I always say I’m the idea lady. You don’t like that idea, I’ve got another one. You don’t like that one? Let me reach in my back pocket and toss out another one.
It’s easier for me to come up with ideas for other writers because I really don’t have that much invested in it other than I want my friends book to be the best that it can be.
The only problem is that I can be seriously overwhelming. Brainstorming with me is not for the weak of heart. Casey has learned hone me in by asking me questions, which forces me to pull things in nice and tight. We enjoy brainstorming both in person/on phone, or in email. The nice thing about email is that you have a record of the conversation.
But it’s time consuming.
The nice thing about in person or on phone, you get to see the shiver moment.
But unless you record it, you might forget it.
As my friend Stacey Wilk learned, when you brainstorm with me, you need to say, “Jen. Just be quiet for one minute.”
Brainstorming is a talent. Really it is. I’m good at ideas. I’ve got a million of them, but that can be a weakness because I can take a story and toss it off in a million directions, getting lost in the details…because its not my story. My mind doesn’t see it any certain way.
The key to a good brainstorming session is to tell the other writer your expectations AND to always remember it’s YOUR story. Just like with critique, you need to find the nuggets that make sense for your vision and goal for your book.
If your the one giving ideas, remember, your job is to help the other author find that sweet spot. Help them muddle through all the unanswered questions that they need the answers for before they can start writing.
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.
Okay folks, so here comes the hard part.
Or knowing when to break up.
Then actually following through.
No one likes having to end a relationship. Whether it’s with a friend, partner, family member, and that’s no different for a business relationship. Actually, the stakes might be higher for a business relationship…because all of your mutual colleagues and acquaintances in your business world could be watching.
So…are you ready to break up?
There are a few signs that it’s time to call it quits with your critique partner.
- They’ve become complacent and their advice is no longer helpful leaving you still feeling stuck – Remember when I talked about making sure you don’t become complacent? If you missed it, you can find it HERE. We talked about those issues that you will see over and over in your partner’s writing that you might glaze over because they’ve become familiar. I suggested you make a list of those things so you can continually check yourself to make sure you’re not missing them in critique. Think of it as upkeep. Keeping your tools of the trade at their optimum level. Would a chef go into a kitchen with a dull knife? Nope. Keep your brain sharp. Keep your critique fresh.
- You’re starting to see too much of your books or ideas in their work – This is a touchy one. And seriously, it happens. It happens often without the writer even realizing it. So don’t rush out there assuming your critique partner is a thief. Life usually isn’t that dramatic, despite the fiction we write. Hell, for Jen and I, I’ve gone and written a story line similar to hers without having ever read her story beforehand. There are no real new ideas in this industry. There’s individual voice and creative spin. Fact of the matter is, if you give a group of authors a handful of elements they must use in a story, they will all come up with wildly different stories despite the common elements. Also, if you’re writing fast like Jen and I do, you may forget you saw a detail in your partner’s story and it can creep into your words. If it’s a super important idea or a unique element to your voice that creeps in…mention it. I can’t reiterate enough, especially if it’s voice. Especially voice. Because you’re their critique partner and if your voice is creeping into their work, muddying up their unique voice, it’s going to cause a problem with their readers. This is part of what you should be doing as a critique partner. And yes, I know approaching this is awkward. You know how easy it is for ideas to bleed into writing? Jen and I had a conversation on the phone where she used the term passive/aggressive…and no, I’m not going to tell you who we were discussing, lol. Next thing you know, passive/aggressive is in her next chapter…two or three times. Nope.
- There’s no more give and take and one side is feeling resentful for always critiquing and never getting anything in return – Okay, I think Jen is trying not to swallow her tongue reading this. Why? Because she turns over a lot more to me than I do to her. Well, right now I’ve had some other life stuff slow me down so that’s to be expected…and no, I’m not resentful. After all, I just sent two chapters to her to work on as she’s flying to Greece. Yup, I’m poaching on the 30th anniversary trip overseas…and I’m not ashamed! Sorry Mike!
- They steal your idea or work – I don’t mean mistakenly drifting into your voice or that little nugget of something I spoke about above. I’m talking you’ve plotted with them or you’ve told them about a golden idea you have for a book or series and next thing you know, they’re writing it. Or you see full blown lines that are almost identical to lines you’ve written. That’s betrayal. There’s no talking this one out and moving past it. Be done. But tread carefully with the breakup in this case. Keep it private. See advice on how to do that below!
