First off, there are ways to help prevent a critique situation from getting to the point you’re walking away angry.
It’s called communication.
And communication is a two-way street of talking and listening. In my last post, I mentioned some critique situations that, while they were good for a while, wound up ending with hurt feelings, or anger, or in some extreme cases, loss of friendships.
Lack of communication and misconceptions regarding perception and reality.
In a critique situation, you’re responsible for clearly stating your needs. And your needs, from critique to critique can be different. I have asked Casey to read just for plot. Or to look at one character in particular. I’ve asked to only look for when I’m being lazy with passive voice. I’ve asked her to look at all three.
It’s Casey’s responsibility to tell me if she can do that or not. And in the time frame I need.
It’s my responsibility to tell Casey if something is bothering me in her critique. Or to ask questions about something I don’t understand. Or even go back to her and ask for more suggestions. It’s up to me to tell Casey if I’m feeling neglected. Or if I don’t feel like she’s giving my work the attention it needs. I can’t expect her to read my mind.
Casey and I have a unique critique situation because it’s not just about reading each other’s work. It’s about helping the other at all levels of our writing career. It’s about brainstorming plot. Character. Discussing career decisions. Conferences. This blog. The Boxset. Future writing projects together. It’s not one-demential. That said, I still need to make sure I’m telling her how I feel about the critique part of the relationship.
But there are times to call it quits and to me it’s pretty simple.
When you either no longer can give your partner what she needs/wants or you are no longer getting what you need/want AFTER you’ve discussed the issues.
But you HAVE to know the issues because wants/needs go back to my rule about perception and reality. I could really think I’m giving Casey exactly what she wants and she could be sitting on the other end going, bitch, don’t you ever listen to me? I told you I wanted it this way!
Then the question becomes: Did she tell me? Did I choose to ignore? Did I misunderstand? How long has this been going on?
No relationship is without it’s disagreements, fights, and problems. But you have to decide how important is that relationship and what can you do to fix it? If anything.
There is a fundamental problem with critique relationships. Writers are notoriously filled with ego on the one hand and horrible insecurity on the other. I often worry Casey will get mad at me when I’m so brutally honest about something. And, I’d be a liar if I didn’t think damn, I’m smart, now take that correction!
When I think either of those things, I need to step back and adjust my thinking. A tall glass of wine usually helps. LOL. But I’m being serious. Not about the wine. When either ego or insecurity is ruling your critique process, it becomes toxic…to the other person.
So, when I’m contemplating pulling back my thoughts, I have to think to myself, is this going to help Casey? If, I’m thinking I’m right and she should listen to me, then I need to pull back and again, ask myself, is this going to help Casey?
Because it’s not all about me. Actually, it is but only when she’s reading my work.
So, when do you call it quits?
When you’ve done everything you can, but you still feel like shit every time you see an email from your critique partner.
Actually, call it quits before that. That way you can remain friends. It’s like a TV show. Go out on top. LOL.
Before I get into the topic of today’s post. Here are some pictures of the Jupiter Writing retreat. We had lots of laughs and enjoyed the sites around my little town. I didn’t get enough writing done, which is okay, the laughter made it all worth it!
Casey talked about how she can’t stand writing first chapters. This is the one place she doesn’t sort of follow one of our rules about critiquing. IT’S A DRAFT.
I say this because she’s spending a lot of time making it PERFECT. Trust me when I say, she does not sweat like this when she does the other chapters. They come flying at me one right after the other. My theory on this is that she’s trying to get to know her characters and story better. Setting it all up nice and pretty.
Fuck pretty. I’m sitting here in my PJ’s writing this post. My hair looks worse than in the pictures above and I’ll stay that way all day!
First chapters for me are easy. They flow from my brain to my finger tips to the page in seconds. It’s exciting. It’s like driving your new car for the very first time. You want to check out all the features and when you pull out onto the street, your heart races and you have a smile plastered across your face. You love it so much you want to show it off. You take people for rides and you drive places and don’t need to be there.
I love first chapters. But I spend a lot of time with my people and I have an outline written out before I even sit down to write. I’ve taken the time to write my blurb and in my head, I know that climatic scene, so I know where I’m going. If I don’t have an ending in mind, then I will get lost and that often means I started the book in the wrong place.
The other thing is I generally like to start in action in the first chapter. That’s my thing. It’s my strength. Most of the time I have too much action, a lot of dialogue and NOTHING else, and I’m okay with that. I TRUST that Casey will point out the places I need to layer in all the good stuff. I also TRUST myself to do it because the first chapter is one of the last chapters I completely edit.
Because once I get to the end, some things have changed, so some things might need to be added to the first chapter, and also, I can see the nuggets I had might have edited out. For example, I had a character I introduced in a first chapter that I honestly thought, fuck, I have to take her out, she means nothing to the story. But oops, chapter ten there she is and she’s very important.
I have confidence in my first chapters mostly because I’m so freaking excited about the story that it shows in what I write and that’s a good thing. It might be a false confidence, but when I sit down to write a new story, I’m busting at the scenes.
Here’s the deal with my first chapters. I don’t read and reread looking to make sure I set it all up. I take the creative energy it generates and keep writing. I almost always write the first 10k of a story in a day or two. Then I pitter out a bit.
Because it’s not so new anymore. LOL.
And now, I’ve been told have to talk about sex…
I don’t hate writing sex scenes. But I do avoid them. I will go clean my son’s bathroom instead of writing a sex scene. You’d think because it is in part an action scene, I’d be good at it and enjoy it (yeah, don’t go there, this is FICTION not reality).
Ever watch the movie Overboard? One of my favorite lines is, “What, no boom boom?”
That’s what my characters say to me as they stare at me waiting for me to write their love making. Ugh.
