Why Writers Need Critique Partners

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On September 4th, 2016, I had decided to use my knowledge gained from about sixteen years of writing in order to stabilize my income. I started freelancing as an editor and critique partner on Fiverr and Upwork.

For the most part, I love this job, because it basically pays me to read. A lot.

But there’s a flip-side: I sometimes have to deal with a lot of writing by people learning the craft. Don’t get me wrong. I love helping people. But the truth is that often, an editorial letter and comments written into the margins of a manuscript just aren’t enough to explain exactly what I mean.

The biggest reason for this is the huge disconnect in experience between me and my client. At the moment, probably close to two thirds of my clients for content edits are first-time writers. They paid for me to tell them how to improve their stories.

But when it comes to things that I take for granted, they never even thought about it. Within this blogging community, we’ve formed a sort of short-hand. When someone’s offering to exchange critiques with me, I know it’s okay for us to use that short-hand, because we do share a common background when it comes to how and where we find our knowledge.

So in a lot of ways, the bloggosphere forms a sort of hive-mind. Although the transmission of information isn’t perfect, I usually know, when I picked another blogger’s work up to critique, more or less what the level is that I’m batting for. So when I say, “Your opening isn’t really hooking me,” I’m pretty dang sure the writer I’m critiquing either knows what I mean, or knows where to find the information they need to correct this issue.

My belief that this is so is further reinforced by the general level of writing I’ve critiqued over the last seven years. You can see when someone has a concept of what’s going on.

I believe there are certain fundamentals to the plot and development of fiction (regardless of genre). And most of the time, people in my network get the majority of those fundamentals right. In this way, then, content editing is more about catching where the writer slipped than anything else. I think it’s because we are a network that shares what we learned and often I would critique someone, who critiques someone else, who critiques someone else, etc. Because a large amount of us are connected in multiple degrees (I have 20 people or more in my network who are also in your network), it means that the information I share gets refined and then applied to my work again when one of you reads for me. And just so, if I learn something new because of something one of my critique partners (CPs) picked up, I can take that information, refine it, and apply it to that CP’s work, and also the work of all my other CPs.

And so, overall, the quality of our output increases.

But when I’m freelancing, all those assumptions go out the window. I can’t say “This opening isn’t a good hook,” because the writer has no idea what a hook is.

And often, none of the fundamentals are there.

Without any of the fundamentals in place, it’s almost impossible to improve the writing without rewriting the whole thing first. And no matter how nicely I try to put it, that’s an incredibly demoralizing thing for a new writer to find out.

I’m talking about things like character arcs. I’m talking about motivation. I’m talking about internal logic. I’m talking about obedience to the set-up. I’m talking about having the set-up be in the writing, in a way that’s palpable to the reader. I’m talking about not having certain plot points in the writing because it’s “done” in the genre, but have that be at the cost of believability. I’m talking about the ways to create tension and to keep the pacing at a reasonable clip.

These things rarely come naturally to writers. They’re learned by trial and error. And honestly, I don’t think learning all that by paying an editor is the best way to do that.

So my suggestion: Don’t give up on writing. On the contrary, write more. Practice. But improve on your craft by learning from other writers. Get critique partners and learn both from the critiques you get and the ones you give. Read up to understand why your CPs are suggesting certain things. Learn.

That way, your developmental editor is there to help you perfect what you wrote and revised, instead of finding gaping holes that will make you want to write off your skill as a writer entirely.

Also, it’s easier for a content editor to write a thousand-word outline of why this one thing needs work. Not so much when all of your fundamentals are missing. It’s simply too much knowledge for someone to impart in one go, and it’s also too much for you, with your small amount of experience, to understand.

All of us had to start somewhere. But those of us who are here after ten years or more crawled before we ran.

And if you’re a new writer paying for an editor without having critique partners look at your writing first, you basically tried to skip to riding a unicycle.

Do you have critique partners? If so, how did you find them? Any tips for finding and being an awesome critique partner?

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Update Day: The End of Year 1

Today is the last Friday of the month, which means it’s time for another update on the Got Goals Bloghop. For those of you unfamiliar with Update Day, a bunch of us set some crazy or just plain important goals and update each other on our progress once a month. If you would like more information or to just see who else is taking part, please click here.

