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.
I was sick yesterday and couldn’t get my brain to function properly. I apologize for being a day late in this post!
Let me ask the question again: Does critique make us a better writer?
My answer: Yes OR/AND No.
Casey made a comment a while back about taking care of what she has when it comes to her critique partner. Well, you have to do the same thing when it comes to your writing. If you don’t use it, stretch it, keep learning and growing, you’ll become a very stagnant writer. (Casey’s eyes are twitching. I used the word VERY and I left it there just to make her cringe. I’m so mean!)
So, what does this have to do with critiquing and becoming a better writer?
It goes back to finding the right critique partner or group. The wrong one can be detrimental to your writing. You want to work with writers that want to lift you up while they tear you down. KIDDING, sort of. We’ve said it before, but it’s worth reporting, you want writer’s who will check their ego at the door and focus on helping, not picking.
But there are other problems with critique groups that can injure your writing.
I remember back in the day when I was a contest junkie. I entered two manuscripts in an unpublished contest. They both finaled! Go me! So, I got the same final judge who wrote me an interesting note. Oh, and no, I didn’t win that contest. But it was more than worth the entry based on what this judge, who was an editor at HQN, said to me.
In a nutshell, she told me in one book she felt like my unique voice had been stripped. She said it was well written and blah blah blah, but it was the blah that got to her. There was nothing different about it and it was almost as if it had been critiqued to death. Where the other book was raw and full of powerful characters that popped right off the page. Of course, she told me that one had a few different kind of writing mistakes that as I learned my craft, I’d learn how to fix.
What I had done was taken in EVERY stitch of advice and changed that book based on probably 15 different opinions (including judges from contests) as I rewrote and rewrote until it became a clump of perfectly strung together sentences (stop laughing Casey, it does happen sometimes), but had no meat. No substance. It didn’t have that special something that made it a Jen Talty book. Flatter than a crepe.
To this day, that comment has stuck with me. It’s why I don’t have a ton of readers. I have Casey. I have Beta Readers, and I have an editor. And I change up the beta readers, not having the same one read all the time.
That wasn’t on my critique partners/group/others. That was on me. And frankly, not all advice is created equal, especially since I had gotten contradicting advice on one particular element of the book.
Another thing to consider is while you can pick up good habits from being critiqued and critiquing, you can also pick up bad habits. And this isn’t something you obviously do subconsciously. It’s why Casey and I both agree, you need to pick partners that are close to your level and have the same goals. You also want to make sure that the person critiquing your book isn’t projecting their own writing and ideas into yours. Meaning, they’re honed in on how THEY write and not how YOU write (though below you will see how it can be done in a way that shows it’s an opinion).
It works the same in reverse. Whenever someone makes a comment that makes me immediately shake my head, nope. You’re wrong. Screw you. I need to consider why I had such a strong reaction. Usually means that there is at the very least, a hint of truth in the comment.
One thing that Casey and I will do in a comment is write: I would do or if this were me. That’s qualifies the opinion. We only do this when we KNOW we’re projecting. That is key: Understanding the difference between suggesting something based on an analysis of the writing and telling a writer an opinion.
Here is an example of making a suggestion based on analysis:
This is based on analysis of my writing, specifically of my character development and is the character behaving as I have crafted. It took some fineness for me to change this in a way that really worked, but the comment really made me think about what my possessed character was doing and how she was changing.
Here is an example of a comment made based on an opinion:
The reason I wanted to show these in a wrap about critiquing is that I truly believe it’s important to understand we all have different perspective and realities. This is Casey’s opinion and she states it clearly. It’s not about the writing. It’s not about how to make the scene better. It’s an opinion and trust me, I’ve given her my fair share of opinions on things I absolutely would not do or would not want to read. It doesn’t make what I did wrong. Or right. And to be frank, I left the reference in. Did I take a risk? Sure. But I also took a risk in another book by dealing with religion and how it can affect relationships.
But here is the deal. I’m glad she made the comment, giving me her opinion. I trust and value her critiques. It doesn’t mean that I think she’s the be all end all. But I left that comment bubble in the book until the very end and went back to it and decided it went to a point I had made later on in the book.
