• It is said that good things come to those who wait. I believe that good things come to those who work. - Wilt Chamberlain
  • A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. - Richard Bach
  • You don't find time to write. You make time. It's my job. - Nora Roberts
  • Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. - Buddha
  • Luck is when an opportunity comes along and you're prepared for it. - Denzel Washington
  • I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying. - Michael Jordan

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Critique Partners

I sat out in the sun today for the first time this summer. Not long, but there is now a difference in color between my arms and my stomach (which has not seen direct sunlight since the birth of my first child back in 1991)! And why did I finally have time to sit out in the sun you ask? BECAUSE I FINALLY FINISHED MY SECOND REVISION/REWRITE!! I sent it off to my agent on Friday and plan for it to be in front of the editor at Harlequin Medical Romance no later then Friday 7/ time for me to head off to the RWA National Convention on 7/27 without having to worry about it.

So far I have resisted the urge to tinker because enough is enough.....and because after all the time I've spent at the computer these past four weeks, my eyes, hands, and back are demanding I take a here I sit....updating my blog.

Onto my post.

I belong to a writing group where we post our productivity and goals every week. Sometimes I see posts similar to this: So and so (we post in third person) didn't get any writing done this week but she did two beta reads and critiqued four chapters for her critique partners.

Didn't get any writing done? Shouldn't focusing on our own work come first?

My opinion on this has recently changed. In a past post I mentioned my new critique partner Joanne. While I have never met her in person, we work well together. A week or two into our partnership, Joanne got a request for a full from Silhouette Special Edition. Even though I was working on my rewrite at the time, I dropped everything and spent two full days critiquing her entire manuscript. Her submission with the editor, she's been instrumental in reviewing my work (chapter by chapter) within twenty-four hours, often times quicker, and pointing out issues that, after corrected, have really improved the quality of my manuscript. (Thank you, Joanne!!!)

My new opinion: If you can find the right one, a critique partner, AKA an objective pair of eyes, is a necessity. The problem: Finding the person who is strong where you're weak, committed to making your work the best as it can be, and dedicated to getting your work back timely is very difficult. (It's taken me over two years!)

Now I'll ask you:

What's your take on critique partners? Do you have one? Several?
Do you love them/hate them?
Do you think they're a time suck or time well spent?
Are they nice to have or a necessity?


  1. When I joined HVRWA in ::ahem:: 1993 I didn't believe in CP's. I thought, how could anyone tell me what I need in my book? (oh, the naivete!) When Sil. SE requested my first ms, I panicked and gave to Janet Lane Walters ... who humbled me in practically rewriting my passive voice written book! Kat Attalla and I ended up as CP's for years, my strength being emotion, hers being plot we complemented each other well. Years later, Janelle Denison and I met via email (similar to you, she was in CA I was in NY) and we became CP's and still are. Recognizing we both lacked heavier plotting ability, we hooked up with Jule Leto and Leslie Kelly for plotting help. That group remains to this day. Janelle is still my CP.

    If you find yourself stressed by the CP you start with, explain you're different writers, and move on. But keep looking. A good CP is invaluable, no matter how many years of writing experience you have! You still want to grow with each book!

    Great blog topic!

  2. Excellent advice.

    The first comment I ever elicited from Janet-- pencilled in the margin of something or other-- was "This is stupid."

    Well, maybe that wasn't quite the first, but it was scrawled in a margin. So it lives with me. These days, I strive to be less stupid. Especially when giving things to Janet.

    The first thing Janet -- and others at HVRWA -- ever heard from me was a 25-page head-hopping kiss. The best that could be said for that was Renee's courtesy comment "vivid." ("Vivid" is often a word I'll use to this day, when flummoxed for something else to say. Even if the writing is not terribly colorful, the atrociousness of the thing may vividly live in my memory. On the other hand, I also use "vivid" when the piece truly is amazing, so you never can tell!)

    But...I do think there comes a time, when people you have relied on for many years, become so used to your style that it's harder to pinpoint what works and what doesn't. They are your best cheerleaders and the most important thing they give you is their encouragement. But they are more lax as critiquers and they'll let slide things they might not have when you knew each other less well.