- If you’ve let things about your critique partner irritate you without speaking up to the point where you spend more time thinking about those irritations than doing your own work – Jen, stop it. Again…not you, lol. If you’re someone who avoids confrontation, this is likely going to happen to you. And confrontation is too strong of a word in my opinion. Confrontation to me is often stern and hostile. But if you have a hard time speaking up, it’s likely because you view difference of opinion, or any discussion addressing something that’s bothering you to the offender as confrontation. If you’re at this point, you’ve done this to yourself. I would advise you to try to address it first in case you can move past the hurdle. If you can’t, it’s time to end it because anything weighing that heavy on your mind that it’s bleeding into your life is no good.
- If you’re nurturing seeds of resentment and are unwilling to address them or have let them fester too long to save the relationship – This really goes with the above…only this is for those of you who have fiery tempers, you know how you are, *Casey raises her hand* and you planned to address something, didn’t get to it in a timely manner, and now you feel like the time to address it has passed and instead it festers. Just like above, you’ve done this to yourself.
- If your partner has begun lashing out at you in critique or is displaying signs of jealousy and you are unable to talk it out – And let’s be honest here…if they are behaving like this, it’s going to be really tough to talk out. Maybe impossible. You should still give it a shot, but tread carefully. This is a sign that ego has drifted into a relationship where it has no place. I’ve been in a relationship like this with writing partner in the past and I let her have it. I mean, I thought we were both adults and I was blindsided by the venom she unleashed and the way she twisted my words. In that moment, any trust I had for her vanished. Just gone. And there was no way to get it back. In that case, there was no salvaging the relationship. More about how this breakup in just a minute!
If you’re having issues with any of the above, it’s imperative that you address them when they crop up. The first order of business in this relationship is to always discuss anything bothering you or that’s not working for you. If you don’t address those issues and they fester causing you to break up with your critique partner, don’t think you can place the blame solely on their shoulders. You have a responsibility to the relationship/partnership to use your words and address issues before they have a chance to explode and take the relationship/partnership with it.
So, you’ve done all you can, but it’s time to go your separate ways…so what do you do?
Remember what you like about each other – You’re both going to be navigating this writing world. There’s no reason why ending the critique relationship has to end the friendship or cause bad feelings…well, within reason. As long as you’ve addressed issues honestly, in a timely manner, even if they don’t work out, there should be no ill will. The book world may seem huge, but I assure it’s not. You’d be amazed by how many people know who you are and how many people have talked about you. Give your former good partner some good things to say about you.
If you sabotaged your own critique relationship by avoiding confrontation or harboring feelings of resentment, learn from it – Don’t hold it against your partner and end things amicably. Take a hard look at yourself and the part you played in the breakup so you can make sure you don’t make the same mistake with the next partner since good critique partners can be incredibly hard to find. Maybe it’s not like finding something as unique as a unicorn, but it’s definitely up there with finding a bra so comfortable you can sleep in it while it also props up your girls so they look great in everything, including a V-neck.
And finally, a few things to consider if your partner’s behavior is so heinous that it torpedoes any chance of maintaining a friendship – Ahh, yes, we are back to my situation. Yes, I found her behavior heinous, I’m sure she would disagree. Did I handle things badly? Yup, there were things I could have done way better. Unfortunately in my situation, I thought we were close enough that I knew what would be okay with her. Without going into detail, I can tell you I based what I did off of what we had done in the past, not realizing that she would have a problem with it since she hadn’t thus far. Should I have asked? Absolutely. I just didn’t realize because we had never set the parameters and were applying the rules of our friendship which came first, to our writing relationship. Colossally bad idea BTW! Even if you’ve been friends for years, set the parameters of the business relationship. Agree how you are going to approach the relationship so neither of you can accidentally step out of bounds and ruin the underlying friendship.
I can offer you one last tip to think about in the event that you break up in a way that permanently ruins the friendship…remember when I mentioned that the writing world although big, is small? People know who you are even if you don’t realize it? I’m sure you are friends on Facebook with your critique partner. I’m sure you follow each other on Instagram, Twitter, etc. DO NOT RUSH TO UNFRIEND OR UNFOLLOW YOUR FORMER PARTNER/FRIEND.
Yes, it warrants shouting at you. I can’t stress this enough. It’s most important in terms of Facebook where it’s so easy to see mutual friends. My former partner unfriended me on FB unbeknownst to me right away. How did I find out? I got four emails the first day.
Four. Freaking. Emails.
Four people noticed on the very first day I was unfriended that we were no longer connected on FB. Actually, more than four, unless it just so happened that the only four who noticed happened to also have no qualms about nosing in on the situation and sending an email.
