One of the things I heartily recommend to aspiring authors is having a critique partner. I say that because I have one, and I simply wouldn’t do without her.
Critiquing is funny business. There are so many considerations! And there are so many ways things can go wrong and to make the relationship and experience a negative one. In the December issue of RWR (Romance Writers Report, RWA) Carrie Lofty did a great article called Writing By Committee, where she talked about critique groups. If you can get your hands on the article, by all means, read it.
I don’t critique by group, but have one critique partner. Still, the article struck a chord because I’ve seen critiquing when it works and unfortunately when it doesn’t. In particular, I liked Cher Gorman’s quote used, because it really applies to how I feel about my critique relationship: "There is a level of trust involved in a critiquing partnership that must be honored for the partnership to work." Cher likened it to a marriage.
I’ve said for a long time that it sounds like a relationship: My critique partner, Michelle Styles, and I have been together since 2003. It does take trust, respect, admiration and commitment.
So today I’m going to share with you what has worked for us.
- Look for someone at about the same level of writing as you are. Michelle was at the cusp of success with a few non-Harlequin sales on the horizon and I was at the point where I’d discovered my voice and knew where I should be submitting – Harlequin Romance. Michelle had already penned Gladiator’s Honour which went on to be her first Mills and Boon/Harlequin Historical sale. She sold it in 2005; I sold to Samhain and then to Harlequin Romance in 2006.
- Check your ego at the door. When Michelle sent me my first critique, I was decimated. I went to the garage and told my husband I should just quit. But I didn’t. After a few days I realized that everything she said was dead on and I wanted to be published more than I wanted to be right. (This was a HUGE concession on my part, btw. I don’t do humble pie well.) Sometimes you need to suck it up.
- Give as good as you get. You learn as much if not more from critiquing someone else’s work as you do having yours evaluated.
- It’s okay to disagree. There have been times when I haven’t agreed with something she’s said, and when she hasn’t agreed with me. It’s okay. Only the author knows what direction the story is going to go in and why your suggestion might not work. At that point, I try to ask myself, WHY is she saying this? What about this isn’t working? I can usually find another way of tackling it to get my own way but solve the problem beneath.
- Find your rhythm. Over the years our critiquing technique has become refined. We have a way of doing things that works for us. Not every relationship is the same, so if you find someone you can work with, who gets you, and has invaluable information, you’ll find your own system. I’m always afraid to critique anyone else now as I am so used to doing it a certain way!
- Evolve. As your writing changes, so do your needs. Like any relationship, over time things change. We definitely look for different things now than we did in the beginning, because now we both have several books behind us.
- Hold on tight. When you find a relationship that works – don’t let it go. Having Michelle be my first reader is so helpful. She points out holes or inconsistencies with motivation, and I know I turn in a better product to my editor as a result. But she doesn’t have a heavy hand – it’s always my writing and my story. That’s so important.
Finding the right person is not an easy job, and I feel so lucky that Michelle once offered to take a look at a manuscript. She is my biggest critic and my biggest fan, and we trust each other implicitly. That’s a trust that has been built and nurtured for six years now. On my bookshelf, you’ll see a line of pink spines of my Romance hardcovers. You’ll also see a very proud row of purple ones for Michelle’s Historicals.
This month sees the release of the first book in my Cowboys and Confetti duet – One Dance With The Cowboy! Meet the Laramie brothers and visit Lazy L Ranch again in March with Her Lone Cowboy, out in March in Canada in the US and April in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.