Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Post - The Importance of a Great Critique Partner


I'm excited to host guest blogger and friend Sharon Srock.  

She lives with her husband, Larry, and two dogs in Rural Oklahoma. She is a mother, grandmother, and Sunday School teacher. Sharon has one and three-quarters jobs and writes in her spare time. Her favorite hobby is traveling with her grandchildren. She is a member of the ACFW and currently serves as treasurer for her local chapter. Sharon’s writing credits include numerous poems and short stories published in science fiction fanzines.

 Callie, Sharon's first novel in her "Women of Valley View" series, was recently released. You can learn more about her wonderful book after the post.  
Also, be sure to check out Sharon's free ebook that introduces her Women of Valley View characters.
 
Here's what Sharon has to say about working with a great critique partner:

One of the most important tools a writer can have is a great critique partner. The one I work with is the only one I’ve ever had so I can’t say if our relationship is “normal”, but I can say that I’m glad God didn’t give her to anyone else.

By the very nature of the job description critique partners should have a level of trust in, and comfort with, each other. It’s much easier to take criticism from someone who loves you, someone who knows how you think. This goes back to that “normal” thing.

My critique partner and I decided to work together the very first day we met. Two newbies, sitting in a writers group, thrown together by the whispered admission that we wrote women’s fiction, and the suggestion, by the group leader, that we should try working together.

Oh sure, why not?

I remember coming home after that meeting, so thrilled at the prospect of another writer reading my stuff. I sat at the computer, wrote a quick note, and fired off that first manuscript. I don’t know if she felt the same, but I got a quick response and a copy of her story.

Thus began the dance.

Tentative messages back and forth. “It works for me, but… Maybe you should tweak… Am I annoying you yet? (After she marked the same rookie error for the sixth time).” We LOVED each other’s work and we were being just as honest as we knew how to be, or maybe just as honest as two strangers were comfortable being.

Then it happened. I got a particularly ugly rejection note from an agent. “The beginning is too slow…too much back story…not nearly ready…” How did this happen? It’s been read, reviewed, and revised. My critique partner loves it. Surely this man must be crazy.

Tearful note to critique partner. “Can you believe he said these things?”

Critique partners response, “I’ve wondered about some of the same things.”

What???

I’ll never forget the phone call that followed. Me, trying to control tears that only the rejected can really understand. Her, apologizing for not raising red flags over things that bugged her, surprised to hear from me because I must surely hate her now. I think that’s the moment our real partnership began. That was the day we stopped dancing around each other and learned that truthful critiquing didn’t equal mean. We really did love each other’s style, voice, and stories, but there were issues in both works that needed to be addressed.

Even though we’re opposites in many ways, she’s raising her family, I have an empty nest. She has a college degree, I don’t. I work two jobs, she’s blessed to be a stay at home mom. I grew up in church, she never had that privilege, a solid friendship is evolving out of that partnership

Despite our differences we complement each other. I love her grasp of grammar and all the little things she finds when she reads my stories. I’m not sure what she considers to be my strong point, but I do know the partnership is working. We both sold our first books this year. I can’t speak for her, but I know I could not have accomplished that milestone without her help, honesty, and support.

So my advice to any aspiring writer is to find a great critique partner. But don’t come looking for mine, I saw her first.

Let's talk critique partners! Do you have one? How did you find your CP? What do you think is the most important quality in a CP? 

Here's an excerpt from Sharon's new release, The Women of Valley View: Callie:

Callie Stillman dabbed raindrops from her face with a linen napkin as Benton dodged a server with a loaded tray and took his place across from her. She smiled into her husband’s blue eyes and reached across to wipe water from his beard. “We’ll both have pneumonia if we don’t dry off soon.”
Benton took the napkin and finished the job. “I’ve been told the food is very good. A few sniffles should be worth it.”
Callie’s gaze roamed the room. “It’s…” Recognition slammed into her chest, forcing the air from her lungs. The man crossing the room behind her husband nodded and continued to his table. Was that the bailiff? Do you swear to tell the truth… She gulped for breath and fought the familiar darkness that crowded the edges of her vision.
Callie ran a finger around her collar, tugging the neck of the blouse away from skin suddenly dewed with a fine film of sweat. Too hot. She took a sip of water, dismayed at the tremor in her hand as she lifted the glass to her lips. Not here, not tonight. Callie closed her eyes and practiced the breathing techniques she’d learned over the last six months. In through her nose, hold for a few seconds, and out through her mouth. Concentrate only on the current step in the process, the next breath. The tightness in her chest began to fade away. Thank you, Jesus. She raised her water again and held the cold glass to her flushed cheek. 

Available through B&N, Amazon, and Pelican Book Group.

At the end of her blog tour, Sharon will be giving away this great prize pack including, copy of Callie's story, certificate for Terri's story when it releases in April, 6 piece cherry blossom bath set, cosmetic bag, bath wrap, cozy pink eye mask, pair of aloe infused booties, hair turban, tennis bracelet, $25.00 Amazon gift card. To enter, just leave a comment with your email address. Sharon will draw a winner on Nov. 19. 

42 comments:

  1. Julie, thanks for hosting me on your blog. I'm looking forward to visiting with your readers.

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    1. I'm glad you're here, Sharon. Congrats on the new release!

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  2. I'm blessed to have one of the best critique partners ever. We met because I found her blog through another writing friend. Total God thing! I was shocked she hadn't been snatched up. ;) We're more than CPs, though. We're friends. We text all the time, about writing and otherwise. We're similar in age and both working and writing, so we share that bond. I'm soooo grateful to God for her. She's really helped take my writing to another level.

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    1. That's awesome, Lindsay. It's so important to have people you can relate to and connect with on the writing journey.

