A Conversation Between Critique Partners: In Defense of Sharing Ideas & Stories

Hi, Sarah here! Today Sooz and I are co-writing this post about critique partners. Enjoy!

So, by now it’s no secret that Sooz and I are CPs—and that we have a pretty darn successful partnership. In the past, we’ve co-written posts about how our CPship helps us Maintain Passion For A Story, World-Build, and How We Generally Operate As CPs. Today, however, we thought we’d answer one of the questions that we get asked somewhat often by other writers regarding our CPing & writing processes:

I’ve heard from other authors that they don’t like to share their ideas/stories until they’re finished, and that doing so is a sure-fire way to kill your creativity and motivation. Don’t you guys worry about that?

SARAH: First of all, and this is something that both Sooz and I strongly believe in, there is absolutely no wrong way to go about writing your book. Write your book the way YOU want to—the way that makes you come alive, the way that makes you get out of bed each morning totally pumped to write. There is no definite method of HOW you write that will lead to success/book deals/whatever.

Nowadays, we’re both very open about our writing—and love talking about our ideas and books before/as we write them. For years, I thrived the most as a writer by talking about my ideas and sharing my first drafts with CPs as I wrote them (for cheerleading and encouragement). But at some point in the past two years, I heard someone mention how they NEVER tell anyone their ideas or share their first drafts, because it ruins the story for them—because story ideas will vanish if they are even whispered about before they are fully formed.

And hearing that somehow put me into this mindset where I suddenly felt…bad sharing that stuff. Terrified. As if my first drafts had to be written alone and quietly and in the dark. So I kinda stopped sharing random story ideas, stopped talking about my books as I drafted them, and stopped sharing my WIPs chapter-by-chapter as I wrote them…And for the first time in my life, I wound up starting to abandon manuscripts.

Until then, I had ALWAYS finished my books. I prided myself on finishing every damn story I started. And in hindsight (seriously, Sooz and I discussed this stuff and had a big “HOLY CRAP! YOU TOO!?” moment), I realized it’s totally because I convinced myself that I had to keep quiet about everything. I now have a graveyard of WIPs on my desktop because I never spoke about them to anyone, and never shared them as I wrote, and as a result I lost the interest/passion/motivation to finish them. But a few months ago, I suddenly understood that keeping quiet was legit KILLING my creativity—that I LOVED and NEEDED to be able to share all this stuff… and that the only person I had to answer to for my writing process was ME.

*Passes the proverbial mic to Sooz*

SOOZ: Sarah and I both were working on our various Book 3 manuscripts this past winter, and though we had already been CPing for a while, we very rarely went super in-depth about our various ideas, and only sent each other stuff once it was 110% polished and ready to go.

[Side note: I do think you need CPs of varying levels. For me, Sarah is a cheerleader who reads as I’m drafting AND a CP who will read as I’m revising/polishing. But we both have CPs who are one or the other, and who we value just as much.]

Set Your Life On FireSarah and I had co-written two projects in the past—and for both of them, we wound up writing UNGODLY amounts of words in short time periods (like, 60k in a week). We thought for a while it was just because the stories were exciting, fresh, and fabulous…But what we realized this past winter was that it wasn’t just the stories…it was the FUN we had while TALKING about the stories, while swapping each chapter as we wrote them and gushing over them and then being so excited to write & share the next scene, and the next, and the next.

So we decided that even though it felt weird and made us kinda self-conscious, we should talk about our individual Book 3s (both of which were giving us grief). Talk about our plans, every random idea, and SHARE the actual writing while we were doing it. Once we started doing that, it was a game-changer. Having Sarah get excited over my ideas (and vice-versa) was a HUGE motivator—and one that helped me get through my book…and be EXCITED about it.

SARAH: Honestly, I love the internet and how many resources there are out there for writers nowadays. But I think that sometimes we can get TOO much advice—and that hearing a random tidbit about someone’s writing process can somehow screw with yours.

[Super Random side note: We’ve also heard that some people believe having a CP means you’re a weak writer—and makes you look like one, too. I cannot emphasize enough how much BS is contained in that notion.]

Today we talked about WHY we share with each other and how it makes us come alive just in case there are any of you who operate like us. In case you’re one of the people who DON’T like to keep quiet and write alone but feel like you have to. But this is just OUR way of writing—there are so many other methods out there. If you ARE someone who finds that your ideas lose their spark if you talk about them, or you don’t like sharing a book until it is 100% finished, that is absolutely and completely wonderful, too. Basically, just write in the way that makes YOU the most excited, and be proud of it.

SOOZ: Yep. There is NO wrong way to be creative. None.


