One of the most vital tools for successful writing is a trusted, knowledgeable critique partner. Or if you’re lucky (like me!) PARTNERS. Problem is, whether it’s one or six, finding a critique partner that suits you is one of the trickiest parts of a very tricky career.
A decade ago, about the time I sold my first book to Silhouette Special Edition, I was meeting regularly with a fantastic critique group, and that four-year period was the most productive of my career. I was putting out a viable 18-25 page chapter each week while also finding time to read and critique for three very distinctive writing voices. My personal life was at its most hectic: my husband had just quit his steady-paying corporate job to go into business for himself and we had twin boys just starting school, but despite all the demands on my time, I always found a way to make my writing a priority. Mainly, because I didn’t want to disappoint my critique partners or waste their time.
But unfortunately, as it does, life got in the way. Collectively, our output dwindled and writing got pushed to the back burner. Years passed, and while I never quit saying I was a writer, I DID stop writing. I have a list as long as my arm to justify my writing pause, but the long and the short of is: I liked being a writer, but I had lost my love for writing. And honestly, it’s kinda hard to be a writer who doesn’t write.
Fast-forward to early 2014. I got a wild hair and double-clicked on my languishing WIP. Over two years had passed since the “date last modified.” Wow! This was the moment I realized I wasn’t a writer in any sense of the word. I was an addicted reader who like to tell herself that the 6-10 books she read per week were market research. (In fact, if you ask the IRS, that’s what they’d say. :-))
Then comes October 2014 when Terri pops off with her wonderful/maniacal ICE BATH BIKINI CHALLENGE which lead not only to the creation of WRITE OR CONSEQUENCES but also the start of a weekly critique group between the four of us. Once again, I’m a productive writer!
So, my greatest piece of writing advice is to find yourself at least one critique partner. Personally, I think a group of four is ideal. That’s three different skill sets, three different point-of-views and three different sets of eyes reviewing every word you write. Also, in my long-ago group, all four us wrote in different genres. Talk about getting a fresh perspective!
How do you find the right critique partners, you ask? Unfortunately, there isn’t one golden rule on forming a critique group. It generally happens through trial and error. What I do know is that if you take your time and get it right, it will make all the difference in the quality and quantity of your writing output.
Here’s what I think are some keys that make the four us click as critiquers:
- Session Rules. Yes, we are all friends, and yes, whenever we sit around a table, there is bound to be personal discussion, but despite that, our critique sessions operate on our own version of Robert’s Rules of Order. These are critical to keeping us on task and on schedule, and they have evolved over time. Once you start a group, start with basic rules as well as the understanding that the rules will change as your group matures.
- Complete Trust. Showing a rough, raw first draft to someone takes guts, and you have to have complete trust and faith in the people you are sharing your baby with. If you have any doubt about a person, they are not proper critique material. (Also, you will need personal courage. You can be a writer in the safety of your own laptop, but if you want to be an author, you will have to allow people to read what you write.)
- Complete Honesty. It’s nice to hear people say good things about your writing, but a critique partner is only going to be helpful if the relationship is grounded in complete honesty. You must be willing to speak the truth, and even more difficult, you must be willing to hear the truth.
- Complete Respect. You must respect the work you are reading and critiquing, and you must respect the person who is offering you the same service. They have invested their time and energy into giving you valuable, constructive criticism.
- Leave Your Ego at the Door. Turning in a page with fifty typos is not something to be embarrassed about, just as finding fifty typos in someone’s work isn’t something to brag about. Critiquing is not about who’s the better writer or proofer or anything else. Critiquing is about putting out the best story. Period.
- Have Fun. Writing is a creative field, and creativity should be joyous. Sure, creating often sucks, but if you can’t find the joy, then why bother?
Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.