Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends

I completed my first manuscript in six weeks, spurred by the ability to have laser-focus when I have a goal. I think that comes from my half-German side. (My half-Italian side tells me to slow down, take a sip of vino and relax a bit.)

I knew nothing about the craft of writing. Not a thing. But I had an enormous love of reading and felt strongly that I had a story in me that was ready to be told.

Fast forward six years, and that manuscript became my bestselling novel, THE MEMORY OF US. But back then, it was a sorry first draft. I just didn’t realize it.

When I typed THE END, I thought, “I did it! I wrote a book!” Countless rejections later, I realized that I needed help.

Sitting in my house in Texas, exhausted by having just given birth to my fourth child, I had dreams of going to New York – the center of the publishing world – and learning how to make my writing better.

Enter a Google search and a saintly husband, and weeks later, I was on a plane to the Big Apple to a conference called Backspace.

Backspace was ideal for what I as was writing and the access to publishers, agents, and teachers – frankly – made me feel like I’d died and gone to Heaven. That is a whole other blog post.

But I walked away with a bonus that I didn’t expect – new, lifelong friends.

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Eileen, Melissa R., a second Melissa R. and Jeanette were all aspiring writers like myself. Eileen says it perfectly: “Next thing I knew, I was spending the lunch break with women who understood why the compulsion to write can keep you up at night, how finding time to write is always at odds with the day job or car pool, and how it always feels like something’s missing when you’ve gone a few days without touching your manuscript. Little did I know when we exchanged contact info and social media handles, that we would one day be attending each other’s book parties, cheering each other to the finish lines of big writing deadlines, offering up prayers for each other, and exchanging publishing business advice.”

Eileen Palma published first, a wonderful book called WORTH THE WEIGHT. It was a different one than she’d brought to Backspace, but speaking for myself, she set the bar high and motivated me to see my own project through to completion. I learned from her that sticking with the goal will make it happen.

Melissa Roske came to Backspace writing self-described “chic lit”, but was later inspired to write a middle grade book. In her words: “I wrote the first draft of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN in 2011. It was only 100 pages long, but I knew I had something I could work with, so I did another draft. And another. And another. A billion and twenty-five-thousand drafts later (a slight exaggeration), I started querying agents. Within a year I had representation.”

Melissa’s agency is Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. So when I had serious interest in my manuscript from Jill Marsal at that same company, it was Melissa whom I turned to with questions. She was so encouraging and forthcoming with her advice, and I signed with Jill – who is still my agent – a few days later.

Like me, Melissa Romo writes historical fiction. I was immediately enchanted with her experiences of living in Europe and her fascination with a little-known part of Polish history that definitely made for great storytelling. With much marketing experience under her belt, she chose to publish BLUE-EYED SON independently, hiring an editor on her own and even holding a contest among artists to pick a winning – and gorgeous – cover for her novel. She is currently working on its sequel.

Jeanette Schneider had the most magnificent start to a book about a barista, and I hope that one day she will revisit that story. But she had bigger plans, like saving the world in her spare time, so her writing took a turn toward creating a successful website/movement called Lore and Little Things. She writes compelling and honest pieces about women’s issues and started a popular segment called Love Letters – where women write letters to their younger selves and tell them what they wish they’d known then. Her soon-to-be-released book, LORE: HARNESSING THE PAST TO CREATE THE FUTURE, is a work of non-fiction, and I’m certain it’s going to be huge.

We all took such different paths to publishing, and while I’m certain that they would have all gone and done big things regardless, I know how their friendship through this process (and beyond) continues to be so meaningful to me. Thanks to social media and travel schedules that sometimes put us in the same city, we’ve been able to keep in touch.

This is my way of saying that you must find your tribe. Surround yourself with other authors who will lift you up, teach you something, cry with you in your failures, celebrate with you in your successes. Writing can be such a solitary path, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And I would suggest that it is immeasurably better if you walk it with friends.

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unnamed Camille Di Maio recently left and award-winning real estate career to be a full-time writer. She’s been married to her husband Rob for twenty years, and they enjoy raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She loves finding goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. Her debut novel THE MEMORY OF US became a bestseller, and was followed by BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS. Her third book, THE WAY OF BEAUTY will be released on May 1.