What does that tell you?
It should be telling you that people are watching. They either are brave enough to contact you and ask, or they’ll speculate behind our back. Hell, maybe both. So always consider how you handle your breakup and make sure you do it in such a way that both sides can continue on quietly without having others intrude.
One day, long ago, in a round hotel, by a casino, in town not so far away, Casey and I sat eating cheese and drinking Diet Coke contemplated the topics we might cover here in the world of the Crafty Word Slingers. I sat with a yellow pad in my lap and created a schedule as we brainstormed our ideas. Ha! Brainstorming will be a topic in the coming weeks!
As you can see, I’m a very tactile person. I like to hand write things. I have an iPad and an Apple Pencil now and I love it. But I digress.
I’ve always tried to live by the idea that perception is reality. While we each might experience the same event our realities could be vastly different. I hate rollercoasters. They terrify me. So the few times I’ve gotten on one, it’s been hell. But my husband loves them, so for him, the same exact event is spectacular!
So, while Casey and I shared the same space for a great weekend (this I know she’d agree on), the ideas we settled on for this blog, our perception of what we decided might be different.
Why am I bringing that up? Because this can often lead to a misconception and misunderstanding.
I’m going to state flat out, that I agree with Casey’s post, especially that critique is not a shortcut past all the other steps to polishing your work, whatever those steps might be for you.
I remember my very first critique group. It was four authors. One published. Three unpublished. It was a great group. We meet up once a month, though we often tried to do it 2x a month. We sent each other a few chapters to read and when we got together, we openly discussed the work. I’ll never forget one author saying to me, “Molly, you in danger, girl!” Essentially telling my character was behaving like she was too stupid to live! We had one rule. The person being critiqued couldn’t talk until after all the other authors had their say. I love critiquing like this. It was like sitting back and listening to reader discuss your work, only it was your peers. At the end, we all gave each other the notes we’d made on the manuscript. This often had other mark-ups, like line-edits, tense issue fixes, typo corrections. If someone didn’t have anything for us to read, but wanted to brainstorm, then their time was used on that. I really feel like my storytelling really improved during my time with these women. They helped me develop three-dimensional characters and compelling plots.
But as things often happen, things changed and the group stopped meeting for a variety of reasons, one of which it didn’t work the same way it had in the beginning. Some of us were doing more work than others. Some of us were doing different things. It eventually became a grind, and not a positive.
I was devastated, but found another group. Five writers. All unpublished. We did chapter by chapter. I also loved critiquing this way. I got a wide range of opinions, but what was interesting about this group is that each one of us tended to focus on different things. Two of us (not me) did mostly line-edits. Very little story or character. Just line-edits. Let me tell you, I leaned a lot from those two women. It strengthened my writing in a different way. There were two of us (yes me) who focused more on plot. We were always asking them: what’s the conflict? Or, why are these people doing this? Does this matter? Is this driving the story forward? The 5th woman tended to only focus on character. And damn, could she write some really creative characters. I loved her characters and she helped us all with ours.
But this group had its own set of flaws and it created misunderstandings. Hurt feelings and eventually, it too collapsed.
I’ve been in some bad critique situations where every time I got a critique back, I had to go take a long walk before I opened it, knowing that it was going to make me feel like shit. As Casey said, critiques can tear us to shreds. This is why I always suggest you take baby steps into any critique situation.
But more importantly, not only do you have to take care of what you have, you have to take care of what you give.
I believe there are many misconceptions about critique, but it all starts with self and our perceptions of what we give and what we want to take. I talked about some of my critique situations because honestly, at the time, my expectations of critique were different ten years ago then they are now. My needs are different. My perception is different, therefore so, is my reality.
As a critique partner, you have to realize that you’re reading with a bias. Not necessarily for the writer, but for yourself. You come in with your own judgments and personality. Your ideology about story and writing. You’re own process. You have strengths and weaknesses. You have blindspots.
And so does your partner.
The misconception is that these things don’t affect how you give advice and how you take it. I believe it is very important to understand your own process in writing. The more you do, the better a critique partner you will be, because it will no longer be about you and your perceptions, but about your critique partners.
Next week. When to call it quits! Oh boy. I’m going to have fun with that one!
This isn’t me. I know, you’re shocked, right? LOL. My stomach has not been this flat since I was 8. And I’m definitely not rolling in enough money to have an office that looks like that. If I did, not gonna lie, I wouldn’t be getting much writing done. I’d be sniffing all the book interiors like a child of the 90’s huffing White Out.
