Critique Partners: 7 Things to Consider

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Original Image Credit: CCO Creative Commons/Pixabay

Many years ago, I joined one of my first writers’ groups.

In this group were writers of various ages and professional backgrounds. Some were stay-at-home moms. Others were teachers, nurses, social workers, and office managers. We also had a company president or two and a smattering of business owners. Some were published authors.

While we were all at different stages in our writing careers, we shared a common interest and a mutual goal: our love for the creative arts and the desire to grow in our craft.

Our monthly meetings were a great time of fellowship and learning. It was a “safe” environment where we let down our hair and talked about our works-in-progress. We discussed writing mechanics, industry changes, and anything else related to our craft.

As our group grew in number, new friendships formed. Some of us clicked with those who would become our critique partners.

In fact, that’s how I found my first critique partner. Though she eventually moved out of the area and away from writing, I enjoyed our time together and my writing improved. Our working relationship stretched me and nudged me beyond my comfort zone.

There are, of course, some authors who prefer to go it alone, though, I just don’t know of many. The creative process is challenging enough without wondering if our stories are connecting. Even seasoned authors use critique partners to peruse their work.

Does the plot intrigue? Are our characters realistic? Are there any timeline discrepancies? And oh, my gravy, what about grammatical issues?

These are things critique partners can spot easier than we can. When we’ve looked at our own work a thousand times we’re no longer objective, and often, we’re too bleary-eyed from the process to completely care. Well, we care, but the truth is we may tire of our own words. (There. I said it!) Too, we may recognize there are holes and issues within our stories, but we just don’t know how to fix them.

That’s where our awesome, stupendous critique partners help.

It may take time to gel with the right individuals, but once we discover each other, it’s a beautiful thing. These are the folks who become our coaches, cheerleaders, mentors, and friends.

Now that we’ve talked about critique partners and their importance, what criteria should we look for in those connections?

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Original Image Credit: fancycrave1/Pixabay

Let’s consider these seven things:

 

  1. Are they like-minded? Are they believers? Doctrinal issues aside, do our life philosophies mesh? In other words, I love Jesus, sticky notes, and Starbucks. Those last two are negotiable. Now, casting stones and holier-than-thou mindsets? Sorry. Those don’t work for me. They make me break out in hives.

 

  1. Do they write in similar genres? Our critique partners may write in different sub-genres, but underneath the inspirational fiction umbrella. They’re aware of the vast differences between CBA and ABA guidelines. Likewise, if we write for the secular market, we best choose those who have a knowledgeable grasp on the industry.

 

  1. Are they well-read? Our critique partners might write to a specific audience, but they enjoy reading a variety of stories. In other words, they’re experienced readers.

 

  1. Do our personalities mesh? I’m a see-the-glass-half-full, Pollyanna kind of gal. I love to laugh and have fun. I’m an encourager. I’m candid (but tactful), down-to-earth, and unpretentious. I recognize I’m not perfect. While our critique partners have their own special traits, it’s important we share common ground.

 

  1. Are they aware of the changing market? Do they stay abreast of industry news? This is a must because as times change, so does the publishing world. Our crit partners help us discern what changes might affect our work and what could influence editors’ decisions regarding it. They understand the importance of staying on top of market demands because they’re writers, too.

 

  1. Will it be a mutually beneficial relationship? While friendship is often a prerequisite, our relationship with our critique partners should be a give-and-take scenario. In the ideal partnership, strengths and weaknesses are addressed, shared, and dealt with professionally (and lovingly).

 

  1. Do we feel safe? Do our partners understand the importance of trust and confidentiality?  The best working relationships are fueled by those two factors.

 

***

What things do you look for in a productive partnership?

How have you benefited from critique partners?

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Cynthia writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains. She loves to connect with friends at her online home. “Cindy” also hangs out on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. For love, fun, and encouragement, sign up for her monthly newsletters.

 

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A High King, 3000 Dead Men, and the First Case of Copyright Law

On a recent trip to Ireland, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit the monastic site at Durrow, in the county of Offaly which was founded by Saint Columba (also know as Colum Cille or “church dove” in Ireland). He served in Durrow from 553 to 563 A.D.

The stories surrounding Colum Cille are woven with a mix of truth, history, and legend. This particular tale involves a high king, 3000 dead men, and the first possible case involving copyright law.

Not exactly a soothing bedtime story.

According to the blog Daily Scribbler, Colum Cille did not always live up to his name’s meaning of peaceful dove.  He is said to have slain monsters, and definitely had the death of men on his conscience, before he went to Scotland to “save as many souls as he had doomed.’

