It amazes me when people confess that they don't utilize critique partners (CP's) for whatever reason. Either they're shy about their work, they don't like others reading their work (In which case I'm left wondering why they're seeking publication - head scratcher, much?), they're afraid their stuff stinks and they'll be embarrassed, etc... There are a myriad of reasons. But I wonder, do those reasons/excuses outweigh the positive aspects of having someone else read your work and give constructive criticism? And really, how are you going to know if your stuff stinks or how to fix it if you don't get help? You can study craft books until you're dizzy, but someone pointing out examples in your own work can be invaluable.
And what if that person looks at your works and heaps praise on you? Oh, dear. Tragedy. You might be inspired to write more that week.
With these things in mind, I've come up with five (5) good reasons why writers SHOULD utilize CP's. (Please don't think these are the only reasons. They're not - just 5 good ones I thought of rather quickly.):
1. Brain hiccups or echoes.
CP's find words that you've used multiple times, sometimes in rapid succession. And no matter how many times you've been over that same manuscript, you'll most likely never notice them because you're focused on the story you're telling rather than the individual words. Hiccups. Echoes. Whatever you choose to call them, they creep into our work and hide until a fresh pair of eyes sees them in startling numbers. And horrors! It's not always the same word in the next manuscript you write, which makes it doubly hard to do a search and highlight and catch them all.
Perfect Example: One week I received critiques back from an online group on chapters of Her Unexpected Family. Boy was I surprised when one CP found several instances of the word 'out,' not in one chapter, but several. So I did a search and highlight throughout the whole manuscript and found...(are you ready for this?) 268!!! :-O That's an average of one per page. Of course, some pages had none, but others had several. Yikes. Talk about enough repetition to annoy your reader!
Because she'd found a few more 'up' words than I remembered using, I checked for those too. 205 of those showed up. Double yikes. Can we say RUT? More like the Marianas Trench. I definitely need to find new ways of saying things.
2. Grammar/usage mistakes:
Every writer has things they just can't seem to get straight, whether it's the use of commas, sit/sat, lay/laid, or my personal nit: always putting the apostrophe in 'it's.' Now, I know that 'it's' is a conjunction of 'it is' and there's no apostrophe when saying "Keep your hair its natural color." but my fingers type it in there every time. After several critiques, I became aware I did this, and now I know to do a search for 'it's' through the entire manuscript before sending it out to CP's. Every little nit that you can fix before hand is less work for others and a cleaner manuscript going to industry professionals when you submit.
3. Plot problems:
This one is a biggie. You dreamed up that twist for the middle out of desperation to have something exciting happen, and you were happy to have thought of it. Too bad your heroine, who happily hid in a closet in Chapter 3 to avoid capture has suddenly developed severe claustrophobia, causing her life to be in jeopardy once again. Hmm... See the problem?
4. You learn the difference between a question you want asked and one you don't.
In other words, some questions you want the reader to ask. It shows they're interested in the character and there are enough questions to keep them reading. But the "I don't understand why he's acting so mean to her."/"He's mean. I don't like him." or "I'm not getting the gist of their conversation here." type questions may mean you haven't shown the character's motivations clearly or you've been too vague with your clues and need work on that area.
5. Revision flubs:
This manuscript I'm sending through my CP group isn't a rough draft. I do a lot of revising, layering and tweaking as I go. Then I had a published author read the synopsis and 1st chapter, and made more revisions based on her comments. My first reader/CP also pointed out things that have been corrected. But all those revisions/tweaks/layering tends to leave behind what I call 'flubs' such as a left-out word or one too many.
For months her friend been waiting patiently, with a question in her eyes and a worried frown.
The soft clops of her shoes made grew fainter with each step.
And a bonus reason? Brainstorming! OMG, brainstorming can be so much fun, both for your own work and when helping others plot their books.
Bite the bullet. Find a CP you're comfortable with. Better yet, find more than one.