There are so many articles and blog posts out there detailing the publishing road, it’s various ups and downs, twists and turns, plummets into deep holes of revision malaise and rejection induced cookie-binges. But tucked into those stories of woe and perseverance, are characters many of you will recognize.
Critique Partner(s): an enchanted creature one meets on their journey to publication endowed with the magical power to inspire, encourage and enrich the writers quest.
But in order to gain the magical being Critique Partner on your journey, you must first be able to recognize the value of honest, thoughtful, layered critique— both how to give it and how to receive it.
My first experience with critique was actually a literary agent that I met at my local city park in Brooklyn, NY. Looking back, I recognize the disaster that could have transpired. She was a pro, I very much was not. But this agent — who quickly became one of my close friends in the City— offered to read my manuscript and give me feedback. It helped that she didn’t represent my genre, and that we had met wearing our mom and people hats, not writer and agent name badges. It helped that she was gentle. With her feedback and encouragement, I revised, I revised, I got very close to getting agented with that manuscript. Without her feedback, I would have hit send too soon. I would have done all the wrong things.
Unlike Unicorn Critique Partners, my agent friend felt more like a fairy godmother. She taught me industry protocol. She taught me about critique. She sent me into the world to find my own heard of magical beasts.
Critique Partners believe when you can’t.
Last year I hit a rough patch in my writing journey. I wrote about it extensively on my blog, which is the equivalent of screaming into a pillow at the top of your lungs. Cathartic, but ultimately useless. I had experienced the ugliness of the query trenches. I’d been rejected, I’d been hopeful, I’d been the recipient of the form letter and the thoughtful rejection. It had taken it’s toll on my creative well. I desperately wanted to give up. I couldn’t face my manuscript, let alone stomach doing another revision or sending another query letter.
In swooped critique partners, rainbow tails swinging, hooves of faith clomping.
I am part of a big tribe of young adult writers, so I want to stress that this sense of community and magic is not limited to the writers I count as critique partners. But when doubt creeps in, the best defense is a person that has read your book and believes in it. My critique partners were unrelenting in their support that someday, somehow, this thing would find an agent, a home.
Countless emails. Countless texts and Facebook chats. Many days of me veering off course, detouring and wandering and spazzing. They still encouraged me to go back to the story. To give it another chance.
When I was finally ready to revise again, they were there to encourage and advise. They cheered for the story. They told me they never doubted me.
But I did doubt. I wasn’t as certain as I needed to be. Anyone that has endured rejection will understand my behavior. I was inclined to believe the many no’s. I actually think, maybe, I had to believe it for a while to find my way back to my story. But without the faith and insistence of my Unicorns, this little writer would have never found her path because she would have given up.
Critique Partners don’t belittle the struggle.
Something that becomes increasingly clear the longer I pursue publication is this: the loneliness is real.
The journey to a book in hand, while something many writers will one day likely take with varying results, is ultimately still not a well understood process to those not in the midst of it. For the first few years of mine, I knew a grand total of two people that understood the arduous task of trying to get published.
I count two separate but equally significant plot points in my own writing saga as the game changers for me.
- Befriending a local author— Over three years ago Lindsay Cummings followed me on Twitter. At the time, I was still living in Brooklyn. When we decided to move back to Texas, I direct messaged Lindsay and asked to meet up for coffee. This was a gamble for both of us, and after Lindsay researched me online to make sure I was a legitimate human writer, we met up for dinner. Not only did she become one of my best friends in real life, but she became my ally in the book world. She read, critiqued and loved my writing. She helped me meet other writers in our area. She helped me not feel so alone.
- Taking a writing workshop online — I signed up for an online class taught by Nova Ren Suma. Not only did I gain an incredible advocate and teacher (and now, friend) in Nova, but through her class I connected with five of my critique partners. After class, we embarked on the organic process of emailing each other pages and tentatively giving feedback, then more boldly responding, asking for help and thoughts on more than just pages, but idea seeds and life twists, until we found a rhythm unique to our tribe and needs. These writers have become some of my favorite humans.
On the writing journey, critique is the key to support.
Through critique, I found people capable of walking through this with me. We’ve lived in the trenches together. We understand the sting of rejection and the swell of pride that comes with a request, a yes, that phone call that leads to an agent…or doesn’t. That moment when you have to start over, go back in, move on. And we know that the pain from the publishing journey hurts just as real as other pain, can cause just as many problems as marital issues or job hell, and is not for the faint of heart.
Critique Partners make you better.
Words are hard. Writing is bad, and then it’s a little less bad, and then a little less, and every time you chip away a layer of bad the promise of beautiful begins to emerge. There is only so far you can take your own words. No matter how skilled, critique is often the key to making a decent story great, finding plotholes, worldbuilding issues, character development flaws, and so on. Without clever eyes on your work, you must rely of your own mind. The closer you get to a particular story, the harder it gets to see the issues as they arise.
Getting a good group of readers that you can turn to at different stages in revision to help you clarify, hone, polish and shine, is an important step in preparing your manuscript for query, and later, publication. I am a firm believer that reader feedback should be taken seriously. Yes, this is your story, but at some point it needs to make sense to the rest of the world.
Critique partners can come in and unicorn-horn slice through the crappy words in your manuscript better than you. Then, they come back to you with ways to improve, with glowing praise and passion, and it’s often the push back into the story that you need.
Every time I’ve felt lost in a work in progress, I’ve emailed one of my critique partners with pages or plans or scene ideas, and they’ve helped me find my way.
Find your unicorns and hold them tight. Stroke their mane and give them sugar. They are invaluable to the quest!
If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, some of my critique partners and I have decided to pay back the writing community that helped us find each other. We’ll be hosting a live critique workshop called Manuscript Crit-Chat, scheduled to take off this fall. Whether you’ve been critiqued before and want a new set of eyes on your pages, or you’ve never been critiqued, but want to get your feet wet, we want to give a taste of the magic. Over the next month we’ll be revealing more info, so stay informed by following us on social media. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our tribe!
To engage with the Manuscript Crit-Chat gals:
To Tweet at the individual masterminds behind all the fun:
And do check out Courtney and Jessica’s posts on their personal blogs!