7 Tips for Finding a Critique Group

So, you’re writing. Your fingers are flying over your keyboard. The words are flowing. And you want to grow as a writer, really work on your craft, learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, and find a core group of supportive writers. Now what?

You need a critique group! You want writing friends invested in your stories, who want to ready your pages, dive into the worlds you’re creating, share their thoughts and advice and constructive criticism, and be there for you on this difficult road to publication and beyond. But how do you find these magical people? Do you scribble, “Will write and critique for thrilling conversation about plot lines and character development!” on cardboard and sit near Walmart hoping the right people find you?

Well, there might be some better ways.

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#1: Trial and Error.

You know that saying, “You have to kiss a lot of toads to find your prince.” Well, the same theory can also apply to finding a critique group. Sometimes you have to try out quite a few groups before you find the one that fits.

“To get in with my first one I was matched up by a fellow author and we added a few others from there. I eventually did leave that one since we were no longer a good fit for each other. I was invited into my current writing group during a book launch I was featured in. We meet through google hangouts and it’s been really great so far.” –Judy Corry

“I met my first group at a writing conference. We happened to sit at the same table for lunch. We were super eclectic, but all near the beginning stages. Our first mtg there were 9 or so, but in the end it whittled down to a solid 5 of us. We disbanded a few years ago due to scheduling, but I am forever grateful to that group.

I’m now no longer with a group, but have a circle of writers I exchange with that I could not live without. They are solid, vary in style, and I couldn’t be the writer I am without them.” –Natalee Clark Cookpe

#2: Tell friends you’re looking.

Don’t be shy. When people ask what you’re up to, tell them you’re writing and that you’re trying to find a critique group. You never know if they’re doing the same thing! Or maybe they have a friend in the same boat.

 “A friend and I were in charge of planning a Boy Scout sleep over. I asked her what she did for work. When she told me she had done some writing, I told her about my writing. Then I suggested we start a writing group. There’s now three of us and we’ve been meeting since 2002.” –Linda Rose Zajac

“I know this amazing group of women . . . Really, it started bc I asked Tasha Seegmiller if she wrote, or wanted to, and we started meeting. I asked Joy and Elaine the same thing. That was 6+ years ago.” –Rosalyn Eves

#3: Get the word out on-line.

Post on Instagram and Facebook that you’re searching for a group. Tweet about it. Find other writers in Facebook writing groups like Storymakers.

“I entered a contest and posted a blanket ‘want to meet up and refine entries together?’ Tweet with contest hashtag. We’ve been together over 2 years now. Half agented and half not—several have book deals, releases, etc. we’re growing up together in the writing world and it’s one of my favorite friend sources too.” –Aften Brook Syzmanski

“About 15 years ago, I posted a request on the SCBWI boards looking for writers who were interested in a weekly critique group for writers of fantasy and science fiction for kids and teens. That’s how FantasyWeavers was born.

I moderated for about nine years and then handed the reins over to another member who had been there from the start. The start was rocky, but we used the rules from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft (respect what the writer is trying to accomplish, respect that critiquers are only trying to help you accomplish it) and ousted a couple of troublemakers. Things ran smoothly after that, although we did have to add an additional rule: no new members could be added without a unanimous decision to do so based on a letter of introduction and a writing sample.

It was and is an amazing group. I only left to focus more on indie publishing. I love every single one of the FantasyWeavers. They are amazing, each and every one of them.” –Shevi Arnold

“A gal in my community made a post on Facebook right after I started my first book. We met face to face and then I recruited a writer neighbor and then another who invited her sister. Pretty soon we had a solid group of 6 writers. We lost and added a couple over the last 5 years but 4 of us remain the same. The greatest thing we’ve learned is that your personalities need to work well together. We still meet every two weeks and we do Skype meetings when everyone can’t be there.” –Robin M. King

#4: Reach out.

Do you know of old friends who used to write? Try contacting them and seeing if they’re still in the game. Maybe they’re in the same boat as you!

“I went to college with some of the ladies that are now in my writing group. We reconnected after we had all graduated. They already had a group going, then lost a member. They wanted someone else to be in their group. So one of the ladies asked me if I was writing. I said yes, but wasn’t being consistent about it. She asked if I wanted to join their group. I said yes.