I have found that when I’m in the right situation, I find myself pushing to be a better writer because as I read my partners material, I’m thinking, damn that was good. I want to be able to write like that. Or as I read their comments and analysis, I think, wow, that’s interesting. I never looked at it that way. It’s why Casey and I are good together. Her strengths are very different from mine, so we’re constantly learning from each other.
Being critiqued is as important as critiquing. It only works when each person takes responsibility for their own writing and their own comments and analysis of one’s work.
So, yes. Critiquing can absolutely make us better writers, but we have to be aware of the built in pitfalls and constantly question both yourself, and you’re partner.
I could go on and on about how critiquing makes me a better writer. There are the obvious things like:
- The more I critique, the less mistakes I make.
- Having someone to call me on my bullshit keeps me from being lazy, taking shortcuts, and shortchanging the reader.
- Allowing someone to repeatedly pick apart my work makes it so I can take criticism easier.
Blah, blah, blah…
But there’s one thing that outshines all of the little things. Having a critique partner I can bare all to allows me to spread my wings and fly.
Writing is changing at a rapid pace and faster than ever before, especially with the explosion of indie publishing. Language is evolving. The hard fast rules are breaking down and writing is morphing into something driven by voice first, and all of the other facets coming in at a distant second. There are voices emerging that are so distinct, rules fade into oblivion. The reader is so sucked in, they’ll forgive almost anything.
Not that I suggest you ditch the rules all together…but we all have to admit, there are books out there that are absolutely brilliant that would have been cast aside to a slush pile not twenty years ago because they took liberties with the rules.
Because of that evolution in language, voice, and rules, we can take more chances than ever before…and having a critique partner spot you while you take that chance makes all the difference in the world.
With Jen by my side to review my work, I’m free to take liberties with words, structure, technique, and rules because Jen is my safety net. She’s going to make sure I don’t fail. She’s the first person to see where I’ve stretched my wings and taken a chance. She’s the one who will tell me if I’ve lost what little is left of my mind and need to reel that shit back in. She’s quick to recognize if I’m pushing the boundaries, but missing the mark, and she’s eager to jump in right alongside me to help me tweak those chances I’m taking.
Not going to lie, she’s kind of my idea dealer, too! She’s got the goods no matter when I need a fix. My own little plot genie. When I’m staring at chapter three and have no freaking clue where the story is going, she pulls out ideas, and she keeps throwing them at me until something works. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have her there to say, “You don’t like that idea? I’ve got another one!”
I can grow because she nurtures that growth. Sales numbers, stellar reviews, bestseller’s lists, and die-hard fans are all great, but they are the end result. It’s the person slogging through the shit with me during the process that propels me forward and makes me strive to improve each and every time.
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!
A writer’s way of saying, “Does this make me look fat?”
Only, instead of hoping you’ll tell us we’re slammin’ in our bandage dress despite the fact we can’t take a full breath and our shoulders are hunched up to our ears, we want you to lay bare our ugly.
That’s right, if there’s toilet paper stuck to my shoe, my skirt is tucked into my pantyhose, and/or I’ve got a boogie hanging out my nose, otherwise known as having a bat in the cave, I want to know about it.
My crit partner is not there to spare my feelings and blow sunshine up my ass. She’s there to make me better. She’s the brutal personal trainer of the writer world. Think Biggest Loser brutality here! She’s making me live on boiled, lifeless lean protein, arugula, and water. I may never see sugar again. She’s making me workout three, sometimes four hours a day. I’ve got shin splints, blisters, and head-to-toe muscle fatigue.
She’s making me stronger, fiercer, and capable of a long, successful future.
She’s going to pick apart every line, every plot point, every word and drive me to be better. I’m trusting her to make me the best writer me I can be. I’m trusting her to put aside any feelings of competition and focus on my work separate from hers.
Most importantly, I’m trusting her to care about my success as much as I do. If she doesn’t…this doesn’t work.
