Confession: I hate being critiqued on my writing! Who doesn’t? (Seriously, what crazy person out there does? I’d like to know…) Writing is such a personal experience – so much heart and soul goes into a writer’s words – that taking someone else’s critique is HARD (especially when it is neither constructive nor encouraging – I’ve received it on BOTH ends since Wind released).
|Book Signing – Angela, Me, Katrina, & Renea
But allowing others to give you feedback on your work is important – something that I’m trying to be better about. With Water, I had two close friends – Katrina and Renea – read and critique the story for me, and I can honestly say that the current draft is BETTER because of it. I’m not involved in a formal critique group of other writers and I’m really choosy about who I let read my work before publication. There are several reasons for that… some of which I won’t go into right now. But even so, the few friends who I allow to read and critique do it for the purpose of making me BETTER, not telling me what I’m doing wrong.
Just this week (while we’ve been iced in for three days), I decided I really needed to figure out a major issue about the end of my series. I’ve always had each book in this series outlined, always known the major themes, always known where I’m heading. With the new Tate Publishing contract, though, I’m having to reorganize the layout of these books – namely, going from four long books to eight shorter installments. But I came across a twist that I really felt needed to happen based on everything that my characters have now gone through in this series (events of which my readers don’t know yet because Water is not released).
I wanted to use these ice days to start writing the next installment, but I didn’t feel the freedom to write with this one issue hanging over my head. I ALWAYS build clues and questions into my writing that are leading somewhere. So I can’t write the journey until I know my exact destination… In other words, I was STUCK in my writing the same way I was stuck in my house due to weather.
I tried talking to my husband, Sam, at first. He’s really invested in my series – super supportive and extremely logical. The conversation was a DISASTER. While Sam is amazing at reading my COMPLETE stories and asking all the right questions to protect my logic (and reputation), he’s not the best at helping me CREATE the story. After a few frustrating attempts at talking with him about this issue with the series, I gave up. He’s useful later in the process – but he’s no critique partner.
|Book Signing – Ali, Me, & Katrina
Like I said, getting feedback is important… and having people to help you work the kinks out is really important – especially when you write epic stories that include lots of twists, lies, and secrets. Katrina edited Wind and Water and was there for the inception of the Phantom Island series. She’s the only other person who knows this series almost as well as me… So after an emergency text of “I need HELP!” we finally chatted on the phone.
Through her example, I’ve discovered some important traits of a critique partner. They must be…
1. Someone who thinks deeply and logically. She sees connections and double meanings in my stories – she can follow my pattern and then see where I’m veering from the pattern and need realignment. When I’m so wrapped up in the creative process, I need someone to make sure the story is still translating right.
2. Someone who gets MY vision. Katrina never tries to push her own agenda on me… She offers ideas and insights, but lets the ideas be MINE. Interestingly enough, there are several aspects to Phantom Island that are HER ideas (and I try to keep track of those, so she always gets proper credit.) For example – the fact that you lose your memory when you sail away from the White Island was hers. LOVE IT… A foundational truth to the Island that set a LOT of things in motion. She helped me figure it out, but did not ever try to promote her ideas over mine. (It helps to have a crit partner who values writing and literature, but does not have the same interest in producing it like you do. In other words, Katrina doesn’t want to be an author – but she does love to edit and analyze the works of others.)
3. Someone who values the story behind the story. Perhaps not every writer needs this in a crit partner because of the type of story they’re writing… but with Phantom Island, there are multi-tiered levels of meaning. You can enjoy it on the surface as a story of teens on a magical journey of adventure and romance. Or you can dig deep and find biblical parallels, allusions, life lessons, philosophy, worldview… Either way, I want to keep both accurate and real. I love it when Katrina starts a statement with, “Not to overspiritualize or dig too deep into theology here, BUT…” That’s so great because I need someone else to think on the next level with me while still keeping these characters on the best plot line possible.
4. Someone who questions the story AND the author. I want to be asked questions – I NEED to be asked questions. Coming up with answers and thinking through every possible hole MUST take place in the pre-writing AND composing stage. Otherwise, I might lose the integrity of the series. Katrina is really good about asking the questions I need to consider.
5. Someone who is encouraging and trustworthy. Maybe I just have delicate feelings, but I could never open up such an intensely personal world (like my stories) to someone I didn’t trust to positively build me up. I never worry about Katrina judging my work in a snarky way. She handles me delicately by affirming my ideas and always trying to keep my perspective positive and true. At the fragile prewriting and composing stage, I don’t need negative criticism – I’ll get enough of that later. What I need is empowerment from a balanced, trustworthy set of eyes. (Not the fake kisses and compliments of an enemy… but the exhortation of a true friend.) Not only that, but she knows every secret I’ve written and am GOING to write… that’s a scary amount of power to give a friend. 🙂
|Katrina editing Water at Starbucks
So what are the results of finding a good critique partner?
After our conversation today, I now have the major issue at the end of my series worked out. And whether Katrina believes in the end result doesn’t matter so much as that she believes in ME.
And that makes the difference. 🙂