Point of view? Yeah, I had twelve of them. Backstory? No worries--I covered that in the first paragraph. Conflict? Who needs that? I wanted my characters to like each other.
After my first rejection, which was a much nicer letter than I deserved, I realized maybe there was more to this than I had imagined. It was about that same time that I decided writing a book was pretty stinkin’ hard. I needed help. I needed a critique partner.
I met Sierra Donovan on a Harlequin message board. Neither one of us was published at the time, but we had similar interests and were at a similar place in our writing, and we clicked. Over time, we learned we could trust each other with our work, and after all these years, we’re friends, too. We certainly never imagined we’d still be working together more than twelve years later.
So what makes our CP relationship work for the long haul??
Everyone makes mistakes. Some people make the same mistakes repeatedly (cough...me...cough). However, if you’re the lieutenant of the grammar police (rules are rules for a reason) and your critique partner is a grammar flower child (let’s use all the grammar and be happy) then you might have a problem. It’s hard to get to the meat of what your critique partner is writing if you can’t get past the grammar.
We share the same commitment to timely critiquing.
The meaning of timely is different for everyone. Long-term critique partners and bestselling authors Catherine Mann and Joanne Rock have written well over 150 books between them. Because they’re often up against deadlines, they have a 24 hour no-excuse turnaround time. According to Rock, “It honestly never feels like a chore because we are paid back in kind--given help when we need it most.”
Sierra and I shoot for returning critiques within 24-48 hours and sometimes less, but it hasn’t always been that way. This timeline works for us at this point in our careers, but...if you have seventeen children or a full-time job outside of writing or it’s football season, you might need a looser timeline. The key is finding someone else who works at the same pace.
We are each other’s biggest cheerleader.
One thing I’ve learned about writers is that we celebrate the milestones--all the milestones. When I got my first real rejection, a writer friend brought over a bag of mini Snickers bars and unwrapped them for me as I cried. Every step of the journey represents hours, sometimes years, of work. No one knows that better than a CP.
Superromance author Dana Nussio has been a part of the same critique group for sixteen years. These seven women have been together through many published books, but they’ve also supported each other through cancer, surgeries, teenagers and more. The key to their longevity, according to Nussio, is “truly wanting success for each other and willingness to be invested in that success.”
We give--and receive--feedback with respect.
Criticism, even constructive criticism, is never easy to take. Having respect for your critique partner’s gifts, talents, and time, can change the conversation. Frank Clark once said, “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
I love it when my CP tells me she likes my writing. Her praise gives me a boost of confidence--and I need that! But honest constructive criticism makes me a better writer. And I want that even more.
We trust each other to “get it.”
Another way to put it is that your critique partner’s comments have the ring of truth for you. Sierra Donovan says, “That doesn’t mean they only tell you what you want to hear, but their comments feel right to you--they seem to get what you’re going for and gauge whether you’re on the right track or not.”
A long-term critique partner isn’t a myth, it’s a marriage. It takes work and compromise to make it work consistently. Which brings me to one final pro tip:
Expect to kiss a few frogs.
Sometimes a trial period is a healthy choice. Agree to critique three chapters and re-evaluate the benefits. Both people come into the relationship understanding that sometimes it’s not a good fit--and that’s okay! Just like finding romance, finding the right critique partner is a combo of chemistry and perseverance and...sometimes it doesn’t work out. But when it does, it’s magic!
So, how about you? Do you work with a critique partner? Do you have any tips for making that relationship work? (Or, even better, things not to do?)
Today, Stephanie is giving away TWO double packs. A copy of her Love Inspired release, The Dad Next Door by Stephanie Dees and We Need a Little Christmas by Sierra Donovan. Print or ebook. Winner's Choice. Leave a comment to be entered in this fun giveaway. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition!
A Place to Call Home
Lawman Joe Sheehan is desperate to bond with the daughter he's just discovered he has. But as a virtual stranger to twelve-year-old Amelia, the task seems impossible. Until Claire Conley moves to town. A social worker renovating a mansion into a foster home, Claire is the first person to get through to Amelia. Falling for the single dad was not on Claire's to-do list. But with Joe and Amelia around, the house finally starts to feel like home. Claire's ready to fight to convince Joe that together they've done more than fix a house…they've built a family.
Award-winning author Stephanie Dees lives in small-town Alabama with her pastor husband and two youngest children. A Southern girl through and through, she loves sweet tea, SEC football, corn on the cob and air conditioning. When she’s not writing, she’s chasing kids and drinking coffee, not necessarily in that order. Her new series for Love Inspired is one that’s close to her heart, featuring families built by love in unexpected ways. For more information, visit stephaniedees.com and sign up for Steph’s newsletter to be entered into a Kindle Fire giveaway!