Who’s Your Critic?

First off all, sorry I haven’t posted lately! When I’m working on a manuscript I tend to get absorbed by it, especially toward the end. So everything else fell to the side while I was finishing my first draft. Woo hoo!! *boogies* Of course, now I’m diving into my first round of edits so I can’t celebrate too much. When it’s ready for submission, that will be the real celebration.

Normally, I let my husband read a chapter or two as I write and then hand him the draft as soon as I’m done. This hasn’t worked so well in the past because by the time I finish the third and forth draft, he’s sick of reading it. This time I decided to do things differently. I’ve been writing for two months and haven’t let him see a single word. We’ve discussed the premise and how different technologies I created might work, but he hasn’t read any of it. My plan, noble indeed, was to only give him the ready to submit version.

Tuesday morning I finished draft one. Tuesday afternoon I printed that sucker out, because I edit better when I can hold the manuscript. I decided to give myself a break and start editing Wednesday. Which meant Tuesday evening the manuscript sat on the couch.

Taunting me.

I couldn’t take it. I had to know what Hubby thought.

“Whatcha doin’?” I asked, leaning over the arm of the couch to stare at him semi-creepily.

He glanced up from his computer. “Why?”

“Just wondering.”

He started typing again, working on whatever geeky project had his attention at the time…or Reddit.

“What are you about to do?”

This time he stopped. “What do you want me to do?”

I shifted my gaze to the manuscript, lying not so innocently on the couch.

“I thought you weren’t going to let me read it until it was finished,” he said.

“What about just the first chapter?…Okay, the first two chapters…unless you want to read more.”

So he read the first two while I watched tv. And by watched tv, I mean slyly watched him to see his reaction. He laughed a couple times and I couldn’t help but ask what he found funny. After what felt like forever, he finally straightened the pages and handed them back.

“What did you think?”

“It was good.”

That’s it. That’s all I got.

I pressed. “Anything in particular you liked…or didn’t like?”

“I enjoyed it.”

Grrr. “You can be honest. You won’t hurt my feelings. What did you really think? How as the characterization? Did you connect? What did you think about the main character?”

Yeah, I peppered him. And he remained stubbornly, irritatingly, incorrigibly vague.

“I don’t know! I know I liked it. It was different than other things you’ve written.”

“Good different, or bad different?”

“Just different!”

That’s when I gave up. I realized Hubby isn’t a writer. Not in the slightest. Sure, he reads a lot, but he keeps it on the surface. He’s also completely biased. I’m pretty sure I could type strings of random letters and numbers and he would think it was great, because he loves me.

Stupid love.

I kid. I’m grateful he loves me so much, but it doesn’t help my writing. (I have the same problem with friends and other family. They’re too invested to be objective).

That’s why I have a critique partner. Someone who is a writer, who can give me honest, objective feedback. It’s wonderful. We exchange a few chapters at a time and swap ideas and encourage each other and I don’t know what I would do without her.

I used to marvel at the mythical Critique Partner. I’d heard of other people having one, but I had no idea where they came from. It was like this great secret no one would let me in on. Or a magical well hidden in the jungle where you threw pennies and writers came out armed with brand new ink pens and blank notepads.

I’ve had beta readers, and they’ve all been fantastic, but there is something different about working with the same person. (I’ve got a critique group too that I’ve mentioned before that is also wonderful. There’s something special about getting together in a room full of other writers and ironing out the snags). I don’t know where others get betas, but my magic well is on Absolute Write. They have a beta reader forum that is great for connections. And that’s where I found my CP. We started as beta readers. But I enjoyed working with her so much that when we’d finished our original manuscripts, I asked if she wanted to keep working together.

And I’m so glad we did. Wednesday morning, after my frustrating night with my non-writer husband, I awoke to an email from my CP with my latest chapter. She loved it, but more importantly, she could tell me why, as well as the things she didn’t like so much. As much as I love Hubby’s support, tough love and brutal honesty is what I need. It’s what whips a manuscript into shape.

I’m sticking to my original plan and not letting Hubby read the whole thing until it’s done. Even though my CP is amazing, I’m still going to go through a couple rounds of betas, because I think you need a good balance of people who are close to you/the work, and who have no attachment whatsoever. Betas come and go, and even the ones who might not make it through the whole manuscript are amazing and wonderful and I’m so glad to have all of them. But when it comes to the long haul, CPs are priceless.

What is your process? Do you let friends/family read your drafts? Do you use betas? Critique partners? Or a combo of all the above? What works best for you?

Glorified People Watchers

The other day, Hubby and I were sitting at our favorite coffee shop. While I typed away at my my current WIP, he sat across the table working on a Sunday School lesson. Out of the blue, I said “Explain the Higgs boson particle to me.” He glanced up and launched into what the particle did and what the scientists had recently found. I peppered him with questions and he fielded almost all of them, which isn’t what I wanted.

See, I know what the Higgs boson particle is, I just hoped to ask him something that would confuse him. It didn’t work. I didn’t get a single confused look. So I tried again this morning with a different approach. While he picked out his clothes, I popped my head in the closet and said “strawberry higgenbotham Portugal sandwich.” This time I got more of a response, but not much. “Giant fish dog porpoise!” I yelled. He just looked at me like I was crazy, but he did not look very confused.

“Just look confused!” I cried.

“Why?”

“Because I need it!” I pleaded. “For my book!”

He blinked a few times and started getting dressed. Clearly he doesn’t understand how un-helpful (yeah, I’m pretty sure I made that up) he’s being. One of my characters in my WIP looks confused at a certain point. I’m not satisfied with just saying “looks confused;” I want to describe the face. Need to describe the face. But I can’t see it. And Hubby stubbornly remains expressionless. I mean, really, who can not look confused when someone yells “strawberry higgenbotham Portugal sandwich” at them at seven in the morning? Apparently my husband.

That’s when I realized what I am, what I’m sure most writers are: glorified people watchers. Sure, we write, but what we really do, is people watch. Go ahead, admit it. I know I’m not the only one sitting in public place eavesdropping on a conversation to hear how their dialogue flows, or watching the people argue at the next table to see how they move their bodies, or stalking the couple in a deep debate to note their facial expressions. I store it all away in my mental Rolodex until I need it for a certain scene.

This morning, after Hubby’s noncompliance, I cursed myself for not having a “confused” file in my brain cabinet. (Don’t worry, I will be on the prowl for confused stares now!). This isn’t the first time Hubby hasn’t responded the way I needed. I know saying “hey, look confused” doesn’t work.  It’s like asking someone “How do you say oil?” Instead of saying it naturally, their immediate response is to break down how they say it. So the results are tainted. You have to catch them off-guard. “What’s that stuff you have to replace in your car every 3,000 miles?” “What? Oy-yl?” That’s how  you do it (and you may catch yourself a confused expression to store as well).

Since the test subjects in closest proximity (i.e. Hubby) are tainted, I’m going to have to up my people watching. So if you see someone sitting on a bench in the park or at that back table in the coffee shop looking at you oddly and studying your face, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably just a writer (good news, you’ll be in a book!).  Or it’s a creeper…in which case you likely should be alarmed…

Writers, do you people watch for writing tips? *Or do you just people watch?

*In the interest of candor, I’ve always been a people watcher. It’s only recently I realized all those years of people watching have helped my writing and started doing it intentionally.