Since joining that group, I’ve developed a habit of writing. We were all struggling with ideas so we starting finding fun prompts for a while. My current WIP is from one of those prompts. I’m now 65K words in and I wouldn’t be there without this group.

One of the ladies moved away, but now when we get together she Skypes or FaceTimes us. We really like our group, so we don’t want to let distance break us up. Luckily, technology lets us do that.” – Heather Sundblom Gonzalez

This brings me to…

#5: Be willing to try something other than an in-person group.

“I used to meet in person with a group, but my life was such that it stopped working out. Now I have a few close writing friends and we read and critique for each other (long distance, via online because we live far away). Our support of each other is unmatched. So sometimes in person groups work, but sometimes online is just as effective.” –Wendy Jessen

#6: Go to writing workshops and conferences.

“Found my people at a Saturday workshop. We were a motley assortment of fantasy writers with none of us writing the same thing, but we hit it off. The feedback they gave me was the perfect measure of criticism and support. Because that’s what makes a good group: we critique with every intention of seeing each other succeed.” –Jessica Springer Guernsey

“We sat next to each other at Authorpalooza at Barnes and Noble. Heather Ostler Pead asked Me and Shannen Crane Camp if we would be interested. She knew Mikki Kells from school. We met at The Chocolate kind of terrified of each other (well, I was). I remember reading their first pages, and heaving a sigh of relief because the talent was clearly evident. Since then, we’ve become support systems for each other through deaths, births, illnesses, breakdowns, freakouts, and even triumphs. I love these girls to the moon. On the days I want to give up on the dream, they are my cheerleaders. Sometimes we dress up, which makes me happy. In 4 years, we’ve produced 4.5 human babies and around 10 book babies. Only one of the book babies is mine, but I never would have managed to write it without them 🙂” –Lisa Rumsey Harris

“We were in the same class at WIFYR. After the conference, we critiqued each other’s first pages and queries for submission to the visiting agent, and one thing led to another… 😂” –Ilima Willing Todd

“I had a friend and we both sort of secretly giggled about wanting to be writers SOMEDAY. Then Rosalyn told me to come to Storymakers, so I brought the friend, and we left determined to be writers for reals.

Then my friend pulled in another aspiring writer, her SIL, and someone else found us online at Storymakers tribe. And then we added a few more people through ANWA.

And now we’re a really tight group, with both local people and distance people. I LOVE it.

I love having an online circle, and it’s also great to have a local in-person group. It’s a creative sisterhood and it adds so much to my life!” –Rebecca Sachiko Burton

#7: Take a leap and start your own!

“Our writing group started five years ago when my husband and I said to each other, “Hey, let’s form a writing group!” We reached out to a couple of local friends, and Darren whipped out a scrap of paper with an email address of someone he met briefly at Storymakers the year before who was looking for a group. It was kind of magical how it all came together and what a great match everyone was. The couple of people we’ve added in the past couple of years have also been a really good fit. It’s kind of a dream group.” –LaChelle Hansen

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blackanewhiterin Erin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

So You Want to Write a Novel?

I recently asked friends on social media what they’d most like to know about writing—the most popular response had to do with writing a book. How do you start? What do you do when you’ve finished?

Since we’re heading into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the beginning seems like a very good place to start.

Where do you start?

How do you grow a baby idea into a full-fledged novel? There’s no one right way to start; some people start with plot, others with characters. Today on NPR, I listened to Jennifer Egan explain that she often starts with a setting and works out from there. The method you use may vary from book to book.

Starting with Plot

Some people (also known as pantsers) prefer to discovery write their story–that is, they might start with some idea of how they want the story to end, but they figure out the story as they write.

In this case, not much prior planning is needed, but if you get stuck, I find Mary Robinette Kowall’s method for pantsers helpful. She suggests that when your character attempts to do something, ask: what’s the smartest thing my character can do here? Did it work? The answer to this should follow a yes/but or no/and sequence: Yes, but complications ensued. No, and this aspect of the story got worse.

Most writers (aka plotters) use some form of pre-plotting before they write, though the level of detail varies immensely. When I’m plotting, I like to use Dan Well’s seven-point story structure, which gives me enough structure to hold the story together, but still lets me discovery write between major plot points.

