IRON SHARPENING IRON
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
Writing can be a lonely pursuit and it's easy to become so close to your own work that you can no longer be objective. A writing critique partner can provide encouragement, a new perspective, growth in the craft of writing, and a kick in the pants when necessary.
Here, in a discussion taken from their article in A Novel Idea, Deb and Tammy share just a few of the things they’ve gleaned through their working partnership:
Where and how do I find a critique partner?
• One-on-one partnerships often develop naturally out of larger critique groups; so join a group with an eye to eventually working with one other writer as a critique partner.
• Connect with someone you meet at a writer's conference. That's where I met Deb and we just clicked as friends before we ever became writing critique partners.
• Connect with someone from a local writer's club or group.
• Ask a non-writing friend or relative who is well read to critique your manuscript. Perhaps barter babysitting or cooking or housecleaning in exchange for those services. A non-writer who loves to read your genre can be an invaluable source for clarity and pacing of story.
• If feasible, consider paying a professional editor for a critique. An organization of which Deb and I are both members is American Christian Fiction Writers (http://www.acfw.com/ ), and there are numerous well-qualified editors within the ACFW membership, as well as critique group opportunities.
• Sign up for a paid critique at a local or national writer's conference you’re attending. Worth every penny!
• As a last resort (and it's a good idea anyway even if you have a critique partner because you need to keep your skills sharpened) become your own critique partner. Read books on self-editing, such as:
o Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King, HarperCollins
• Take advantage of online opportunities to post your work for critique. If someone likes your work, or sees potential in it, they may be interested in partnering with you.
• Offer to critique for a published author. I took a risk and asked Deb if she'd be willing for me to read for her. I knew it was a long shot, and I'm certainly not suggesting you start contacting novelists at random, asking to critique their work. But if you've established a relationship with a published author at a conference or online, it might be a possibility, and it’s a great way to learn. And then once I was published, Deb was willing to critique my work in exchange.
Why have a critique partner?
• At the point when we most need to be objective, we are too close to our own story to read it as an unbiased reader, let alone evaluate it critically. Tammy is able to offer perspective that I've potentially lost, being so close to my own work. We’re able to see not only technical glitches in each other’s work but also story strengths and weaknesses, and ways to potentially deepen the layers of the story and characters.
• We bring only one opinion or viewpoint to the reading of our own work—and it's obviously very biased. A critique partner can view our work from a different point of view since they’ve likely had a different upbringing, different life experiences, and therefore have a much different “filter” through which to read your work. (For example, I live in a small town and Tammy lives in a larger city. Amazing what different perspectives that affords us!)
• Since Tammy isn't so close to my story, she often comes up with ideas or plot directions I never would have dreamed of.
• Almost any two people working together bring two sets of strengths to the table, and offset each other's weaknesses.
• It makes a solitary occupation so much more fun! Working with Tammy provides that human touch a career in writing is often missing. With the wonder of technology, we’re only a click or call away.
• When one of us is down, we can build each other up! Tammy and I are tough on each other, but we also try to be each other's biggest fan.
• It's so much easier to see "mistakes/room for growth" in someone else's writing. We learn from critiquing each other's manuscripts, and then can apply those principles to our own writing.
• Brainstorming! With today’s technology, critique partners don’t have to be next-door neighbors or even live in the same state. With applications such as SKYPE (skype.com) and iChat (for Macs), you can “video brainstorm” any time, day or night. And it’s free! Plus, if you use something like Google Talk, you’ll have a “text copy” of all those ideas for future reference.
Why choose a partnership vs. a critique group?
• Time element––it takes much more time to critique three or four manuscripts vs. just one. With both of us writing on deadline, it's all Deb and I can do to crit for each other.
• Too many cooks can sometimes spoil the soup. Writing “by committee" can really mess with a writer's voice. It’s a fine balance to stay true to your voice, while also striving to remain open and teachable. While Deb and I write in different genres, our voices and style are quite similar.
• Deeper relationship––you really develop a saety net within a one-on-one relationship, which fosters trust and the ability to speak the truth in love. Deb and I have grown to the point that we can be very blunt in our assessment of each other’s work, but that doesn’t mean we only point out the negative. We're careful to make note of what we admire about each other's writing, too, and generously sprinkle plenty of encouragements throughout our critiques. A good critique should be one in which the writer clearly sees what needs to be changed and feels equipped and empowered to address those issues––not beaten down into the dust, discouraged and ready to give up.
• By concentrating on the one-on-one relationship, we are able to focus more on that one person’s unique strengths and weaknesses as a writer. And likewise, they can do the same for us.
When is a critique group more appropriate than a one-on-one critique partner?
• When you're first starting out and still learning the basics of writing, it’s good to have input from multiple writers because, chances are, you have a lot of basics you’re still needing to learn. Having multiple critique partners can also help you find your voice as a writer. When Tammy was in a critique group early on, she would watch for similarities in critiques from her writing partners. Would three of the four writers make the same comment about a certain character or plot point? Or would it only be one writer making that particular comment? That helped her to develop confidence in her own voice while still weighing the counsel of others.
• When you desire quick response/input from more than one person about a particular aspect of your work. Life sometimes gets in the way of responding as quickly to tasks as we’d like. Same for writing partners, especially if you’re both on deadlines. The chances of having someone available to read your work in a timely manner are much greater if you’re part of a group.
• When you haven't found that right critique partner yet (and you’re in God's “waiting room”). Often, your critique group is where you'll find a critique partner and—once the time is right, or the group grows to the point of needing to form another branch—you can “offshoot” from the original group and form that more personal critique relationship.
• So that you can learn how to critique. There are many styles of critiquing. Again, it's not just about pointing out what's wrong, but about "equipping" another writer to be the best writer possible. Writers often have their specific areas of expertise as well—be it a strength in characterization, dialogue, plot, creating believable story worlds—so being part of a group can expose you to a wider variety of writer strengths, and therefore, opportunities to learn.
Pointers for finding a critique partner:
TAMMY & DEB:
• First and foremost, pray about who God might pair you with.
• Seek someone whose strengths make up for your weaknesses, and vice versa.
• Ask God to keep your heart teachable.
• Attend local or national conferences.
• Be open to critiquing others’ work. (You never know what will come from that offer to help out.)
Whether you’re already in a writing critique group or a writing critique one-on-one partnership, or you’re still looking for that right group or person, the goal is to keep improving your writing skills and honing your craft. None of us ever ceases needing to learn, needing to grow. We want to give God our best, and as King David said in II Samuel 24:24, “I will not offer as a sacrifice to the Lord my God a burnt offering [or in our case, our writing] that costs me nothing.”
So be willing to pay the price, hone your craft, and give God your best. And keep your eyes open to the possibility of a critique partner to share the “cost” along the way.
DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her nineteenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the highly acclaimed World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest books, the Clayburn Novels, are from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small- town life in Kansas.
We at the Writer's Alley want to thank these two lovely ladies for sharing their expertise and we wish them great success in their novel puruists.
If you would like to read more of Deb and Tammy's articale, check out the book, A Novel Idea I own the book myself and found it to be a great writing resource. Follow the link to learn more.