Writing With A Critique Partner

(note: I realise I’ve been posting quite a lot about the writing process since I returned to blogging. I suppose it’s because, when I was on my blog break, I spent most of it writing. However, don’t worry – I’ll still be wandering stone circles and photographing canal boats and weird doors and writing stories and generally rambling about stuff that occurs to me – I’m just taking a bit of time getting back into my blogging stride. Anyway, please enjoy this post – my critique partner is the duck’s guts, as my Aussie husband would say. Trust me, that’s a good thing…)

In my previous post, Stepping Into A Writers World, I mentioned that, when writing books, I work with a critique partner.

A critique partner is different than a beta reader. My beta readers are all wonderful people with whom I’ve shared my finished drafts, fingers crossed for their feedback. They are a vital part of my writing process.

However, my critique partner (who happens to be a kickass writer herself), works with me as I’m writing my story, and I do the same for her. We talk through plot points and help each other along when we get stuck, to a point where we know each other’s fictional worlds almost as well as we know our own. We make suggestions, edit sections of text for flow, clarity and plot points, and generally chivvy each other along until we get to the end of the first draft.

The idea behind working like this is to avoid major plot issues and ensure the story flows well before we get to the editing stage. We both work with professional editors who charge based on the number of hours they work, so providing a document that’s as polished as possible makes good financial sense, as well as, hopefully, making our own editing process shorter. Perhaps most importantly, a critique partner is a fresh pair of eyes. We can get so caught up in our own worlds that we miss important threads – a critique partner, who knows your story almost as well as you do, can help you see where you may have missed tying up a loose end, or had one of your characters do something, well, out of character.

If you find yourself a decent critique partner, tie them to you using magic spells or bribery or whatever means you have available, and DON’T LET THEM GO! Haha, just kidding.

Sort of.

Seriously, a good critique partner, one who ‘gets’ your writing and is willing to spend time working on your book with you, is worth their weight in rubies. If you can set up a relationship whereby you critique each other’s work, then all the better – the process then becomes a learning opportunity for both of you.

Of course, you can write a first draft perfectly well without a critique partner, and some people may not feel comfortable sharing their work at such an early stage. We’re all on different creative paths, so what works for one writer may not work for another. However, if you are looking for someone to work with, a good start would be within your circle of writer friends, perhaps with someone you feel has a similar writing style to your own.

Writing a book is hard work. But, with a critique partner along for the ride, you may find the journey a little bit easier.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

A Season For Writing

I’ve recently, after months spent editing and tweaking my vampire novel, started a new WIP. I felt a bit rusty at first, a bit unsure. I knew I could write books, but actually doing so, letting the story pull me along, was something I hadn’t done for a while. So I started slowly, trying not to force it, trying to remember how it felt to let things just flow instead of agonising over each sentence.

A blogger friend once wrote about there being seasons in writing. A season for editing, a season for planning, a season for writing. This resonated with me (well, not so much the planning part, as I’m a dedicated Pantser, but certainly the rest of it). It seems as though I’ve just come out of a very long season of editing and submitting, the wheel swinging around to writing again. I’m very happy about it.

Another blogger friend said recently, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, that I’m at my best when I’m writing. And maybe she’s right. I certainly enjoy creating – there really is nothing like the fire and excitement of a first draft, when the words just flow from my fingers, the story unfurling in my mind. I tend not to write scenes in any particular order – I just start with an idea and see where it takes me, enjoying the revelations that come with each scene, the puzzle of knitting all the threads together.

Way, way back, at the very beginning of my blogging days, I wrote about unearthing stories. This idea was based upon something Stephen King wrote in ‘On Writing’. He described finding stories as ‘unearthing a fossil,’ and, as soon as I read those words, I could see mine. This is what I wrote back in 2014:

Can still see them, poking out from the forest floor, delicate carapaces of bone or polished wood, it’s hard to tell as I unearth even more of them. One is almost clear of the ground, the story complete, just a bit of polishing required. The others are still offering up new discoveries, new aspects every time I look at them, whether it is a change of only a few words or a whole new idea. But the important thing is that I keep looking at them, keep exploring the angles, the nooks and crevices, until the job is done, the story told.

I’ve unearthed quite a few more since that original post, with five books now published and one more written, but the lovely thing is that I’m still finding them. My new WIP is set on the California coast just near Monterey, and I swear I feel as though I’ve been there just from writing about it; I can almost feel the California sunshine.

That’s the beauty of both reading and writing, I suppose – when this world seems a bit too much, we can escape somewhere else. I’m glad this season has taken me back to California – wonder where it will take me next?

How about you? Do you find your writing also falls into different ‘seasons’? Or do you work on everything at once?


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Woken By Words #amediting

I was woken this morning by words. Not by my neighbour, although the sound of her workmen banging and drilling at 8am was enough to send sleep away. I was up well before then, the story I’m working on poking and prodding at my brain. ‘Come on!’ it said. ‘Let’s go! We need to sort out this first chapter structure and I think I know how to do it.’

I tried to ignore it, rolling over with the covers around my ears, eyes closed tight. But it was insistent, worming its way into my dozing dreams, flickers of silver and black. ‘Wake up! It’ll be fun.’

Sure. Fun.

