When I started writing professionally, the last thing I thought about was getting a critique partner. I had a new computer, pen and paper. I had a file full of ideas and a bookshelf of Writer Digest books on how to write. Having just left a career in banking, I had solid financial and savvy business experience, along with a business plan with short and long term goals. I had everything I needed to succeed, or so I believed.
Writing well-crafted stories is like taking violin lessons. I can still hear my music teacher chastising. “If you practice it wrong, you will start to hear it wrong. Then you will always play out of tune.” The same applies to words. What sounds good to me might not be the best way to deliver my message. It might even be offensive to some. And, it really is true. You do need to know the rules before you break them.
I didn’t need a writing buddy when I was writing non-fiction. Writing straightforward copy dealing in facts, what I missed, my editor fixed. But when I started writing fiction, that’s when I really needed feedback. Was I hitting my mark? Were my scenes vivid? Did they evoke emotion? Did my character’s motivations make sense or feel contrived?
One day I was looking at books in Hastings and saw a posting on the bulletin board. Another writer wanted to form a critique group. I called her up, and for several years a group of us met once a week. We tore each other’s work apart. We laughed. We got angry. That early critique group was instrumental in teaching me how to meet a deadline and how to take criticism. We were all the same caliber, beginning writers with a desire to get better.
I’m the first to say that finding good critique partners is tricky. You have to be selective because some writers will come to the table focused only on their own work. Others will be so constructive you will burn your manuscript and never write another word. For a while, I belonged to two critique groups, but eventually schedules wouldn’t mesh and people moved away. Some of us even took a break from writing.
But out of those critique groups, I found another writer as passionate and driven as I was. We’ve been writing buddies now for more than twenty years. We don’t write the same things—she likes zombies and mass destruction. I like historical fiction and quiet stories dealing with family issues. Both professionals who quit day jobs to pursue writing careers, we have good work ethics and a desire to succeed. That’s probably all we have in common. But here is why she is so important.
1) If a scene isn’t working, I can call her up and ask, “What am I missing? What do you think would make it better? Does this really suck as much as I think it does?”
2) When I get a rejection, she knows how to commiserate, because she’s received rejections, too.
3) When I get a story accepted, she knows the exhilaration I am feeling and makes time to celebrate when everyone else is busy.
4) The days I’m so tired of fighting the publishing maze and ready to trash writing for good, she’s there to talk me off of the ledge.
5) Whenever I need to go on a field trip to do research, she’s ready to go, knowing she’s likely to glean a new story idea or two.
6) She’s always willing to help at my book signings, knowing how painful it can be to get through the marketing labyrinth alone.
7) She gets it. I don’t have to explain. She knows exactly what I’m struggling with, because she’s struggling with it, too.
I don’t talk with my writing partner every day. There are times when I don’t talk to her all week. But there are also times when I talk to her ten times a day. The nice thing is, when I need her help, she is always there.
Not everyone has or needs a writing buddy, but if your writing has stalled and you don’t know how to take it to the next level, maybe it’s time you cultivated one. Your work will improve and your writing life will be so much better.
Thank you, Patricia Santos Marcantonio, for being my writing buddy. Let’s go have lunch. I have this idea I need to kick around.