able to support each other on many different levels, because that’s what friends and partners do.
I had a chance to get to know my CPs a bit before we started working together, but once we really committed, I made a point to chat with them frequently by e-mail or phone – and not just about writing. And I’ve had the great pleasure of spending face-to-face play time with all three of them, too. (Lucky me!) I think it’s more than worth the time it takes to get to know one another and share your lives. Let’s face it – we don’t write in a vacuum (okay, maybe some of you do but isn’t it cramped and dusty?) so what’s happening in our lives influences our writing. If your CPs know what’s going on in your world, it makes their job a lot easier.
Bottom line? Your critique partner(s) can be your biggest allies in this crazy mixed-up job. But as with any other meaningful relationship, you need trust, honesty, mutual supportiveness – and a hefty dose of fun never hurts!
Stay tuned for K.B.’s take on our partnership later this week. (Because, yes. We collaborated on these posts the way we collaborate on most everything else.)