For me, there are two major phases to my writing life, two phases which I like to refer to as BCP and ACP: Before Critique Partners and After Critique Partners.
Back in 2013, in the BCP phase, I had 20,000 words of an unfinished novel sitting around. I was completely stuck and unenthusiastic about these words. They were all over the place yet going nowhere. Sometimes I’d read over them and feel sick to my stomach because they were so undeniably horrible. I’d never shown them to anyone, too ashamed, and though I didn’t recognize it at the time, I suffered from staggering amounts of self-doubt. The self-doubt convinced me that I’d never find the motivation to add more words, or start another project, or even continue calling myself a writer. The doubt convinced me it was probably time to pursue other hobbies.
But one day while puttering around on Twitter, trying to avoid the inevitable truth, I found out that one of my favorite authors, Nova Ren Suma, would be leading an online workshop for YA writers. The requirements were that we had to turn in 10 pages each week and critique the work of our fellow student writers. This sounded doable. This sounded well within reason of my obligations and time restraints. This also sounded ABSOLUTELY HORRIFYING.
Before I could let myself think about it too much, I signed up for the class.
And that right there is where my writing life changed For. Ev. Errrr.
First of all, Nova gave me incredible notes which shed a light on my WIP’s issues but also greatly encouraged me. On top of Nova’s notes, I received thought-provoking critiques from my peers, which led to friendships (both online and in person) that are still intact today. To really spell it out and illustrate just why having a trusted group of CPs can alter the course of your writing life, too, here are the top three reasons why finding my critique partners saved my writing life.
1. Critique partners help me believe that my work is valuable.
As I mentioned above, my self-doubt was crippling. I couldn’t write because every single word sounded wrong in my mind. It’s not like I didn’t sit there and tell myself, “Courtney, you’re not good enough.” Or “Courtney, you don’t deserve to write this story.” But there was a deep, underlying feeling inside me that wouldn’t let me go near my Word document. I’d think about it. I’d envision myself typing away. But then I got a tightness in my chest and couldn’t go through with it.
When I signed up for the class, I didn’t have enough work done on my WIP, which meant I was putting myself in a situation where I would be forced to produce new work. After my first week of being critiqued, I became filled with the motivation to brainstorm and plot and outline and write. The notes I received brought up great questions I’d never thought of before, and soon I could sit for an hour or so and bang out some crappy words.
It’s only with hindsight that I realize…having a dozen or so complete strangers sit down with my story, process it, and give me really good feedback is what filled me with a sense of purpose. These people dedicated their time to my story. That they would do this and do it so generously filled me with a sense of awe and pride. They gave my work a piece of their hearts, and that meant something extraordinary to me. It still does.
Each time I send out something to my CPs, I’m beyond honored that they send it back to me with well-thought-out notes. It feels like my work is worth something.
2. Critique partners hold me accountable.
After the online class, I struck up a friendship with a few of the writers. Over the years since then, we’ve become so close (meeting each other for the first time this past March at Nova’s Djerassi alumni workshop). We go to each other whenever we have an issue (sometimes writing related and sometimes not). And when one of us is struggling, the others are always there to check in and make sure everything’s okay.
I think I might be the slowest writer out of all four of us, but when I really start to slack off, I get a little tweet or email that says, “Ahem, Courtney, where are those words you promised us?” And if my writing buddies are slacking, I’m not afraid to call them out either! We need those people in our lives who love us enough to understand how important our writing goals are. They love us enough to be hard on us and push us. Because they’re in the thick of it too, and they empathize with how difficult it can be to sit down and write if no one else is pushing you. Not that support from non-writing loved ones isn’t just as important, but to have CPs looking out for you and keeping you focused on your goals can mean the difference between charging through one more painstaking round of revisions or giving up on a MS.
3. Critique partners help me make crappy words less crappy.
I don’t feel like I have to spend much time on this one. But let me tell you this…I found a version of my current WIP before it got in the hands of CPs. I read about two paragraphs, gagged, and then put it away forever.
As long as you’re open to their critique, it’s virtually impossible not to improve with the help of trusted CPs.
4. My critique partners are my people.
This is the most important part of having CPs. To me, being a critique partner is more than just reading someone else’s work and giving them honest feedback (though that is definitely a huge part of it). But it goes further.
I genuinely care about my CPs. I care about their writing career. I care about their book deals and their cover reveals. I care about their rejections (each and every one). I care about their happiness…as writers and as humans in general. I care about their disappointments, their challenges, their great loves and their utter heartbreak. I care about which Hogwarts house they’re in and whether that means we can still be friends. I care about their families, their friends, their pets. I care about their favorite books and favorite songs. Their favorite TV shows and favorite movies. I care about their wildest dreams and about helping them come true in any way I can.
My CPs and I share a passion for writing, and we share a goal of getting published. These things brought us together, but they didn’t keep us together. Our friendship did. Through everything, we need our writer friends. I didn’t know I needed mine before I got them, but now I know there’s no way I could face this impossible dream without them.
So if you’re a writer, out there and alone, find your people and give them your heart. Critique partners make this publishing journey so much more enjoyable and bearable. I promise!
If you have no idea how to even go about doing that, my writing besties and I have decided to start giving back to the writer community that brought us all together! We’ll be hosting a live critique workshop called Manuscript Crit-Chat, scheduled to take off this fall. Whether you’ve been critiqued before and want a new set of eyes on your pages, or you’ve never been critiqued before and want to get your feet wet, we want to help by illustrating the value of having great CPs. We’ll be trickling info out over the next month, so to stay on top of it all by following us on social media. We can’t wait to meet you and have you join our tribe!
TO JOIN THE MANUSCRIPT CRIT-CHAT FUN:
TO FOLLOW OUR PERSONAL TWITTERS:
And last but not least, don’t forget to read Jess’s post about CPs, “Five Reasons Every Writer NEEDS a Critique Group.” Enjoy!