In Your Write Mind

The importance of good critique partners

I have finished it. The draft of World Maker, my third manuscript. It took under five months to write over 92,000 words.

Before I move to the meat of this entry, I need to thank my husband, Chris. His enthusiasm for the project and help in other ways has been one of the main reasons I tallied such a high daily word count these last weeks. The night I finished, he stayed up late to read the last chapters hot off the press and talk them over with me. He is important to me and my writing, and by saying what I do below about my fabulous critique partners, I in no way mean to neglect him.

SO . . . I have two critique partners I first worked with in graduate school in Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program. We have remained friends over the years since graduating in 2006, but some of those years were thinly populated with word count while we each dealt with our individual lives.

Then one of my partners, Diana Botsford, made an opportunity happen for herself. She wrote a book called Four Dragons, set in the Stargate universe. I was privileged to be a part of that writing by critiquing chapters as she went along. I was quite inspired by her example to get back into writing.

I’ve talked elsewhere on this blog about returning to graduate school to finish my second manuscript. At the SHU WPF alumni’s In Your Write Mind retreat, which coincided with my graduation, I met with an agent who requested a partial and went on to request the full. I wanted to make a few revisions to the completed thesis, based on feedback from my graduation residency, and he graciously gave me the two weeks I requested. I did a two-week all-nighter to get it done, and every single day my other critique partner, Rhonda Mason, was there to receive and edit copy for me.

That second manuscript ended up being a pass for that agent, but my first round of queries yielded three additional requests for the full. This was big news for me, and my critique partners made much of it. That got me even more excited about writing. While I waited to hear from the requesting agents, I started thinking about what to write next.

I came up with World Maker, which I began writing on September 22, 2011 and finished on January 16, 2012. Although the word count was produced in four months, the novel took five months because I spent the first few weeks working out plot. Actually, total completion time will be more like six months. When I finished the draft I immediately revised it into a second draft. It’s with beta readers now, and I will revise again when I get their feedback. (And although this post is about my fabulous critique partners, I have to say I have a great group of beta readers. Thank you!)

What happened in our little critique corner of the universe was a giant snowball effect. Our writing fueled each other’s writing, both for its content and word count. Diana finished her second Stargate novel, The Drift, on January 16th as well. Rhonda is some 50,000 words into her science fiction romance, Empress Game.

We all three write quite different things, even though we all consider ourselves speculative fiction writers (and Rhonda, aka Katherine Ivy, is a published Romance writer). But there is a commonality to our writing that I’ve been trying to put a finger on. I know I enjoy reading what they write, and I have become a very particular reader lately.

To me, these ladies are ideal as critique partners because 1) they are actual writers with a similar level of experience critiquing, 2) they have excellent critical eyes and make valuable comments that give me the tools to evaluate what I write, 3) they know when I need the hard truth and when I need to hear encouragement, and they make encouragement sound like honest praise, 4) they give of their time and expertise as much as demand mine of me, so the critiquing and helping is reciprocal, 5) they are my friends and care about me and what challenges I face as I walk this road to becoming published.

I cannot overstate the importance Rhonda and Diana have had in my development as a writer. And I cannot thank them enough for being the writers and people they are.

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Where I’m at Part 3: agent search for Wishstone

I finished Wishstone a few years ago as a fantasy novel set in ancient Greece. I pitched it to exactly one agent, an agent who many authors dream of calling theirs. She requested sample chapters and sent a personal, professional, and helpful rejection a couple of weeks later.

It was around this time that my husband and I were trying to have a child. I will not share the details of those years, but let it suffice to say there were a lot of doctors, procedures, hopes, and disappointments, disappointments, disappointments. It was all I could do to keep my teaching career (and myself) from falling apart. I did not write.

After (hooray!) my son was born (well, months laterI was pretty busy with him for a while), I decided to revisit Wishstone. By this time there had been a dramatic change in the world of young adult literature. I was still in touch with friends from the Writing Popular Fiction program. They knew that my stories centered on teenage protagonists, so they suggested Wishstone might be better suited for this expanding young adult market. I had serious doubts. First of all, it had been a huge leap for me to write a fantasy at all. Although the lines between science fiction and fantasy often blur and they require some similar skills, I had never been interested in writing about magic. Likewise I had always considered myself as a writer for people like myself, i.e. adults who had grown up immersed in a spec fic world. Writing for young adults requires a particular talent for resonating with people who have fewer years of life experience and interests/needs I have (mostly) outgrown. I did not think I could do it.

Then I read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. (Kristin Cashore, if you ever read this, thank you for being the writer you are.) Graceling is marketed as young adult. The story addresses themes such as the use and abuse of power, personal responsibility, and redemption. It is a coming-of-age story to be sure, but it is not filled with the angst I associated with young adult literature. Reading Graceling made me think that maybe I could convert Wishstone.

I returned to Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program for a second degree. They converted their MA program to an MFA program, which interested me because it would give me an additional credential to seek a teaching position in higher education. I revised Wishstone as my MFA thesis by cutting the POV of the 42-year-old man and leaving the entire story, minus the prologue, in the POV of the 16-year-old girl. I also added a love story to replace the one I lost by refocusing the POV.

I’m in the process of submitting Wishstone right now. This summer I revisited Prosorinos to see if it could get the same YA conversion as Wishstone, but it’s complexity, I think, makes that impossible.

So, since I’m waiting to hear about Wishstone, I’ve started this website and have begun work on a completely new novel. I’ll keep you posted . . .

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A word after a word after a word is power.

— Margaret Atwood