Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Working with a Critique partner. Guest Post Kristia Quintana

I'd like to welcome Krista Quintana from my online Critique group. Today Krista is going to talk about working with a critique partner.

Our books are our babies. I think we’ve all heard that at one point or another. Whether we see it in Faulkner’s famous quote: “kill all your darlings,” or in the overprotective way we nurture and love our words, we all know that it’s true.

That’s why having someone else read our work can be so difficult. I hadn’t heard of critique partners, or betas, until I found Nathan Bransford’s site , where various writers could connect and simultaneously critique one another’s works. I wrote back and forth with the brilliant and talented Jennifer M. Eaton and we swapped first chapters.

I had no way to prepare for what came. She tore my work to shreds. My little darling, my baby! She hated my MC and she told me my writing was too telly! I was enraged after reading her critique. I wanted to fling my computer across the room, but all I could do was burst into tears.

Photo from Joanna Penn

I avoided her emails for several days, I avoided writing or even thinking about writing. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see how brilliant my story really was. After all, I’d been writing for years. I read the critique again, and still, I couldn’t understand a word she wrote. She wasn’t being fair, and that was that.

But just to be sure, I sent her critique to a friend to see what she thought. To my surprise, my friend agreed! What was I to do? I finally swallowed my pride, and we exchanged two more chapters.

I decided to prove to her that she was wrong. I took my first chapter and rewrote it, just to show that there wasn’t a better way. But my plan backfired. She was right. Suddenly, my writing improved in ways I’d never imagined. Vivid imagery, believable characters, everything else I didn’t know I lacked.

Photo via Ed

That’s when it clicked.

Critiquers don’t tell us to change just because they like to see us squirm. They give us advice because they can see what we can’t. We’re too close to our writing, and we’re never going to see it objectively like they can.

And just because I need lessons to be reinforced, later she told me a scene didn’t work. An entire scene! One from my original draft of years before. But since she’d been right before, I attempted a rewrite. And I can honestly say that that new scene is one of the best I’ve ever written, and a personal favorite. I’ve had other betas tell me that it’s the strongest in the entire WIP.

And what have I learned from that experience?

Critiques can be our best friends, and it’s worth the effort to search for the right ones. I love mine. Every time I get a new critique, I open it up with the thought, “bring it on!” I don’t take every piece of advice, but whenever they make a comment, I try to find a way to use it in a positive way. I’ve become a better writer for it.

And to make the best of a critique, we need to be specific about what kind of feedback we want. Questions like:
  • What sections don’t work?
  • Where did you get confused?
  • Where did you get bored?
  • How does the writing make you feel? (Yes, that is important. If the reader finishes with the feeling of meh, then there’s something that needs to be fixed.)
How about the rest of you? What have your experiences with critiques been and what do you ask? How do you find your betas?
Krista Quintana: I am a twenty-something female finally focusing on her dream of writing. I’ve written stories since kindergarten, but it’s been only recently that I’ve decided to pursue this seriously. I have several hobbies that I’ve picked up, including piano, singing, coloring, cake making and spending time with the hubby.  Professionally, I am a nurse, a job that is more fun than work!

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