My partner in Just for the Hell of it Writers (JFTHOIW) and I delivered our submissions to a manuscript contest Monday–two days before the deadline.
I have Critique Partner (CP) to thank for that. I normally hand-deliver everything the last day, just under the wire. CP, however, tries to get her entries in early, and she set up a schedule that helped me get mine in early as well.
The truth is, if it hadn’t been for CP, I wouldn’t have submitted anything at all. I had decided to skip the contest. The first ten pages of my novel didn’t seem strong enough to merit submission.
CP, however, encouraged me. Once we’d agreed to enter, she initiated a plan of attack. Each Friday, we set ourselves an assignment for the upcoming week. When I didn’t meet my objective, CP kept me on track. In fact, she believed in me until I could believe in myself. I think somewhere along the line I began to encourage her as well.
We worked for two months. During that time, I reconsidered what my first ten pages needed to accomplish with respect to characters and plot. I scrapped previous drafts and wrote new scenes. I weighed words and images. I tightened, tightened, tightened, cutting wherever I could.
Throughout, I listened to CP. We share an ear for Southern speech. When my ear went tone-deaf, CP let me know. “I really don’t like that word,” she’d say. Or, “I just don’t think he’d say it that way.” Or, “If the readers know something about roses, that line would be okay, but if they don’t, I think they’ll be confused.”
Of course, I didn’t have to take her advice. Both of us make our own decisions about what we change and what we keep. When she felt sure of herself, however, she didn’t hesitate to tell me, sometimes more than once, and in no uncertain terms. “I still don’t like cranky there. It just irks me every time I see it.”
The third or fourth time I heard the same advice, I’d give up and start to listen more closely to my own words. Did I really want to say, “all five cranky feet of her”? Should I have Rhys tell Miss Agnes she “looks as lovely as the Bride’s Dream rose growing beside your door?” Or would he say, “My, don’t you look lovely?”
Granted, he’s soft-soaping her, but Rhys isn’t dumb. Neither is Miss Agnes. If he spouted all that rose talk, she’d probably take charge of the scene and whap him with her cane.
When we formed JFTHOIW, a couple of friends expressed reservations. Critique groups, they said, could be negative. I knew they were right. Some critics aren’t graceful in giving criticism; others aren’t graceful in receiving it. Some don’t have the best interests of the writer in mind. Some don’t have the expertise necessary to be helpful.
In addition, criticism of a work in progress can stifle creativity, especially if the critic doesn’t understand the writer’s intent and tries to substitute his own vision.
But CP and I haven’t run into problems. I think that’s because we do have each other’s best interests in mind. We respect each other’s feelings. We admit we don’t know everything, and we attempt to learn more. We want each other to succeed.
We’ve also become friends. I’d like to do well in the manuscript contest we’ve just entered. I’d like to be a finalist. Oh, let’s be honest–I’d like to win the thing. But I also want CP to do well. If she wins, I’ll be just as happy–well, almost as happy–as if I’d taken the top spot. I believe she’d be happy for me if I won.
Writing in Helen Ginger’s blog, Straight from Hel, literary publicist Stephanie Barko said, “One of the best reasons to enter a contest is to evoke creativity. It is by exploring the unknown that we find our answers, not by having the answers before we explore. There’s nothing like serving yourself a problem to jar your synapses loose and bend your brain in ways it doesn’t normally move.”
When I read that, I understood what CP had done. By pushing me to enter the contest, she required me to push at the boundaries of my own creativity. She made me find new answers to problems I’d been trying to wish away. She helped jar my synapses loose and bend my brain in ways it doesn’t normally move.
And that jarring and bending produced ten pages that are much better than they were before. I submitted an entry that, win or lose, I could be proud of.
And I delivered it two days before the deadline.
Thank you, CP.