PLEASE NOTE IF YOU ARE ALREADY A PARTICIPANT: The site hosting the linky sign-up is down, so please follow the link above to be taken to a blog post where you can leave your update link.

On 4 September, 2016, I had decided to reset my goals and approach writing as a full-time job, where I use my writing knowledge in various ways in order to make a sustainable income.

When I started out, a lot of people thought I was nuts. Heck. Some days, especially in November, I felt I was nuts.

But here I am.

I made it.

So I thought I’d share my thoughts on my progress.

I’ve been earning minimum wage pretty much consistently this year.

This is both a good and a bad thing. On the good side, the money I earned was enough to keep me and my family going during hard times.

On the bad, I would have liked to earn more by now.

The probable reason why I didn’t? When I had started out, I had planned to use the money I make to market my books to sell more of them, which would have generated extra income aside from the freelancing I now do.

But that money basically went into surviving for a large chunk of the year, and otherwise to keep my freelance side of the business afloat. So about 90% of my income is from freelancing, where I would have liked a more even split between my sources of income. And given that those other sources of income would have been passive, meaning I didn’t need to do much myself to earn the money, I fell short of where I wanted to be.

That said, the fact that I’ve been generating pretty much an even income every month means that I should be able to use my freelance work as a spine as I spend next year preparing to publish more books again.

I finally finished Book 3.

Ah yes. Book 3.

Number 1 reason why I didn’t publish anything this year: My life went to hell in a handbasket starting around February.

Number 2 reason: Book 3 itself. The War of Six Crowns is my major focus, writing-wise, so I’ve basically put all my available time into getting it publishing-ready. The problem is I completely underestimated the sheer size of this project.

A lot of times this year, Book 3 felt like a bottomless, endless pit and, it wasn’t only a case of not being able to finish it on schedule, but also the fact that I literally couldn’t work on anything else all year.

I finished rewriting Book 3 in August, about nine months after I had planned to publish it. Now I’m taking the approach of it’s going to take as long as it’s going to take, because after putting in this amount of work, I’m really not excited to rush it to market without being happy with the quality.

Getting something done is like opening a nesting doll.

Maybe it’s because of the way I look at things, but sometimes it feels like everything is connected to everything else. And sometimes, it can be hard to see what needs to be done first. Do I finish writing a book or do I update my website? Do I update my covers and interior or do I set up the newsletter so I can include the newsletter sign-up? Do I spend the morning freelancing so I can get this job out of the way, or do I spend it writing so I can actually make progress on my own work?

And so on.

And if I do manage to finish one thing, I take another look and see a thousand more. This often makes it feel like I’m not really making a lot of progress, but as I sit here, looking back, I’m awed.

And I know that I laid some groundwork for an astounding Year 2.

How are you doing? Do you have any major goals you’re working on?

Unless the wheels have spectacularly come off my life in some way, people have a tendency to be amazed by how much I get done in a month. And every now and then, someone will ask me how I manage it.

After all, we writers have the same amount of hours in the day. So how do I stretch mine to get so much done?

Step 1: Set Goals and Break Them Into Smaller Chunks

How does that help a writer stretch time? you might ask. Well. One of my big secrets to getting stuff done is knowing what I want to do.

So I set myself some huge goals, and then I break them into progressively smaller chunks.

For example:

Goal 1: Make a living wage from writing books. 

  1. Write books.
    1. Write this one book.
      1. Write 1,000 words every day.
      2. Write 50,000 words.
    2. Write the next book.
      1. Write 1,000 words every day.
      2. Write 50,000 words.
  2. Edit books.
    1. Revisions
    2. Edits
    3. Proofread
  3. Publish books
    1. Format books.
    2. Upload them to retailers.

And so on. Now I not only have this big goal, but I also see the steps to get to that goal. (The ones that are in my control, anyway.)

I often break even the steps into smaller steps, until I have hundreds of little things I need to do.

Which might sound terrifying, but what sounds easier:

Make a living from writing? Or write 1,000 words today?

So what I’m doing is to break all of my goals into smaller, bite-sized chunks. And then I move onto Step 2.

Step 2: Set Your Priorities.

