I'll admit it. I never understood the reason to have a crit-partner, thinking that a story only needs one author. Right? Wrong. Call me St. Paul, but I have seen the light. I've felt the conversion from "know-it-all" to "don't-know-all-but-learning."
In theory, I'm a great writer, theory meaning it's what I tell myself in order to keep the inner critic's mouth shut. Besides, if I don't believe in myself, who will? But, the fact remains that without the helpful eyes of others, my work goes untested. It's just so-so, and other than friends and relatives telling me they "love" my writing, they're friends and relatives. Either they haven't written anything, or they want to say what they think I want to hear.
I don't want to hear accolades. I want the truth. And the only way I'll get the truth is from someone who knows what it takes to make my work better. Thus, an extra set of eyes necessary, keen ones that tell it like it is, even if it makes me cry.
I didn't cry. In fact, I wanted to book a flight to Raleigh just so I could hug and hug her. After sending her a chapter from my Epic In Progress, Marcia Colette said, "Oh honey, there's nothing happening in this chapter," or something like that.
Exactly what I needed to hear. Not only did she slap me up the side of my head, but she then beat me down to a pulp pointing out other errors of my ways.
That's what friends do. They care enough to let you have it, fearless of the outcome. And I'm finding that it takes more than moi to write a great book. Mind you, others have read my work. There was all those contest entries where I received good/bad/use-what-you-can-can-what-you-can't feedback. And let's not forget the agent rejection via a phone call, praising my voice, hating the main character. Those all helped me develop a thick-skin, however, Marcia backed up her claims with specific advice, ideas and details.
She pointed out why the main character wasn't cutting it and advice on how to improve him, that the back-story dumping should be removed but saved somewhere in order to use bits of it later, and finally, to make the prologue the first chapter (I wanted to dump it - but she convinced me otherwise).
Epiphany is a great thing. I still believe in myself, but I now realize that it takes more than that to arrive at greatness. I find that it's essential to put aside all the stubbornness, ego, and other rot that doesn't get the story into the hands of a savvy agent. It's time to wake up and accept the fact that in order to survive in this business, you gotta have friends who aren't afraid to be honest - friends caring enough to set you on the right path to success.
Maybe in my pre-epiphany phase I feared hearing the truth. Perhaps somewhere deep down I believed I could do this all by myself. Wrong again, and I've never been happier to admit that. Marcia knows me well and maybe that's key. And it's not that we're "crit-partners," it's that we've developed a bond over the years that breathes instinctual, no-holds-barred trust.
I believe all writers like to see others succeed. Maybe that's naive on my part, but in the circle of friends I've made since embarking on the road to publication, we all have each others backs. For instance, take my friend Edie Ramer, who once again has made it through to another round of The Romantic Times' American Title V contest. A few years back I needed help with a great agent hook. No one hooks like Edie. I sent her what I had; she sent back her suggestions, and I'll be damned, it was so brilliant that those I tested it on said, "Now that's a story I want to hear more about," or something like that. Suffice it to say, it kicked some serious buttocks, and that hook's going into my query, once I get that particular manuscript ready for the ride.
See? Writers want other writers to succeed. I want Edie to succeed like I'm the one in the American Title V contest. Since I'm not, myself and all my alter-egos have voted for Edie at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read her entry here, and then cast your vote, putting "DEAD PEOPLE" in the subject line of your email.
Returning from that segue, I'll conclude with this thought: That the greatest writers didn't get to where they are today on ego. I believe it was with a little help from their friends that got them there. It has to be the case, otherwise there wouldn't be all those lengthy acknowledgments at the end of most books, right? Perhaps the day will come that I won't need the extra help, but I can't imagine not wanting it.
So what say you, my fellow writing aficionados? Crit-groups, crit-partners, beta-readers, or go it all by your lonesome?
Don't forget to vote for my friend Edie.