In regard to monsters, tradition says the Columba was asked by a chieftain to help him slay a dreadful beast named Suileach (the Many Eyed). When the animal charged out of a cave, the chieftain fled, leaving Columba to fight the beast alone, cutting the animal in half.  The story then slips into legend involving a tail that came back to life, and a head that crawled towards the saint, before he utterly destroyed the creature.

In regard to the death of men on his conscience, it all began with a book.

Yes, a book.

According to the blog for Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), Colum Cille borrowed a book of psalms from St Finnian, a volume that Colum Cille’s former teacher had obtained on a trip to Rome.  Books in those days were rare and valuable, and without permission, Colum Cille made a copy. (This did not involve a scanner, a copier or a camera. This meant meticulously writing the text letter by letter–not a five-minute job.) When Finnian heard of it, he was incensed and demanded that the unauthorized copy be surrendered. Colum Cille refused.

The case was brought to Diarmait mac Cerball, High King of Tara.

The book, Did You Know: 100 Quirky Facts about County Offaly, states that after hearing both sides of the case, the High King talked about what would happen if someone borrowed a pregnant cow who then had a calf:

To every cow its little cow, that is its calf, and to every book its little book [copy]; and because of that Colum Cille, the book you copied is Finnian’s.

Colum Cille was not happy with the ruling, but had bigger issues with the High King. About that same time, EWTN states that Prince Curnan of Connaught fatally injured a rival in a hurling match (a traditional Irish sport). The prince sought sanctuary with Colum Cille, but that protection was ignored when Diarmaid’s men dragged the prince away from the saint and killed him.

Whether it was this incident, or the copyright decision, Colum Cille stirred his men to war. In the year 561, men loyal to the High King and men loyal to the saint met in battle and 3000 men died.

History records that for his role in sending “3000 unprepared souls into eternity,” Colum Cille was brought before the church for a vote of censure and excommunication. Although this ended up not happening due to St Brendan speaking on his behalf, Colum Cille chose a self-exile to Scotland. He spent the remainder of his days trying to win as many souls for Christ as those that had perished in battle. 

The moral of the story:

Cite your sources, author friends. Copyright law is serious business.

 

Lynne Hartke can usually be found writing about the desert where she lives in Chandler, Arizona. Her first book, Under a Desert Sky, was released by Revell/Baker Publishing Group in May 2017.

How to make what’s old NEW again

Memo to every writer: even if your book is years old to you, it’s new to every reader who just now picked it up.

This is why your marketing role as an author is never over: as long as your book is available somewhere, it’s going to be new to someone, somewhere. In fact, as I take a break from writing new books, I’m finding more than enough marketing to do for my old books as I reach out to new audiences. Here are three of my favorite strategies for making those old books new again:

  1. Mine the treasure trove of content that exists in others’ reviews of your books. I make it a habit now to check every few months on each of my books’ reviews page on Amazon.com, because there are still new reviews popping up on even my oldest books. A new review means I have new content to share on my social networks about the book, and since my networks continue to grow, there are always some folks who’ve missed out on posts from earlier years/reviews. It’s a simple way to give my audience another nudge towards a specific book, and it just might be the nudge that leads a reader into new genres, as well. I know my reading tastes change with time; remembering that reminds me to continue to promote my books to both old and potential new readers, and it also leads to my second strategy…
  2. Find current events or posts or trends that you can link to the topics of your books. My Birder Murder Mystery series, for example, also deals with conservation issues, so whenever something such as wind farms or habitat destruction is in the news, I can develop and share content on the topic that points readers to my books. Likewise, when neuroscience is a trending topic, I try to post a few comments about the research that went into my science-and-faith thriller Heart and Soul and then include a link to the book page. By paying close attention to what other people are talking about, I can always find something to contribute to the conversation; if it catches the interest of someone, I’ve reached another reader.
  3. Review your reviews for new keywords. As you wrote your book, you probably had certain themes or angles that you emphasized. When you read what others thought of your book, however, you might find that they zeroed in on other facets of your work. As I wrote Saved by Gracie, my memoir of adopting our dog, I was intent on telling the story of how the dog helped me overcome my anxiety issues, but after a few book reviews came in, I realized that women were responding even more to the sense of shame we carry for being depressed. That discovery three years ago redirected my marketing efforts and continues to produce new readers today.

How do you make your old books NEW?