Once I know what I want and how I’m planning to get there, I can sit down and decide what’s the most important to me.

But here’s the important thing: I decide what’s important to me right now.

This bit is a trick to my success, because a lot of those big goals I set are pretty much equal when it comes to how important they are in my life.

I don’t have kids, but if I had, I wouldn’t be able to say writing is more important than my children. But I wouldn’t ever be able to call writing unimportant either.

So the thing is, if you’re sitting down to get going, there will be things on that specific day that’s more important. If you know you want to focus on that, then focus on that. But also know when you’ve neglected some other aspect, so you can temporarily bump that thing up your priority list in order to even everything out.

Step 3: Create a To-Do List.

Once I know all the things that are really important, I can quickly write down the 10 things that are weighing on me the most. (I like 10 for being a nice, even number, but pick whatever works for you.)

Next thing I do is to number the order in which I’d like to do those 10 things.

Why?

Because if I decide upfront what I want to do after I’ve finished the task at hand, I don’t have to waste time later trying to decide what I should be doing.

How do I pick the order?

This depends. Some days, it’s in order of the shortest deadline to the longest. Other days, it’s Writing first and everything else next. Today I’m not feeling a bit lethargic, so I’m making up for it by starting with something easy, then something hard, then easy, then hard etc.

Step 4: Start Doing

Yeah I know. Obvious, right? But sometimes, people underestimate how important it is to just get going. There’s a reason why, when it comes to the setting of my to-do list, I keep things simple. I don’t try to schedule anything because I know it takes longer for me to schedule and re-schedule as my day shifts. Time that I could actually be using to tick stuff off my to-do list.

So once I have my 10 things and I know in which order I’d like to do things. I start. If something happens to prevent me from completing one task, I move onto the next. (Writing this blog is task number 4. Number 3 is postponed because I’m waiting for information.) I might get back to it later. I might postpone to tomorrow.

And no, there’s nothing wrong with postponing as long as it’s not going to break a deadline. Because unless you set the bar really low, there’s no way you’re going to finish all the tasks you set for yourself.

So move the stuff you didn’t get to. Just as long as you get it done.

And My Big Secret?

I don’t multitask.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Yeah, I know. People usually act like multitasking is the way to go. Especially if you have as many and as varied goals as I do.

But here’s the thing. No one actually multitasks.

You’re just rapidly switching your focus from one thing to the next thing.

As I’m sitting here, I’m writing this post without looking at my twitter. When I’m doing my social networking stuff, I don’t do it while watching T.V. When I am doing something to relax, I try to do so without bringing “work” along. Unless you count crafting as work. But that’s a whole other story.

Point is: If I’m at task number 1, I focus on that task until it’s done, or until I take a break.

And then I focus on the next thing.

And the next thing.

And the next.

Why?

Because when I’m focusing, I’m making fewer mistakes. And I actually speed up. Because I don’t even have the smallest moment of thinking “what did I want to do here again?”

And so, things get done one little step at a time. And then at the end of the month, I take stock and actually realize how much I have achieved.

What about you? Are you a multitasker? Do you have a system for getting everything done? What tips do you have? 

This morning, I watched a vlog post by one of my favorite writing vloggers on YouTube. And to be honest, the post left me fuming.

The post was about ten types of writers that are “the worst,” as in people who suck.

And I did agree with nine out of the ten points, because they dealt with things like genre elitists, mansplainers, etc.

But one was basically a take-down of character-driven pantsers like me. And that ticked me off, because she basically lumped a perfectly valid approach to writing right in there with writers who want to write but never actually do and people who write comments on writing without understanding what writing is about.

Because apparently, having a character who doesn’t want to do something you wanted them to do isn’t a justifiable reason to be stuck.

Which, as someone who actually has been writing while giving my characters free rein for years and actually has about 25 finished rough drafts as a result, I find to be a ridiculous assertion for a plotter to make.

But to give you plotter dudes an idea, this little inclusion in her “the worst” list is like me calling you chickenshit for insisting on a comfort blanket that is your plot outline before starting out. Because pantsing is true creativity, y’all.

*Eye roll*

And insulting people for using a method just because you don’t use it, or just because you never thought to use it, is not cool.

