It Takes a Village

Bruce asked:  “So what exactly is the role of a writing partner and how does one go about finding one? How did you happen on SusanH?”

Throughout my writing career, I’ve had my support group/critique group/fan club to keep me generally headed in some direction (not always the right direction).  The make-up and importance of each of those pieces have changed as I’ve matured as a writer, but they’re all still out there.

FIRST DRAFT READERS:  In the beginning, my first draft readers had a fairly easy job, from a critique perspective.  I didn’t ask a lot in the way of hard writing criticism, particularly of the “this book sucks” variety.  What I wanted back from them was about what you’d get from your mother or best friend.

  1. ENCOURAGEMENT:  You’re a great writer, keep going!
  2. SOMEONE TO HOLD ME ACCOUNTABLE TO MY WRITING DISCIPLINE:  So how come I haven’t gotten another chapter lately?
  3. TELL ME IN GENERAL WHEN I’M GETTING OFF TRACK: I’m not so fond of the hero.  In fact, he pretty much pisses me off.
  4. THIS CHAPTER IS RELEASED (this is from my end, not theirs).  Once a chapter goes to the first draft readers, I don’t edit it any more until I’ve finished the entire first draft.  So hitting “send” marks a clear ending.  No more futzing around–let it go (for now).

Of course, I always welcome any and all feedback, and over the years my first draft readers have given me plenty.  Particularly Kate, who annotates her copy and gives it back as a starting place for the next draft.  I also use them to bounce ideas off:  “What should I name the accounting milquetoast hero?”

As I’ve matured as a writer, I don’t need nearly as much in the encouragement department.  But still.

WRITERS GROUPS/CRITIQUE GROUPS:  These are the people who supposedly know more about writing than your friends do, and aren’t afraid to tell you the hard truth.  I am in two writing groups, which meet 2 and 3 times a month.  I generally read something at every meeting–here’s a resource, why not use it?  Sometimes a bit of feedback is absolutely ridiculous, but I thank them and file it away (file 13).  But usually they have insights and perspectives that I don’t.

BLOG READERS:   This was a new part of the village, starting with Novel #3.  I post 3 chapters a week after the first edit, and at our best get a lot of feedback.  I got hundreds of comments on Strange Bedfellows, and made direct use of at least half of them.  *** HEY!  That’s you!  I use your feedback, so don’t be afraid to post comments!

CLOSE READERS:  I am a horrible proofreader, and my final polished draft is still so full of errors that I’d be embarrassed to send it to a publisher.  So I always look for 1 or 2 people who are heavy with the red pencil.

So . . . where does the writing partner come in?

I started working with a writing partner, SusanH, about 10 chapters into Avalon, S.C.  She is a member of one of my writers’ groups, and our feedback seemed to be particularly useful to each other.  She actually suggested trying out this arrangement, and it’s been really good for both of us.

Our needs are not the same, by any means.  I write 2 to 3 chapters a week (and as many as 5 when I’m on a roll), don’t need encouragement to write or deadlines to get it out, and don’t dither excessively (in my opinion) over polishing at the first draft stage.  What I need is perspective.  When you spend that much time reading the works of one author, particularly when it’s yourself, you lose perspective pretty easily.  Susan reads every word and sends me back a marked up chapter.  We get together once/week to discuss.

What Susan needs most falls in the category of what we lovingly refer to as “motivational bullying.”  About once a week she convinces herself that she’s a bad writer and should just give it up.  She might rework a chapter for six months if the deadline to send it to me before our next meeting didn’t loom.  She’s writing a steamy romance novel, so occasionally I also provide feedback from the guy’s perspective (“No man would ever say that under any circumstances”).  I’m not sure how useful that piece is.  Since steamy romance novels are read by women, they don’t really care all that much if the guys are realistic–in fact, it’s probably a drawback.  But I dutifully mark up those parts as well, and she accepts my feedback graciously.

So what is a writing partner?  A customized, full-service critique group.  Someone who will read every word you write and provide timely feedback.  In exchange, all you have to do is to reciprocate.

A lot of writers use a small critique group to perform the same function.  Three to as many as five writers who read every word that each other writes.  More perspectives is betters, but the time commitment grows.  So choose wisely, depending on your circumstances.

Where do you find a writing partner?  The best place should be your writers’ group.  Someone in your group who writes at around your level, perhaps even in your genre, who wants to partner to become a better writer.  If there aren’t any of those, maybe cast your net wider.  Visit other groups.  There are ways to look on-line.

AllThingsWords hopes to provide the service of hooking up potential writing partners at some point.  Perhaps Stella can comment at more length.



4 thoughts on “It Takes a Village

  1. SusanH here. And I second everything Rusty has said. The depth of critique/discussion is far different when you’ve had time to read and make notes before getting together.

    As an example, this past week I had very little new stuff, but was running into a problem–again–actually one that Rusty thought we had worked through a couple of weeks ago. About an hour after Rusty and I met, a light went on for me. And my problem was solved. But we had discussed this from several directions for 30 minutes. Larger, read-on-the-spot groups don’t allow for this much depth.

  2. Really Rusty? No pressure. Perhaps Stella can comment more at length. Here’s your at length, but it is unedited. unrevised, and hastily written, hence—not concise. 🙂

    At our All Things Words meetings we rarely critique. Though I have noticed that many are looking for critique partners, so we may begin to assist others in forming groups. But the idea of 12 people standing up one at a time to read 10 pages and then to have oral feedback from the same 12 people sounds like a time-sink to me. I like online crit groups.
    I’m also not fond of fumbling through 120 PRINTED pages to discover the few pearls of wisdom contained therein. And you know what sucks? When you can’t read a person’s writing then you have to have an in person meeting to discover what they meant. Only they can’t read their own writing either. And now they’re trying to guess at what they meant when they critiqued your MS a month ago. Ugh. And to think, Microsoft Word has all notes at my fingertips and quick to accept or delete. So yes, I’m an email and online critique group proponent.

    On critiquing. Writing is a business. Critiquing is one, too. Be professional in your responses, be honest. Don’t nitpick it to death, that’s the editor’s job. I think a writing partner has to tell you if you have loose ends, an unsympathetic hero, a story arc that is not working, but they don’t need to fret about every single comma. I doubt a MS has ever been rejected because of one or two missing commas.
    There, how’s that for a scattered mouthful. Wow. I think I have loose ends, but I’m pressed for time.

    Oh, so what do we do at our All Things Words meetings? It’s a round table. We discuss plots, characters, we help others through blocks. we bring tips we have learned. Our next one will cover bringing ideas regarding publishing. All are welcome. Everyone contributes. It’s not a one-man show. 

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