Monday, March 19, 2012

Critique Partners

The best advice I ever received as a writer – "find a critique partner"

Today I want to say thank you to a very special person in my writing career. Her name is Carol Spradling, and she has been my critique partner for almost a year now. If it hadn’t been for her, I would have never published any of my books.

When I began writing my first novel, Yellowstone Heart Song (YHS), back in 2010, it was purely for my own enjoyment. At the time, I was reading about a book every other day. When the idea for YHS popped into my head during the drive home from Yellowstone National Park in 2009, I thought perhaps I could write the story down. I never took the time to actually do it. Fast forward one year to 2010, and another long drive home from Montana to California. The story popped back into my head, and when we arrived home, I actually sat down and began writing.

It took me about nine months to complete the book. I abandoned it for about two months, because I couldn’t come up with an ending. When I finally wrote one, I hated it. So it sat for another few months before I revised about one-third of the last part of the book to write an ending I was actually satisfied with. In March of 2011, I entered a contest, simply because I wanted to get feedback on the story. No one in my family knew I had written anything. The thought of trying to get published never entered my mind.  I just wanted someone to read it and give me their opinion. My judges’ comments came back, and two out of the three seemed to like the idea of the story, but told me without actually saying it, that my writing was horrible. I revised the beginning of the story based on the comments I received, and entered another contest. Boy was I surprised when I received the email that I had finaled! When I received my score sheets back, my harshest judge left me with this comment: ”find a critique partner.”

It was the best advice I received from any of the judges. But how does one find a critique partner? I scoured the internet. I had no clue what and where to look. Finally, I stumbled upon the Wild Rose Press websites author submission page, and saw that they had a forum where one could basically advertise for a critique partner. So I posted a small blurb of my book, and asked if anyone would be willing to critique for a complete novice.

Carol Spradling responded, and I hit a gold mine.  With a pounding heart, I waited for her to send back a chapter or two, curious what she might say. In her email, she said she loved the story, but she saw the problems. My heart sank when I saw all the red writing in the body of the manuscript, but as I read the comments, I could see she was spot on with everything. Her comments were always positive, with suggestions for improvement, pointing out what worked and what didn’t, and asking questions about a character or situation I hadn’t even thought of, or it was clear in my mind but obviously not to the reader.
Over the weeks, Carol taught me how to show vs tell, how to quit head-hopping and stay with one character’s point of view for at least an entire scene, cause and effect, passive vs active writing, and how to be more descriptive in my writing. She never wrote the words for me, even when I practically begged her to tell me what to write. She never made it easy for me, and only guided me with well-placed questions or suggestions.

Once she finished critiquing the entire manuscript, I just stared at it. For months. I decided to ignore it completely, and began plotting and writing what I considered to be simply a sequel to Yellowstone Heart Song. The idea of a series never entered my mind.  I enjoyed my interactions with Carol so much, I didn’t want that to end. So I began writing Yellowstone Redemption, sending her chapters at a time to critique. I told her I was merely practicing my new-found writing skills that she’d been pounding into my brain over the last few months.

As the book got longer and longer, she kept asking how my revisions were coming along for YHS. Ummm…..hadn’t even started on them yet. She kindly reminded me me over the course of the next few months about getting them done, hinting that I needed to think about querying with publishers. I kept putting it off. Finally, after YR was almost done, I sat down to the grueling task of rewrites for YHS. It took me weeks to get them done, and she critiqued the entire ms again! Sigh. Another round of revisions. By this time, I was writing Book 3, Yellowstone Awakening.

Right after Thanksgiving of 2011, Carol point blank told me I needed to stop writing, and finally pursue publishing the first book. I was scared to death of the prospect. We’d talked about how daunting it is to even get your book noticed by a publisher. I’d heard about publishing independently, doing it on my own. It sounded more and more appealing to me, and that’s what I ultimately decided to do. And proudly, I finally got her to join me in this venture. (she kicked and screamed about leaving her publisher to go indie, just as much as I kicked and screamed about publishing at all).

So, I know this story got a bit long-winded. Bottom line is, without Carol’s help and encouragement, and believing in my story, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog entry today. So, thank you Carol, for your teachings, your guidance, and most of all, your friendship over the course of the last year. May we continue our journey to self-publishing fame.

Please visit Carol’s website, and check out her historical romance novels. Her writing is witty, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable. 


  1. You are so sweet. *blush* There were so many times I felt I hit you too hard. You not only came back for more, but you rose to the challenge. I was blown away with each of your revision.

    I knew from my first read through that you were a fantastic author with an incredible story(ies) to tell. I feel honored to have responded to your request for a critique partner. Has it really been a year?

    I am equally blessed to have you critique for me. You challenge me to write more frequently and to write better. I agree. It is amazing to have a critique partner who is thorough, but it's even better to have a crit partner become a cherished friend.

  2. Ah, you ladies are so sweet.

    Peggy - I like the look of the blog and I concur with your comments. A critique partner is a must-have. I think of it as a good way to get down and dirty with the book because a good critique partner holds nothing back, but cheers you on when you come back swinging. Great post.