I dread writing sex scenes, even though I use them to show emotional growth and change in a character, and let’s remember, they have to move the story forward. In my book, The Return Home, there is only one scene because that is all the story required. In Summer’s Gone, there isn’t a single one. Lots of attraction and some making out, but no sex and that is because of who the characters are, not because I don’t want to write them.
While I love language and swearing rolls off my tongue like honey dripping off a spoon, word choices bother in me sex scenes when I read them. Like the word Penis. Nope. Please don’t use it in a sex scene. I’m like, ewe. But I also don’t like writing the three C’s and they isn’t, church, cooking, or cleaning (go see Casey’s post if you can’t figure them out). While I write sort of graphic sex scenes, I try to focus on the emotion…BINGO that’s my problem.
Writing emotion, or showing emotion, is difficult for me. The Return Home was a very emotional book and not only did I cry writing it, but it took longer than I thought it would. There is no suspense and even though there is only one sex scene, the entire book is a big old puddle of emotions.
No one got murdered. No one turned into a Fairy. There was no high-speed car chase to break up the emotions that are so hard for me to get on the page.
So I avoid it.
But, one thing I always do when I go through a book for the second and third time, is I layer that emotion right in. I can do it when I’ve gotten everything else down on the page, so to write an emotional scene is like, fuck, do I have to?
I also write linearly. So, that means I HAVE to do it right then and not jump to the next scene. Why? Because it’s an emotional scene and it might reveal something about my characters I didn’t know.
Everyone has something they struggle with. What’s yours?
There is a bit of controversy out there in writer critique land if you should be giving your critique partner your best work or your first draft. The answer to that is not whether one is right or wrong, but what one is looking for in a critique, what one wants to give in a critique, and what one believes will best serve them. I also think, the answer come in where you are in your writing career and the development of your craft (which is always getting better). Casey and I will cover that in another topic soon.
When Casey and I first met. We both came at this critique thing with each other wearing protective gloves. This is because we both had bad past experiences. Those experiences helped us shape the critique process we have now. Neither of us wanted a line edit. We didn’t want proofreading, although we’d say, if you see, feel like fixing it, go for it! We also didn’t want smoke blown up our skirts. We wanted honest and real.
Last week Casey talked about taking care of what you have and not becoming complacent as a critique partner.
Every time I get a critique back from Casey I get excited about finding out all the things she found wrong, or that could be better, or that I missed an opportunity, where I can amp up the tension, make a reader care, whatever. If I ever got a crit back from her that had a comment or two, a few fixed typos, and tells me I did a good job.
She’d be fired.
Of course, the few times (okay, maybe once in the last, I don’t know, two years) I’ve gotten a critique that had very few critical comments. I immediately picked up the phone and said, “WTF? There has to be something wrong with this bad boy.” To which she replied, “It was a real shocker to me too, but other than that one area, I thought, damn girl, you rock.”
Trust me, the next one that came back, I saw so much red I cried tears of JOY! See, I like editing and rewriting. It’s my favorite part of writing. I’m that weirdo that HATES drafts, except first chapters, but I digress. I’ve never thought I’ve gotten anything “right” on the first try. I shine in second and third draft. I layer in second and third draft. Though, because I focus on action and dialogue, I often miss little opportunities, which is why I need Casey to constantly show me where I can amp up the tension and emotion. Without her, I think my books would be a bit flat.
Her post last week talked about taking care of what you have and not becoming complacent. Now let’s look at what Casey does…one thing she has a tendency to do is give me way too much information in a short period of time. I’m overwhelmed. The reader might be overwhelmed. She might have a reason for doing it, but if I don’t keep pointing out when I’m bored, or she’s beating me over the head with something, or I’m lost in the detail and not the story, or I’m starting to skim, not carrying much about what she’s writing, then she might not know where she’s mucking up. Thing is, almost every time I tell her this, she’s like, well this person or this thing is important because of XYZ. Okay, but there is NO NUGGET that makes me care. You have not planted that SEED. Give that to me! And she always finds it usually by doing two things. Tightening where she can, giving the reader only what they need in that moment, and finding that one little bomb that says, you need to know this. But poor Casey is stuck with me giving her comments like this.
Or, I often toss a bunch of questions at her about what I’m reading. I don’t have to have the answers because you have to remember, she might want me as a reader to be thinking all this stuff. Or it just might be, okay, I don’t HAVE to give the reader all this right now and it goes back to what does the READER HAVE TO KNOW RIGHT NOW.
Now, some of you might be thinking, God, Jen, you’re mean. Or geez, Jen, why are you airing CASEY’s dirty underwear out there. And I want to make this clear. The reason why I’m giving you examples of my critique of Casey is to show how I’ve come to know her as a partner and how I help her make her writing better. Basically, calling her on her shit. And her calling me on mine. Not only do you have understand your partner’s voice in draft mode, but you have to understand how you critique. It’s essential that you’re working on their writing, not projecting your own into.
Another thing to consider is to be assertive in what you need. There have been times when I’ve said to Casey that I really need you to look for certain specific things. It’s not because she’s not doing it, but it’s good to restate your needs.
Also, when writing something that is a little out of my comfort zone, I will ask her to focus say emotion or character development.
And here is another thing to consider, sometimes we focus on what WE do in our writing and not what THEY do.
If I’m told often enough that I have a specific bad habit, I will start to notice it in everyone else. It’s part of learning who you are as a writer.
I think Critiquing in DRAFT MODE is an important concept because too often we focus on the mechanics. The Oxford comma. The word WAS. We’re not line editing. We’re not really even being developmental editors. We’re doing a stream of conscious commentary on a writer’s draft. Understand, that the draft may go under many edits after that. I’m just seeing Casey with her pants down.