Tari and I will be taking Friday and Monday off from the blog to celebrate the holiday weekend. If you’re celebrating, too, we wish you a safe and happy July 4 holiday.

As an aside, I wanted to thank the writers who’ve shared their stories with us since we started Writer Wednesday. We’re in need of more people to profile, so if you’re an unpublished romance writer (or writer of something else with strong romantic elements), please email me.

In addition, these wonderful ladies from past profiles will be published soon, and when a Writer Wednesday participant becomes published, she will be celebrated and featured again (details to come once this happens). We’re looking forward to following careers with you.

So again, have a safe and celebratory weekend–wherever you are, whatever you’re celebrating. We’ll be back with a post on Tuesday.

Elley

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I started thinking about finding a critique partner years ago. I read countless posts from seasoned writers who advised “newbies” to join critique lists and groups. So I thought about it…

And I thought about it some more…

One day when I was lurking at the Harlequin message boards, I read a post from a writer of contemporary romance who was looking for a critique partner. And as they say, “the rest is history.”

Nicole and I have been working together for months now. (Actually, it feels like I’ve been working with her for years.) In the beginning, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I even Google searched “how to work with a critique partner.” Nothing appeared, so I learned as I went.

If you’re thinking about working with a critique partner, here are a few things I think you should know.

1. Finding a critique partner isn’t hard, but working together may be.

If you belong to Romance Writers of America, then you have access to email lists and local chapters where talk about finding critique partners is plentiful. Online, Harlequin and other sites for writers post requests for critique partners too. Finding one isn’t hard. But once you find a willing writer, what do you do?

Make sure you know how you like to work/write. Do you want chapter-by-chapter encouragement as you’re constructing your first draft? Or would you rather have three drafts down before you offer your work to your partner?

How you work matters, because it impacts the flow of interactions with your partner. You both need to be aware of how the other person works.

Nicole is a very steady writer, and she uses feedback to make sure she’s on course with her original intent. She sends me each chapter, often as she writes it. Knowing this about her allows me to temper my critiques so that I’m not overreaching and molding the story to my personal specifications.

On the other hand, I need to write my story, sit with it, rewrite and know the characters and plot like I know my own name before I send a chapter to her. She makes me think by asking a lot of questions that I can’t answer if I haven’t written the entire manuscript first. Knowing this about me, she is patient and yet encouraging as she keeps me writing without even reading a word.

If you expect to exchange one chapter at a time but your critique partner wants to exchange whole manuscripts, working together could be a little difficult. Be prepared for different work styles. Be flexible.

2. Suggestions are suggestions, not demands.

Nicole and I “track changes” and “add comment” in each Word-saved chapter we critique. By now she knows I think by writing comment notes in the margin of her chapter. The comments include random dialogue, rhetorical questions, basic critiques or gushing about a yummy hero. Sometimes these comments run the better part of a page. Often these comments end with, “Holy Hemingway, I rambled, didn’t I? Sorry.”

Do I expect Nicole to take action on every word I write? Of course not. And on the flip side, I don’t always make the changes she’s suggested. (Mostly I do, though. Because mostly, she’s right.) And we don’t explain our decisions to each other, unless not making the change is something that impacts the next chapter enough to warrant a discussion. In the end, Nicole is telling her story her way, and I am telling my story my way.

Be open to suggestions and make helpful suggestions, but don’t lose sleep over advice untaken.

3. She’s more than critique partner…she’s a friend. (Or he, sorry guys!)

This is particularly true with critique partnerships that form online. We all know something is lost without face-to-face contact, and usually that something is compassion. The result is an edge to our written words we never intended:

“Yuck! Would he really say that? Lord, I don’t think he’s very nice right now. Maybe if you changed ‘ugly’ to ‘odd’ he’d seem like less of a jerk.”

Imagine someone writing something like that about your hero. Now imagine it’s also being said about one of your favorite lines in your manuscript. Harsh, huh?