This week we’re going to talk about common misconceptions about critique… for me, this is short and sweet. It comes down to one essential fact.
There are limits to a critique partner’s abilities!
Critique has the unique ability to both tear an author to shreds and build up their ego to mass proportions…often at the same time. It temps an author with a false sense of security.
It’s a misleading seductress…don’t fall for that shit!
Are you expecting miracles with the critique process? You think this means you can short change editing, skip beta reading, eschew a final read through with your own eyes?
Don’t tell yourself that lie.
- Critique is not a copy edit or a replacement for copy editing.
- Critique is not set in stone. It’s not all the right answers to the final exam.
- Critique is not a full reader perspective. Critique is not a replacement for a team of readers with different thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and life experiences.
- Critique is not a shortcut past all the other steps to polishing your work.
Critique is not line or copy editing. My focus as Jen’s critique partner is first and foremost story. We’re essentially developmental editors for one another and since we are, our focus is character and plot. We’re focused on wordsmithing the hell out of each chapter. In that process, we can’t also be focused on the technical aspects. After all, there’s a reason why there are different types of editors and why it’s always a good idea to hire different editors to do different types of editing. Fresh eyes for every level of correction. Don’t look for this from your critique partner. They make catch a few things here and there, but there’s no way in hell they’re catching everything. Hell, I have a BA in English Literature and still can’t master commas or proper dialogue punctuation. My verb tenses? A bloody nightmare. At this point, I would need rigorous training in order to even consider editing either punctuation or verb tense.
Critique is not set in stone. Jen’s opinion and commentary on my work, and mine on hers, is not the be all end all. It’s subjective. You take what advice resonates and leave the rest. If a comment resonates to a degree, but you don’t like your critique partner’s suggestion for how to fix it or change it, talk it out. It’s possible that the solution is somewhere in the back of your mind and by picking it apart together you’ll come up with a solution that fixes the issue, but is also a solution you’re comfortable with. It’s all pliable.
Critique is not the reaction all readers will have. Being an author changes how you read. Period. This colors our reaction to one another’s work. In order to get a true reader reaction…before publishing, of course, the story has to land in the hands of beta readers. Beta readers who are straight up readers and fans of the genre…in other words, don’t hand your chick lit or contemporary romance rom-com to an avid thriller reader. You won’t like the way it all turns out.
Critique is not a replacement for your own final read through. This really goes along with the editing. You have to read through your story one final time…after critique, after beta reading, after editing, and even after proofreading. There are no shortcuts in this. You’re the one who has it all riding on reader reaction. You’re the one with a fan base you don’t want to lose or maybe a fan base you’re trying to build. Don’t take shortcuts. Readers will notice. They’ll tell their friends. They’ll post it on social media. Worse, they’ll put down your book and never pick up another one you write. Can you afford to lose a loyal reader or a potential new one? No. None of us can.
Stay tuned for Jen’s take on the misconceptions of critique coming Monday!
I hate blurbs.
I hate them with the searing heat of a thousand suns.
When I started writing, there was a rigid notion that blurbs should be no longer than 150 words, if you were a rebel and willing to push it, 200, and they had to conform to a three paragraph format. Her, him, them. Or Him, her, them…whichever worked. Quite literally the only real freedom was in whether or not to feature the hero or heroine first.
Then, as I tore my hair out while trying to conform to that style, I noticed an up-rise of fearless indies throwing caution to the wind and flipping their figurative middle fingers to the accepted conventions and going for it.
Suddenly dynamic blurbs of all varieties inundated the book world. We had short blurbs, long blurbs, fragments, first person, third person, one word declarations…wow!
It was literally the one stop candy shop of blurbs. It didn’t matter what your taste was, there was something out there for you from bitter dark chocolate to tart sour patch candies and everything in between.
I tried to break out of the mold. Dammit, I wanted longer blurbs, but everyone in my author groups, my tight circle of friends, those who had traditionally published or were currently traditionally published gasped at the idea. “You can’t do that!” they said.
Well, why the hell not?
I thumbed my nose at anyone who told me I can’t and instead did what I wanted. And it was incredibly freeing.
You know, as long as I could write them AFTER I wrote the story.
And then I was writing so fast I needed to have blurbs ready before the story was finished.
What do you mean I need to have them first? I’m a pantser. I don’t even know how it ends, hell, I’ve written stories where I’ve forgotten to give my hero and heroine last names until the very end. Now you want me to wrap up the basics of their story in a neat little bow?