Still, it did get me thinking about the things we do when giving and receiving advice and since I’m kinda in a mini-blog series about so-called “writing rules,” I thought I’d write them down as tips of my own.

1) Even if you have a big following (and especially then), it’s probably a bad idea to thoughtlessly mock roughly half of your following if you’re not qualified by personal experience to comment on their method. 

Hell, this is a stupid idea in general

2) Before you spout off on something, maybe consider if someone approaching writing in a certain way you disagree with actually helps that person write. 

Because if you’re going to discourage a natural pantser from pantsing, you’re not helping that person at all.

3) Keep in mind that people of various experience levels are consuming your advice. Tailor your information accordingly. 
4) Consider whether the limitations of your medium of choice allows you to do any statements you make justice. 

If you have under ten minutes in your vlog and you can’t take the time to justify your opinion with more than a few trite, bullshit witticisms about why half your following is wrong, maybe this vlog post isn’t the place to include this particular opinion.

5) If you’re out to make yourself look smarter and better by insulting those different from you, you’re doing it wrong

What about you? Have you ever seen or heard someone share writing advice that made your blood boil? 

Update Day: Warning. This Is a Big One.

Hey everyone! Yesterday was the last Friday of the month, which means it was time for another Update Day. Sadly for me, I was forced to miss updating in time because the Internet went down.

For those of you wondering what on Earth I’m talking about, a few of us writers are taking part in a bloghop hosted by me and Jen Garrett, where we set crazy or just seriously important goals, and then post updates on the last Friday of the month.

A lot of stuff has happened though, which has solidified my priorities, so bewarned, this is going to be a long post as I set out and explain my major goals for the next few weeks and months ahead. Ready?

Okay strap in.

So How Did I Do?

It was a bit of a mixed bag for me, with a lot of fails mixed in with my success.

The big thing is:

I finished drafting Book 3! *sparkly confetti*
 

 
Everything else… Meh.

Book 3 got done with about 20k words left to spare, and once I did that, I just couldn’t keep the momentum going on another project. Used to be that I could easily switch between projects, but I’m out of practice because Book 3 has basically been taking up all my creative mind space for the past two years.

So this Camp NaNo, despite me doing awesome for as long as I was writing, is going to be a lose for me. Oh well.

And as for my social media… I tried to update my blog once a week on Fridays, which I mostly succeeded at, but I skipped last week because I was drained from finishing Book 3. (I did the last chapters in an eight-thousand-word marathon.)

Because of this and a whole lot of other stuff I’ll get into in a bit, I also didn’t get around to vlogging. I have recorded a video, but didn’t edit it because I thought it would be better if my first update in a while was for this post… And then I got busy with this other thing and didn’t record the video.

*Sigh.*

I was active on twitter and I estimate I’ve gained close to 200 followers between my two accounts, so that’s a win.

Then, I also did two mammoth editing jobs for clients and am now working on a third, AND I’ve been working on the covers for The War of Six Crowns, the series. And man. The updated cover for The Vanished Knight is gorgeous. I think it might be my best yet, and the concept for the series of covers really has me excited, because it’s a major challenges.

Then I’ve also managed to do some reading.

AND! Once I’ve wrapped up Book 3, I’ve started kicking my unhealthy lifestyle to the curb.

Wow. Now that I’m listing everything I’ve achieved… I’ve actually had an epic month.

What Would I Like to Do in the Next Few Months?

Writing 

Because Book 3 needs to rest, I’m going to work on something else. And some of you guys, who’ve beta’ed for me in the past, will possibly be glad to know I’ve decided to do some work on Eden’s Son, my Historical Romance.

I just really need a change of pace from Book 3, and I though it could be nice if I managed to wrap up ES1 and publish it this year, since it’s the second oldest story I’ve written and the oldest of my story concepts. (I’ve been working on various iterations of this story basically forever. In fact, the first novel I ever started to write is a book in this series, before I realized that there was a lot of story before that book that needed to be told first.)

Also, at the risk of sounding really cynical, it would be nice if I have a romance out to help stabilize my writing income. But I freaking love this story, so it’s going to be a pleasure to get it done after sixteen odd years.

