Critique Partner Interview and Romance Writer Match-Up! Part I - CLOSED.
DUE TO OVERWHELMING INTEREST, I HAVE HAD TO CLOSE THE MATCH UP EARLY AT 100 PARTICIPANTS. I APOLOGISE FOR ANYONE THAT MIGHT HAVE MISSED OUT THIS TIME, BUT PLEASE FOLLOW ME ON ANY OF MY VARIOUS FORMS OF SOCIAL MEDIA IF YOU'D LIKE TO KNOW WHEN I OPEN THIS UP FOR A SECOND ROUND. AND IN THE MEANTIME, ENJOY THE INTERVIEW! THANK YOU!
Hey, Drama Llama's!
Have you heard of these 'critique partner' people some writers talk about? Wondering what they are, how they work or where to find one? I have two critique partners, and they are two of the most important people in my writing world. Whenever the three of us talk about our partnership in writing groups, someone is always curious about how we work. So i decided to interview my critique partners in the hopes of inspiring you to find your own. But i wouldn't just leave you to do that all by your lonesome, because i know that's kind of overwhelming and terrifying, right? So read the interview, see if you think a CP might help you with your writing. If you think you're ready to meet your writerly soul mate, fill out the form at the bottom of the interview and I will endeavor to hook some romance writers up!
QUESTION 1: Please give us a quick intro to who you are and what you write. Include where you’re at in the writing/publishing process. Also, do you have a team name?
Elle: I'm Elle, and we're here on my site :) I write contemporary romance full of drama, angst and swoon worthy chemistry. My debut novel, Only the Positive, releases in September. I'm heading on down the indie route, and i have two other books in various stages of pre-publication that will follow later in 2018/2019.
Zoe: Hi! I'm Zoe and I write across several genres. So far, I have WIPs in small-town contemporary romance, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. I'm still on the fence about my publishing options - I've been querying my novels a little (ok, so maybe my efforts are a little half-hearted?) but also researching self-publishing. I have two WIPs that are basically finished and ready to go, and one that's still a rough mess.
Our team name. HA! It's currently either Team Bunny or Team Valkyrie, so that should give you some insight into our nature. We're terrible at naming ourselves.
Jo: I'm Jolie, and I'm a romance-aholic. I've got two novels written, one military-based romantic suspense, with an alpha heroine just ready to kick a$$, and a contemporary office romance. My first is out for a fresh beta read following querying feedback, and my second is currently in critique with Zoe. Elle has already added all the drama llama to that one. In the meantime I'm writing again! It never ends.
QUESTION 2: How did you find your CP? How long have you been working together?
Zoe: How did we find each other? Well, I created a FB group for writers struggling with their edits (because I was in editing hell and wanted to share my misery with others), and found Jo and Elle through that! I think we also followed each other on Twitter before that. It was a happy meeting! I think I posted that I was writing romance, and they both replied that they were, too, and we decided to switch first chapters (correct me if I'm wrong)? That was in January 2017. Now we chat every day.
Elle: Actually, didn’t Jo ask for a critique on an outline? And we both jumped at the chance. I don’t think we actually swapped chapters until sometime after that. I cringe when I think of the rough mess I first sent you guys. I’m so thankful you didn’t both laugh me out of the group!
Jo: Yes, my outline for Rescue Me was our first piece of collaborative work. That novel is now written and edited - along with at least maybe five more (?!) between us - look how far we've come!
QUESTION 3: How does your partnership work? At What part of the writing/publishing process do you critique for each other?
Zoe: Ooh, that's a good question. Ok. Nowadays, we often bounce ideas off each other even before any actual planning is done. We're all three hardcore planners, which is one of the reasons this partnership works so well. When one of us is starting a new story, she'll write a full outline (those can get up to almost 10k!) and then ideally, the other two will critique it. This is such a vital step! This is where glaring plot holes and weird character motivations can get ironed out before we waste thousands of words writing bad prose. Then it's on to drafting, which we all do fairly quickly because writing with an outline is so much easier (duh).Then we self-edit - because no-one wants to read first-draft messes (and there's no way I'd ever inflict my first drafts on anyone omg). Then critique partners get the story and let loose with Word's "track changes" option! :) I'm super nitpicky about grammar and vocabulary, Jo is a fantastic developmental editor, and Elle takes care of the emotional punch (and points out slow bits, eek!). I think we're very lucky in that we all do different things.And that's when torture begins. I mean, that's when editing begins. :) Throughout the process, we're there for each other for moral support!
Elle: I think that outline critique is something that makes us a bit different to most other CP’s. But I think we’ve all found it SO helpful! Who wants to write 70k only to be told there’s glaring problems that easily could have been fixed from the very beginning. It certainly saves some editing time.
QUESTION 4: What are the best ways you’ve found of communicating with each other. How often do you check in?
Zoe: We chat daily on Twitter DMs, though we've been talking lately on switching apps - we should get on that. And then I often sprint with Jo in the evenings on Skype (because we're in similar time zones). Elle is usually still asleep when that happens (because if nobody has mentioned it yet, we all live thousands of miles apart, *sob*).