*Stomps foot—flips the bird*
It’s just not the way my brain works. Oh, I can write the blurb first, but it’s going to be a steaming pile of poo and my story is going to go on so many different tangents that the underlying premise no longer resembles what I’ve been forced to put down on paper.
This goes back to my having the perfect first chapter. Look, logically I know I can go back and edit the first chapter. But it’s my framework. And the thought of building something on a foundation that’s not set, with rotting boards, rusted nails, and leaking windows is enough to set my heart racing while panic floods me from head to toe.
Since I don’t know my story, even condensing a story idea in 250 words is nearly impossible. It’s like trying to plot a whole book in a just a few words when I still don’t know my characters. I get to know them as I write. I start to think about their life situations and put together how based on who they were raised to be and who they choose to be influence the here and now.
I sometimes don’t know a whole lot about my characters until I’m a chapter or two in. I work them out on paper. Here’s an example:
“Well, well, well, now who is that?” Lavinia asked, an appreciative grin forming on her 1980’s red lips.
Blair followed her gaze, and her lungs seized on a gulp. “What’s he doing here?”
Lavinia’s drawn-on eyebrows disappeared under a poof of bleach-blond hair dropping low over her forehead. “You know him?”
He pushed away from the hood of his sleek, black, luxury whatever the heck it was car that might actually be just as mysterious and exotic as the man now walking toward her.
And so far out of her price range, it made her heart pinch.
“I’m not sure anyone really knows Evan,” she murmured as her mouth ran dry at the sight of him.
Black dress pants, probably designer from the sheen and quality cut, hugged his thighs as he strode toward her with one hand in his pocket and the other flexing at his side.
Tension radiated from him, but Lord help her, she didn’t care. She’d known from the first moment they’d met when she’d spilled her cup of spiced tea at her favorite coffee shop that he was something different.
He’d been polite, with those Clark Kent, square-jawed looks and dark-framed glasses designed to make the wearer look scholarly, but in his case, they only made her fingers itch to slip them from his face so she could get lost in the warm, amber depths behind them.
Fire and ice.
Cool and detached on the outside, but those eyes—God, those eyes told a whole different story.
An elusive tale likely no one would get to the bottom of.
This is chapter 2, page 17. Chapter 1 was in his POV and still I didn’t know who he was. Evan had already been in three other novellas as a side character. When the time came to write him, I hadn’t a clue who he really was, or what made him tick. I knew with all of the others even when they were still secondary characters.
The scene above was my “aha” moment. The reason I didn’t know who he was went right to the basis of who he was as a character so his being a mystery, even to me, worked!
So, how on earth am I supposed to write a blurb before I do the above?
Wanna see what happens when I try?
See…a hot mess! It’s okay, you can agree with me. I already know.
I struggle to narrow it all down. I find halfway through writing the actual book that my characters do not look anything like what I’ve outlined in my blurb. And worst of all, as a pantser, I find I’ve boxed myself into conformity and I struggle to let my characters drive the story because I’ve already committed them to a certain reality.
What I have learned, if I figure out how to do a rough outline, I might have a chance…but who are we kidding? I’m probably not going to learn hot to do a rough outline.
Because I’m stubborn.
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?
First off…good morning everyone. I’m sitting in Jen’s kitchen in her slammin’ condo in Jupiter Florida alternating between blissful contentment because I’m here writing all the words and flashbacks from living in the oppressive heat and humidity of my Florida years I couldn’t wait to leave behind when I moved in 2009.
I know, I know, palm trees, warmth, and the ocean nearby. I should love it.
Here’s some of the tropical pretty I’m sitting in the middle of…
But I’m a northern girl. I grew up in Vermont. I live in Maine. There are four seasons there… instead of hot and hotter like they have here. I live just off the ocean now…but I don’t melt sitting on the sand. The water is so cold that you don’t get used to it, you just go numb after five minutes so you don’t mind the cold anymore and your nipples are so freaking hard they can cut glass.
So…I’m tolerating the heat and trying to keep my bitching to a minimum while I finally get some words down.
These ladies are helping…Stacey Wilk, Jen Talty, and Chelle Olson!
Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of today’s subject.
First chapters…the bane of my existence.
The reason I lie awake at night.
The thing that makes me flip my computer the bird, adopt semi-permanent resting bitch face, growl at the keyboard, pace on my postage-stamp size section of floor behind my desk, find all kinds of boring shit on Facebook utterly fascinating that I have to explore even if it means I lose hours, and finally, what makes me want to avoid my crit partner like the damn plague.
Yes, I have to fight my urge to avoid Jen.
Why you ask?
Because every time she talks to me she says, “Okay, love you, gotta go, and hey, send me shit.”