Publishing and Marketing Stuff

There is soooooooooooo much I need to do that I haven’t gotten around to before. I just couldn’t focus on all this when I had Book 3 staring at me like a baleful child. But now it’s done, So I can at least to do the following:

1) Regular blog and vlog posts.

I at least want to get back to my Monday/Friday schedule, with Friday featuring a vlog post of some sort. For that, I’m probably going to start filming a whole lot of videos on writing topics that I can edit as needed so I have a bit more of a buffer for when I’m busy, and then I’m going to do my more personal vlog updates on the fly when I have the opportunity. I want my Monday blog posts to relate to my Friday posts in some way, so that’s also going to help me get some content done in time. Although I love being all nice and personal, I also realize that adding value is something I haven’t been able to do for years, so I need to fix that.

2) Continue with my graphic design self-study. 

Believe it or not, I’ve gone from designing my own covers because it’s cheaper to designing my own covers because I love them more than I do when someone else designs for me. So to save myself the pain and tears of having to learn things the hard way, I’m doing a graphic design course so I can get a better concept of what’s going on and how to achieve what I want to achieve with my covers.

I’m a terrible boss to myself. My whole feeling is that if I’m going to self publish, all aspects of the production of my book needs to be better than what anyone else would have done for me. That means I’m learning some mad skills. Helps that my freelancing activities are basically paying me to learn stuff.

3) Update my website. 

This is another thing where my graphic design is going to come in handy. My old author website is so out of date that I don’t even point people at it anymore. So that needs to be fixed. Before that can happen, though:

4) Update the cover to The Heir’s Choice. 

I need to implement the ideas I have brewing for that cover and as a bonus, do a few fixes on the cover to Endless while I’m at it. Once those are done, I can get into building the new site. (Which is another skill I’m having to learn. Insane, but makes sense given my other job… More on this later.)

5) Set-up a newsletter (or three) with a signup page on my website. 

I’ve resisted the newsletter thing for a while because I didn’t believe I had enough people interested in reading a newsletter. Thanks to Wattpad, this has now changed. The Vanished Knight now has close to 250k reads and a whole lot of people who keep contacting me for updates on Book 3.

6) Update the front and back-matter of my books to point to the website and newsletter. 
And while I’m at it, I’m just going to reformat the whole shebang. I’ve learned a boatload of new stuff since self-publishing the first time. So I’m taking the books up to the next level.

CEO Duties

You didn’t read that wrong. For the first time since I’ve finished my degree and started working for the family business, my mom’s let me be the boss.

I think I mentioned that we were working on another business thing where we had some investors interested in the project… Well… that concept underlying the business was my idea, so my mom and I agreed that I need to be in charge of it, although she’s the MD, which means she’s going to be the one to do the actual day-to-day running of the business once it’s up.

But basically, where we are requires a prototype of a site to be built for coders and also potential investors. And since this is a monster project and I hate people telling me “can’t do it,” we’re going to build the first prototype ourselves to help outsiders see what we’re envisaging.

Which is, again, where learning some site-building skills will come in. Fun fact, the site has so many working parts that I’m probably going to be able to build a seriously ambitious author site…as practice.

Freelancing

Depending on how much time I’m going to spend on the monster site, this is probably going to be the thing that gets a down-grade on my priority list. I’m going to try and not down-scale my freelancing in favor of my site because I still want to be a full-time writer (and the owner of a monster site.)

But. It it’s going to come down to a choice between my writing/publishing, the site, and the freelancing, I think you can see why the freelancing will be the first to give.

Hopefully, though, I’ll be able to get everything done. And the amazing amount of stuff I pulled off in July without feeling on the verge of collapse gives me hope.

My Health 

Here’s something I haven’t really brought up in a while. Mostly because it’s embarrassing, how bad I am at taking care of myself.

Why? Because I know how bad certain foods are to me. I know how important it is, especially to me, not to just sit on my butt day-in and day-out. I know that eating healthily and exercising actually give me the energy I need to tackle major projects without getting drained. I know that sixteen-hour work days invariably come back to bite me in the butt at some point. In some really ugly ways. Especially when I’m not eating healthily or exercising.

But did that have any impact at all on my refined sugar intake, exercise habits, water consumption or work hours?

Not.
One.
Jot. 

