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.
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
- Read (a ton)
- Write (constantly)
- 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
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