I’m not a huge fan of editing. I know it’s necessary, I know it needs to be done over and over eleventy bajillion times before I can send a book baby out into the world, but I much prefer the fire and flow of writing. That feeling when the story just comes out, so many words gushing forth it’s hard to get them on the page. I love that. But, as is accepted lore among writers, the first draft is usually crap. Upon re-reading, a host of errors will make themselves apparent and then it’s time to get out the red pen, usually with a sigh.

And that’s where I am now. I actually quite like this first draft. There’s a lot of good in it, and the story holds up well. However, there are scenes in the wrong order and a few repetitive events that need to be either combined or excised altogether, so my brain has been working overtime to reassemble the scattered pieces into something that still holds the spontaneity of the first draft, but won’t make the reader go ‘huh?’ when they get to see the finished product.

Have I sorted it? Hmmm. Not sure. What seemed so clear at 6:30am isn’t quite so obvious now, although I have made progress. Still, it’s a good sign. It seems this story is quite keen to get out into the world and so is pushing me. I’ll go with it, for now.

How about you? Do your stories yell at you to finish them? Gently prod you awake in the middle of the night to write plot points? The life of a writer is strange indeed…


Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series, is on sale now until the end of January! Get your copy here.

 

 

 

Walking It Out

The path beckons...
The path beckons…

I like to walk.

I walk every day, through choice as much as necessity (we are a one car family) and, unless it’s really raining, I enjoy the fresh air and exercise. The gorgeous girl and I walk to her school every day – we play word games and look at the world around us, watching snails sliding along brick walls, flowers blooming and changing, cats and dogs and birds and butterflies. It’s a lovely part of my day and I feel very fortunate to be able to do it. And on the way back, when I’m alone, I relish the opportunity to let my thoughts out to play. I’m exercising my body but also my mind – it’s amazing how many key plot twists or character conundrums I’ve been able to solve simply by walking along, not thinking necessarily hard about the idea, but just letting it flow with my steps. There is a type of meditative walking you can do, where you tie your breathing to the steps so that you are present in the moment – I haven’t tried it, mainly because I’m worried I’ll drift into the road or something, but I like to think that what I do sometimes is similar.

So as a writer, walking is very good for me. I recently wrote a short story inspired by an unusual porch light I noticed on one of my walks, and much of the woodland feel of my Ambeth Chronicles comes from walking through forested lanes as the seasons changed around me. It’s also good if you’re feeling a bit low. Sometimes I wonder why I’m writing, especially if a rejection comes through, but then I walk and remember that I write for the joy of writing itself, of telling these marvellous stories that keep appearing in my mind.

You could argue that working from home as I do gives me more opportunity to walk but it’s something I’ve always done. When I worked full time in an office I always incorporated a walk into my day, whether to or from work (when I could) or, if I was too far from home, using my lunch break to get out and explore the neighbourhood, taking my mind away from the computer screen for a little while.

And that’s another point. When I say walking, I don’t mean wandering along scrolling through Facebook or checking emails or satellite positions or whatever it is those people are doing (you know the people I mean). The ones who walk along holding their phone out in front of them as though it’s some sort of guidance system, leading them to where they need to go. Sure, sometimes I might stop and check for an email if I’m expecting something, but for the most part when I’m walking I’m more interested in what I can see around me, the people I’m with and the ideas in my head. I carry a notepad and pen to jot things down, and then I just let things happen.

So if you’re stuck in the plot, or just need to clear your headspace, go outside and walk it out.


This post, minus a few alterations, was originally published in July 2014, back in the dim dark days when no-one ever came to visit my blog. The sentiments still ring true, and so I thought I’d dig it out, give it a polish, and share with you again. 🙂

Character Building

Book envy? Me?

It’s a strange thing, to dream a person to life. Yet that is what a writer does, creating characters to walk the pages of their book, talking and breathing and thinking and doing. I’ve had to come up with quite a few people for Ambeth, and the interesting and slightly eerie thing is that they seem to have taken on a life of their own. Oh, not in some sort of horror movie way, where I wake in the dead of night to find their hands on my neck (although that’s an idea for a story, isn’t it?) No, it’s a far gentler thing in that they speak through me, letting me know what is right and what is wrong for them, who they are with, who they are interested in and how they relate to other people on the page.

When I started to write about Ambeth I had three characters – the main protagonist and two others. I also had a situation, an idea of how they would combine and then implode, a single event that would change everything. As the story grew around them, more characters joining the cast, this single event did not change – in fact, it became even more pivotal, a jumping off point for much of what was to happen in subsequent stories. So I couldn’t change it; no matter how I looked at it, there was no other way. But the character who precipitated the event did change. He started off life arrogant and not so nice, someone who thought only of himself and his own needs. That was fine, I thought, as it was what I needed him to be. But then he started to become nicer, gentler, more loving. It was as if he were speaking to me, saying ‘I’m not such a bad guy.’ And, looking at it now I can see that this was absolutely true, that he is so much more than the one dimensional villain I dreamed up initially. But what was I to do about the ‘very bad thing’ he needed to do, the point on which the story turned? What was his motivation? A wise friend once said to me, ‘go to sleep on a question, wake with the answer.’ So that’s what I did. I commended my plot problem to the gods of storytelling and went to sleep. I woke the next morning and there it was. The answer. The reason for everything.

So the lesson for me was, as a writer, once you dream your characters onto the stage of your story, stand back a little and let them tell the tale. They will guide you as to what is right.

‘But this I know; the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master–something that at times strangely wills and works for itself.’  Charlotte Bronte