Send. Me. Shit.
Nope. I can’t send you shit.
Now I know she doesn’t mean shit literally. She’s not calling my first draft shit, but in my head, despite not being written, it’s shit.
My first resistance is the rush of my insecurities as a writer coming to the forefront and kicking me in the figurative teeth. It’s the fact that I’m a pantser for the most part writing on a deadline. It’s my needing to at least know the bare minimum about my chapters and characters, but having nothing but a dark, looming void before me. It’s about me forcing myself to write linearly when I’m not a linear writer. Because when I’m writing novellas, writing out of order is not nearly as effective.
I started out writing long books. And I have every intention of getting back to those books, but for now, I’m writing shorter works. These shorter works are so much harder. And that’s where I have a horrid problem with first chapters.
I want perfection in the first chapter before I send it to Jen.
Okay, so I know it’s just me. I know I’m picky. I can go back and rewrite, add in the nuggets I didn’t get in the first time, but I just don’t wanna.
I reread that chapter at least fifty times before Jen ever sees it.
My first chapters have to have all the elements to set up the other 8-10 chapters to come. They are the foundation by which the story stands. I’m totally fine with letting my ugly hang out in every chapter after. I’ll let my freak flag fly, but never in chapter one.
Of course, this also means that when I send that chapter one to Jen, I’m convinced it’s the best thing ever written. There couldn’t possibly be a typo. No missing words. My characters have been set up just right and there’s no annoying back story or info dumps.
Then she sends it back with fifty or so track changes.
Aaaannnnnnd I’m back to flipping off my computer screen.
So that’s my first problem with the first chapter.
The duh factor.
If you see Casey writing, you can practically hear it. The “duh” of a woman looking at the blank screen and saying, “What do you mean I need to just make shit up? There has to be more to that. It can’t be that easy.”
It is that easy.
And it’s that hard.
Anything that involves any sort of world building like creatures or lore in paranormal/fantasy or even if it’s contemporary/suspense and I’m coming up with an agency/company/network/business, I stall.
I mean, I stall like a middle-aged woman’s metabolism as she suffers from menopause, scorching hot flashes, and a thyroid disorder.
Jen, well, she’s a whole different animal. She’s a ball of wild abandon and just makes shit up. She’s confident in her ability to just put the right terms together and create something all hers.
I love that about her. I hate that I can’t. I hate that I examine everything to death. When I found the name for Aegis, I researched words that had to do with protection and shields. I toyed with the idea of putting two words together, but nothing ever sounded just right.
In other words, I wasn’t confident in any of it.
The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?
Hi, I’m Casey. First chapters, invented terms/names are my weaknesses. I don’t know if I’ll ever get out of my own head long enough to get better at them. And that’s okay.
Pssst! You know why it’s okay?
Because I rock the boom-boom.
All. The. Sex.
Yup, I’m not afraid to admit it. My chapter one tells me at least 75% of what kind of sex my characters will have at the 50-75% mark of my book.
Because I’ve agonized over that first chapter, I know what my characters weaknesses are, I know what’s holding them back, and I know how those qualities have to play into how they come together.
I don’t have words that I won’t use. If clit, cock, or cunt fit (Jen’s three C’s), I use them. Even if the words are something I don’t use in real life, it doesn’t matter. I have to ask myself what the people I’ve created would use. I let my characters weaknesses and their POV’s drive the language. I’m a voyeur, in a non-perverted way of course, playing out their growth in the most intimate of ways. In this I need to do them justice, but they lay it all out for me. It’s less about my head and more about what my characters want me to see.
I remember to weave the transformation of emotion and the bond building through the words so the scene doesn’t turn into a mechanical sex pamphlet.
In order to do this, I throw away any ideas I’ve been harboring of hot sex. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve met that have this idea in their head of a hot sex scene that they want to write, so they do, and it never quite sounds right.
It’s because it’s not right…for those particular characters.
You can’t force it.
Some writers will try to force it to work because they don’t want to let the idea go.
Well, technically, I can put a pair of size five undies on my ample ass, but it’s going to look like I tried to squeeze twenty-five pounds of shit in a five pound bag.
And the fact that I did will show.
The key to writing stellar sex is that it’s not personal preference. It’s what will be the hottest sex for your characters dependent on their wounds, emotions, what’s happening around them, and how they connect with one another. The minute you’ve accepted that, you’re halfway there!
Join us Monday where Jen will give us her wisdom on first chapters and the boom-boom and she’ll do it all from sunny, hotter-than-hell Florida!
