Thursday, December 3, 2009

Are We There Yet?

I’ve spent the last three days trapped in a room with two of my critique partners, working on their Golden Heart entries an average of 16 hours a day. We only stopped to eat, although I have to admit we’ve spent a lot of time laughing.

We honestly can’t help it. When the three of us get together, we invariably burst into fits of uncontrollable laughter, tears streaming down our faces, unable to breathe, and since we shared a recent cold/bronchitis, we end up coughing too. It ain’t pretty.

I met Laura and Deborah, last April at a writer’s retreat. They are sisters and have since adopted me. We were instant friends and soon began meeting and critiquing each others work. They live in my area, and there’s something to be said for meeting at a Starbucks less than a mile away from my house, especially when I spend 18 hours a week driving. They’re relatively new to writing, and working with them on their manuscripts has taught me a great deal.

When I began to critique other’s work, something would bother me, but I was difficult to figure out exactly what it was. Not now. I seem to have developed an inner alarm system that stops me if the scene begins to drag or if the author goes on a tangent that takes away from the purpose of the scene. I’m not sure if it’s just practice or working closely with Laura and Deborah, but my ability to accurately pinpoint a problem not only helped them, it’s helped me with my own writing.

My grammar and punctuation have improved. And believe me, it needed improvement. I’ve finally figured out the whole past perfect tense issue, I’ve discovered that the semicolon is not just something to be feared, ellipses, which were always my downfall, have practically disappeared from my manuscripts, and I’m getting a real handle on the comma situation. I’m sure my copy editor will be thrilled.

I’ve reaffirmed my belief in the importance of writing active sentences and learned every possible way to make the passive voice active. I’ve discovered tired and overused writing conventions that only add a barrier, thin though it might be, between the reader and the characters. You can see through cellophane, but the more pieces you add, the more distorted the view. You want sharp, clean, and fresh writing. Tired, overused words and phrasing only muddy the works. Early on in my writing career I was given the book, On Writing Well by William Zinsser. That book changed my life and my writing for the better. It’s amazing how much a manuscript can improve by writing succinctly.

These last three days have been long and difficult but I’ve grown as a writer and a critique partner. With the right critique partners, you not only continue to learn and improve your own writing, you form long and valuable friendships. You’re given a gift; the joy of a shared journey with those sisters you laugh with and love.


  1. very impressive, Robin! I would love to talk writing for 3 days straight! :)

    And best of luck to your friends. Let them know I'll be having the GH/Rita Nominee Party on my blog again on March 25.

    And hopefully we'll see some Casababes on the Rita list!

  2. Wow, three days of critiquing. That's hard work, I must say. But there is nothing like a fabulous critique group who are tough to keep your writing on track.
    Sounds like you struck gold!

  3. Sounds great, Robin. Marie and I are unofficial partners, but it's via email. Face to face is probably a lot better!

  4. Well said, Robin! (And succinct, too. LOL.) Best of luck with your new release.


  5. A great post on your craft Robin! Since I've been able to watch so many of you Casa ladies start out and really get into the groove of your writing careers, it has been a lot of fun and surprising (in a good way) to watch all of your writing grow and develop and become the best it can be! I can't wait to see what everyone has in store for 2010 :)

  6. Judi~ The weekend was good, but man does it do damage to ones back and neck. Monday morning I hit up my neighbor, the massage therapist.

    I'll let them know about your party. You do such a great job and yes, I'm hoping the Casababes will take the Rita's by storm.


    I have so many wonderful CPs, but I really think meeting in person is the key and Laura and Deborah are close, which makes all the difference. I can't stand to drive an hour and a half to a critique meeting any more.

    Cheryl - I do think meeting in person is important for me. It's the one time all week I can speak to a female over the age of 22. As much as I love my Starbucks baristas, I'm old enough to be their mother which is more depressing than you can imagine. It's nice to be able to sit down with women who are in the same stage of life. We work and we talk and it helps, even if it's just to complain about Twinkle Toes arguing with me about her math homework. She just doesn't get that in math, there is no gray area. In math it's either right or wrong.

    Thanks for dropping by!


    Watching new authors grow has always been fascinating to me. It's incredible how much one learns from each book.

  7. Hi Robin,
    What a fun time. I agree with you, I find critiquing an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G teacher. To explain an issue in another work, we must first understand it. And how fun to meet at a Starbucks. Sigh. I'm jealous in all of the right ways. :) 3 days - very cool! Sounds like a writer's retreat heaven. Take care, have a wonderful holiday season, and I wish you continued success! *Hugs*

    Diana Cosby
    Romnce Edged With Danger

  8. Good critique partners are worth their weight in gold, Robin. Although three days of critiquing and manuscript prepping might be a little too much togetherness for me. LOL! I'm glad you were able to laugh throughout the time.

    I'm wishing your friends great luck in the GH contest.

  9. Sounds like such fun, Robin! It's always a joy to mix laughter with work. :}

  10. Even with the copious amount of slimy bodily secretions it sounds like fun. Well done! I really don't think that is a goal I could ever meet, but kudos to the three of you. Bring ont he Golden Heart!

  11. I'm off to take Twinkle Toes to Dance, I'll sign back on in a few hours and answer everyone.

    Oh! And I just got the first copies of Breakfast in Bed in the mail. Unfortunately, I'm sending them out for a contest and can't tuck one under my pillow tonight as been my habit.

  12. Very true, Robin, the right group makes all the difference.


  13. Diana~ It was a lot of fun, we met at Laura's house because we didn't think Starbucks would let us read the sex scenes aloud. {Grin} There was plenty of coffee though and lots of laughs.

    Keena~ I agree with the "little too much togetherness" part. Next time I hope we're a little farther along on the manuscripts so we don't have to hit it so hard in the final hours.

    Kathryne~ There was a lot of joy and hysterical laughter. I was happy to go back home though and see my family while they were awake.

    Sharon~ Yeah, next year we'll try to do it without all the coughing. You should have seen the three of us at the NJ Conference. We roomed together and took turns keeping each other up with our coughing. I finally handed out ear plugs.

    Thanks Sheila and Linda. Good thing I've got a year before we have to do it again. With any luck, neither of them will be eligible for the GH!

  14. Great post, Robin!

    I literally don't think I could survive without my CPs. I have several online and in person and they are all invaluable. Not sure if I could take 3 solid days, but I'd love to try!

    GOOD GOOD LUCK to Laura and Deborah and any of our other readers who have entered the GH. And my fingers are xxed that some of us CasaBabes make the Rita finals. That would be AWESOME!


  15. Robin, well said. A good critique partner relationship is a wonderful thing.

  16. Thanks Cindy~ Three days was a little much, but I've got my fingers crossed for them and all of us. Nationals should be a great time!

    Walt, CPs are soooo important and it's great to have someone to share all the successes with. I'm looking forward watching them walk up to that stage. It's a real trip!