Monday, August 8, 2011

How Critiquing Has Transformed Me as a Writer

Hi there! If you happen to be Mr. Michael Bourret, agent extraordinaire, please click over here to read all about how your incredible client, Brodi Ashton, gave the unflappable Gina (and me, too!) full-on permission to 'stalk' you. I promise, Gina and her manuscript are worth your while.

 When it was time for betas to look at my work, I have to admit, I felt a little stressed. See, betas, or critique partners, typically trade work. That means each of them spends and hours  (well, good ones, anyway)  reading and brainstorming and nitpicking and scrutinizing work that isn't theirs.

So, on top of the rearranging and compromising and ignoring the housework I ALREADY do in order to write my own darn book, I have to somehow squeeze out *more* time for critiquing someone else's book? In the case of Gina's book, it turned out to be a few hours a week, no small potatoes when you have a day job. Normal critiques - like the one she had to slog through with THE TRAVELERS - probably took much more time.

My husband asked me why me and critique partners were willing to put hours and hours worth of computer time, and agonizing, and franticallly emailing and rewriting and REreading (Gina has read so many versions of the same three things, it makes me crazy for her. In a few ways.) on a book that isn't ours.

I shrugged and said, "That's what we do."
An awesome critique pair is just two people who really understand that writing, and writing good stories well, is essential to the soul. Each wants their work to be torn apart by someone else so that we can build it up to be better.

It took me awhile, though, to realize that while Gina was definitely making me a better writer, but that critiquing Gina's stuff was also doing SO much for improving my subsequent revisions and, ultimately, my new WIP.

Critiquing someone else's work:

  • Helped me learn how to plot and pace. With fresh eyes on a new story, one that didn't already exist, perfect, in my own head, I was really able to analyze what happened, when, and how quickly, and recognize when one of my own darlings was slowing down the plot in my own book too much, or just not serving a purpose.
  • Got me to fall in love with characters in a different way.  Of course, I didn't write Gina's characters, but I was working so hard to make sure their story was told in the best way possible that I wanted their characterization to be solid. Everything from the way they moved and smiled to the words that came out of their mouths had to fit my ideal vision of them, and taught me to be mindful of whether my characters were doing the same.
  • Taught me to look for things like rhythm, sound, feel, and VOICE . Again, since I didn't already have Gina's book in my head, I read a lot of stuff out loud to see how it sounded, how it flowed. Soon after, guess what? I started doing it on my own stuff, now even as I'm drafting.
  • Gave me an absolutely ruthless eagle eye for: passive voice, repetitive sentence structure and word choice, purple prose, unclear phrasing, run-on sentences, etc. Not because Gina uses very much of that at ALL, but because it was partly my job to eradicate it, as she so kindly did so many dozens of times for me. Ahem. I mean, hundreds. (Oh, God, sorry Gina.) 
  • Showed me that criticism does not equal doom, and in fact, if you have a good CP, it is a gateway to being held up and cheered on. For example: That time Gina made me rewrite and then re-rewrite that scene? Check out the email she sent me when I finally nailed it:
Fullscreen capture 7162011 71316 AM.bmp
(Yeah, I framed that sucker in scrapbook paper and hung it above my desk)

Last, but most importantly, critiquing made me a cheerleader for another soul who's trying so, so hard to make it in a really tough industry. When you've been through so many ups and downs connected to something so close to your heart, and you know your crit partner truly loves your book (even if she doesn't love Davis) and believes it it almost as much as you do, there's a strange sort of friendship that forms. You know she'll read your query letter twenty times, or cheer you on in contests that she's entered too, or answer the same neurotic email, with slightly different wording, over and over again. It's a friendship that knows that the best gift ever is a book by a real live person who struggled as much as you are now, and a handwritten note of encouragement for your inspiration wall.
(Yes, Gina did write on the inside of the card, but I'm going to hold off on showing you that till we're both published. You're going to die. And then I'll auction it off for charity, because I'm awesome like that.)
(Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

And that? Is worth every. single. hour.

Photo Credit: Mike Stimpson 2010 via Creative Commons License. Thanks, Mike!


  1. You always give me too much credit <3

    Critiquing really does make us better writers. It pains me to think I queried without showing my ms to anyone... what a mistake. Fresh eyes truly are a gift. And so are awesome peeps like you!

  2. So great that you all have each other. It makes all the difference.

  3. That's an awesome CP story! I think critiquing / receiving critiques is such a symbiotic thing. You may think you're doing it just to help someone else out, but you are really getting as much out of it as they are.

    And I left an award for you on my blog!