4 Strategies to Examine Your Life and Work Priorities

At times, I get exhausted chasing all of my writing ideas and plans.

I’m tempted to give up when I look at my “to do” list. But after examining the lessons I learned about rearranging furniture, I realized I needed to reposition a few things in my writing life, too.

This process included examining my priorities, resolving some internal and external conflicts, developing a strategy, and asking for help.

1.  Examine your priorities. Right now, I’m overwhelmed with many of the projects I face. So, I decided to visit my priorities again in all of my writing, blogging, and speaking commitments.

I also know that I need to be willing to make changes. Last week’s priority may not even be in the top ten on my “to do” list today. But often it takes a conflict or a stumble to get my attention.

2. Resolve internal and external conflicts. I often take on more commitments than I can handle. Do you? And this causes me humiliation and embarrassment as I’m faced with making choices that others won’t understand.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I traveled out of town to speak at two separate events, leaving only one day to prepare for my next event. Although I had prepared most of my materials, I became overwhelmed as I sorted through the last minute details.

Then, the day after I returned home, I drove a couple of hours to spend a few days at my daughter’s home. She needed a little moral support, preparing to send her four young children back to school and tackling some household projects.

When I returned home again, not only did I need some rest, I needed to sort a few things in my own house, including my writing life.

3.  Develop a strategy. I asked myself, What should I do to meet my writing needs right now? 

I knew I needed to develop a new strategy. Writing down all of my commitments helped me examine them, so I could get a more objective view of my writing decisions.

So, as I reviewed my calendar and my “to do” list, I also asked myself some hard questions. Why did I commit to this endeavor? Am I passionate about this?

Often, I can’t see my own life objectively until I examine it on paper. And sometimes, that process doesn’t even work. So, that’s when I call in the troops.

4.  Recruit a friend for help. I’m grateful for a few family members and writing friends who will be honest with me when I ask for their input about my schedule.

Sometimes the looks on their faces say it all, “What were you thinking?”

At other times, they encourage me, “Don’t give up! You can do this thing!”

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Eccl. 4:12 NIV)

If you’re overwhelmed in your life—whether you’re a writer or not—don’t give up!

I encourage you to examine your priorities, resolve those internal and external conflicts, develop a strategy, and maybe even call in the troops for some help.

What strategies have helped you as you examine your life and work priorities?

Have We Met? Creating Characters Your Readers Will Feel They Know

Last semester at school, my daughter made friends with quite a few international students, including several from Mexico. So when one of them invited her to visit Mexico this past summer, my daughter was ecstatic. She had the time of her life, deepened her relationships with the friends she’d made here, and returned home already talking about her next trip.

A few days ago, an earthquake struck Mexico City, where her friends live. They texted her that day as they stood outside their school watching the walls crack and nearby buildings collapse.

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She and I watched the news together, glued to scenes of rescue efforts. My daughter studied faces, searching through the throngs of people stumbling over debris as they searched for the missing. Had she passed by some of those collapsed buildings when she’d been in that city just a few weeks earlier? Quite possibly. Did she know any of the people walking by, streaked with dirt, hands scratched from digging through rubble, or shouting with joy when they were reunited with a loved one? She might. People she knew well, friends she loved, were impacted by this disaster. They were afraid, traumatized, comforting friends and strangers, tired, homeless, helping others. So she couldn’t tear her eyes from the screen. And because I knew their names, had heard their stories, had witnessed the love and friendship they shared with my daughter, neither could I.

I watch the news every night. I want to be informed about what is going on in the world. I sometimes see, through the lens of the Bible, end time prophesies unfolding before my eyes. And it helps me to know how to pray.

But I have never watched with the intense interest, concern, and compassion with which I have watched the last few days, with my daughter. What has made the difference? People I have met, people who matter to my family, are involved. And so I am involved. I care deeply about what happens to them, so I am mesmerized. I am emotionally connected to her friends; I know their names and their faces; my chest literally aches for them. And their faith and trust in God in the midst of tragedy humbles and inspires me.

And it strikes me – this is how we, as Christian authors, need to write our characters. When we create the people in our stories, we do so in imitation of the creation of the first man and woman, and our words breathe life into them. We have been charged with the task of taking the dust and mud of an empty page and forming it with our fingers into characters with such depth that they become real to our readers, as though they know them personally.

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When that happens, everything changes. Readers become emotionally connected to the people in our stories—relatable because of their strengths and weaknesses, their flaws and their capacity for greatness, their ordinariness and their uniqueness—and intensely interested in what is happening in their lives. They will ache with them when they experience hardship and tragedy, and rejoice with them when they triumph over their circumstances.