    And, on the flip side, there are some who know you so well that they don't actually hear the advice you -- and others -- give them.

    My writing is not what it was back in the days of the 25-page, head-hopping kiss, but sometimes I need the kick in the ass of a straight "This is stupid."

    And, like Carly, I need the plot-spinning mind of K to help me write myself out of whatever corner I've painted myself -- ever so excessively colorfully, metaphorically, lyrically and adjectively/adverbally entranced with my own words -- into.

    You always need sounding boards. Wherever you can find them. But choose with care.

  3. I believe CP are as essential as air for me. I do not see my mistakes. I also know my characters so well that I just assume that the rest of the world knows them too0. My CP will let me know if I failed to comunicate that in a scene. Do I like everything they say? No. Do I agree with everything? No. But I do know if more than one person finds a problem, I'd better address before an aquiring editor finds the same flaws.

  4. Hi Carly and welcome!
    I think the fact that a NYT bestselling author still works with critique partners says it all.

    Hi Terri and welcome back!
    Choose with care is right. And I agree, over time, as we develop as writers, our needs change. We must make sure our critique partners are giving us what we need and vise-versa.

    Hi Kat and welcome!
    What you said is so true! I also find that sometimes I mean a sentance one way and my critique partner takes it in a way I hadn't even considered.

  5. Hi Wendy! This is a great post and I love the comments too. "This is stupid," made my day!

    I'm still very new into the whole 'writing with the goal of publishing' world, but so far, CPs have been very helpful to me. I recently read a few pages for the girls at the HVRWA and it was wonderful to receive feedback from such great writers. What an eye-opening experience!

    I think my best CP to date is actually my husband. He's got great story skills and can usually see where or what my mss is lacking. And he's not afraid to tell me either!

    It seems like the most important thing about having a CP is actually listening to the advice you get. I don't think that means you have to change everything and anything suggested to you. However, if you've asked for opinions, then it's good to at least take what they suggest into consideration. Otherwise, what's the point in asking to begin with?

  6. I love my critique partners. My primary partner is strong where I am weak: I am a generalist and she is detail oriented. She is technically sound whereas I am strong with pacing and emotion. She's a fast reader as am I so that helps when we need stuff turned around in a quick manner. We're also motivated to win in this industry and support each other's efforts. My other CPs write in different genres but help me with my query letters, the synopsis and my brainstorming. They each bring something unique to my writing world and their input is invaluable to me. I also like how their writing, reading it and critiquing it, grows my own writing skills.

    It's a win win situation all around. I do believe they are necessary, but the main thing is to be honest, but kind in the delivery. I had one a few years ago who was very harsh, never delivered her own pages (we were part of a now defunct group) and difficult with her own demands. It's okay to drop a person who is toxic.

    And know your own voice/story. Then it will be easier to know what to keep and what to toss in the critiques.

  7. Hi Heather!
    You're lucky to have a husband interested in your work and willing to give you honest feedback, and that it doesn't create tension in your marriage!!! Early on my husband read one or two of my short works and always gave the standard critique. "It's fine." I got upset that he wasn't as excited about it as I was. Letting someone else read your writing and accepting their critique is a big step. Good for you for taking it!!! (Sorry I wasn't there to hear it.)

    Hi Christine!
    I try to be kind with my critiques, but sometimes what I give as my honest opinion may seem harsh. (I'm not one for false flattery.) I like to give examples of how I think a sentance or idea can be made better (at least in my opinion). I always tell people to use it or not use it it's up to them. It's their story, their voice.

  8. Wendy, I have belonged to the same critique group since 1990. Now the group hasn't remained with the same poeple but has changed and evolved. Do I like what they have to say -- often. Does it help, many times. Just recently I re-wrote an entire book beginning now following their suggestions exactly but they showed me what is missing. I'm strong on plot and can do twists and turns with the best of them. Often leave the emotions lacking but my real downfall is settings. I've often been called by the group that I'm working in a vacuum. Many of the things they've said make me more careful when I'm revising.

