Finding a critique partner

I’m starting this post with a story that shows how important it is to find critique partners who are on the same journey and know how to offer balanced feedback.

Several years ago, I made a big mistake. I showed a friend the first 10,000 words of one of my novels.

It was a first draft and far from perfect. I knew that.

I expected my friend to provide constructive criticism. Instead, I got a shellacking.

We were in a cafe, having a pretty nice time as I recall it, when she blurted out that she hated my protagonist. She went on to slam every word I had painstakingly placed on the page.

Basically, she told me my first 10,000 words were crap.

It was brutal. I sat there as a numbness invaded my body.

It took me a long time to regain self belief and confidence in my writing.

The moral of this story is – don’t show your friends your work in progress.

After this humiliating experience, I set out to find like-minded critique partners.

I ended up with more than one.

I had already formed firm friendships with Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) members who have always been there for me when I’m stuck.

I also joined Writing NSW and found a critique group that accepted me with open arms. The group members write across a variety of genres and bring a wealth of knowledge to our monthly feedback sessions.

And I now have a critique partner I met at a weekend writing workshop run by a well-known Australian author. After the workshop ended, I contacted this person (I’d sussed her out and thought she and I were ‘on the same page’). We’ve shared our work for the last 12 months.

My writing has improved because of these invaluable connections, which keep me engaged with the writing process.

It may take a while to find the right person to read your work but perseverance is the key. I finally managed to get the balance right.

I know what you’re thinking: do I still talk to my friend? Yes. But I never discuss my writing with her. It’s better that way.

Where will you be in 10 years?

I gave myself a shock when I recently asked the question, ‘Where will I be in 10 years?’

Firstly, I thought about how old I’ll be in 2030. Yikes!

Next, I indulged in sadomasochistic self-flagellation over a dearth of writing achievements thus far on the unrelenting path to decrepitude.

Nuffin’ new about that. Self criticism is my special skill!


If I was in my 20s, I wouldn’t have such a problem with the question.

If I was in my 20s, I would answer the question with, ‘I will be with my wonderful family, in a sunny place, writing another novel, eating good food, in rude good health, travelling with friends, walking the dog, swimming in the ocean, having reasonable sex (can’t be too ambitious), being an activist for climate change and deforestation, reading good books…

But hey, isn’t that where I’m at now? Wooooaaaah! Slow down lady. You’ve got the next 10 years covered.

I may not be published (not yet) but I do have a completed novel and I’m onto the next!

We can all be too hard on ourselves, and in the era of COVID-19 it is tempting to fall into a mental lockdown and take for granted what you already have.

But looking to your future self can be an uplifting exercise. It has the power to move you back onto the path you seek and remind you that life in the ‘now’ has many potential silver linings.

Live La Vida Loca!



RWA Little Gems Jade

What I like about a novel or short story might not appeal to you.

Say I read a book and love it so I recommend it to you.

It changed my life, I tell you. You are convinced it will change your life too.

But you are sorely disappointed. You think, What was she thinking? This book is rubbish! 

My point is, like with everything – food, drink, movies, comedy, music, exercise, dogs and cats, etc – what I like might not be your cup of tea.

I have had the experience of people either loving my writing or finding fault with it – they don’t like my heroine (she’s too selfish), my hero is too soft (no alpha males in my stories!), my style irks them, they don’t get my humour.

In 2017, I entered the Romance Writers of Australia short story contest, Little Gems.

Every year the RWA names a gem that must be included in the story.

Last year’s gem was Onyx.

I loved my story and hoped it would get into the top 14 stories that make up the annual Little Gems anthology.

But it flunked. I can’t remember the scores I received from the three judges who read it – I received one perfect score of 60 and maybe another of 58. But the third judge’s score dragged my story out of contention for the top 14.

She thought it wasn’t romantic enough and that it focussed more on the relationship between the mother (heroine) and daughter characters rather than that of the mother and the hero love interest.

I was shattered. I knew my story was good. Quite a few of my writer friends read it and helped me edit it. I had it polished to perfection. But obviously not enough.

That’s how it is. If you enter these contests, you have to take the good feedback with the bad and be aware it is a totally subjective assessment of your story by a judge chosen from a pool of generous volunteers.

This year I tweaked the story to fit the gem Jade. Other than that, I made no changes.

There were 67 entries. Only 14 get make it, all reliant on the scores allocated by their three judges.

This year I had better luck with my judges. I received a “perfect, there is nothing I would change in this story”, then a 59 and a 58.

It wasn’t enough to get me into a top 3 but my story made 5th place and the anthology.

I was pretty happy with the outcome.

I wasn’t so lucky with another story I entered, albeit at the last minute. Written in a rush, it was quickly subbed by a good friend on the last day/night for entries to be submitted.

It received a 58, 57 and a 44. As usual, a huge thumbs down from one judge.

I have to cop that. Obviously, the judge who gave me the low score doesn’t enjoy my style of writing.

There’s always next year!

 

 

 

Pandemonium in my brain: why I need a beta reader and better time management

SOME would say I live a safe life.

I have a stressful day job, a stressed-out family life and a very old dog (she will die soon so expect grief-stricken post).

What’s more, I live in the suburbs and head to the coast for the holidays.

But when it comes to writing for contests, I have inadvertently become a risk taker by leaving ABSOLUTELY everything to the last minute.

I don’t know what it is inside my weird head that puts me into go-slow mode the second I commit to entering a competition (expect a post on procrastination).

But the end result is pandemonium in my brain, which led me (too late) to the conclusion that I should have consulted a beta reader right from the start.

I started my short story for the Romance Writers of Australia Little Gems 2018 contest about a week out from the deadline.

The day before entries were due I set about writing the last 1000 words of my 3000-word story. I bashed it out in true pantser style, making it up as I went along.

On deadline day, which fell on a Monday so I had to go to work, I sent a missive to a writerly friend to inform her of my utter stupidity.

My mistake. She offered to beta read my story.

I got the story to her that night after work and she sent back her edits in two lots.

I started on the edits around 9.30pm, thinking I would cruise to the midnight deadline.

At 11.45pm, I was frantically attempting to format the hastily finished product and in a haze of exhaustion I whizzed it off with payment, signed forms, etc, by 11.56pm.

I don’t know why I do this to myself. Bonkers.

My beta reader’s keen eye picked up heaps of silly little mistakes and problems around structure.

If I had started to write the story earlier and given myself and my beta reader the time to iron out all the issues, the result would have been a more refined product.

*Shakes Head*