I’m an odd one. For the most part, I keep my ego completely out of the process. Sure, there’s an occasional ding. Sometimes I sit back, flip off the monitor, and give it some major side eye as I focus on something a little less scathing. But ultimately, I relish the opportunity to get feedback from someone who gets the struggle to find the best words and the best flow to write their best story.
Another writer trying to give at least one more reader all the feels.
When looking for a critique partner, I look for the same. I can’t spend my time worrying she’ll get her panties in a wad because I’m honest.
Egos have no place in this.
I need a partner who is just as driven to elevate their talent and uplift mine as well.
I have six hard and fast rules for critiquing:
- Use Humor – Always. We’re picking out mistakes. Mistakes we’ve all made thousands of times over. We can laugh about it. My job as a crit partner is to take out the sting in the evaluation by making it funny. Humor works to keep your partner from sliding into defensive mode.
- Explain – Don’t just say something is not working. Explain how. Most importantly…give concrete suggestions/examples of how to fix it. Often if Jen’s wording isn’t working for me, I’ll give her at least two examples of how she could change it or strengthen it. If I’m going to find fault with something, I’m going to explain why. Even if those examples don’t work for her, they could very well jog her creativity and give her and idea on how to make it better.
- Give those examples to her entirely – If I take a sentence that’s not working and give her two or three alternative sentences that flow better, I give her the freedom of using those sentences word for word. I know, sounds like a no brainer, right? Well, not in the writing world. People get a little sideways about that at times.
- Make it a “we” thing – Like I said before, we’ve all made the same mistakes. And no matter how we improve over time, we will inevitably slip into those mistakes again. The story will race through our head faster than we can dance our fingers over the keys. We’ll reread it and find out we did a whole lot of telling and not much showing. We’ll duplicate words. We’ll have a favorite verb crop up in every other sentence. It’s the nature of writing. So, often I will point out something and after I do, I’ll say, “I do the same thing when the story is flowing. I imagine your hands couldn’t keep up with you and you just had to purge. I have to go back and clean those bursts of creativity up sometimes, too. No worries.” Remind your crit partner that you’re in it with them every step of the way and that you go through it, too.
- Don’t forget the love (See example above) – Make sure you tell your crit partner what’s working. Always reinforce the good habits and let them know when the words are all coming together, or even better, when they’ve managed to drop a line so good that you just sit back, bob your head, and say, “Yeah, that’s it.” Not just for the ego boost, but so they can refer back to that and let it inspire them in scenes they’re struggling with in the future.
- You’re crit partner is not always right – Yup, I said it. Your crit partner is a whole other human being with emotions, perceptions, habits, and desires completely different from yours. They’re shaped by their unique history and with that comes a perspective that might not always jive with yours. Sometimes that comes out in the critique. Maybe they don’t see your character using a certain word or having a certain attitude. Maybe they don’t see the connection between characters as you’ve intended and tell you that you need to change A, B, and C.
But you love A, B, and C. A, B, and C were moments of brilliance and poignant.
But you done went and screwed up how you delivered them. You didn’t offer them up on a pretty porcelain platter; you served them up on a garbage can lid. A, B, and C may not have to change…the fault may actually be with the way you set up your story to present them. Your crit partner does not know your characters the way you do. They don’t talk in her head. She can only know them in the way you deliver them and if something you really love isn’t working, it might just be that you didn’t drop all the info you needed to about them in previous chapters. In my case, I have a habit of my heroines saying something saucy and Jen comes back and says, “I don’t see her using that word or phrase.”
So I go back. I look at her interactions in dialogue in the previous chapters and make sure I’ve brought out the personality I see for her. Sometimes all it takes is a line or two. Maybe I need to add an interaction. Either way, once I do, I’ve fixed the problem. Jen was right, but I didn’t have to remove A, B, and C.
Now go forth and find your absolute best critique partner. Forge bonds. Build each other up by tearing the words down.
And when all is said done, realize and accept that the minute you engage in a critique partnership, it will change the way you read everything in your future. Even if for pleasure. There’s no avoiding it. You will no longer read as a reader does, and you never will again. While that’s a scary reality to face, you’ll be a much better writer for it!
Signing off for now,