  9. I've belonged to a critique group for about five years and the best critiques I've had come from hvrwa once a month. And I joined a year ago. I'd love to find a CP to work with. My publisher did comment after reading the "Now What?" manuscript that I'd lifted the bar!! Marvelous words to hear since this is my third book with Vanilla Heart Publishing. If anyone would like a CP-please contact me.
    Thanks for this fine topic.

  10. Hi Wendy,
    I'm in the Hearts through History Critters group...I've been so lucky to get wonderful feedback from a variety of writers, and I've formed relationships with a couple where I feel comfortable asking for specific feedback on everything from a paragraph to a query. I value their honesty and constructiveness in their critiques. I've also learned so much from the critiques I've done. It's so empowering to feel that you're not alone.

  11. Hi Janet!
    My critique partner is great with emotion, one of my weaknesses. I also tend to skimp on setting feeling it slows things down. But I'm working on it.

    Hi Charmaine!
    I agree, the HVRWA critiques are very helpful. Good luck with your search for a critique partner. Your writing is wonderful!

    Hi Victoria and welcome!
    Honesty and constructiveness are essential in good critique partners. Feeling like you're not alone is an excellent benefit.

  12. Hey, Wendy ~ My first critique group was a bunch of newbies. No one knew anything, and by the end of the first meeting, I could see it dissolving into a 'who-had-the-worst-week' therapy session. Not for me.

    A couple of years later a writing friend dragged me (kicking & screaming) into her group. I was the only romance writer at that time. They were smart, and very kind. At first, too kind (but I don't know if I could've handled the truth back then). We all have our strengths, and one must know not only yours but your CPs. Ten years later (with a core group plus morphing members) we still have a great group. One is strong in line editing, one is super smart in the circle of a story, one is plot strong, and one has a great sense of awkward sentences and dialogue, but has a tendency to rewrite you in her own voice. I think we as writers have to gain enough experience to know what to take and what to leave, and what's ours and what's not.

    In 2003 I won a critique from Deb Dixon in Brenda Novak's auction for Junior Diabetes. I'd met Deb a couple of months before at a small conference and we connected. So she was honest with me. Thank God. "This is when I first started disliking your hero," and "why would he act that way?' and "why would she put up with it?" For the first time in my life I understoon GMC (why not, it's Deb Dixon). :-)

    One thing I believe - I don't know how anyone writes a story by herself. I need someone else's eye. And I so do appreciate my CPs and Beta readers - and I'll be there for them for a quick turnaround anytime they need it.

    Good post, Wendy!

  13. Hi Wendy,
    Enjoyed the post and all the answers.

    I'm blessed right now with super CPs and we act as an on-line critique group (four members) with regularly scheduled posting. Three of us live within three hours of each other and try to meet face-to-face at least once a quarter for a weekend of intensive work in addition to our regular schedule.

    Those schedules have changed somewhat this summer. One CP finaled in the Golden Heart, and three of us are getting ready for Nationals. There we will meet our fourth member for the first time. We're looking forward to that!

    I'm lucky that I haven't had negative experiences with CPs, but I can absolutely understand how it could be devastating. Part of their value is in the support and encouragement everyone gives each other.


  14. Hi Joanne and welcome!
    Last year I won two critiques from Brenda's auction. They were invaluable (and how I got my agent). I learned that industry professionals don't sugar coat it. They tell you just what they're thinking!

    Hi Barbara and welcome!
    It will be so nice to meet up with your fourth critique partner. I look forward to meeting you at the GIAMx4 get together at national. I'm planning to go Wed. night. See you there!

  15. Hi Wendy. I believe a strong critique partner is a must. I have three of them that I couldn't do without and it took me a long time to find them. They know my writing, know when I can do better and don't hesitate to say it.

    I think any writer who is serious about getting published has to get used to someone critiquing their work. I know I've had to learn the difference between someone who doesn't have my best interest in mind and someone who does.

    The wrong critique partner can paralyze a writer. Like anything else, weeding out the bad ones is a learning process.

  16. Finding a critique partner who knows enough about my genre to critique not just the simple craft and plot stuff but the tone, atmosphere and pace of the work is soooooo difficult.

