Another Magic Formula

Recently, we talked about how critique partners are a magical element in writing success. I know what some of you are thinking: Thanks, Jessica. That’s nice, but I tried working with a critique partner, and it didn’t work out.

sad

I’ve been in your shoes. More than once. Critique partner relationships can explode, implode, or fizzle out for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s because the writers aren’t a good fit for each other. Sometimes, it’s because one partner or the other moves, or their lives go in different directions. But often, it’s because they didn’t take the time to set up expectations for the relationship, which leads to unnecessary tension and/or unmet expectations. With that in mind, I’ve put together a set of guidelines that I think are useful in establishing a relationship with a new critique partner (these same rules could just as easily apply to a critique group):

Jessica’s Magic* Formula for Critique Partner Success

  1. Establish a regular (mutually convenient) meeting place and time. Will you meet once a week, or once a month? At a coffee shop, or in your homes? (If you plan to exchange work virtually, establish a schedule—one that all parties can commit to.)
  2. Determine how much work you’ll exchange. Five pages? Twenty? Entire manuscripts?
  3. How will the sharing occur? Some CPs like to meet and read their submissions out loud (or have them read out loud so they can hear how it flows). Others like to exchange work in advance so that they have time to think carefully about their feedback before sharing.
  4. Establish what type of feedback will be offered. Line edits? Big picture thoughts about plot, character development, etc.? Establish how it will be offered. Verbally? In writing? Directly on the manuscript, or as summary? Will it be offered as a compliment sandwich? (The oreo method is my favorite: offer a strength (the cookie), talk about weaknesses (the creamy filling) and wrap up with more about the strengths (the other cookie).
  5. Set expectations. This, to me, is the most important part of establishing a successful long-term relationship. Talk about what your goals are for this relationship. For example, one of my critique partners was very clear up-front about her goals—she let me know that she wasn’t looking for a friendship and didn’t have the time to sit in a coffee shop chatting about the weather. When we met, she wanted to get straight to business. (A friendship has grown over time, but I don’t know that that would have happened if we hadn’t started out with a mutual respect for each other’s time.) Other critique partners I have are at least as much about the camaraderie and support as they are the technical aspects of writing. (There is no one-size-fits-all—find what works for you.) You may also want to work out in advance how to handle cancellations (because at some point, life will get in the way of your meetings).
  6. Finally, I highly recommend establishing a trial period for the relationship. Agree to exchange a set of sample pages and afterward, discuss whether or not to move forward.

So there you have it—my recipe for critique partner success.

*Okay, I’m busted. Once again, there’s nothing very magical about this formula. But it works—I promise. Not always the first time. Maybe not even the second. But if you keep at it, you’ll eventually find exactly the right fit, and the real magic will happen.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

jessica vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. Her debut novel, NOTHING LIKE LENNON, is currently out on submission. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com

 

Writing Success: A Magic Formula

Pssst…over here. Yes, you. You’re the one searching for the secret to writing success, right?

Well, have I got a deal for you. I know the magic formula. And I’m willing to share.

Ready?giphy

Good. Here it is. (And no, it has nothing to do with unicorn magic, although a strong dose of that surely couldn’t hurt if you have it handy.)

Jessica’s Magic* Formula for Writing Success

  1. Read (a ton)
  2. Write (constantly)
  3. Work with critique partners (always)

That’s it. I’ll bet one and two don’t surprise you (although you’d be shocked to hear how many new writers claim they don’t read because they don’t want to take any chances on accidentally “stealing” other ideas—don’t make this mistake. Reading widely and deeply, particularly in your chosen age category/genre, is imperative.)

It’s number three that most often trips up new (or sometimes even experienced) writers. They claim that they are too nervous to share their work. Or that getting feedback is confusing—perhaps even overwhelming.

Here’s the thing—unless you are a genius and have the skill set to write a perfect manuscript, or have the ability to step back and view your work without any emotional attachment, you are likely to miss things. (On the off chance you are a genius that churns out perfection––Hi, I’m Jessica. Can we be friends?) The fact is, when most of us write, connections that exist in our heads won’t make it to the page. Plots that we think are crystal clear won’t make any sense. Metaphors (and jokes) we think are brilliant are actually duds.

That’s not to say that we have to share our work with a critique partner at every stage of the game. Some writers like to share first drafts and thrive off of the brainstorming that occurs. Others prefer to take their work as far as they can on their own before sharing. Whichever path you take, if you truly want to succeed in this industry, you’re almost certainly going to have to learn to embrace critique partners.

But you can’t find just any old critique partners. You have to find the right critique partners. What does that mean? It means you have to find individuals at more or less the same place in their writing journeys. There is certainly a place for mentorship situations, but if critique partners have significantly different levels of ability, it can make for a rocky long-term (CP) relationship.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to find critique partners at or around your skill level. You also have to find CPs you trust. Not necessarily in terms of sharing a vision for your project (because sometimes they won’t, and those honest discussions can often trigger ideas that dramatically improve your story), but individuals who will treat your work with the kindness it deserves. This is not to say your critique partner should shower you with praise—in fact, that can be less helpful than no feedback at all. What I mean is that it’s important to find CPs who offer criticism in a constructive manner—ones who point out both the manuscripts strengths, and its weaknesses.

I’m going to be honest—these partnerships are hard to find.** Social media is a good place to start, as is SCBWI. Keep in mind that you may not click with the first partner, or even the first several partners you try. But keep searching. Trust me—it’ll be worth the effort.

*Okay, so there’s really nothing so very magical about the path to writing success—it’s mostly a lot of hard work, and butt-in-chair day in and day out. But there is something magical about critique partners. When you find the right one (or ones), you’ll know what I mean. Stay tuned for tips on how to establish a successful critique partner relationship.

**Here’s a great post on searching for CPs.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

jessica vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. Her debut novel, NOTHING LIKE LENNON, is currently out on submission. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com