The Trouble With Love Is
A casual mention by a mutual friend is what led Lisa and I to each other. At the time she needed some details on the Boulder area and I went to school there. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew we were throwing stories back and forth with wild abandon. At some point along the way I started fumbling with introductions. Because “Lisa my CP” didn’t really sum things up and “My friend Lisa” felt like it was leaving out a huge part of our relationship. (And no, for those curious I still haven’t resolved that intro beyond “my partner in crime!” :D)
Most of the time, when you write a book you spend weeks (if not months or years) immersed in the damn thing. After a while it’s really hard to see the forest for the trees. This applies equally to starting out the second book in a series. Times like this are when I think it’s really crucial to have an open an honest relationship with your CP – if you have one – because they’re going to be able to steer you away from the pitfalls.
The honesty cuts both ways, of course. As one side of the partnership you have to be able to not only voice an opinion, but back it up, AND suggest ways to fix whatever the problem might be. Otherwise it tends to create more frustration than assistance.
Katy: So. Chapter 2. I don’t like it.
Lisa: Which part?
Katy: The whole thing. It’s just … it doesn’t fit there. Everything else around it is kicking ass but this chapter is just ugh. Sorry.
Lisa: Damn. I was afraid of that. I really struggled with it. That’s always a sign. So. What’s off? What’s missing?
Katy: She’s out of character. I don’t care if she’s a teenage girl. She’s too smart to act like this.
Lisa: You’re right. What if, instead…
For Lisa, that “instead” led to deleting an entire chapter and writing a new one that was so much better and set up a crucial dynamic between three of the characters that will roll through the entire series arc. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to suggest that if I hadn’t been bold enough (or comfortable enough) to make the comment, and if Lisa hadn’t been able to take it in the spirit it was intended, it would have been a mortal blow to her book. (Lisa agrees, in case you’re wondering.)
A great critique relationship doesn’t just rest on honesty though, it helps keep you honest as a writer. You’re less likely to be lazy about what you’re putting down on paper when there’s someone there to call you on it.
Lisa: So this chunk in chapter 23 – what’s the point?
Katy: Oh, that. *laughs* I have no clue. I was even thinking as I wrote it that you were totally going to call me on it.
Lisa: Why did you put it in then?
Katy: (with laughter) I was making sure you were paying attention?
Having a critique partner isn’t a requirement for writing. I know several authors who get along just fine without one. However, I do think for beginning writers it can be a very helpful relationship and something that grows with time. I’m extremely lucky to have not just one, but two awesome CPs as well as a handful of rocking Beta Readers. Everyone provides me with different feedback (which to me is key), and there’s no Borg-like style beyond being honest about what’s working and what doesn’t.
Plus you get stuff like this as a reward:
Lisa: Omigod, you are either rocking the hell out of these revisions or this wine I’m drinking is really good. Maybe both.
Just be aware – this is a partnership. You should be on the same page with your CP. You should be getting open and honest feedback from them. Not everyone writes at the same pace and most writers have lives outside of their writing (I know! Crazy, huh?) so it’s important to be aware that just because you finished up a chapter and sent it off the night before your CP might not get to it until the weekend. But as long as there’s communication about what’s going on, you should be fine.
For Lisa and I, we’re lucky enough to be about on the same page (sometimes literally!). We write what we call “zero drafts” and throw chapters at each other to read as we go along. This helps with things like spotting major plot gaps, brainstorming through the sticky spots, and generally being each other’s cheerleader to that mystical The End on the horizon. This doesn’t work for all writers, but it works for us and it’s saved my ass (and Lisa’s) at least a dozen times!
Feel free to ask questions in the comments section here. *smiles* We’ll be more than happy to try and answer them or point you in the right direction.