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    2. Lindsay, thanks so much for stopping by to celebrate Callie with us. Good luck in the drawing.

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  3. I just recently found a critique partner and I'm looking forward to watching our relationship grow. Thank you for another great perspective on the importance of having a CP - and being honest. I've often told my beta readers that they aren't doing me a favor by skirting around the real issues. I need to know the truth, or my work will suffer.

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    1. That's great that you've found a CP. Mine has been invaluable!

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    2. Gabrielle, So many of my readers are long time friends. I don't think they'd be intentionally dishonest, but they are readers. I needed a writer. So glad God gave me one of the best.

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  4. As it happens, I have an awesome critique partner, and I wouldn't trade her for anything. :) It's true, Sharon, I never would have gotten that first contract without your help. Not just your wonderful critiques, but also your encouragement. I remember quite clearly that it was you who suggested I write a Christmas story for Pelican, you who read it and critiqued it for me, and you who told me to submit. And so now that it's out, I have you to thanks!

    I'm so glad our partnership has lasted this long. What a blessing you've been to me. And what a joy it is to watch you launch your first book!

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    1. Robin, We did it, TWICE. Once for each!

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  5. I met my crit partner at the 2009 ACFW conference. It wasn't a "click at first sight" thing, but after numerous Facebook interactions, another conference, adn now two Autumn retreats of our own, we're more than critters we're besties!

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    1. It's amazing how writing friends can become some of our closest friends. I guess it's the shared interest and experiences that help us bond. :)

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    2. Jamie, how wonderful that you've taken the time to build that sort of relationship. Good luck in the drawing.

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  6. Sharon - you do have an awesome critique partner. I'm blessed to have her read my work. Of course with you she had good material to start with. Congratulations on Callie.

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    1. Terri, you are just a breath away....

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  7. I have two main CPs that are soooo valuable to me. They're always thorough, tough, but they do everything in love.

    I'd be terrified to send my agent a ms that they hadn't put their eyes on first. :)

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    1. Book three is in her hands right now. I so agree!

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  8. Hi Sharon! Hi Julie!

    Such an important post. Before I found mine, I was in a writers group where I got 6 different opinions. Not helpful. You really need to find one (or two) person who will be totally honest with you...great thoughts here.

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    1. Loree, I agree. the right crit partner is a gift from God.

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  9. Good Morning Sharon and Julie!

    I have a few CP's--each with different gifts. I think the thing I value the most is tactful, but complete honesty. Another important quality is feeling "safe." Love it when we can let our hair down without fear of ridicule or awkwardness.

    20 years ago I was sitting in a writer's group when I asked what a "synopsis" was. One of the ladies there responded, "Oh. You don't know?! They're really just for amateurs, but let me enlighten you..." Honestly, I didn't hear a word she said after "know." AND...I think some time later she found out the hard way that, yes, a synopsis is hardly for "amateurs."

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    1. A synopsis is for amateurs. Ha! I bet she was disappointed when she realized that fiction writers never escape the dreaded synopsis. :)

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    2. Cynthia, I made a similar comment sometime ago, about synopsis writing and not being able to wait till I didn't have to do that anymore. Boy, did I have a lot to learn!!

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  10. Good crit partners make ALL the difference! I met both of mine online and they have become more than crit buds, they are two of my dearest friends. Honest, but kind. Love love love them!

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    1. "Honest, but kind." Sounds like the perfect critiquers.

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    2. What I like most is knowing that all the comments are made in love and I'm free to ignore them if my heart tells me to. I might have to cover that ground again, but she never tries to change my voice.

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  11. I'm in a critique group with three fabulous ladies - we meet twice a month! They've helped me a ton and are dear friends too.

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    1. That's great, Stacy. I've never been part of a critique group that meets in person. I've always done it through email, but it sounds like fun.

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    2. My crit partner and I had 2-3 face to face meetings, hard to do with the distance involved, work, kids...

      But I loved those meetings. I wish it weren't so hard to have more.

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  12. So very true. Excellent crit partners are so important.

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    1. Christina, I know everyone thinks theirs is the best. Mine really is!!

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  13. So nice to meet you, Sharon! (Thanks for hosting, Julie.)

    I loved reading your story, Sharon, because I've been through similar song-and-dances. My critique partners and I all connected in different ways online and write similar genres. I'm so grateful for them!

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    1. Sarah, I constantly find the advice sound, even when it stings a little. I don't know what I's do without her. I can see you feel the same way.

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  14. Great story! So important to get past the politeness and get centered on making the story better.
    I have some great ladies I work with as well. They're tough--but that's a good thing. LOL

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    1. Jennifer, Sometimes tough is good. Mine certainly has me thinking right now.

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  15. I definitely think it's a must to have other eyes on your words. I've struggled to get consistent critique partners in the past, but I just finished working with a couple on my latest work that were just fantastic, and just last night, sent my story off to a pro-line editor.

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    1. Sometimes, after we've read the story 6 times we get so buried in it, we lose all objectivity. Fresh eyes are a must!

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  16. Sharon, your story points out how important it is to have honesty in from your critique partner. Honesty may be hard to take but is so much more valuable! That is a beautiful, generous prize pack you are giving away. If you are also offering it to Canadians, please count me in to the draw.

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    1. Lynn, Thanks for stopping by. I've come to appreciate honesty, even when it stings a bit.

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  17. Can't wait to read this book! makeighleekyleigh at yahoo.com

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  18. Hope you enjoy it when you do!!

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  19. See Lindsay Harrel's comment above?? I echo everything she said. :) I have the best CP ever in her...and an amazing friend too. I can't tell you how many times I've thanked God for bringing her along at the perfect time. :) She rocks, and I know I'm a better writer with her input!

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