Starting grad school four years ago, I thought I had the writerly thing down. After all, I worked in big New York media and then got a degree in screenwriting. But I was a total fiction newbie, and there plenty of things I learned the hard way.
Like about workshopping. And trading pages. And even trading fulls. The bottom line? I learned about developing relationships with other writers — especially ones I wasn’t collaborating with. See — and this is going to sound facetious, but really it’s not — finding the right critique partner is a bit like dating. There are so many factors that go into these relationships, and you need different things at different times in your life. Newbie me needed opinions — and a lot of them. Now that I’m a little more, uh, seasoned, I don’t want all that clutter in my head. So I’m only sharing work with a few people — the keepers, really, whom of course include the writer husband and the taskmaster Dhonielle. There’s also a compatibility thing: you gotta try on a few folks to see who fits. I, for example, tend to be pretty straightforward about what works and what doesn’t, and offer suggestions for things to try. And in turn, I’m relatively thickskinned about my own work. Some people like that, and others don’t.
Anyway, just when I thought I had this crit partner thing down flat, it shifts on me again. See, the WIP, the next big one I’ll be tackling solo (once all this other stuff, like book two, is cleared from my schedule), well, it’s not really D’s thing. And my husband, while he enjoys it, is not quite the intended audience either. Which is not to say that they won’t both have valid things to say about the work. But they’ve also both read various incarnations of it over the years. Going into this WIP now, what I need in a crit partner has changed. Bottom line is, I need someone well-versed in that nebulous thing called “women’s fiction.” And I need fresh eyes. Someone who’s not so familiar with the story. I need to see where the laughs work, whether they can understand the main character’s dilemma, whether the boys are swoonworthy enough. Oh, and one more thing, this is the first real brown girl I’m putting into the world. So going into this, I’ve been recruiting a mix of readers from Indian descent, and readers from not — because that’s really what this protagonist is, a mix. And I want her to feel real, authentic, to readers from both those worlds.
Finding those new critique partners? Well, it’s like wading out into the dating world again. So not fun. Or maybe a little fun. It’s a whole new landscape, thanks to social media — people I’ve connected with on Twitter, or here on the Deb Ball. It’s a new adventure, really! And I’m excited about the both the working partnerships and friendships that come out of it.