Ease Draft One Pain – Critique Partners, and a tool!

Last night we had a zoom meeting of our local novel group, a sub-group of Dean Writers Circle. Right now, all of us are writing first drafts which has pros and cons when it comes to sharing with a group of critique partners.

The Pros

* You get some great ideas as discussion about your offering evolves. As my friend Carol says – the ‘why didn’t I think of that’ type of ideas.
* You can ask specific questions like, how are characters developing/what are the reader’s feelings towards them (and is this what you want?), what questions are being raised in the reader’s mind, are things too opaque or too obvious, does the story flow or does it feel jerky/disjointed? Or anything else niggling at you.
* It’s encouraging when people say how much they love this phrase or line or character. It keeps the motivation up, especially in those dreaded middle sections.
* You can be made aware of writing ‘tics’ (from too oft-repeated phrases to head-hopping) early on and hopefully avoid them as you draft.
* It forces you to keep writing. I have one group which meets weekly, and we share about 10 pages (double spaced) at a time, or ca 2,500 words. Not a mammoth task, but a discipline.

The Cons

* If you review the already written work with your own revised ideas, you are in danger of your new work only making sense in the revised context. And your critique partners haven’t read this. They can easily lose the flow of the plot if this is too drastic.
* If the group doesn’t meet frequently, it takes a long time to get through your book. [We overcome this by turning into beta readers when a book is finished and dedicating most of a session to that one book.]
* You have to avoid the temptation to edit other people’s work for grammar, ie technicalities which can be fixed later, as some of this work may not survive the edit process. After all, the most important thing about a first draft is to get it down!
* the readers who don’t critique, but tell you it’s wonderful. It can’t be, not at this stage.


My own experience has been positive and I would encourage other writers to use critique partners. For best results –

* keep the group small – remember you also must read their material and this takes time.
* meet regularly – weekly is brilliant, every two weeks would be okay.
* be prepared to listen to what people say!
* have specific questions to focus on areas that worry you. This is especially helpful to draw out the ones who only have praise for your work.
* if you have someone in the group who constantly rejects feedback, make sure to tell them the positives first, then lead into what you see could be improved. If that doesn’t work, minimise the time you spend on their work. Brutal I know, but … (Giving feedback is of course, another whole topic!)

If you’re involved with such a group, I’d love to know what the pros and cons are for you. Let me know in the comments.

A tool to help you keep track

I know there are many fancy tools out there to help writers, and doubtless they work for many people. Most also cost money. But here’s something which I’ve developed over the last couple of books until I now find it working for me. It’s not a tool to help you plot your overall story but one to help you keep track of it, to give an overview, and to make draft 2 and later revisions easier.

I’m finding it very useful for my current WIP – I jot down key points for the next chapters to be written and use these to aid drafting. If the draft doesn’t turn out the way the key points said (fancy!), well, I change that column to reflect what I actually wrote. Then I think about why, and how does that affect the story going forward. Also, does it have an impact on the story already written? (and note that in the relevant column).

I hope you find it helpful – and if you don’t like Excel, suspect it would work quite well in a word table also. Now updated to reflect the August update note below.

August 2022 update!
I’ve started writing the sequel to Keepers which people asked for, and I’m still using this tool. However, I recently fell across a great piece of writing advice designed to keep your story moving forward in a way which keeps the readers turning the pages. This is about looking at what’s just happened in the previous scene and saying: Because that has happened, these are the consequences – and this forms the basis of your next scene. Simple, but forces you to think!

Here’s an example from the sequel: (Alf has decided to join Arthur at the Snowy Mountains scheme)

From previous scene: Because the travel to the hydro scheme is difficult and they have to process his paperwork, he decides to get a short term job in Cooma, needs the money, can’t go thru his savings
Key events: he asks in the pub; is recommended a certain builder; applies for and gets a job
From previous scene: Because he is working for this particular builder, he comes across June …
etc …