Author Jami Gold offers lots of useful beat sheets on her website–these give you basic plot points to help shape the story (and generally an approximate idea of when in the story you should hit these points). They work for plot driven stories and romances alike. If you’re looking for more details on plotting, Janice Hardy’s Fiction University has great posts on brainstorming, developing the idea, plotting, and all kinds of other craft stuff.

Starting with Character

Although most novels have a whole host of characters who make up the pages, when you’re starting with character, we’re really talking about the protagonist(s) and the supporting characters who help or hinder (or both) the protagonist through the story. In choosing the protagonist, you generally want to consider who has the most interesting story to tell–most often, this is the person with the most at stake in the story, but not always. (EK Johnston’s wonderful Story of Owen features a protagonist who is not the main actor in the story, but the hero’s bard).

If you’re starting with the character, you’ll want to flesh out the character enough that you can figure out what the character wants–because your character’s pursuit of a goal will be the backbone that grounds your story. K.M. Weiland has one of the best series I know on building a story around the character’s arc (their growth and change over the course of the story).

Matt Bard at the Cockeyed Caravan has a series of useful posts on building a compelling character. Janice Hardy at Fiction University is currently running a series of posts on building a novel in 31 days: recent posts addressed creating characters and developing the protagonist. The website Writers Helping Writers also offers a variety of posts to help you flesh out and understand your character. And of course, we’ve got lots of posts on character that you can find through the search bar on your right.

I’ve got a story idea. Now what?

Once your plot and character are in place, you write. It’s both as simple and as hard as that. I find that one of the hardest things is pushing forward while drafting and resisting the urge to go back and edit what’s already been written. Everyone’s process on drafting is different, but I see lots of beginning writers (and some experienced writers) get stuck fine tuning early chapters and never finishing. I’m a strong proponent of pushing through the draft until you’re done, and then making it pretty. A first draft just has to exist to be perfect–that’s really it’s only purpose.

If you’re having trouble breaking down the large scale of the novel into manageable chunks, try thinking about the action in terms of scenes and sequels.

I finished a book, now what?

*Let it sit for a while. Really. Put it away where you can’t see it. (Do NOT on any account send it to an editor or agent at this stage.) A significant part of good writing is good revision, but re-vision can’t happen until you have the distance to see the thing clearly.

While you’re waiting, read something that fills your creative well. Or read some writing craft books. Elaine has an excellent list of TToF contributor’s favorite craft books.

Once you’ve gotten enough distance to see your story, revise what you can. Jenilyn has some useful tips on getting through a revision, and I’ve got specific tips for breaking down your revision in terms of plot and scene. Go revisit your earlier notes on your characters, and make sure they behave consistently through the story.

Once you’ve revised what you can, the story is ready to get outside eyes on it. I often tell my students that we write for ourselves, but we revise for others. (I recommend doing some of your own revision first, because otherwise, you’ll do what I did with an early novel–sent it to readers as soon as I’d finished the first draft, and almost to a person, they told me to fix stuff I already knew was wrong with the story. Fix what you know is wrong, so you can get feedback on the stuff you don’t know).

Almost all writers need readers as they revise–but not just any reader will do. You want someone who can point out the places that the story needs work, but ideally do so in a way that motivates you to keep working, instead of crushing your soul.

Some writers work with alpha readers, people who read the story in progress. I’m part of a regular writing group that meets every two weeks to read each other’s work.

Some writers work with beta readers, or people who read the story once it’s drafted and somewhat polished–these people give holistic feedback on the story, what works and what doesn’t work.

If you don’t already have people in your life who can read creative work and give critical feedback, Melanie has some great suggestions where to find beta readers. Brooke MacIntyre also has a pretty comprehensive list of places to look for such readers (on Jane Friedman’s website–another excellent resource for writers).

I’ve revised and polished my book, now what?

Once you’ve revised (usually multiple times–my book that sold had been through 9 revisions before my agent saw it), then it’s time to consider publication.

The first thing you need to consider is publishing options–do you plan to self publish your work? Publish through a small press? A national press?

I can’t say much about self-publishing, not having done it myself, but there are lots of great resources out there on how to approach it. Indie author Susan Quinn has a ton of posts on getting started.

Many smaller presses will allow you to submit your work to the press directly, without needing an agent. If this is the best route for you (particularly if your work is something that appeals to a niche market), then you’ll want to spend some time researching presses before querying them. Robert Brewer has a helpful post considering the pros and cons of small presses.

