Cassy’s Corner- Working with Critique Partners
We all have experienced the challenges of working in our little caves, our dens of solitude, our escapes from the “real” world as we put pen to paper—or fingers to the keyboard. We also have heard many times that a writer needs critique partners, someone or multiple people to read and comment on our work as it progresses from major plot points, character development and eventually to the line edits that some how have never seem to end.
I have discovered I have mixed feelings about critique partners and crit groups. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am open to all sorts of criticism. I know many who say their work would be thin and weak without the input of other writers they trust. I believe in that.
Yet, when is the best time to seek input and from whom?
In my work if I talk about it too early in my own development of the story, I lose something. I have been accused by my family of not sharing enough. They want to read—now! If I do that when I’m still in the incubation stage or in the “gotta get it on the page stage before it magically disappears,” I start to ramble with the offered comments overshadowing my own creation. I love the interest others have in wanting to read my work. That’s what we want, right? Readers. But if I share too early it becomes about my looking to please and satisfy others before the story has begun to take on a life of its own. Kinda like Jello- if you stir it too soon it never really sets and take on that jiggly only-one-of-a-kind texture.
On the other hand, if I wait too long for input and feedback I might have gone 100 pages in the wrong direction. I become so taken with the characters who live with me night and day that I begin to have a forest and the trees issues. You know the point when you are clear, adamant, and without a doubt that the plot is really good, the players are interesting and memorable and so what if much of it might illogical. After reviewing comments offered to me, I often sit back and think of how right on target the readers are. I had waited too long to get some feedback.
This is very personal balance, that of when do we let people into our private lives and when do we hold back, keeping our precious work close by and free of outside criticism.
I had a recent experience in which a fellow writer asked me to read her work. Not to worry,” she said. “I can take anything you want to say. I can handle it.” Please know, I am a kind person. I don’t hit hard with my comments; they are more reflections or suggestions. Well, I’m not going to type here the responses I received from her. I’ll leave it to your imagination. Needless to say, we won’t be reading each other’s work unless it’s purchased at our local bookstore. I found myself distressed that I had possibly injured her. That was with commentary that praised a premise but thought it should be developed a little more. After a day, I was over it but still taken by how much we all really want to be loved and our fledgling projects shine.
To paraphrase Stephen King, write your first draft behind closed doors for it’s for you. Write the second draft with the door and windows wide open. You are then writing for your audience.
I strongly believe in open conversation about our writing. I think it gets better and better with a dialogue with those we trust. We are an incredibly sharing community who also work in much solitude.
And, by the way, I do have a couple of fantastic readers who push me to write better and better stuff. I beg them to "bring it on." They do and I can't thank them enough.