I’m taking a quick break from my series to talk about something many of us struggle with. I’m in the process now, and I’m working on making it go away.
Here’s the set-up. I wrote a novel called CASSANDRA’S CURSE. At the time, it was the best novel I’d ever written. It was my favorite of all my works. Then I wrote another novel, and IT took the coveted spot of ‘favorite.’ It was stronger than the Cassie story, the writing was smoother, the pacing was perfect. I’d learned a bunch of lessons from the Cassie story and used what I’d learned on that next novel. Then, like all awesome writers, I wrote another book after that. Can you guess what comes next? Bah-dum-bum: it was better than the previous. Not by a mile, but slightly better.
Just like my kids, I love all three of those novels. (Okay, I’ll admit I love all nine of my finished novels…) I can re-read them and feel the passion I felt when I was in the midst of struggling through them. I still love the characters I created. I remember the lessons I learned from each one, and I take all that knowledge into my new projects.
Here’s the problem: I’m working on a sequel to CASSANDRA’S CURSE, and it’s Not Going Well. In fact, it stinks. I struggled every day to open the file and add more to it because I was certain something was Horribly Wrong with the story and it’d flop. I whined about it to my husband: “It’s not working!” I debated scrapping the whole thing and working on something else. In fact, I started two different projects, then came up with a THIRD that I wanted to work on. I found my sequel shelved to work on other things, which also weren’t going as well as could be, and I felt that I accomplished nothing with my time. So I went back to the sequel. I’m only a quarter of the way through with it, and re-reading it verified what I already knew instinctually: there’s a fatal problem with the book.
I’m not a quitter, so I had to figure out a way to fix the problem. I looked at my outline again (yes, I’m a fanatical outliner). Nothing seemed to be wrong. The story should work. So I sent the first eight chapters to another writer friend. She, bless her heart, identified the problem immediately. (The problem with the book isn’t the main focus of this post, but for those who are curious, I had misidentified the early antagonist as a stalker, when in reality, the antagonist is fear and self-doubt. Now that I’m on track with that, I can start over and take a different direction).
The point of this post is: Self-Doubt and whining didn’t fix my problem. Studying what I already had didn’t fix the problem. I needed outside eyes. I don’t say unbiased, because my critique partner really isn’t all that unbiased. We’ve become friends, and she always has words of encouragement for me even when there’s a whopper of a goof she has to point out, like an incorrect antagonist. But she figured out what the flaw was and told me what she thought would fix it.
Authors are generally solitary, but we need each other. (We also need to write every day and meet a word count goal, but I guess that’s a topic for another day.) If you don’t have a critique partner, you need one, preferably someone slightly ahead of you in the learning curve who’s good at finding both the big picture problems and the misplaced commas. Usually spouses and parents don’t work, because they love you so much and they’re so swelled up with pride that everything you write is golden. A stranger is best, I think, although they don’t remain strangers for long. My two longest-running critique parters have become good friends, and I love them to bits.
Am I the only one who’s noticed this need for critique partners? What do you readers think? Do you have a good one? Do you have a rotten one and don’t know how to shake him/her? Share your thoughts and wisdom with us–we’re all still learning.