  17. Hey, Wendy -

    I have several CPs, two from when I first began writing in 2007. At this point, only Tracey & Adrienne tend to get everything I write, but everyone sees some of my work (oh so lucky for them!). They've definitely helped me grow as a writer.

    And yes, I've dropped everything to read their material, but if you have the right CPs this can be just as important as your own work. When Tracey Devlyn signed her three book deal earlier this year, I was so proud and excited. I'd read that book after she made revisions and thought to myself: "This is the one!" And it was.


  18. Hi Adrienne and welcome!
    I agree, getting a critique partner is a necessity if you're serious about getting published. Seems like you have two fabulous ones!!!

    Hi Regina!
    Thanks for taking time out to visit. Do you write in a genre other than romance? If romance, what subgenre? I found Joanne, or rather she found me, on a writers loop. I think it may have been the The Wild Rose Press writers loop. But beware, I've given lots and lots of critiques of some horrific work and gotten back numerous worthless ones over the years. You can't give up!

    Hi Kelsey and Welcome!
    It's nice to have you and Adrienne visitng me for a change!!!! For those of you who aren't familiar with the Romance University website, I highly encourage you to visit. It's loaded with excellent information for writers: (With interactive blogging with industry professionals usually every M,W,F.)

  19. My crit partners absolutely helped me hurdle my work from newbie author to published author. Unfortunately, they have turned more into cheerleaders than critters recently (flattering, but I can't really be THAT good, or I'd have agents and publishers banging down my door, which is decidedly NOT the case). So I'm trying to find new ones, but it is not going well. I sure hope I can find new ones soon - I'm sure I need the help!

  20. Hi Christi and welcome!
    I recently entered a contest where I finished with a perfect score from two of the judges. Both commented my work was great, they couldn't think of anything to suggest. And I, like you, thought 'then why aren't I published?' I feel there is always room for improvement. Good luck on your search for a new critique partner. Did you try the GIAM critique partner scheme?

  21. Hey Wendy!

    Great post - sorry I'm late!!

    Without CPs, I would never have sold.

    I've been extremely lucky to find individuals who have my best interests at heart. Some of my CPs write historicals (Hearts Through History group - hey, Victoria!) and help me keep an eye on period issues and some write contemporary (Adrienne and Kelsey!!) and look at the story structure. And everyone points out grammar issues. :) I have an awful habit of shifting tense. Grrrr.

    Thanks for the plug on RU! It's always nice to see you there.


  22. Hi Tracey and welcome!
    You're not late. I'm glad you could stop by. I'm looking forward to meeting you and the RU crew at national.

  23. Trying to catch up with everyone's blogs - this is a great topic. Like everyone else, Janet was my first critiquer and she shredded it to bits. I loved every minute of it because I started writing stronger. My plots are terrible and cliche, my emotion and characters are strong. Yolanda and Liz helped me polish my first three chapters on a rewrite and that made the editor take a second look. Would love to get back to a regular group but still battling for time, I would probably do better with an online partner but so many of our HVRWA members always offer to give it a second look, and that is why I love our group so much!

  24. Hey Wendy!

    I have to give Wendy kudos for critiquing that manuscript. Not everybody will do that. I'm dying to know what that editor thinks of it. I made so much changes b/c of your comments.

    as for critique partners... I think they're invaluable. I couldn't live without one. I need mine to tell me, like someone else pointed out, when what's in my head isn't quite making it onto the page. That was the case with my first chapter of the MS Wendy critted and I do it all the time. I need somebody to bounce stuff off of, to tell me how stuff sounds, to make sure it's coming across the way I want to, and yup, if more than two people point out the same things, I take a more serious look. Doesn't mean we'll always agree, but finding somebody you trust to tell you the truth is invaluable.

  25. Hi Jen!
    Thanks for stopping by. I know how busy you are. Yes, HVRWA is a great group. I only wish I could make more meetings. Let me know if you'd like me to give something a read.

    Hi Joanne and welcome!
    I know you found my critique style a bit harsh and I apologize for that. I just tell it like I see it...the good and the bad. Overall I thought your story was great and I can't wait to read it time as a published book!!!