Jo: I'll get right on that Whatsapp group *forgets instantly*
Elle: Ha! I still don’t even know what that is. We do critiques in Word with track changes and comments, so we’re also communicating over email to send those back and forth. We use email if we’re discussing something too wordy for twitter DM’s.
Zoe: Ooh, good point. When one of us critiques an outline or a novel or whatever, she only sends the feedback to the author - NOT to everyone. I think that's respectful. I don't think we agreed on that beforehand, we just started doing that.
Elle: Yeah, agreed. We do often end up discussing certain parts of our critiques as a group, but it’s up to the author whether she wants to do that.
QUESTION 5: What sort of things do you look for while critiquing? How can you give honest feedback without hurting feelings?
Jo: A good critique partner is well versed in the genre you're writing in, so can instinctively pick up on obvious issues. Our CP arrangement works we as we're all avid readers of romance and can spy a duff motivation in a heartbeat. After that, it's down to our individual specialisms and skill. I couldn't place a semi colon effectively if my life depended on it, but I know GMCs and can feel when pace and structure is wrong. As for the second question, honest feedback is essential, but no one benefits from 'this is bad' type comments. Giving clear examples of what is wrong and a better example is far more effective. Plus show me one writer who wrote perfect prose from the off. They don't exist. Putting your work out there is a scary and nervewracking business. Getting quality-and kind-feedback can make all the difference on your next draft. The worst thing, by far, is if any writer gave up because a critique crushed them instead of inspiring the next draft. That would be a bad CP move, and I wouldn't want to work with someone like that.
Elle: Depends on what the writer wants. I mostly look for slow points, lack of or confused character motivation and plot holes. If there’s sentences I find confusing, I point that out. And I think I’m quite good at picking up on details that might be missing. If your character started a scene wearing a red shirt but somehow switched to a green, I’ll notice. I recently did one for Zoe with the sole intention of upping the drama she thought was missing. But while I look for what’s missing, I do a lot of commenting on what’s not! If something makes me smile (or swoon) I’ll write a comment. If I’m outraged that a character did something, but I can tell that was the intended reaction, you can expect me to rant about it (playfully). Jo once wrote a sex scene so hot I wrote her a half a page love note about how she was my sexy times hero and that she’d better let me keep that character as my own, personal book boyfriend. There is ALWAYS something good, in even the worst stories. (Not that either of these ladies write bad stories!) It doesn’t take much to throw in compliments where they are deserved, and to be enthusiastic about your partner’s work. If you honestly can’t do that, you have the wrong CP.
Zoe: Well personally, I tend to get lost in scenes that don't DO anything. And my conflicts are too easily resolved - I basically just want my characters to be happy. But they need to be broken a little first :D So my CPs always point this out - I need someone who can look at the structure of a scene and tell me it isn't doing anything for the plot, for example. I don't need as much help with grammar or typos. I would never want a CP that would sugar coat everything for me - that's not the point of this exercise. There was one tweet going around if I remember correctly (I'm really sorry I can't find the original): BAD CP: Yeah, honey, you look great, let's just go to the party .GOOD CP: You have lipstick on your teeth and your skirt is tucked into your knickers, here, borrow my mirror. This, for me, sums up a good CP relationship. It's like having a good bookfriend. Can this be a word from now on? When I critique, I always go for the compliment sandwich. I never EVER just point out the bad stuff - that wouldn't work at all. I always comment on good turns of phrase, great chapter endings, parts that made me laugh etc. You can *always* find something good in a person's book.
QUESTION 6: What makes your partnership work? Do you all have similar skills or do each of you bring something different to the table?
Jo: Zoe gave a good summary of our individual skills in an earlier question, but I think the reason we glue so well is that we are all busy and committed people, with lots in common. Young families equal rare writing time, so we take our work seriously and value one another.
Elle: That’s true. We work partly because we have a similar output level. And I think we all see how valuable this sort of partnership can be, so we’re willing to do the work to keep it going. We’re all committed to writing as a career, so we’re all doing something book related every day. It might not work if one of us was only writing once a month or something.
Zoe: Oh yeah, commitment is crucial. We're all at a stage in life where we have families and work and obligations, so tearing an hour or two a day from that schedule to write is HARD. But we do it anyway because we NEED and WANT to write. It also wouldn't work if one of us was spending years on a single novel while another was churning out five a year. Right now, I think we're at... what? Two books a year per person? Something like that. I expect that if/when we start writing full-time, this will go much faster and we'll have to rethink our systems, but for now, it works great!
Well, as you can see, we talk a lot. If you still aren't convinced you need a CP and want to know more, you can continue reading our interview in Part II. But if you're already sold on the idea of making a new friend or two, and improving your writing through a critique partnership, fill in the form and hopefully we can match some people up!
I'll leave this form open until the end of the month! Whether you're signing up or not, please share this post with your romance writing buddies! Let's help each other be better writers!