Critique Partners – Creating a Successful Relationship

January 30, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Posted in Bria, career, editing, friendship, relationships, writing | 5 Comments
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Finding a Critique Partner is hard enough, but making it work (just like any relationship) IS work. The Pre-CP labor is where your partnership will be made or destroyed — you just won’t know which immediately.

I’m lucky. I haven’t been drifting along too by myselfly (yes, I know it isn’t a word, but that’s what it feels like.) Besides my fellow Heartlettes here at the blog, I’m also blessed by several women who support, guide and direct me over at the RD board. I have wonderful people who are willing to read my stuff and give me honest feedback – painfully honest feed back – just like I’m looking for.  They catch things and ask questions and point out flaws and praise and give the love.

But until I met Ann, I didn’t have anyone to do that deep-intense daily walking thing with. For the last month we’ve done a chapter each per week. We email, edit, scan, send back and discuss on Thursday night.

It’s working out really well so far and I think I know why: Planning.

Planning came in two parts. The first part I’ll call The Covenant and the second could be considered The Job Description.

Before we got started we took some time to read sites about being in a Critique Group. Together we discussed what we were looking for, what we needed, how we best worked, what would be most hurtful, rules for discussing issues, how we’d consider bringing new people into our sessions, and emergency exit strategies.

Beyond these things, we discussed expectations. What did we expect to get out of and put into the relationship? What edits, thoughts, suggestions did we want? To be honest, we’re greedy girls, we wanted everything. And to make sure it all gets covered, we have an extensive list of summary questions to answer each week to ensure that all topics get broached sufficiently.

I’d like to share with you some of the sites we used to draw up both the Covenant and JD:

Ok, here are some sites I found around critiquing —- we can pick and choose what we like:;read=295

This isn’t the complete list, but it shows a well rounded search from in-depth to chatty “did you think about this” ideas.

I strongly believe your writing life should be run like a career and so, every CP relationship should start out this way, just like a job.

Just like every other aspect of your writing, do the work. Short cuts chop off the borders of your vision where some of the most beautiful details grasp the edges.

If you’re interested in what we came up with specifically or would like to tell us what’s worked (or hasn’t) with your CPing relationships, let us know!

Then, Go Write,


In my last 35 years…

December 21, 2007 at 11:54 am | Posted in friendship, life, Meg, relationships | 1 Comment

Spent all week trying to figure out a great list of favorites about something fun and exciting. No luck. The only thing that kept coming to mind was how old I felt working so hard to create an enjoyable Christmas for my family. Then I picked up the cardboard light saber creation (fashioned out of an empty wrapping paper roll) and climbed into my x-wing fighter (those shipping boxes are sometimes more fun than the presents themselves) and realized how I still have some youthful spirit to appreciate the magic of the holiday (*note to new readers- I have two young boys).

This contradiction of feeling old and young rattled in my brain long enough this week that I thought I’d use this space to get it all out. So without further ado, these are a few of my favorite (random) things I’ve learned about…turning 35.

