As I Go: What She Said (On Loving My Critique Partner)

Do you know who listens to every word I say?

Well, not my dreamworld editor or my equally mythical agent.

My husband is the abs-tastic book cover model of my heart, but even he skips over a few key phrases.

My kids . . . A sweet, sweet day it would be if they did, but they hardly acknowledge that I’m speaking.

The one person who listens to every word I say? My critique partner, Chris Westwater. She absorbs every last ridiculous thought that comes out of my mouth. Want to guess what happens next? She wholeheartedly disagrees with me. Like, all the time. At least 65% if not more.

My CP is my True North, and I love her for it. I can go sail the Seven Seas of Insanity, and she guides me back to safe harbor. She realigns me in small, gentle ways. She’ll say, “Now, wait a minute…,” and I wait that damn minute, because what she says next is important.

She never disparages me. Mocks me, yes, but those jokes come after she’s course corrected me. Those jokes tether us closer together because she has a gift for throwing rocks that strike like pillows. Yes, I’m hit with a hard truth, but I’m also cushioned.

What does this all mean in a practical sense? Here’s an example.

Late September 2017, I was getting ready to publish my first book ever. (As of posting this blog, I am still getting ready to publish my first book. Please bear with me…) My CP and I had been working towards this moment since 2012. My plan was to wrap up the third draft, send it to beta readers, do a final edit, and then publish. However, my CP balked at my plan. Her reason: I wasn’t ready.

But I was ready! I knew my story inside and out. I was in the zone with my prose. I had one beta reader lined up and plans to hire a cover designer. What wasn’t ready?

My CP, patient as ever, nudged a key concept to the fore. I had forgotten a rather obvious step. As my CP, she had not yet vetted my book. Considering our relationship, I was floored that my enthusiasm to publish overshadowed this critical step. Indeed, my CP had not read my book.

Here is what I would have by-passed if I’d skipped my CP review:

  • Developmental editing – Feedback about story mechanics, plot holes, confusing setting and world building, and weak character development.
  • Copy editing – Correcting passive voice, misplaced modifiers, run-on sentences, improper dialogue tags, and misspelled words.
  • Down time – Time away from my writing to gain a fresh perspective and generate new ideas.
  • Sounding board – Someone who could converse about specific story elements in great detail.

By mid-October, my CP shared many hard truths about my book. Timelines defied chronology. World building needed renovations. Weak motivation plagued the characters. The ending fell flat, not fulfilling its promise to the reader. Because I had had down time, time away from my story, her comments resonated with me. Many of the weaknesses she identified matched my own assessment of the book. My book required more work. I would not be publishing it in the next thirty, not even the next sixty, days.

You know what? I appreciated hearing that. I am still very appreciative.

I could publish my book today, but ultimately, I desire more from my writing career. More importantly, I want to do right by my CP as well. She followed me down this road for five years, and I want to make her proud, dammit. My CP will read, ponder, and edit every last word that I write. Bless her heart, folks. Bless her heart.

My CP said the book needed more work, so now I am working. During November I’ll progress to draft number four, knowing drafts five, six, and possibly seven still await me. The new publish date is Spring 2018, and because I listened to my CP, I still have buckets of enthusiasm for my book.

Critique partners, seriously, they’re just the best. If you don’t have one, get one. Steal one if you must. Just keep your mitts off of mine.


About As I Go Blog Series…

I am currently writing and publishing my first novel. Wow, am I making so many mistakes! I am also seeing progress because I made critical changes to my process. My As I Go series is intended to share the things I have learned while plotting along (pun intended) the self-publishing route. Please feel free to share comments about any stage of your own journey. Self-published or not, if you are here reading this blog, you definitely have something to say!