Jen is my current critique partner.
That sounds like I plan on replacing her, doesn’t it?
So why do I call her my “current” critique partner?
Because nothing lasts forever if you don’t take care of it and when I call her my current critique partner, it serves as a constant reminder to take care of what I have because I could lose it if I don’t.
Critique relationships start out like dating…
You come at each other at first showing the other person your absolute best. You’re still feeling them out to learn how they’ll react to you, to life, to the world around you. When you’re getting ready to go out you scrutinize your hair, makeup, and clothing. Everything has to be in place and perfect.
Then you start to show them bits and pieces of what they’re really in for…
It’s the fourth or fifth date, and you answer the door in yoga pants and your threadbare Rolling Stones T-shirt with the bleach mark on the front because you haven’t put on your date clothes yet, but your hair and makeup…they’re spot on.
Then you get comfortable…
A few months in, they’ve spent the night and they’ve seen your bed head and smelled your morning breath. You’ve stopped humming in the bathroom so they can’t hear you pee. The fear of having to poop while they’re around doesn’t make you so nervous that your stomach cramps and then you end up in the bathroom, the very place you didn’t want to be, praying the bathroom fan is loud enough to disguise your body’s revolt.
You’re critique relationship grows and changes just like any relationship. You start to recognize patterns and bad habits. Sometimes even the patterns in their bad habits. And you start to understand why, despite repeatedly mentioning those habits, they continue to do them. This is when you’ve reached the point of understanding your critique partner’s voice in draft mode. You recognize how they work. And it gives you a glimpse into a few of the things you’ll forever need to look for.
It’s also a warning sign for what you need to make sure you don’t start to glaze over and miss.
The most common issue I see in Jen’s writing is the sections that make me say, “So what?”
She quite literally has given me nothing about her character (usually the heroine) to care about. She’s put her on the page, but she hasn’t given her much for emotion and instead has propelled into the action. I’ve noticed when this happens she usually makes a lot of other minor mistakes with telling and passive voice, and mistakes with homonyms. These areas are also usually heavy in dialogue and often after a few sentences, I have to wonder what her characters are doing, their expressions, and how they’re moving in relation to each other. I basically get a whole lot of talking heads…and as a reader, I feel cheated.
In Jen’s case, I suspect this has a lot to do with the story moving so fast in her head, she’s trying to race to get it all down. We’ve all been there. No matter how fast we type, it’s two against one in there with our hero and heroine battling it out at a rapid pace while we’re trying to build the picture for the reader before parts of it disappear.
When I start to see these patterns, it’s because I’ve learned her voice in draft mode, I know I’ll always have to look for these sections.
Nope, the problem with a habit like this is it’s easy to gloss over them as her crit partner because I get used to seeing them. Think about your own writing. We all have missing words or maybe the wrong verb tense and what happens when we read it back?
Our brain fixes it before we even realize it’s there and we miss it again.
Bad habits can become ingrained just as good habits can.
Think about that relationship I spoke about above…think about when relationships slip into comfort mode.
It’s a risk a critique partner runs when they get used to another writer’s work. I’ve almost fallen into the pattern myself of glossing over those parts of her draft, assuming that after all this time she would go back and layer in details to give them more depth. The minute I let myself slide, I become an ineffective critique partner.
And that’s why it’s especially important to have that list of things to look for, habits that occur in draft mode specific to your critique partner so you won’t become complacent when reading their work.
- Make sure that although you’ve seen your critique partner at her worst and she’s breathed that morning dragon breath on you that you continue to be careful to pick apart her work so she’s always presenting her first-date-self to the reader world.
- Learn her voice in draft mode and make note of the reoccurring mistakes that won’t go away so you don’t become complacent and start missing them, too.
- Make sure you reevaluate your critique relationship, just like you would a marriage, and make sure it’s working for both sides. Modify where you need to. Be honest in those discussions.
Check in Monday where Jen is going to tell you a little bit about my bad habits in draft mode!
The continued conversation about critique from the other half… “Seriously, take your ‘potential’ critique partner/group out for a test drive.”
You know that feeling you get when you leave a conference, or your local chapter meeting, and you’re all jazzed up. You met some pretty freaking fantastic people and you think, “Wow, I need and critique partner and she’d be perfect?”
Sleep with her first.
But you know what I mean, I hope.
One thing you’ll find out very quickly while reading this blog is that Casey is the funny one. I’m the serious one. Not that I can’t be funny (if you find the above is laughable), or she can’t be serious, but we approach things from different perspectives and for us that is a very good thing.