For most national publishers, you’ll want a literary agent to represent your work. Some presses won’t look at unagented submissions; and while others do, your book might languish in the slush pile for months. Literary agents can typically get your work seen faster and help you negotiate a better deal for your book, in exchange for (usually) a 15 percent commission. Jane Friedman has a helpful post about how to find an agent (and how to evaluate if you really need one); and in this post I talk about my experience querying agents (with links to finding agents and writing query letters, which have much the same function as cover letters for job hunters–to persuade the reader to take you on; in this case, represent your book).

Once an agent agrees to represent your book to editors, you might do additional revisions, or you might move directly to submissions, where your agent sends your book to editors who might be interested in publishing the book.

If you’re lucky, someone will offer to publish the book! If not, you try again, with another book. If this seems like a daunting process–it can be, but it can also be a lot of fun. I find writing a book feels a lot like gardening some days: I finish the work dirty, sore, but deeply satisfied at having created something new, at bringing order from chaos. (The garden analogy is particularly apt if you’ve seen my garden recently–overgrown with thistles and the zucchini has taken over the world. My garden, like my writing, is a constant work in process).

If you’ve written a book before, what sources have you found most helpful? If you’re new to this, what questions do you have?

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.

 

How to Maximize Your Critique Partner Experience

If there’s anything I’m an expert on in the literary world, it’s how to luck into amazing critique partners.

They are encouraging and supportive, and they kick my metaphorical butt when I need it. Like the time my friend Charlie threatened to have a box of live crickets delivered to me if I didn’t meet a specific deadline. They believe in me when I forget how, and they love my words when my brain is too fogged over by doubt to see them properly anymore. I need my critique partners desperately, and I think they need me too.

While I can’t give you my luck, maybe my thoughts about critique partnerships will help you build or strengthen a fantastic partnership of your own.

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Be Thorough

What do you expect in a critique? And what does your critique partner expect of you? Here are three key aspects of critiquing that might make a good starting point for such a discussion:

  • Technical Editing.
  • Content Editing.
  • Validation.

Some partners are going to specialize in one of these areas. Some spread their skills across two or three. Make sure you know what kind of critiques you’ll be offering each other. If you only give general content feedback with a sprinkle of validation, make that clear. If you’re strictly a copy-editor with an eye out for technical issues, make that clear.

There are few things rougher than pouring loads of time into a critique and getting just a few lines back in return. Your partnership will be stronger if you give as good as you get. And some partnerships may develop even further to the point that you brainstorm together, vent to each other, and become dear friends.

To that end . . .

Be Kind

Take a little extra time to point out what’s working in your critique partner’s pages. Yes, it’s faster to just highlight what needs work, they’re praise is a vital component of any critique. If you have favorite lines in your CP’s work, tell them so! Someone else might be telling them otherwise. Plus? Warm-fuzzy feelings from being told you don’t suck can give you the strength to fix what does need work.

Most writers have a voice in the back of their head, pointing out all their inadequacies. Try to be louder than that voice. Of course, critiques that are only compliments aren’t really critiques at all, are they? A good balance of compliments and constructive criticism will help you build up your critique partner while giving them tools they can use to improve their work.

Be Genuine

Confrontation is hard. Telling your CP to kill their darlings? SO hard. Sometimes it’s easier to pat them on the head, avoid eye contact, and say, “Yeah . . . that’s good. Real good.”

Remember the heading of the previous section? Be Kind? Avoiding the truth isn’t kind when it comes to helping your partner improve.

When you do offer genuine criticism, make sure you give context. Simply saying “I don’t like this” isn’t helpful. Whenever possible, try to give context:

“Her reaction here doesn’t ring true for me because X.”

“The flow of this sentence is awkward. Maybe it would work better if you broke it into two?”

“The backstory in this scene is slowing the pace and I don’t feel like I’m really with your main character anymore.”

“The POV feels too distant here. Try to zoom in so we can get a sense of his emotional reaction.”

Your genuine opinion is far more likely to be helpful if you actually give it.

Be Prompt

I’m not saying you need to work at breakneck speeds and pull off a twenty-four hour turnaround every time. But if you say “I’ll have notes back to you next week” and your partner doesn’t hear from you for two months, that might be a problem.

