Currently browsing tag

critique partners

Know Your Source

Approximately one year ago, while frantically trying to get ready for the RITA awards, I turned to my roommates—two very dear, trusted friends of mine—and I asked them a serious question. A question I had avoided asking for years, I was so worried about the answer I might receive.

Namely: Are my eyebrows okay?

Bert from Sesame Street says U is for Unibrow This might not seem like a serious question to some people, but to me, it was a source of anxiety and self-doubt. I’m the child of a woman who never wore makeup in her life, who referred to push-up bras as “liar bras”, and whose highest pair of heels was a staggering inch and a half. Pretty much everything I’ve learned about makeup and clothes has been self-taught, and I’ve always secretly worried I was doing it wrong.

Eyebrows in particular were this mystifying thing. I thought mine looked okay, but people who don’t get them right are subject to such derision.

Treating my question with the gravity it deserved, my roommates took a long look at my face. And then, at the exact same time, chimed in with, “Well, you could probably fill them in a little,” AND, “You could stand to thin them out a smidge.”

I was, unsurprisingly, boggled.

The interesting thing about this story is not the current state of my brows—though I would venture to say that they’re looking quite a bit better than they used to. It’s the fact that, upon further reflection, I noticed an important fact.

The person who suggested I could stand to fill them in a bit? Fills hers in. The one who suggested thinning them out? Has to thin hers out.

You see, no matter how objectively we think we’re approaching a situation, we can’t help but view it through the lens of our experiences. Our own biases. Whatever problem you see in your own personal care routine you’re more likely to see in others’.

And whatever problems you see in your own manuscripts, you’re also more likely to find in your friends’.

And so we arrive at the point of this post.

Critique partners, editors, beta readers. Whomever you turn to for feedback on your words. Their input is invaluable. BUT, they will always bring their perspective to their interpretation of your work. While no piece of feedback should be discarded out of hand, it’s important to know who’s giving the feedback and how their own experiences may shape what they have to say. The CP who LOVES dirty talking may prod you to add more. The one who cringes at it may suggest you cut it down. Is either point of view less worthy of consideration? Absolutely not. But knowing your critique partners’ biases help you decide how to take their feedback and how best to adjust your story in light of it.

Finally, it’s worth noting that with respect to my eyebrow situation? Biased or not, and as contradictory as their advice might have seemed at the time: both of my roommates were right.

And a tiny bit of plucking and a good brow pencil make an absolute world of difference.


Being Crazy Together Will Keep You Sane

A funny thing happens when you get a bunch of enthusiastic, regularly stressed-out, mildly neurotic, but ever-hopeful writers together: They realize they’re normal. Normal for writers anyway.

Writing, as I’m sure you know, can be very isolating. You have your CPs, WCs, perhaps an agent or even an editor, but they aren’t physically with you every day. Most days it’s just you and the ole laptop or desktop, clicking away, playing with your imaginary friends. Maybe you’re on deadline and freaking out about not finishing in time. You’re querying and freaking out about the replies and rejections. Perhaps you’re polishing up your manuscript and you’ll soon be on submission, so you’re freaking out about the future OR you’re on submission, and freaking out about who will have interest and who won’t. You might have a new release and you’re waiting to see how your book sells and OMG!Freaking-out

Note all the freak outs that come along with being an author? And here’s the really fun part: From what I’ve learned by chatting with established authors, both midlist and best sellers, the freaking out never goes away. Waiting and anxiety, fretting and doubting, but digging deep to find your motivation and patience – these are all parts of the business. How do we stand it? How can we possibly survive this much wackadoo?

Simple. We surround ourselves with other writers who are freaking out. 😀 But instead of a snowball effect of freakage, it somehow makes us calm the hell down. Weird, huh?

We email, text and call each other to celebrate the wins, no matter how small, because a fellow writer knows every win is a big deal. We do the same when we stumble and fall, because our writer peeps will listen, sympathize and then pep talk us back up to functional capacity. We communicate and keep each other grounded, focused and motivated. However, the best, most therapeutic of all author activities is the in-person Writer Get Together.

iPhone pics 3.20.14 384

Preferably for a few days, outside of any conference or actual writer work, we gather with other writer friends and simply exist in the same physical space. We like to sit in our comfy clothes, with no make-up on, chug enough coffee to stun a donkey, and talk about everything. No really. EVERYTHING. The craft of writing, the business of publishing, how the heck royalties work, social media, what to wear at conference, what conferences to attend, how to style our hair, gray hairs, our kids’ afterschool activities, food and how much we love it, chair upholstery, mermaids, camp songs, Legos, hormones, mulch and whether or not Tony Stark has a house on Lake Norman. (He totally does, btw.)

At some point we gussy up and go out for food and beverage, but mostly it’s a lot of sitting around (or floating if in the pool) and commiserating.

pool pic

Topics bounce around like ping pong balls, conversation drifts naturally in and out of “real life” and writer life, and somewhere around that 24th hour mark everyone realizes, Holy shit I needed this quality writer time like oxygen!

