Today, I welcome Amy Cavenaugh to New Writer Wednesday to discuss critique partners. Amy is the mother of three, writes adult thrillers, a huge New Kids on the Block Fan, and has a fantastic eye for copyediting/line editing. I know, as she is one of my critique partners. Welcome, Amy!!
I’ve seen many blog posts about the importance of critique partners. I thought I would add my own two cents to the discussion today for Lizzy’s blog post. Thank you to Lizzy for inviting me to write this, by the way! J xoxo (You’re welcome! I love having you!)
When I first started writing my current novel, I had no idea what critique partners were. I mean, obviously I could figure it out but I didn’t realize I could find someone I didn’t know to read my stuff and give me an honest, unbiased opinion. What a concept! My world and my work completely changed. While I thought my manuscript was awesome, I had no idea of all the problems and would never have found out if I hadn’t gained my (incredibly fantastic) critique partners. I would’ve just continued to receive form rejection after form rejection without knowing or understanding why I never got feedback.
I had several friends read my manuscript around this time last year and thought that was okay. Um, no. While I value their feedback, they were friends and I think may have shielded me from their true reactions because we are friends. What I needed were real critique partners. It was during the #GUTGAA contest in late 2012 that I finally found the critique partner I needed in JM Bray. He offered valuable feedback from the male perspective (my MC is a guy) and was blunt and honest about what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes, it hurt my feelings but I needed to hear it. My book became so much stronger for it. Everyone needs a CP like JM, or as I affectionately nicknamed him Marky Mark (he loves it). Oh, and he’s a pretty awesome writer so check his stuff out because I know he’ll get an agent before too long!
So my first piece of advice: Find a CP you don’t know. You won’t have to worry about hurt feelings. And be brutally honest with them as well. Although we are good friends now, it helped our relationship to be so honest with one another about our work so that now we still can be honest and say, “This isn’t working. Fix it.” We are also a shoulder to cry on when we get particularly painful rejections.
Second piece of advice: Join a critique group. In December 2012, I joined #TheOffBeats, a great group of women who often get together and chat about writing among other things. Oh, and we also critique one another’s work and serve as a sounding board for ideas as well as a cheerleading section when there’s good news for one of us. It’s vitally important to find a group of writers you can connect with, share with, celebrate and cry with. This group of girls offered me the best piece of advice (that I didn’t want to take): get rid of my three points of view and take it down to one or two. I resisted the change because it meant a complete rewrite. But as it turned out, that was exactly what agents wanted. So as of last month, I embarked on (another) complete rewrite, taking my three POVs down to one and – holy crap!—changing that one POV to first person from third. Gulp. Huge undertaking, but my book is already so much stronger. So listen to what your CPs are telling you and make the changes, even if they hurt, even if you have to kill your darlings, as they say.
Of course, you don’t have to make any and all changes your CPs suggest. I haven’t used all of their suggestions but my writing has drastically improved from their feedback. Make sure you have at least two CPs read your work before sending it off to an agent. You’ll be glad you did!
Thank you so much, Amy! This is a great post. To add to this post, please check out this one that lists areas to find critique partners or beta readers: How to Find a Beta Reader. Also, don’t forget to follow Amy on Twitter: @AmyCavenaugh. She’s lots of fun and offers great encouragement!