I hadn’t even looked at this particular novel for years; now, having read it again, I’ve realised how much it needed the help of a critique partner. Okay, it was published exactly as I wrote it (without any editorial input), so maybe the style of my writing was ‘normal’ at that time. Now it simply makes me cringe!
I started writing romance again about five years ago and know I was still writing in my ‘old’ style to start with. I only have to look at my first ‘fan-fiction’ stories and the first novel I wrote to realise that. Then I started to change my style.
Why? Because I found two great critique partners. I've never met them - I'm in the UK and they're in the USA, but during the last couple of years, we’ve worked together (and become friends too).
Writing, as I know from when I was writing my early novels and knowing no other writers at the time, can be a lonely job, and it’s good to have a friend who is prepared to read your work and give you his/her honest opinion. The word honest is important. I don’t want just positive feedback with a few ‘nice’ comments, although a comment of ‘Great, this really worked well’ does wonders for one’s confidence. But at the same time, I want a genuine opinion and, if necessary, hard-hitting comments.
A good CP can help you to improve both your storyline and your writing style. They can highlight your word or phrase repetition, overuse of passive verbs and adverbs, and telling rather than showing. I was guilty of all of these but didn’t actually realise it until my CPs told me. I’m sure they could list plenty of other errors too!
Sometimes (often?) we can get too close to our own story and characters. A critique partner comes to it with fresh eyes and can point out the things that you may have overlooked. They can look at the big picture and tell you what is working and what isn’t, where the plot holes or anomalies are and whether the pace of the story is too slow or too fast. They can also help you to brainstorm when your story runs into a sticky patch.
It works both ways, too. Critiquing someone else’s work has the double bonus of helping yourself as well as (hopefully) helping them. I have learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t from critiquing.
Now I’m going through the process of critquing my own 1970’s novel, and the errors I made in the original are jumping out at me. Before I worked with my CPs, I doubt I would have noticed any of those errors.
So this is a tribute to my critique partners – with a million thanks to them both for their help, support, encouragement and friendship!