Each writer recognizes that they are normal. Everyone else is freaking out about things too, everyone else has doubts, strengths and weaknesses, and everyone hopes they’re a few pounds lighter by the next conference. We laugh about what we’ve been through, what we’re going through right now and while we may leave exhausted from all the socializing, we’re also a lot stronger and steadier than we were a few days before.

THIS is why you need to get together with your writer friends. I mean it! Plan a get together right now. Try for a weekend getaway. If you can’t swing an entire weekend, shoot for one overnight stay or a day trip get together, somewhere you can talk. At minimum, take a long lunch with some other writers and nurture your writer soul while nomming on good food.

Do this and I promise you will be able to face the insanity of writing with a more zen outlook. What else do you do to keep the crazy at bay? How does quality writer time help you?



The Guide to Critique Partners & Writer Confidantes

Since I’m dropping off Lil’ Man at 8:15am tomorrow and beginning the 2014 #BadGirlsGetaway Weekend at approximately 8:20am…tina amy dance

I thought starting my series on critique partners and writer confidantes was quite timely. I hope to continue this guide in the months to come and I would love everyone’s input. For now, I’ll begin with only my top 3 tips to keep this from becoming an opus.

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of about critique partners already, but I will expound on one simple fact: 

You need Critique Partners (CPs) and Writer Confidantes (WCs) if you’re going to survive the publishing industry with your sanity (somewhat) intact. 

  1. You need more than one Critique Partner.  As you and your CPs grow in your writing and begin to publish, your schedules will get busier. What happens if you only have one CP, your manuscript is ready for that second set of eyes, you’re under time constraints, but your CP is in the crunch time of a deadline? Or on a three week vacation through Europe? That puts you up stinky creek with nary a paddle. Also, a third opinion is often necessary. You love a certain scene or moment, but your CP doesn’t think it works. If you have another CP, you can get their input and make an informed decision. Options and opinions are good. Acquire a few quality CPs. You’re going to need them, and they’ll need you.
  2. CPs and WCs do not have to be one in the same. Sometimes these roles overlap, but that’s not a requirement. Your closest WC in the world may not be one of your CPs. Case in point, I have several writer confidantes who I talk with re: our writing, the joys of it, the issues we’re having, the business of writing and how crazy we feel on a daily basis. I trust these writers; we respect and value each other’s opinion, it’s an awesome personal and working relationship, but we don’t critique for each other. Don’t assume, just because you have a writer BFF, that you’ll make great CPs. Sometimes it works that way, other times it doesn’t, and that is oooookay.
  3. Test the waters before committing to a CP. I recently found a new CP and we really clicked. She writes in my genre so I asked, “Hey, will you read over my first few chapters and let me know your thoughts?” As soon as I got her partial critique back, I knew I wanted her to critique the whole thing. Had it not been a good critique style fit, it was only a few chapters and we would’ve remained WCs – no harm, no foul. Once she finished her WIP, she requested the same of me. I critiqued 30 or so pages, returned them and then, a week or so later, she asked me to crit the entire manuscript. It was a good CP fit for both of us, but we didn’t dump an 80,000 word novel on each other first thing. Don’t manuscript dump on anyone, not even your CPs of years, but we’ll discuss more about that later.

There’s absolutely no reason for this gif besides the fact that I’m hyper giddy about BGW wkend and I just wanted to use it. 🙂

What about you? Do you have a gaggle of critique partners or just a few? Do you have writer confidantes who don’t critique for you? What’s the #1, most important thing you’ve learned about your CPs or WCs? Do you want to throw petals at them and sing their praises? Because that’s normal. I feel that way all the time. 😀 Please, share your learnings and feels with the class.


You can’t do it alone.

It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this, how skilled you are as a writer, or how far you’ve gotten down the road to publication. If you’re a writer, you have doubts.

You doubt that you’re good enough. You doubt that people will like your characters, that anyone will ever buy your book, that your prose doesn’t suck. You’re not writing enough, everything you write is crap, you don’t know where this story is going, you hate your hero, everyone else is doing better than you are, you’ve lost your touch, you should just quit, you suck, suck, suck, suck SUCK.

You’re wrong.

And here’s the other place where you’re wrong: You can’t combat the doubt alone.

As writers, we are solitary by nature. We spend hours of our day locked in our own heads with our characters and our drive and our doubts. Many of us prefer it that way. I know I do. But sometimes, we need to get out. We need people to remind us that the doubt cycle is just our own brains trying to defeat us, and that we’re doing our best.

IMG_20130807_150224Truth time: when I write, more often than not, I have my Captain America teddy bear sitting right beside me. (He looks away when I start writing gratuitous smut, but he’s pretty much always there.) When I start to doubt myself, he gives me a hug, and reminds me that I’m doing great, and I just have to keep on keeping on.

And the rest of the time, I have my friends.

Once a month, I go to my local RWA chapter meeting, and I connect with real, live actual writers and get inspired all over again.

When I’m losing my mind, I text my long-time critique partner, and she reminds me that I’m being ridiculous and I need to just keep going.

When I’m feeling alone, I get on Twitter and look at all the other writers out there dealing with the same things I am.