  • Every woman should have a theme song. You know that song that resonates in your head when you need to summon up courage, roar out frustration, etc. Mine is “Let it Snow”. Timely this holiday season, but I find myself singing the first line- ‘Oh the weather outside is frightful’- even in July when I find stress overpowering me. For some reason, it calms me down.
  • I’ve reached the stage in my life that I don’t give a crap. Or at least not as much crap as I used to about certain things like whether my clothes are perfect or if my house is spotless. Life is too complicated and short to worry about the tiniest things. Besides, if my friends are going to judge me by my apparel or home, then they’re not the people I want around me anyway.
  • Men. Ah, what I’ve learned about men in the last 35 years could take up a whole month of blog entries. So I’ll highlight a few below in reference to what women need to know about men.
  • All women need three types of men in their life. One man can be more than one type, and maybe you’ve married the rare man who can pull off all three, but most likely you’ll need at least two different guys to fulfill these needs. First, a woman needs one man (husband, son, father, etc.) to love her unconditionally. No matter what. Second, a woman has to have a honest male friend where sex never enters the picture. Yeah, you can argue When Harry Met Sally, but the friendship is possible. Last, a woman should find a guy who thinks she’s hot. I’m not suggesting an affair, or even a flirtation if you are married (and hopefully if you are married, it’s your husband saying it), but every woman over 30 needs a man who tells her she’s sexy and means it!
  • Every woman over 30 needs to have at least one thing they regret, they’re ashamed of, or would like a do over. This means you’re not perfect, but you’ve grown enough to know it.
  • Also, every woman over 30 should have something in their past they’re proud of, something they knew was crazy to do but they don’t regret it, and something they relive in their mind with a smile on their face. Honey, this means you’ve lived!
  • As for love affairs, I think every woman over 30 should have a few types (again, one relationship can more than one type). One should break your heart. One should show you what love is NOT. One should make you wonder where that person is today. One should end in a friendship and one should carry on forever.
  • Despite what it might feel like when you’re waiting in that school yard to pick up your child(ren), you are no longer in school. Yes, you could get caught up in all that crazy clique stuff from high school and feel like the nerd, band geek, cheerleader, sports star, etc. you were then. But remember, you most likely AREN’T the same person now! High school was decades ago- DECADES! Be who you are now and embrace it! And if people still view you as that high school character, then they lose out.
  • Life is not a popularity contest. I’ve discovered that a few close friends that I trust and love are more important than a hundred acquaintances. In addition, I don’t need a jammed packed social schedule to feel loved and important (and thank goodness, since my calendar has no room for social fun after work and my kids’ stuff!)
  • Every woman should have a guilty pleasure. Maybe it’s reality tv, dark chocolate, erotic novels or 80s love songs. Whatever it is, the guilty pleasure needs to be something that you’re slightly embarrassed about and rarely admit to acquaintances, but something you don’t want to live without (mind you, these are different from bad addictions). I’ll admit to two of mine– teen dramas (One Tree Hill Season 4 just arrived from Netflix! Wahooo!) and Star Wars (namely the X-Box lego video game), now admit to yours!
  • Family is the most important. This group of people may be blood related, legally tied to you or bonded in other ways (i.e. friends), but they are essential. Without family, you’re a solo person floating around in the world with no home base.

I think that’s all I can think of this week. Here are a few more I borrowed from others:

11 Things Women Over 30 Wish Men Knew…
Although there’s debate whether Andy Rooney truly wrote this, but here’s an ode to Women Over 30:

Now what about you? Any major life lessons you’ve learned (at no matter what age you are?)


Honorary Heartlette – Myretta Robens

September 2, 2007 at 9:09 am | Posted in friendship, Honorary Heartlette, Myretta Robens, relationships, writing | 5 Comments

Thanks to the Heartlettes for the invitation to blog with you today. The fact that these delightful ladies have joined together to blog about writing is a wonderful example of the topic I’ve chosen for my Purple Hearts blog: Writing Friendships.

After I finished my first Regency Romance manuscript, my critique partner told me, in the kindest possible way, that the work was not salvageable. Then we talked about all the things that were wrong with it. This conversation was probably the most productive learning experience of my writing life.

This blog is about friends, and how critical they are to a working writer (or at least to this working writer). Writing, as any writer will tell you, is a solitary endeavor. Ultimately, the work is yours: alone at your computer, on the back porch with a notebook, in the car at your child’s soccer game, tapping away at the laptop. No matter how many people are around you, you manage to block them out and immerse yourself in your story. And, no matter how much help they offer, what appears on the page is yours.

Nevertheless, although we experience it in different ways, the community of writers and readers is also a vital part of what we do and who we are. For some of us, it’s the monthly trek to your RWA Chapter meeting; the chance to hear what other writers are working on, what obstacles they are overcoming, what successes they have had. For others, it’s the after-meeting meal, where you sit down with your particular writing friends and talk, in depth about writing issues.

Then, there are the on-line friendships: list serves and discussion boards where the discussion ranges from funny to intense, where information is shared, rants are validated, and friendships are formed. How about blogs? An interesting one-way relationship. I met Megan Frampton when we were both waiting for publication of our first novels and writing journals for All about Romance. We have become good friends and speak frequently, but I follow her blog to keep track of what she’s up to on a daily basis. On the other hand, I feel as though I know Carolyn Jewel because I read her writing blog every morning, but I’m certain she has no clue who I am.