But when I finished up Book 3, I felt like I could rule the world, and then just kinda thought I could start by not screwing myself in the long run. I’d like to actually have a functional body when I’m old, so this is actually a bit of a priority.

1) Diet

No, I don’t mean this in the “starve-myself and get trim” kind of way. I’m talking about changing my diet permanently. Which means no refined carbs and sugars. I know a lot of people have a fit every time I mention not consuming carbs as a major part of my diet. But you know what? The only time I really feel normal, when I’m not feeling like I’m going to crash, or get a massive headache any moment now, or just feel like I don’t have the strength to do something, or even, for that matter, that I’m constantly hungry, even when I’m getting up from the table, is when I’m on a high-fat, low-carb diet. So that’s what I’m doing.

I’m not completely giving up carbs. I’m just getting mine in by consuming vegetables, fruit and honey instead of starch.

2) Weight 

Yeah yeah, I’m beautiful as I am. Really I am. This isn’t a self-confidence thing as I was blessed with an ability to tie my confidence to issues other than my body.

But.

Being at the heaviest weight I’ve ever been at the age of 28 is not good for my back, which is something I have injured in the past. (More on this in a bit.) Also, my family has a history of heart disease and diabetes, both of which are tied to unhealthy diets and obesity. And yes. I’m blessed with a body that evenly distributes fat when I gain weight, but I am, in fact obese.

So to save myself a lot of heartache and pain now, I’m going to get the weight down and keep it down. And so you know, I had just short of 40 kg (88 lb) to lose when I started on Sunday. So far this week, I’m 2.5 kg (5 lb 8 oz) down.

3) Water 

People always get told that they need 2 liters (half a gallon) of water a day, but did you know your requirement is actually determined by your weight? The heavier you are, the more water you require.

So when I decided to track my weight and fix my diet, I also got myself an app to track my intake and remind myself to drink water. This might seem extreme, but I tend to forget to drink water when I write. So now I don’t.

And just so you know, the goal for my current weight is 3.5 liters (7.4 liquid pints) per day. And if you think that’s impossible to do. It’s not.

4) Exercise 

As I mentioned before, I have injured my back in the past, so being overweight really doesn’t help. And the whole reason I got injured in the first place was because my core was weak. And all I’ve done in the years since is let my core weaken further.

No more.

I’ve signed up for an app called 30 Day Challenge. It has a variety of exercise challenges based on what you want to focus on and how fit you are. The exercises are really intensive, mostly body-weight-resistance exercises, which means that the five-minute sessions I’m currently on are really making a huge difference to my body.

One wouldn’t think that five minutes would help, but my core has gone from being able to support me for at most five seconds of plank to thirty seconds of plank in a week. And if you don’t think that’s impressive, I don’t think you’ve done the plank before.

The exercises never give me that “no-pain-no-gain” feeling, because they seem to be designed to be *just* enough to challenge the participant without demoralizing them. But every single day is just a little bit more challenging than the day before. And I assume that eventually, almost without noticing, I’ll be in a place where I’ll be able to do hours of exercise if I want without actually finding it to be daunting or impossible. (Which I do now.)

This is mostly weight training, though, so I’ve started dancing again to get some cardio in. This week, I went to my first ever line dancing class, but I have a huge hankering for ballroom again too, so I might take that as well.

5) My lifestyle in general. 

Other than the eating, water drinking and exercise, I also really need to sort out a few other things. Firstly, my sleeping patterns. Because of my insane (and I don’t mean this as a self-compliment) work-ethic, I often work until 3 a.m. in the morning and start my day between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. I take almost no breaks from my computer once I sit down.

So. I have to institute a stricter work-hour rule, where I don’t pass a certain time, and where I then have to at least do something to rest in the evening. This can be reading or even some sort of craft. Or the dancing classes.

Point is, I know I’m going to burn out if I continue keeping the hours I’m keeping, so I’m going to adapt now before I’m forced to by my own exhaustion.

Balance is the thing I’m going for here, so I’m going to literally schedule in time to rest because otherwise I’m just going to forget. (Same way I forget to drink water.)

Whoa that’s a lot, so I’m going to stop here for now. But how did you do? Anyone feel like joining me on the 30 Day Challenge?