If you only remember to critique after being reminded several times? That might be a problem.

If your partner has critiqued seventeen chapters for you and you’ve only critiqued two for them? That might be a problem.

I say “might be” because this is something you and your partner need to figure out between you. Communicate. Establish up front what your expectations of each other are.

Maybe your partner has four kids and works a graveyard shift at the local hospital, but their critiques are so amazing you don’t mind if they only do one for every five you do.

Maybe you have seventy kajillion things going on in your life and can only manage to critique a chapter a month for awhile. Or maybe there are times when you can only give general feedback and not line edits, or times when line edits ain’t no thang, because you’re swimming in spare time.

But if you don’t communicate, your partner might feel like they’re hanging off a cliff’s edge, dangling over the revision pit, with no clue if you’re ever going to help pull them up.

It’s okay not to have time sometimes. It’s even okay to get swamped and forget. But if you do? Apologize. Then establish more reasonable expectations of each other. Being human and being prompt are often mutually exclusive. Own up to your humanity, and accept your partner’s humanity*.

Quality critique partnerships aren’t born; they’re created. And creating, as we all know, requires effort.

*To a point, of course. If they’re being a jerk you’re allowed to say goodbye.

Be Grateful

Whether you’re starting a new partnership or enjoying the blissful comfort of an old one, SAY THANK YOU. Not just for the first critique, or the best critique, but ALL critiques. Whether they’re as helpful as you hoped or not. Whether they send you into a tailspin of despair or soaring to new heights where you can see the “possible” of your story better than ever before, express gratitude for the time that went into the critique.

No matter how effectively the time was spent, it was SPENT, and that deserves your thanks. If you constantly struggle to feel enough gratitude to put into words, it might be time to ask yourself whether that particular partnership is worth continuing.

Above all, keep in mind that the ideal critique partnership is worth searching for AND working for. It requires so many leaps of faith. I know. And there’s terror in that. Of course there is. But the best partners, the ones worth keeping? They catch you when you leap.

And you catch them back.

And your stories become more than words on a page. They become worlds you build and visit together. I hope you find that. And I hope you get to be to someone what my critique partners are to me.

It’s one of the best kinds of magic.

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kimKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

Grateful for My Village

During my writing group’s biweekly meeting last week, Elaine, one of my brilliant critique partners, made this very keen observation: “It takes a village to write a book.” The specific reason for this statement was because she pointed out a rather ridiculous (or alarming) train of thought I’d inadvertently given one of my characters. Such is the beauty and magic of a writing group and critique partners — we catch so many things and different things because we comprise many pairs of eyes plus brains and perspectives. As I wiped away my tears of laughter at my 1000th silly mistake, I looked around at the splendid company in my living room. And the truth of what Elaine said hit me. It does take a village to write a book, and I would be utterly lost without these women.

 

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Like any worthwhile relationship, being part of a community requires effort. My writing group and I have been together for quite some time, and the beauty of how we work together was not automatic. Looking back, we have had a few bumps along the way — I remember that it took us a while to get used to each others’ critique preferences and styles in both giving and receiving, and while we figured this out, we had a “safe word” we could use when the steady stream of critiques became too much. In being committed to the writing craft and to each other too, we have grown so much together. Over the years, these women have become my sisters, and I am so grateful we share in our village.

Perhaps it’s because 2016 is finally coming to a close that I’m now reflecting on all of the very important people in my writing life. Honestly, this year was probably the worst year for my writing since I started on this venture. But while I struggled with meeting my writing goals and watched my planned publication date come and go, I refuse to view this year as a failure — because there were good things that came from it too. Most of all, I’m grateful for my village. Indeed, maybe it’s because I haven’t written very much this year that I’m marveling over all of the people in my village that continue to inspire and motivate me to keep going: My lovely and brilliant local critique partners that are now more than ever like family to me. My long-distance writing partner who is like my writing twin, with whom I text on an almost daily basis about writing and general matters of life. My amazing editor that pops onto Twitter with a witty reply to one of my random tweets, just to let me know that he’s thinking of me. My proofreader that shares my love of nerdy things and books and swoony characters. All of the wonderful writers I’ve been able to meet and connect with at writers’ dinners and conferences and other writerly events. The lovely writers in my online world with whom I exchange words of encouragement and empathy when we post something about writing (or life). My friends and readers who are patiently waiting — and I say “patiently” because by the time I publish my next book, it will have been two years or more since I published my last one. Two years is a long time for this industry, but the village won’t bring me to trial for this or hang me from the gallows. A writer’s village is a supportive home, and while my village’s inhabitants (and likely yours) are dispersed all over the real world, they remain close to my heart and make my writing and publishing journey possible. I didn’t mean for this post to sound like a book dedication, by the way. But it is indeed a village, and you all have one too.

