Thursday, June 4, 2009

Share Your Work

By Carol Burnside

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.

Happy writing!


Devon Gray said...

Great post! And so true. I skipped around when I wrote the ms I just finished (scenes kept coming to me that I hadn't gotten to yet, so I wrote 'em!), so I fear when it comes back from critiquing there will probably be overusage of words or...cringe...beating the reader over the idea with the characters' introspection. Even though I have read the entire thing front to back, I still think it is difficult to really "see" your own work.

Devon Gray said...

Uh...that should have been "beat the reader over the head..." See? Your point is clearly made LOL

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Carol,

Thanks for joining us today (g)

I had a huge problem with 'that' and 'who'. (the plan THAT was supposed to take off was grounded. The girl WHO was to fly lost her nerve) I knew the rule, but I wrote like I talk and ...well, I didn't speak correctly. I'm getting better.

Thanks for the reminders.


CiCi Barnes said...


Your reasons are so true. Thanks for pointing them out and helping those who haven't yet taken the plunge with CP's

Great post.


Marilyn Baron said...

Great post. I think having critique partners is a great idea. When I first started I was hesitant but now I've developed such thick skin I'll show my manuscript to anyone.


Tami Brothers said...

I am a huge fan of critique partners (I just have to get my stuff finished and sent to them!!@#$#@). I am a definite fit for your points 1 and 2. I also fall into points 4. Man, maybe I just need to be added to them all...grrr.....

Okay, okay. I'll get my story sent off soon. Just a few more tweaks....

Thanks, Carol, for this. I have a terrific group of critiquers and I need to utilize them more. I know they would be more than willing to help me out.

Have a great day up there in DC!!!


Dianna Love said...

Inspiring post, Carol. Good reasons to remind everyone why another set of eyes is critical.

Mary (Buckham) and I read each other's first 100-ish pages early on (in draft stage) since that is the most important part - the set up - and the hardest elements to get laid down on pages in a way that flows without slowing pacing. After that we don't normally read any more until the story is done, but we both know each other's series and premises so it's not unusual to discuss a story or a futures story at any time (like today while I was driving north) along the way.

I think if you can find someone who understands what you're trying to do and knows how to explain their edits in a constructive way - that's golden. Once it's been through cps then find a cold reader who is "only a reader" and not friends or family. At that point, if the feedback is strong for the book - that's the best you can do so put it out there.

I had a minute at a restaurant where I could jump on today. now, back to the road...

Ana Aragón said...

Hey, Carol,

Loved all the reminders. I happen to have several crit partners who help out with different projects, a couple of friends and family who like to read my stories as they take shape. They all are a big help because 1) I'm forced to write and quit procrastinating; and 2) just talking with them about the issues they find help me when I go back and fix the problems.

Thanks for sharing!


Cinthia Hamer said...

Carol, I am 110% in agreement with you on this.

I've been blessed with a couple of amazing critique partners over the years and my writing would be complete drivel without them.

You really need a second pair of eyes or even a second brain to help with all the things you mentioned.

Carol Burnside said...

Devon, you illustrated my point so nicely. What do I owe you? LOL!

Dianna, thanks for joining us from the road.

Ladies of PFHT: I'm always amazed at the things others find in my work that was completely invisible to me until they pointed it out. Then I'm like, "Wow. How could I have MISSED that???" LOL!

Susan May said...

Great post. I saw me and my issues in each section. It is always nice to have a reminder of what I should do and suggestion on how to do them.

Sally Kilpatrick said...


Sorry I'm running late. What was I doing? Oh, VBS training. Anyway, great post about critique partners and some very valid points about the need to let others read your work.

I'll confess. I use "that" to death. Just ask Pam M.

Mary Marvella said...

Hey, Carol.
I love my critique partners. I get help from one group of four of us and one person I meet separately. Each partner offers a different perspective, which helps. They are also wonderful for brainstorming.

Pamela-reader said...

Humm... if I only read & critique but don't write do I still qualify as a "critique partner"? I think so because partnership can mean working toward a common goal.. it doesn't have to be reciprocal. (smile)

My most memorable critique was telling an author that a particular scene made her hero look like a wuss. She had plenty of reasons for why it was written that way... but I simply said it didn't matter why it was written and it didn't matter that I understood the reasons, the result was in my gut that he looked like a wimp. LOL! I'm glad to say the new and improved scene later accomplished all of the author's goals while removing the wimpiness of the hero.

Anyhow - great article! Makes me proud to be a partner. (grin)