Friday, July 12, 2013

Be Your Own Best Critique Partner

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I really love to critique. Some of the best lessons to be applied to your own writing you can discover while critiquing someone else's work. For some twisted reason (probably because we are coming with new eyes, no prejudice and zero attachment to the words on the page) we can spot writing
problems easier when the story isn't our own.

But what happens when you don't have a critique partner?

You learn to be your own best critique-er.

All of us has one of two or ten people who will read bits and pieces of our work. Very few of us actually have someone who has stuck with us through the thick and thin of editing an entire novel. While currently editing my most recent story I found myself doing one of two things quite a bit: one, I was making comment bubbles to myself to come back to later. (comment bubbles are GENIUS! The person who invented those deserves a plate of cookies.)

Second, I started paying attention to what I was writing in these comments and I found I was talking to myself much as I would talk to a critique partner. We all leave these kind of comments: fix this. Blak! What where you thinking??? Rewrite this.

And while there is nothing wrong with those kind of comments, but they are too generic. They don't tell you anything and if you're anything like any other writer out there, when you come back through your manuscript looking for those comments, you'll go "what did I mean there??".

Instead, be specific. For example: the character's motivation is weak here. Maybe make this scene come later or cut completely since there is an emotional follow up in the following scene? Consider adding more action, maybe the car blows up. Hmm.

Talk to yourself in the comment bubbles. Much as you would give suggestions to a critique partner, extend the same courtesy to yourself. I have often "blind brainstormed" with those I've critiqued. While any suggestions I give them might not work out for the story, I share them anyway, just as I would if we were brainstorming in person. What I might share combined might be a good idea or better yet, spark an idea that could really help their story.

Do the same for your own story. Because I know the ending, I know where I want to take the story and also have ideas for threads I want to weave in and some I want to cut, I'm better equipped to leave ideas in bread crumb bites behind. If you're like me and like to fast-draft your edits, this method can work great when you're not wanting to sit and write out a new scene or completely rewrite it. Save those scene ideas for when you're in a "writing/creative" mood.

Be your own best critique partner.

If you have one or even if you don't, take the time to leave those notes to yourself. Chances are, you aren't going to remember everything you want to do or even if you keep a notebook of ideas remembering where you actually wanted to make these changes could prove...interesting. ;-) The comment bubbles allow them to be right there in the midst of the story. Better yet, you can jump from bubble to bubble in Word if you're looking for one specific comment.

Not having a critique partner doesn't have to be all bad. Be willing to be tough on yourself and snip and cut, brainstorming ways to make it better. Find some occasional readers to offer valuable feedback, pray for a craft partner, but then keep pressing forward.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a 5 page critique I'd be happy to share with one of you. I'll draw the winner next week and have Pepper announce it in the weekend edition. :-)

Share your best editing tips!

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Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people.

17 comments:

Nancy Kimball said...

I'm spoiled with great crit partners but liked this post for when I'm going back for a read after having been away from a WIP for months.
I'd love to be in the drawing for the 5 page crit. Always love fresh perspective. =)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Casey, what a fabulous idea! I've never even thought to use those thought bubbles for my own work. I LOVE IT. I'm definitely going to use this. I may even use it as I'm fast-drafting and thinking over what needs to happen with the story.
PLEASE put me in the drawing for the critique. Like Nancy, I like fresh eyes on my ms. :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

I forgot to mention. When editing, I am learning that I will need to read through my ms a few times. I'll focus on something different each time. First, I'll just read through the ms, not making changes (but using those thought bubbles!). Then, I'll look at tension, emotions and spiritual thread. Then, I'll do more scene by scene and then polishing. At least that's my plan. :)

Pepper said...

FANTASTIC post, Case!!!
I love the crit for the same reasons you listed. I LEARN from it! Especially other people's work.
Good writers teach an amazing amount through their writing - even in their mistakes.

Julia M. Reffner said...

This is GREAT, Casey! I use thought bubbles, too, never knew we both did that :) Great ideas :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

BTW, I'm jealous of the crit. I encourage everyone to enter for it. Case has a great eye :)

Jill Weatherholt said...

I don't have a critique partner, so I love the use of thought bubbles! Thanks for a great post, Casey!

Melissa Tagg said...

Awesome stuff, Casey. I do have a craft partner and she did see me through an entire of year of writing and tearing apart (repeat about five times) my latest book. But you're so right--it's important to be able to spot things in our own stories too. The better we can get at spotting our own surface weak areas, the more chance a craft partner will be able to go even deeper... :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh this is great, Casey. I am terrible at critting myself and never thought to use those bubbles on my own work. Aren't you smart?!

Casey said...

Nancy, way to go on great crit partners!! They are treasures aren't they?? Helps make you better equipped to on your own work.

Casey said...

Jeanne, comment bubbles are Am-AZING! I used to not use them as much (the wide side bar annoyed me)now I don't know what I did without them!

Casey said...

Pepper, so, so, so jealous you get to read Amy's work on a daily basis. And so, so, so jealous of Amy for the same reason. ;-)

Julia, See?! Kindred spirits. ;-)

Casey said...

Jill, I can't even begin to describe how awesome and helpful they have been to me. Even if you DID have a crit partner, you could still leave those bubbles in when you send the sections...give your partner a chance to comment back and you've got a conversation going.

Casey said...

Melissa, excellent point! Our crit/craft partner's time is so valuable.

Casey said...

LOL, not really Sherrinda. I think I first saw them on a ms I was reading for Cara Putman. ;)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

This is awesome, Case! Such great ideas here! I tend to crit in waves. Wave one, story clean up. Wave two, look for passive's and redundancies. Wave three, tweak words, trim, and polish. But using bubbles would really be helpful! :)

cjoy said...

Nice post! Thanks for the useful tips on being my own crit partner... I find printing it out and making notes in the margin is good, too (but I won't do that too often b/c of paper and ink costs! haha!)