And when some of those characters live out their faith on our pages, whether they are stumbling around, scratched and streaked with dirt, or shouting and dancing with joy, our readers too may be humbled and inspired to live out their faith in their own lives.

So this week I pray for Mexico and I pray for all the suffering and the lost in the world, that they may experience God’s mercy, comfort, and love. And I pray that God will, in some small way, use the words, the actions, the faith of the characters we create, to impart that mercy, comfort, and love to those who read their stories and come to know and care deeply about them.

How about you – have you ever connected so deeply with a character you felt as though you knew him or her personally? What was it that drew you in so deeply?

WordServe News September 2017

Exciting things have been happening this month at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

Steve Arterburn’s The Arterburn Wellness Series was released by Cook. The first three books in the series include Understanding and Loving a Person with Depression, cowritten with Brenda Hunter, Ph.D.; Understanding and Loving a Person with Borderline Personality Disorder, cowritten with Robert Wise, Ph.D.; and Understanding and Loving a Person with Attention Deficit Disorder, cowritten with Timothy Smith M.Ed.

Debora Coty’s Too Blessed to be Stressed 2018 Planner was released by Barbour this month. If you’re already thinking ahead to next year, it’s time to get your hands on Deb’s funny, encouraging planner to help organize your life and transform your heart. Featuring monthly and weekly calendars, a year-at-a-glance section, pages for frequent contacts, and more, this planner offers an important reminder: God’s grace is enough for the ups, downs, and all the in-betweens of life.

Kent Hunter released Who Broke My Church? with FaithWords. Based on a survey of 75,000 people in churches from 65 denominations and thousands of interviews, Hunter gives practical direction for Christians to experience the impact every church could make on society. Utilizing seven key strategies for helping churches be more effective, it will leave readers feeling  refreshed, energized, and ready to be the change.

Jonathan McKee released The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices with Barbour Publishing. Perfect for teens, this book will help readers navigate the digital world with 21 refreshingly honest and humorous tips that will not only inform, but that also just might change the way you think about your social media interaction.

Melissa K. Norris published Hand Made with Harvest House. This modern guide to made-from-scratch living helps you open your heart to God-given rest and discover practical and tangible ways you can craft your home into a refuge for yourself and the ones you love. Tips include how to bake old-fashioned recipes, grow medicinal herbs, and make your own cultured foods at home.

New Contracts 

Andrea Gurney signed with Kregel for her book After the Ball Fall: How to Build Happily Ever After in an Age of Broken Fairytales, a compelling guide to emotional and relational health and wholeness, utilizing principles from psychology, foundational Biblical truths, and the burgeoning field of relationship science.

Jamie Sumner signed with FaithWords for Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations in Motherhood. Sumner walks readers through each chapter of her own journey to motherhood through infertility and special needs parenting and pairs it with that of a woman in the Bible, offering readers comfort, hope, companionship and honesty rooted in biblical truths.

New Clients

Jamie Erickson and Rev. Anthony Thompson joined WordServe this month. Welcome!

What We’re Celebrating

Julie Cantrell’s The Feathered Bone won the ACFW’s Carol Award for Contemporary Fiction. Congrats!

Lynne Hartke was selected to be a Voice of Hope with the American Cancer Society for 2018. Congratulations!

My Favorite Encouragement Quotes for Writers

Never Too OldIf you write for any length of time, you’re going to need encouragement somewhere along the journey, no matter how long you’ve been at it. If you’re like me, you may need a lot of motivating words, and you can’t wait around expecting someone else to provide them. Often, to keep the creative juices flowing, you need to get intentional about inspiring yourself — which is why I keep my favorite encouragement quotes for writers close by.

See if any of these strike a chord with you. Maybe you could use one of these morale boosters for your writing.

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days. Do not cave in to endless requests to have essential and long overdue meetings on those days.” — J.K. Rowling

Writing Quote George Orwell“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou

“Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage. Courage to risk rejection, ridicule, and failure.” — Robert McKee

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” — Anais Nin

“If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” — Dan Poynter

Writing Quote Tobias Wolff“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” — Agatha Christie

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” — Thomas Mann

“I can fight off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” — Anne Frank

“This business of being a writer is ultimately about asking yourself, how alive am I willing to be?” — Anne Lamott

“You can do it!” — Your Morning Coffee

Do you have some favorite encouragement quotes for writers you’d like to share? Which of these is your favorite?