First readers are important members of my group of writing friends. These people are not writers but are an inestimable support. They are the people who read with a loving but critical eye and feed back, not only the praise that is so desperately desired, but the constructive criticism that is desperately needed. These are the people who will tell you that, although they adore your heroine, they have not fallen in love with your hero. They will also, I have learned, tell you where your punctuation is wrong, and where you have dropped prepositions and pronouns (a particular problem of mine). And they are your cheering section, the people who tell you they are proud of what you do and encourage you to keep going.

Last is that most intimate of writing friendship, the critique partner. For me, this is the relationship that makes writing possible. Although others can – and, believe me, will – be willing to offer critiques and, although these critiques might be quite valuable, the critique partnership goes that extra step. The best of all critique partners is one with whom you have developed an absolute trust, one from whom you can accept the verdict that the manuscript over which you have labored for the previous nine months cannot be saved. A full partnership thrives on honesty and an understanding of each others’ strengths and weaknesses, each others’ dreams and goals. It includes, not only critique, but brainstorming, sympathy and celebration. It is a friendship in its fullest sense.

So, what about you out there? Do you have writing relationships? A support group? A first reader? A critique partner or group? Do you think anyone really writes in solitude?

A gift for all men- a women’s dictionary

August 9, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Posted in character, dialogue, life, Meg, relationships, writing | Leave a comment

I’m cranky today, what I now call my artistic temperament (better than saying it’s PMS or bitchiness) so I decided to go for a bit of levity in this blog post. Perhaps not as useful as last week’s dialogue tags, but hopefully you’ll smile. Some days we have to remember, writing is meant to entertain. I hope this does…

Words Women Use:

1.) Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.
2.) Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.
3.) Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. This means something and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with Nothing usually end in Fine. (Refer back to #1 for the meaning of Fine.)
4.) Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don’t do it!
5.) Loud Sigh: This is actually a word , but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to #3 for the meaning of Nothing.)
6.) That’s Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a woman can make to a man. That’s okay means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.
7.) Thanks: A woman is thanking you –do not question, or faint. Just say you’re welcome.
8.) Whatever: Is a woman’s way of saying YOU ARE AN IDIOT!!!
9.) Don’t worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking “what’s wrong”; and for the woman’s response to be, “nothing”. (Refer back to # 3 for the meaning of Nothing.)

All joking side, my second purpose in posting this is to show how people/ readers can interpret dialogue differently. This is why it’s important to use dialogue tags to illustrate emotion (especially sarcasm) or deep thought to give a clue into the character’s mind. After all, you want your hero to interpret your heroine’s words/behaviors correctly, right?

(and I wish I knew where this originated to give credit, please don’t sue. It was forwarded in an email from a good friend who knows a good laugh is essential for a healthy daily existence)

Lost in my own mind

July 27, 2007 at 3:06 pm | Posted in creativity, Meg, relationships, writing | Leave a comment

Ahh the contreat! A whole weekend to talk about writing, do some writing and read some writing. Heaven on earth. At least for me. It was great to be with my two heartlette pals- we laughed, we learned and (yes, as you can guess) we wrote.

At least I did. Being the wonderful, understanding ladies that they are, Jess and Bria allowed me a good portion of Saturday evening to finish a chapter I’ve been struggling with for weeks. They vacated the premises and checked in periodically to make sure I hadn’t tossed my laptop over the balcony in frustration. I finished the chapter and then some. It was great.

Well, mostly great. The problem was, I got so involved in my story, I had a hard time pulling myself out of it. When they returned and promptly instructed me to get out of my own head, I was too drained and my ability to communicate with live human beings disappeared. Verbally, I couldn’t complete my sentences or interpret nonverbal cues. I was a social mess.