Forays and longer stays away from the village are necessary. Unless you’re at a writers’ retreat, the act of writing is a solitary one. I seek out this solitude when I hide out in my room at the end of the night with only my laptop for company. I seek out this solitude when I pop on my conspicuous, bright red headphones like a “Do Not Disturb” sign when I write at the coffee shop. I fully admit that I often crave this solitude, and I miss it when all of the things of life make that solitude not attainable. But when I do attain this quiet piece of time, it can also flip on its head to make me feel isolated. When I’m too involved in a story and my characters, I feel this great disconnect with reality, just like the feeling I get when I’ve been on vacation for too long — it’s lovely and refreshing to be away in this other world, but it’s always nice to come back home. During those lonely times, it helps to take a stroll through my village and appreciate and visit with the people that live there with me.

It takes a village to write a book, and I never want to move away from mine.

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helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

 

 

Maintaining Your CP Relationship Through the Highs

Writing and publishing is a roller coaster ride, with ups and down and periods where there seems to be no forward movement, only to be followed by times when everything is moving so fast you feel out of control. Luckily, you don’t have to take the ride alone. That’s the beauty of critique partners, especially the kind of critique partners that turn into really wonderful friends. You can cheer each other on when one of you feels down, believe in each other, keep the other one from quitting when all seems lost, and curse every last no response means no.

Yes, critique partners will get you through all the “lows” on this journey.

But it’s the “highs” that might strain your relationship.

maintaining-your-cp-relationship-through-the-highs

Let’s face it, it’s easy to commiserate when you’re both getting pummeled in the query trenches. But it gets a lot harder when one of you suddenly hits that next milestone and the other feels left behind. It doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, ruin your relationship, though. Just keep the following in mind.

You are not the only one this happens to.

Pretty much every longtime CP relationship goes through these kind of growing pains. It’s extremely common. It happens when one of you gets into a contest, or gets an agent, or a book deal or a starred review, and the other…doesn’t. And the feelings you are both having of jealousy, guilt, discomfort, sadness, a need to talk to celebrate, they are all normal and common feelings. They are all valid. Stuffing them down and not dealing with them will only make the problem worse in the long run.

Be open about your feelings.

It’s okay to let your CP know that you love them and are happy for them, but right now you just can’t hear about another agent offering on their manuscript because you are in the depths of despair. They understand. I promise. And protecting yourself from negative feelings that you can’t handle in a healthy way will prevent grudges from popping up.

Be sensitive.

If you are the one shooting forward in your career, make sure that your CP is feeling okay with everything. Not in a condescending way, but just in a way that gives them an easy out. Let them know that you, of course, want to celebrate, but you understand if they can’t hear it right now and that they can always tell you to cool it for a while without any hard feelings.

Plan ahead.

Talk about how you will handle certain events BEFORE they happen. One of my lovely CP’s did this right after she signed with her agent and was getting editor interest before she even went on sub. We had an open and frank conversation where I admitted that I knew she was going to sell her book before me and she asked how we should handle our communication if that happened. We dropped the pretenses and the, “No, you’ll totally sell your book first!” talk. We could see what was coming and we planned for it. And when she sold her book, I had about a day of moroseness and then I was fine. I’d prepared for that day, on my own, and with her. It made all the difference.

Remember that you will probably take turns with your times to celebrate.

One of you may get an agent first. The other may get a book deal first. One of you may have the bigger platform, the other may get better reviews. Be sure to always be supportive and celebratory of the others’ accomplishments, because it is 99% likely that eventually your places will be switched in some way and you’ll want the good karma.

Critique partners are some of the best parts of the writing journey, keep them around for the “lows” AND the “highs.”

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.