9 Responses to A Conversation Between Critique Partners: In Defense of Sharing Ideas & Stories

  1. Amy Jane Apr 30 2013 at 10:39 am #

    When I saw the title I first thought of the discussions (worries) I’ve heard about not sharing ideas for fear they’ll be copied(if not outright stolen).

    I remember reluctantly agreeing with something I saw on a fairy tale novelist’s website, that she doesn’t read fans’ work b/c even if she doesn’t “steal ideas,” the pool we all draw from is so well-known that it could *look* like she was stealing and she (at this point the specifics of my memory dissolve) either wanted the freedom to pick whatever elements w/o the concern of whose done it first, or didn’t want to hurt anybody, something like that.

    What you talk about here, tho, is different and good, but I theorize you are still partaking of the not-telling energy ;} Because it sounds like you’re still containing the stories within your nurturing partnership.

    Here’s what I mean: when I “tell” about my novel, I tell whoever will stand still long enough to listen. I have one or two people who are best at that, but no one who actually loves the story like me, and I am having to “sell” the story as I think with my mouth open.

    Sometimes it’s worth it, because I want to see how another person will respond to an idea.
    Other times, I just end up exhausted, and I think it’s because I couldn’t let the story carry itself.

    In your (shared) case, you still have a “closed system,” but you have the benefit of having another mind within that system. Your stories’ energy is still contained and “bouncing off the walls,” refeeding itself (rather than dissipating), because together you make a larger container.

    In those rarer moments when I get to talk with another IRL writer who is interested in my story, I *do* end up wired and ready to go, but if I don’t quickly find my audience is that type, I have to exert some self-discipline and get out of that talk, because it’s like using a wet blanket for fuel.

    All that to say, I’ve lived it both ways, and have experienced the share/don’t-share difference.

    Do you find story energy lasts/improves no matter who you share with, or is it your unique CP relationship that keeps it going?

  2. Alexa Y. Apr 30 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I love this post! I think I am also one of those people who needs to have someone that I can share my work with chapter by chapter (or in my case, section by section). I find that it motivates me to finish faster, to get excited (since everyone’s usually so excited to read) and so on. This probably dates back to my days writing fan fiction. My best friends were always excited about the next installment – and I liked sharing hints of my ideas with them!

    I do like to let the ideas incubate and write a few chapters first though, on my own. So I guess I’m really a little bit of both!

  3. Rosanna Silverlight Apr 30 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    This is an awesome post! Live and let live: I’ve never heard of (or read about on the internetz or elsewhere) two writers with EXACTLY the same processes, from drafting to polishing to publishing. I was nodding along at every line in this post, because I firmly believe that TALKING about my writing has helped me own it, love it, believe in it and do MORE of it over the last year and a half than at any other point in my life.

    I made a wonderful friend on Twitter three years back who has now become one of my rock-solid best buds in the universe, and who has been there through every draft I’ve written of my novel. We talk on the phone every chance we get and we ALWAYS talk about our writing and other creative projects. I can seriously identify with you here, Sarah, because I 100% wouldn’t have finished the first – or second – draft of my novel without her being there and cheering me on, coaxing me and encouraging me when I was about ready to throw in the towel. She’s helped me through some painful realisations and opened the door on some wonderful revelations, too. I couldn’t do without her.

    Anyway, big YAY! to this post. I love hearing about critique partnerships. 🙂

    Also, I have a question! I’ve been dying to ask this for a while because it’s one aspect of being a published author under contract that I don’t know anything about: basically, I’ve seen many author FAQ pages where the author says that she can’t read other people’s manuscripts or give advice on them for legal reasons. I get this. But, how does that work when you’re reading the unpublished work of your critique partner? Are you allowed to make exceptions for people you have a close friendship/professional connection with?

    Just curious, anyway. Thanks for a great post as always, ladies. 🙂

    • Eliza May 20 2014 at 1:01 pm #

      This is a late response, and I’m not the most qualified to answer your question, but I think that the “legal reasons” are the writer doesn’t want to get sued in case they have a similar idea to a fan’s book that they read. With a CP, you’d have an agreement between yourselves that you won’t ‘steal’ each others ideas.

  4. Kim Apr 30 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Having a CP makes you a weak writer? Really? That’s one of those oddest writing advice I’ve ever heard. I have a few CPs that I use only when I’m done and have a polished manuscript for them to critique — which is uber helpful and I love them for it! — but I also have two critique groups that I go chapter by chapter and/or section by section. Both help in different ways, and both definitely make a better writer.

    I love reading these posts between you two. They are always so interesting 🙂

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