Writing Corner: On Being Critique Partners With My Best Friend

Hi all! First off, I’m super sorry that I’ve not really done many of these this year, I wasn’t really able to find guest posters (fair enough, this year has been awful for everyone!) and honestly until fairly recently, I wasn’t doing much writing at all, so I didn’t have much to write about! However, recently my best friend Hannah and I have been editing each others chapters, so I wanted to talk a little bit about that process, because it’s the first time I’ve been critique partners with someone I actually know offline, so I thought it would be quite interesting to talk about that process here.

So Hannah approached me in August asking if I wanted to be critique partners with her, at this point, I hadn’t written anything new since February, but since I did have a finished manuscript that hadn’t been touched in over a year (This Is Not A Love Story), I decided to send her that and she has been sending me the novel that she’s been working on this year. I’ve never swapped chapters with a friend before so I was kind of worried as to how it might work (since no one that I actually know has ever read my novel) but it’s actually been a really fun process! We’re working in fairly different genres which I’ve found super helpful actually because it allows me to switch gears pretty easily when I’m editing her work as opposed to when I’m working on mine: hers is a contemporary mystery mine whilst mine is a second world fantasy, so there’s very little overlap!

So when we first started, we were swapping one chapter at a time, but since we realised that my novel had more, but shorter chapters than Hannah’s, I’ve been sending her two chapters at once, whilst hers are a lot longer so I tend to still work on them one at a time. We have fairly different writing and editing styles, but this actually works quite well because we’re good at different things, Hannah is much better at descriptions than I am and I pick up on the smaller spelling and grammar mistakes in Hannah’s manuscript.

Hannah’s been super great at doing a lot of big picture edits for me, which is something that I’m not as good at, I’m fairly good at doing small tweaks at a sentence level, but sometimes you’re a little too close to your work to see the bigger picture and she’s been great at talking me through things that need to be changed on a plot or character level in order to improve the story. Obviously I know a lot about my main character’s motivations but these weren’t coming through on page, so Hannah’s notes have been really helpful in fleshing those out, and the flashback scenes I’ve written have been some of my favourites to write!

She’s also a lot more description focused than I am, which is definitely one of my weaknesses, so that has been really helpful, as she’s pointed out where character descriptions need to be more fleshed out, or where place descriptions I’ve done haven’t quite made sense. Obviously, my level of description is still much lower than hers because it’s just not my style, but I definitely think I’ve found a better balance after she’s looked at my chapters. She’s fairly critical and gives a lot of notes, but that works really well for me as it’s always really constructive and I like having a lot to work on.

In terms of my critiquing, I have a slightly different approach to Hannah as my focus when I’m reading over her chapters tends to be on the smaller things, like phrasing and spelling and grammar as opposed to bigger picture stuff. I do give some big picture notes when I feel it’s needed, like on characterisation, but generally my focus does tend to be on the smaller stuff. I do feel a little bad when her notes for me come back and are way more detailed than my notes for her though!

I’ve found that being critique partners with Hannah has been a far more collaborative process than I’ve experienced so far with other CPs I’ve had. Because we know each other so well and have been friends for so long, we’re able to discuss our notes in more detail and can talk through plot points with each other and elaborate a little more on our comments. The whole thing feels a lot more interactive and more fun than I’ve had editing previously because I’m able to actually talk through what I was going for in any one particular chapter and we tend to have more detailed discussions about characters and plot, which I love. Writing itself is by nature a solitary process, so it’s been super fun to be able to collaborate a little in the editing process.

We’re also fairly relaxed about the whole thing, so we don’t give each other deadlines or anything like that, I have a fair chunk of Hannah’s novel that I’m working my way slowly through, and I sent my chapters over to her two at a time but if we’ve had particularly busy weeks and just haven’t had time to get around to reading our next chapters, then it’s all very low pressure which I think is great for both of us, again because we know each other so well, we can just say if we’re having a particularly busy week and won’t get around to any editing. It doesn’t feel like there’s any pressure on the process which is great!

I’ve also learned a lot through editing Hannah’s work about how to improve my own because I can see when she does well in areas that I might not be so good at and take that and implement it in my own writing.

One of the best things about working with a friend as a critique partner though, especially Hannah is that we have pretty similar reading tastes. So having someone who likes a lot of the same books that I do reading over my book is a pretty good test of whether I’ve actually managed to do what I set out to with my book! I don’t know if Hannah feels the same way about me as I’ve read a lot less mystery than she has, but it really does help having someone who you know has very similar taste reading your work.

Before Hannah approached me with the idea of being critique partners, my writing had basically fallen by the wayside in 2020, so I’m super grateful to her for this, because it really got me back into doing book stuff again, and I’ve written some of my favourite parts of my novel whilst we’ve been swapping chapters, so it’s been so great for my creativity doing this! We’ll be continuing to swap chapters in the new year, so I’ll keep you guys updated on how the whole critique partner process is going!

Fellow writers, do you have critique partners? Do you swap chapters with a friend, or do you tend to find strangers to swap work with? Let me know in the comments!

So that’s it, the last Writing Corner for 2020! I’m hoping that I may be able to do more posts in 2021, so if you’re a writer and you would like to be featured in Writing Corner during 2021, I have spots available through the whole of next year, so get in touch with me either via email (jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or Twitter (@iloveheartlandX). I take all writers, published/unpublished, agented or not, and you don’t have to write fiction, I’m quite happy to take journalists, poets, non-fiction writers, the sky is the limit!

I’m going to have my final Quarterly Rewind of 2020 up tomorrow, so keep an eye out for that, as well as my usual Top Ten Tuesday post on Tuesday.

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