If you’re a writer, I bet this has happened to you at least once (if not every day). You get so into your story or characters, you lose track of time and ability to function. Maybe you’ve missed an exit on the highway because you’re ironing out that conflict. Or you were late in picking someone up because that love scene was flowing out your fingertips. Or you lost bits of conversation because you were figuring out dialogue in your mind. Whatever the social infraction was, hopefully it wasn’t too detrimental to anyone’s welfare or relationship.

For me on the contreat, I was blessed to have two people who not only understood my needs, but respected them (even if they did laugh at me a bit). So I thank Bria and Jess for all they gave me on the contreat. I feel blessed to have these women in my life and I look forward to the next contreat!

If you’re thinking of attending a ready made conference, check out the chapter pages on RWA National. Just about every chapter has their own conference and some even have online courses. There is also Romance Divas that Bria has mentioned. They have courses all the time to enhance your writing. Or if you’re interested in having your own contreat with some friends, you can invoke your own guest speakers by ordering tapes of conferences (such as the 2007 RWA Nationals) to listen to with your writing friends.


A Shout-Out To My Crew

July 23, 2007 at 9:27 am | Posted in career, inspiration, Jessica, relationships, writing | Leave a comment

If you have ever had the great opportunity to attend a workshop or hear a speech delivered by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, you have probably at one time or another heard her give reference and thanks to “The Chili Babes” – a tried and true group of writers and friends (not necessarily in that order) who have seen each other through years of professional and personal ups and downs. When I have heard these shout outs to The Chili Babes, I have always sat in the audience wishing that I, too, had a support and care and encouragement crew that I could call my own.

Having just celebrated my fifth aniversary as an RWA member, I am happy to have finally found some of those like-minded writers and am grateful to now be a part of two such groups. One of them is right here with the Purple Hearts! (Hi, too, Sporkies!)

The three of us Heartlettes could not make it to the RWA National Conference this year and, accepting this fate months in advance, we planned our own little get-away – called, as Meg dubbed it, the First Annual Purple Hearts Con-treat. Part conference, part retreat, it was our chance to get away from the day-to-day and have the time and space to work on the aspects of our writing that we wanted to address most.

As with most good times, the con-treat went too quickly. Three writers . . . Three friends . . . Yes, we did socialize and have fun but we worked, too. Much more than I, admittedly, thought we would.

I feel great about what I accomplished and what I learned, but I think one of the best things I took away from the con-treat is a better sense of what I need to do to create my writing life going forward – mentally and physically. Bria and Meg have been great in getting me on track and helping me stay there, and, if nothing else, a weekend away with them was a great reminder of what we’re trying to accomplish and why.

So in this week’s blog post I want to give a shout out to my fellow Purple Hearts, with sincere thanks for being my support and care and encouragement crew. Someday I hope to be up at that podium with the chance to thank you in front of our RWA colleagues, and maybe I’ll inspire someone in the audience to go out and find her crew, just like SEP did for me.

As an aside, I recommend attending anything being presented by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Even if it’s a reading of the yellow pages.


Sexy is as Sexy Does

July 13, 2007 at 9:06 pm | Posted in Bria, character, creativity, hero, life, relationships, romance, writing | 2 Comments

Hot – Fine – Good Looking – Cute – Handsome – Attractive – Luscious  

Justin Timberlake has been trying to do it all year – he’s trying to bring sexy back.  But can someone answer me this: What does that mean? 

As a writer, I take a stab at creating heroes women find attractive (don’t we all) – but there’s a fundamental problem with that.  Everyone finds different things attractive. 

I often joke around (I know you’re shocked) by saying things like “Every girl deserves at least one hot, dumb jock.”  I’ve had mine, and you know what? You can keep him. 

He was completely gorgeous.  Women would slip him their phone number while he was holding my hand. Agents (real ones, we checked) would approach him about modeling. Eyes followed him wherever he went. He had that something that went beyond the absurd good looks. 

When I met him, it didn’t cross my mind to be interested. He was just too good looking. Maybe that was it, maybe I was the challenge. Flowers in my car, candy in my coat pocket, cd’s in my player.  He pulled out every get-the-girl trick known to man. He was thoughtful and wanted to be around me all the time. He liked to show me off to his friends à look how funny/smart she is. 

