Critique Partners: 7 Things to Consider

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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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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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Why Our Time Matters

Why Our Time Matters

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When writers work from home, distractions abound.

We care for our homes and families, chauffeur kids, tackle laundry, prepare meals, and handle the day-to-day affairs that go with the territory.

We also field infringements on our time from outside sources. Those come by way of well-intentioned friends and family who may not realize that while we’re home, we are indeed still working. At writing. Yes—that.

And though we are home, our time still matters.

The truth is if we don’t value our time and treat writing as our career, no one else will either.

Prioritizing our work load isn’t something that always comes naturally. We must be intentional, focused, and goal-oriented. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions.

Life ebbs and flows. Of course, sometimes, unforeseen things upend our schedule. We know we have a problem, though, when we begin to see a pattern—when we allow things that could wait to hijack our day.

For people-pleasers, time management is difficult. We want to be approachable and available, yet we also understand the rigors of working from home. We have X number of hours during the day to get our work done before our families arrive home and our evening routine begins.

Occasionally, we try to juggle it all only to discover we can’t.

Writing is our job. Maybe we don’t yet earn the income from it we’d like. Maybe we’re still pursuing career goals.

Does that mean our work is less meaningful?

I’ll give you an example.

Many years ago, “Sally Sue” used to call me—usually more than once a day. I dreaded those calls that went something like this.

“Hey, Cindy. There’s a great meat sale down at the market. Of course, they tried to cheat me out of some deals, but I got everything worked out. Let me tell you about it.”

“I’m working just now, Sally Sue. Can I call you back when I take a break?”

“Oh, this will just take a minute. Five, tops.”

What do you think happened?

One guess.

Well, of course, those it’ll just take a minute phone calls morphed into thirty-minute commentaries.

And Sally Sue was always in a tizzy. Nothing ever went right. The world was against her.

Her calls left me resentful and deflated. For this see-the-glass-half-full gal, I was thoroughly parched by the time the calls ended.

As much as I wanted to be there for Sally Sue, it became apparent I needed to distance myself from what had become a disturbing pattern.

“Sally Sue, I won’t be available to talk as often,” I announced one day. Subtle hints hadn’t worked and neither had direct cues. It was time to cut to the chase. Tactfully. Truthfully. Lovingly. (Did I mention truthfully?)

“Oh, what do you mean?” The sound of an electric mixer whirred in the background.

I plunged ahead. “My time matters, Sally Sue. I work from home and when you call, that’s time away from work.”

“So, you want me to call in the evenings? I can do that.”

No. That’s not what I wanted at all. Evenings were family time.

“Sally Sue, that won’t work.”

Right then, I nipped this situation in the bud. I regretted not doing it sooner.

I told Sally Sue I’d only be able take calls on Friday afternoons and I could no longer chat beyond the ten-minute mark.

When she pushed the envelope, as I feared she would, I refused to answer her calls other than on Fridays. When ten minutes passed, I ended the conversation. Politely, but firmly.

Her parting line was always: “Wow. I guess you’re serious. Your time really matters, huh?”

Yes. And yes.

Sally Sue’s calls stopped altogether when we moved from the area. I prayed that God would direct her to the friend she so obviously yearned for. One who shared similar interests and attributes.

Since I’m a firm believer that God brings folks together for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, I recognize the time with Sally Sue as a defining point in my writing career.

When I grew serious about managing my time, I began to think in a new way. My craft (my work) no longer took a back seat to other “nobler” professions. I approached my job with a new mindset, having learned a valuable lesson in the process.

There are always times of sacrifice, but self-respect is non-negotiable.

See, here’s the thing—and may I be frank?

  • I may not always answer the phone.
  • I may not answer my door.
  • Dusting may have to wait, as well as clothes-folding, toilet-scrubbing, and errand-running.

And call me a “meanie” BUT

  • I will no longer serve on every committee, join every club, or attend social functions for the sake of “putting in an appearance.”
  • I can’t walk your dog.
  • I don’t do laundry (other than my own).
  • I won’t organize your closets, clean your kitchen, or mow your lawn.
  • I know nothing about stamp-collecting, beekeeping, or turnip-growing.

Because writing is my full-time profession, if I don’t value my time and my career, no one else will. That’s why there are times I must say “No, thank you” and “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to pass.”

Let me encourage you today to get real about your work—whether at a tabletop or a little niche inside your home.

Some folks will understand. Others won’t.

That’s when we love them anyway.

Then we silence our phones and eat chocolate.

While we work. 😊

***

As a writer, how do you handle life’s delicate situations?

Any time-saving tips you care to share?

 

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.