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.


An Observation, Part 5 – A Glimpse of Snow


It was a hot Melbourne day, the kind where the air is heavy and damp before 9am, holding the city hostage until a cool change blows in from the west. I was waiting for a train at one of the red brick rail stations so ubiquitous in the inner city, federation bungalows and Victorian houses backing onto the tracks. If it weren’t for the prickly pear and palm trees lining the embankments and the sticky, overbearing heat, you could almost be in old England, wrought iron arches and curving brickwork evoking somewhere half a world away. Perhaps that was what they wanted, the architects of this city by the bay – a reminder of faraway home.

I sat on a bench in the shade as I waited for my train to arrive, fanning myself with my hand, though all it did was move the warm air around. The platform was almost deserted. The only other occupant was a tiny old lady with a wrinkled face and improbably black hair, dressed in dark layers that looked stifling in the heat, her small feet stuffed into black shoes. She came to sit next to me and I smiled at her. She smiled back, flash of bright eyes in her lined face.

‘Hot day,’ she said, her strongly accented English betraying her European roots.

I nodded. ‘Sure is.’

‘Where you from?’ she said, lifting her chin at me.

‘Canada,’ I said. It was my answer at the time, my most recent address before coming to Melbourne, the twang in my voice giving me away.

‘Ohh,’ she said, nodding. ‘It’s cold there. Lots of snow.’

I think I said something about how nice it would be to have some snow as we both wilted in the heat, air shimmering on the tracks nearby.

She agreed then leaned in, as though about to share a confidence.

‘When I was a little girl in Italy, we sometimes have snow. Not very often, but I remember one time when I was at school. Our classroom had a balcony with big doors and we all ran out to touch the snow as it fell. When the teacher called us back in, we threw snowballs at her.’

Then she giggled, her legs swinging back and forth like the little girl she used to be, transporting both of us back to a place where snow fell and children laughed. Eventually the train came and we both went on to our destinations – I never saw her at the station again. But I always remembered her story, the small glimpse she gave a stranger of snow on a hot day.


Bang On Trend


I had an interesting response from an agent the other day.

First, some back story: While I’ve been working on Ambeth and the edit for Oak and Mist, I’ve also written another book, called A Thousand Rooms. I haven’t quite finished it, it’s probably 85% done but I know how exactly how it’s going to end – it’s just a case of writing it. The genre is women’s fiction with a twist of fantasy, so it’s a little different to Ambeth – however it’s a story that came to me almost complete and I’ve really enjoyed writing it.

So I sent out a couple of initial queries, one of which I’m still waiting to hear from. However, the other agent did get back to me and this is the bit that was interesting. She didn’t dismiss my idea at all; in fact she was intrigued by the initial premise and very encouraging. However, she reminded me that I needed to ‘be aware of publishing trends.’ Her point was that, as the market for women’s paranormal fiction was fairly full at the moment, publishers weren’t so keen to back new books in that genre.

This was frustrating to me.

Not because I didn’t appreciate her advice – I know she meant well and I very much appreciated her taking the time to personally address my query letter. No, it was frustrating because I write the stories that come to me. I don’t look at trends and think ‘Oh, there’s some popular books about vampires or zombies or people with cancer, I’ll write one of those too.’

I realise that writing is a business and that we need to present ourselves professionally, positioning our work in a competitive marketplace. I’m also aware that publishers often don’t make back writer’s advances and so have to rely increasingly  on the Zoella’s and Lena Dunham’s and David Walliam’s of this world, people who already have a large and established audience, to make back the money they lose backing less well-known writers. So I get that side of things.

But, as a writer, I can only write with the voice I have. To do otherwise would be false and, I know this sounds a bit weird, I think that if I did take that path, whatever it is that sends me stories would stop doing so.

So I shall keep plugging away. As I say, I’m only at the initial query stage and have yet to finish the book, so we’ll see what happens when I send out submissions later in the year. Perhaps trends will have changed or perhaps I’ll just find someone who really likes the story. Whatever the case may be, I’ll keep writing just like I always have, telling the tales that come to me.