He was also was needy, manipulative, self-absorbed, shallow and secretly insecure. 

Not to mention my last Hot Guy.   

Now, older and wiser, I find myself attracted to a different type of man. OK, the OC was a horrible show and lasted longer than it should have, but it’s perfect here: think Seth instead of Ryan. But could you make him stronger and add a dash of danger. Oh! Brood a little. Maybe have some deep dark secret that only I can heal for him. . .  

Ok, so maybe it isn’t all that cut and dry. So how do we transfer all of this into a hero that will speak to different woman? 

There are things all women are attracted to: Strength of mind, character, spirit, body. He must have the nugget of goodness in him somewhere . Devoted to the heroine. 

All About Romance did a poll in 2006 of the top 10 Heroes (as well as Heroines and Couples) and the one thing that came clear to me is that women like a strong man who stands by his principles (whatever they might be) and is devoted to the heroine. 

So, I’m dying to know – WHAT ARE YOU ATTRACTED TO? 

-bria heartlette    

A Lid For Every Pot

July 13, 2007 at 11:19 am | Posted in Jessica, movies, relationships, romance, writing | Leave a comment

Meg is offline this week so Bria and I are taking on the task of filling in for the Friday blog spot.

Thinking of Meg has me thinking about summer vacations.  Remembering some of my own vacation opportunities over the past few years, one of the best vacations I have had in recent memory was a trip I took a few years ago to visit friends in California.  It was the first trip I had ever taken where I traveled alone on my own itinerary.  And I loved it.  It helped that I had loved ones that I could call upon while in town, but I absolutely loved having the freedom to do what I wanted to do and see what or whom I wanted to see, and all on my own timetable.  I also did the tourist thing and ended up watching a lot of people on that trip, and for the first time I really took notice of the variety of couples that occupy our world . . . and I remember thinking to myself that, by outward appearances, so many of them seemed mis-matched.

And that was the most fun and optimistic revelation that I took from the trip.  For the first time I witnessed it all around me: the relationship ultimate that there was a lid for every pot.

Now, if I could only have interviewed each and every one of them to ask how they met.  Because I hear from so many people just how hard it is to meet anyone new with the way society is today – whether it be relationship potentials, other new friends with somewhat similar interests, different professional contacts, etc.  And with so many people claiming the same hardship and wanting that new social contact, you’d think that it would be easier to meet lots of different people, not harder.

One of the blogs I regularly visit is Billy Mernit’s, Living the Romantic Comedy.  (Love it!)  A recent post has me thinking more and more about this alleged rift in in-person, meaningful social networking, and how that translates – even if it should – into the kinds of romance novels that we write.  If you’ll allow me the hypothetical question – Does a ‘modern audience’ still want to read about boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back, and they live happily-ever-after?

In Mernit’s post, Till Year Four Do Us Part, he references, “The Shelf Life of Bliss,” a NY Times article by Sam Roberts (July 1, 2007) that looks at modern marriage and attitudes. In it, Roberts states the average span for a marriage made in 2000 is 3-7 years, unlike the lifelong unions of the past.  So to play devil’s advocate here, I wonder how that notion plays into our audience? 

With romance novels, I would argue that consumers read them for that love ideal and that satisfying ending.  But the most buzzed-about and successful ‘romance’ movies of the past two years (with a much different and more varied audience, admittedly) look at the concept of the love story in a way that seems more . . . authentically contemporary.  The movies referenced in the Mernit post are The 40-Year Old Virgin ($109.2M) and Knocked Up ($132.0M, so far), and I want to throw in Wedding Crashers ($209.2M), too, simply because it hit such box office gold.

Personally, I’m not saying that I do not want a tried-and-true love story and a happy ending because, quite frankly, I live enough real life that I would rather not read about it for my entertainment or escape.  But I also admit to being somewhat of a dinosaur in other areas, so, with the wild success of the stories as told in the movies mentioned above, I wonder – am I a bit too much of an Old Soul for modern social networking or storytelling?

Time will tell! 

As an aside, I still hold onto the hope that there are enough well-fitting lids out there. Some where.


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