About a week ago, I saw a post on the NaNoWriMo forums by a person who was looking for someone to help them edit their book. Helping people edit their books – or anything, really – being one of my all-time favorite things to do, I offered to help them out.
I love editing, in spite of all the whining I do about editing Summer Rush (which, in case you were wondering, is almost done! Whoop!). And I love helping out my fellow NaNoers. I met my first ever crit partner on the NaNo forums, that being the amazing and fantabulous Mary Kate. Plus, major bonus, this person said they’d gone over their novel with a fine tooth comb already.
The experience has not turned out to be as pleasant as I anticipated.
They did not go over their novel with a fine tooth comb. Not unless they have no grasp of grammar whatsoever. I’m talking basic grammar, folks, such as using periods and commas (although commas can be tricky little buggers sometimes).
Be honest about your writing mechanics.
If you’ve struggled with the mechanics of writing for the longest forever, be honest. And don’t say something vague like “my grammar’s not the best.” Your editing partner needs to know just how deep they’re getting into a project so that they can be honest about how much time they can put into it.
I would have liked to be warned about the enormity of grammatical problems, but that’s okay. I can deal with that. It’s easier to correct grammar than to have to tell someone their novel’s structure is faulty. Which leads me to problem number two. Within reading the first chapter, I found myself bombarded with all sorts of glaring errors. So, as gently as I could, I tried to convey them to the writer.
Within minutes of sending the writer an email with suggestions and the grammatically corrected chapter, I got an email back. This person thanked me for correcting the grammar then proceeded to explain why the plot/character errors were present and why they would not be correcting them.
Don’t ask for help if you’re not going to take it.
By no means am I saying this writer was a moron for not taking my suggestions. I’m not that full of myself (I sure hope not, anyway!). What irks me is that the person never truly stopped to consider that there could be any merit behind my concerns. How do I know that, you ask? They could not possibly have given my suggestions any thought if they returned my email within five minutes of receiving it.
To become a better writer, you have to face the reality that you can’t do it all on your own. I think most of us will always be blind to at least some of the faults of our writing, and that’s why it’s so important to have our writing critiqued by other people, as well as to be open to those critiques.
The fact that I was dismissed so easily after the work I’d put into my critique was a lot like getting an F on a test you studied hard for and thought you did well on, but it wasn’t that that made me lose all faith in this writer.
For kimchi’s sake, DO NOT accuse your critique partner of wanting to steal your work.
In the email containing the writer’s novel, there was a thick paragraph informing me that (basically) by opening the attached document, I swore on my mother’s life that I would not steal the work in the attached document, and all hell would break lose if I did.
I appreciate that this writer is concerned about keeping their work safe from plagiarizers (this baby is almost 200,000 words long, so they clearly put a lot of work into it). But I don’t think that is the best way to begin a critique partnership. It’s too… hostile and accusing are two words that come to mind.
We writers – those of us serious about pursuing our craft with integrity – are a good bunch. And we have far too many projects of our own to want to rip off someone else’s work.
It’s not an easy undertaking to find a critique partner who you work well with, whose opinion you trust, and who is willing to put some blood and sweat into your novel as well as her own. (I happen to have one who is absolutely amazing, BUT YOU CAN’T HAVE HER! GET BACK!… just kidding). So when you find one, hang onto him/her. They are worth their weight in gold.