After working together on a couple manuscripts each, Nicole and I have developed a comfortable and honest approach to critiquing. Still, when I read her comments on something she blatantly has problems with, I’m a little stunned. (And I know she feels the same when she reads the same from me.) It can take an hour or two—more even—until I’m seeing things clearly enough to take action or respond.

You know what helps sooth the sting even more than time? Being friends.

Nicole and I have things in common aside from writing. I enjoy hearing about her life, not just the life of the characters she creates.

I like her…I’m not just using her to get published. And that makes all the difference in the world.

You can’t celebrate the successes of someone you don’t like. And you sure as heck can’t take constructive criticism from someone you don’t respect. So while you’re trading chapters, trade a bit of information about your personal lives. Get to know the person behind the writing.

You’ll gain more than writing skills and a polished manuscript…

You’ll gain a friend.

Where Do I Start?

March 7, 2011

My name is Elley, and I suck at blogging. Really. Truly. I have a graveyard of blog concepts in various stages of execution littering my mind. And yet, I chose to start another one. Why? Because I believe this one to be different. (Don’t worry if you rolled your eyes—I did too. Cynthia, my blog partner, probably did too. She’s as bad as me when it comes to blog litter. But our excitement is real, and our intentions are good.) And this time is different because I’m not alone.

Cynthia and Tari will share blog duties with me. We’ll post a fresh blog daily (except Saturday and Sunday), rotating in order (Elley, Cynthia, Tari). At least, that’s the plan. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Plan shman. After fifteen years of marriage, three kids and a decent career as a non-fiction writer, I know all about plans changing. And you know what else I know? Sometimes when plans change, the new direction takes me exactly where I wanted to go.

I have to keep reminding myself of that.

A year ago when my division was eliminated and my job was transferred to another department, I lamented the change of plans. I’d been working and creating with the same core of co-workers for several years and suddenly they were no longer by my side. Three months into my new assignment, I realized that while I always said I was living and working my dream—being a writer—it was a big fat lie.

Writing non-fiction was never my dream, and I had to stop pretending it was. I had to stop worrying about seeming ungrateful if I admitted I wasn’t happy. I had to stop accepting “almost there” as reaching the top. If I ever wanted to achieve my dream of becoming a romance novelist, I had to be honest. I had to be focused. And I had to be prepared for a lot of hard work.

Every morning when I wake up, I wonder where to start. Should I spend thirty minutes on Twitter to keep my “brand” growing like I’ve read so many times in industry-related publications and emails? Should I blog to blow the morning cobwebs off my brain? Should I read to start the creative juices flowing? And then there’s the laundry, the grocery store, the bills, the cat, the exercise, the volunteer work, lunch with friends, a phone call from my mother…

Where do I start?

I know only one answer gets me closer to where I want to go. Write. No matter how tired. Write. No matter how busy. Write. No matter how unmotivated. Write. Because eventually the collection of words I sometimes force down on paper will tell a story. And the story will catch an editor’s eye. And the editor will call with an offer. And the offer will leave me speechless, wondering where do I start? What do I say? What do I do?

I like that scenario. I like the idea that as long as I keep writing publication will happen—eventually. I’ve run into people on the Web who are still waiting for their eventually decades after they first began writing for publication. “It’s a long, bumpy ride,” they say. In that case, I’m glad I’m not facing the road alone.

Sure we write alone—at our desks, in bed, on our laptops and in the front seats of parked mini-vans. And yet, we still write together, bound by similar minds and imaginations and dreams that won’t die. We share our stories. We offer advice. We build friendships.

This blog is a wonderful reminder that I’m not alone. And whether you stumbled here by accident or visited at the request of a friend, whether you’ve been writing with success for years or you just started to think about the stories in your head, I’m glad you’re here.

Let’s start together. 

Elley

We bet you have questions, starting with: “What’s a fact to fic chick?” 

The answer: Any woman who writes or has written non-fiction and is currently writing or thinking about writing fiction, especially romance. 

If the description fits you, then you’re a “fact to fic chick,” and we’d love to hear from you. Introduce yourself in the comment section below. We’re glad to meet you.

Elley, Cynthia and Tari