And we test drove each other (it did include being roommates and having to share a bed), but more importantly, we did not jump into a critique relationship right off the bat not knowing each other and expressing what our career goals are, how we approach the business, and a whole lot of other things. I mean, when I buy a car, I want to make sure it has the bells and whistles I want and need, not the bells and whistles someone wants to sell me.
Casey said some really fantastic things in her blog, and I agree with every single one (I’ll warn you, that doesn’t happen all the time, and again, that’s good).
I think the two most important things she mentioned are that your critique partner needs to check their ego at the door (and so do you) and secondly, critique partners need to care about each other’s success. We need to raise each other up, while we shred each other’s work.
The only goal in critiquing is to help the author make THEIR book better.
Here are my hard and fast rules.
- Don’t jump in with two feet. I’ve done this before, and it was disastrous. It’s like meeting someone and moving in three days later thinking I know enough about that them to spend all of my time with them.
While you’re in your dating phase, talk about goals and expectations. Listen to what your critique partner wants and needs. Express what you want and need. Discuss past critique relationships and why they worked and didn’t. I would also suggest that you at least take a peek under the hood, as in READ some of your potential new partner’s work.
- Be honest (without being cruel) – if you can’t tell your critique partner something isn’t working, then what is the point of being critique partners? My role is to find things that are either missing, don’t fit with the character or plot, or are dropping down a rabbit hole that is a dead end. This might not be the best example, but it shows my honesty.
But remember when being honest, to be real in why you feel the way you do and understand you maybe projecting personal opinion.
- Do project your personal opinion – remember, that it is an opinion and just because it bugs you, doesn’t mean it will bother anyone else. So remember there is a difference between critiquing story, and expressing a feeling. BUT both are important because again, the goal is to make the book better. So go back up to my first rule: BE HONEST.
I like this example that I sent to Casey because really, I went right to my weird obsession with Hannibal Lecter, but even this whacko has a limit, and for me, that just jolted me right out of the story.
Here is an example of where Casey did something similar in mine. I’ll be honest, I kept the reference to the hero’s use of weed when he was 17 in the story for a lot of reasons. She shared her opinion and feelings, and I did hear her, thought about it, and thought this is really part of his journey. It’s part of who he was back then.
- Never expect your critique partner to agree with your corrections or suggestions, much less use them.
This goes hand and hand with #3. Casey and I generally don’t go back and reread each other’s work to see what suggestions we made and if the other actually incorporated it. There have been times I’ve taken her sentence changes word for word, other times, just portions of them, and other times, I’ve gone in a completely different direction.
So, if your partner comes back to you and is upset because you ‘ignored’ them, it might be time reassess the relationship.
- Learn their choices and their voice. Casey and I do disagree on a few things and I’ve pointed out certain issues I have stylistic wise and she’s just like, “Yo, Jen, I’m not going to change this, EVER.” So, I have learned to step away. The example below is a good one.
I’m a stickler about speech tags. I’m also not a fan of flying body parts. So, something like: his eyes dropped to the floor, makes me nuts because that would hurt. Others may disagree, so in this case, I do stop commenting. It’s not my book. Well, sometimes I just have to say something and I’m sure Casey just goes, yep, NOPE. It’s all good!
- Ask questions. I always ask the writer questions in my critique. Now, I’m not looking for them to pick up the phone and call me and give me an answer. However, the author does have to have a good reason for what they doing. If they don’t, well, that’s a different story.
But I also ask questions because something popped into my head and I think it might be good for the story, or bad for the story.
- Share the love. I know Casey said this one, but it’s worth repeating. Why? Two reasons. One, we’re pointing out places that could be punched up, or potential issues with character or plot, but along the way, it’s always nice to know that something is positively perfection.
The second reason is sometimes I write something that I think is so freaking good, and it’s nice when Casey says, yep, you hit the sweet spot! (Often, she’s saying nope, that didn’t work, but hey, sometimes we have to kill our darlings.
- My final hard and fast rules… Re-evaluate your critique relationship.
As we grow and change as writers, so do our needs for critiquing. It doesn’t mean we need to change partners, it means we need to have a discussion with them about what we’re looking for. Sometimes I send Casey something to read and I ask for something specific, like, I’m concerned about how my heroine comes off, can you focus on that?
Every single time Casey sends me back a critique I get excited. I can’t wait to dive in and make my work better. That’s how a critique relationship should be.
Next up: Casey will be discussing how our specific critique relationship started and why, along with a few other tidbits. I’ll be adding on after she shows us her infinite wisdom!