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Friday, February 25, 2011

On working with a writing partner by Barbara Fleming

Msny words have been written, much advice tendered, about the importance of having someone critique writing before it goes into the world for scrutiny. Writing is a lonely task, but rewriting benefits from another eye and mind. I am heartily in favor of critique groups--indeed, I belong to one--but in the last decade or so I have also benefited, in somewhat different ways, from having a writing partner.

Why a partner? For one, we know, like and trust each other,and we are compatible about what it means to critique. Critiquing is not cheerleading--it is an honest, thoughtful, intelligent response to the writing of others. The writer does not benefit from fulsome praise and is discouraged by a barrage of criticism. Many people seem to think critiquinhg means criticism. Not so. My partner and I are in agreement that we will do neither. Instead, we provide a considered response after a careful reading. We ask questions: Why did this charater say/do this? What is the purpose of this scene? How does it advance the story? And we give feedback: You lost me when...This passage seems out of place in this context...A transition might be helpful here. And so on. Talking back and forth as we do, sharing responses and sparking off each other's comments, we often arrive at a much better way to present a scene, a dialogue, a description.

With just the two of us, we can dig deeply into each other's work. We come to know the novel and its characters intimately, whereas in a lager group that is less likely to happne. Knowing the characters well allows us to question actions and motivations if they don't seem to fit. With just the two of us, we have time to give more than one readinhg to the work for that session. That means we pick up nuances those in a larger group might miss. With just the two of uus, we can set our own time and place to meet and there are only two schedules to accommodate.

I recognize that a writing partner is not for everyone. I'm sure there are and have been many rich, famous and successful writers who did not have anyone, or did not choose to have anyone, critique their work. I am also sure writing partners are not in abundant supply. This person needs to be someone who likes and respects your work as a writer just as you do hers, who writes at your level of skill and experience, and who is willing and able to spend the time to delve thoroughly into your writing as you will into hers. But I have had such a partner to enrich my writing, and for that I consider myself extremely fortunate.

4 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I tried to leave a comment but got frozen out.
I will try again. Barbara, I believe you're very fortunate to have found a writing partner that helps you improve your work.

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