When I go to conferences and am terrified and intimidated, my Bad Girlz are there holding my hand (sometimes literally). They’re standing next to my table at my first book signing telling people walking by that my book is amazing and they need a copy. They’re dancing with me at the RITAs after party and helping me let go of my middle school fears of being the ugly girl in the corner who can’t dance. They’re sharing their struggles and their doubts, and they’re here for me no matter what.

Because no matter how much of a loner I am, I can’t do this alone.

And neither can you.

So if you feel like you’re all by yourself in this, or if the doubts are starting to overwhelm you, STOP IT. Go get a damn teddy bear and hug it tight whenever you’re being mean to yourself. Join RWA or whatever writer’s association is best suited to your genre. Go to local chapter meetings. If you can’t get to chapter meetings, take advantage of their online forums, and go find some other gathering places on the internet where writers talk and gripe and cheer each other on.

Because you’re good enough. You’re doing amazing.

Sometimes, you just need someone to remind you of that.


Badgirlz For A Day: Jennifer Barry & Melisssa Fox

Every Monday, J and M subject readers to their insight on writing, publishing, and

reading—or just goof off—in chat form on their blog, Fight for Your Write. When asked to
guest post about critique partners, a discussion ensued about how they met, why they trust
each other, and what they think makes for a great writing team.
J: How long have we been friends and critique partners?
M: huh. I don’t know
J: I do remember getting all heart-clenchy when I read some of your stuff and wishing I
could do that and I put a call out on twitter for a WC–writing challenge–and you popped up
M: I remember bonding over mixers for drinks
we both felt they were a waste of calories
J: we’ve been together on a lot of things but I don’t remember how we got into the whole critique partner business
M: I think it was during WC chats and sharing “Hey. This chick makes sense. She might know what she’s talking 
J: we gradually moved to private chats I wanted you to teach me heart-clenchy
M: and I wanted you to teach me technique
J: the beauty of it was that both of us knew we didn’t know it all and could admit that the first step was to break up
your 76-word sentences while you taught me to make people swoon
untitled 2
M: haha, yesWe were both able to honestly listen and put aside the defensiveness, be objective about both our 
strengths and weaknesses and learn not only from each other, but learn together
J: in addition to some of the best comment bubbles EVER
I can’t decide if my favorite from you is “siiiiiigh” or “JEN!”
M: How about the “just no” comment bubbles we’ve both left
J: oh, that one, too. maybe that’s my favorite. our comments progressed from “I understand what you’re doing here, but it might be better to leave it out” to “delete.” then “just no.”
M: it’s normal to think “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, I’m amazing and so is
my writing.” but that doesn’t do anyone any good it’s being able to question, to argue a point
not have hurt feelings but a healthy debate be honest but kind and still be able to say…”just no”
J: how would you advise someone to go about finding a great critique partner? We just
 kind of fell in each other’s laps
 M: I think chat groups are great for meeting other writers and seeing who you fit with
Also going to local writing chapter meetings everyone has different strength and weaknesses. 
Find someone who complements and balances. If someone isn’t willing to learn, to listen, 
to admit their writing isn’t perfect, move along
J: amen
M: or someone who takes advantage, who just takes knowledge and advice and never offers anything in return
J: oh, pet peeve
M: asking someone to go over a manuscript is a big deal. lots of time and effort but with someone you like and 
trust, you know it’s appreciated and reciprocated
J: and the patience involved on both sides…man
M: Good critique partners are all about support – all different kinds
J: we are more than teachers and students we are shoulders during rejections clasped hands while waiting
and big hugs after acceptance. Plus, we know someone else needs to see a manuscript, too, not just the two of us
a critique partner should never be the last word, no matter how much you trust them
M: we know each other’s work so well, sometimes it’s like reading our own. We overlook things we’re used to seeing sometimes that super-comfort with each other isn’t the best thing
J: and you and I have never had a problem with sharing that understanding makes us even stronger
imagine if I got pissy when you asked someone else to look over a manuscript?
There are partnerships on the verge of imploding for that reason
M: I just can’t imagine I know I catch some things, but miss so many more. How could I be offended if there’s a
chance someone else could help us both learn?
J: so many hands touch our books before they reach the public
M: no manuscript is ever perfect. someone will always find something. I’d rather have a pre-reader at any level point something out than a reader after it’s published *shudder*
J: which still happens, even after so many have touched it the bottom line is, you’re awesome
and no one should settle for less than awesome with their critique partner
M: No, you’re awesome.
J: but I should also point out, in case anyone gets ideas, that you’re taken and one of these days, 
you’ll let me sit in your lap
M: maybe we shouldn’t let on how awesome you are I called dibs on you first
J: Aw, we’re hugging
M: A little hugging. no lap sitting, though
You can suffer through more of J and M’s antics at blog
(Facebook) and peruse the interesting and helpful information other people submit.
Otherwise, you can find Jen on TwitterFacebook, and her website, Melissa on Twitter,
Facebook, and her website.
Jen’s The Kingdom and Side Effects can be found here.
Melissa’s Wraith Redeemed can be found here.


%d bloggers like this: