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Apr 10, 2019

My Critique Partner Journey

By Negeen Papehn, author of The Forbidden Love series.

I used to believe that writing was a solitary action, getting lost in the words I typed across a blank screen, just me and my characters in a world of my making. Three published books and four full manuscripts later, I’ve realized it’s anything but singular. Truthfully, it’s a group effort. The story may spill out through my fingertips, but it’s plotted, molded, and fine-tuned, by my amazing critique partners (CPs). There is seldom a page written that someone hasn’t read through and given me feedback on.

            Everyone’s writing journey differs from the next, but mine looks something like this: An idea forms, plot call or extensive emails are exchanged, words flow out onto the pages, then my critique partner does her magic. Sometimes I read through what I’ve written twenty times and revise before they make it into her inbox, and sometimes I don’t review at all, knowing that if I do, I’ll get stuck on that one spot I can’t quite get right and never move forward. So instead, I let her have it because inevitably, she’ll see that trouble region even without my telling her, and come up with a fabulous way to correct it that I couldn’t figure out on my own.
            My CPs are really who taught me the details of writing. It’s so much more complicated than just putting a story down on a page. There’s a formula to it, rules and guidelines to stick to, all of which I had no clue about. But they did, and I learned. Now when I send pages off to my CPs, I’m looking more for notes on character arcs. I like my players to be deep and complicated. I strive to make them authentic and real. I love human flaws. My CPs are now familiar with my style of writing and know what it is I want to achieve with my storytelling. They make sure to keep me on course and help me develop my characters and storyline into the gut-wrenching, emotional roller coaster, I strive to create.
I have multiple people I depend on to help critique my work. My main CP gets it all, every last, horrible, ridiculous word, passes through her. I send her chunks at a time as I write them, then revise based on her notes before I move forward. Once I hit the halfway mark, I send the MS off to my second CP, who reads more for content and acts more like a beta reader, giving me feedback from the reader’s perspective. After her set of notes makes it back my way, I revise again. Then, if I need more help, I have two other partners that read scenes I need to be reviewed. They’re usually scenes I feel are still not as perfect as I want them to be and need another perspective. And usually, they are rock stars at writing those types of scenes so their expertise really helps. Once I feel as though I’ve exhausted all necessary critique outlets, I make the final touches, tightening it all up, and out on submission it goes.
Currently, I’ve been working on a three-book series with City Owl Press, so submitting has meant sending manuscripts off to my editor. When I submitted the first book in the Forbidden series to my editor, it was entirely way too long, weighing in at over 120k words. Most of her critiques, at the time, had to do with cutting the story down to a respectable length for a romance novel. I found this task, at first, damn near impossible. How was I supposed to kill my lovelies? How could I convey my story in less words? But despite not wanting to, I had to figure it out. I slowly began learning how to look at each scene with a new perspective. What did it convey about the character’s arc, and did it propel the story forward?  When I submitted the second book in the series, Forbidden By Destiny, which just came out, the editor’s changes were easier to implement and there was very little, if none, changes that needed to be made to the content in the way of it being too long. By my second go, I’d gotten better at staying focused on propelling the storyline forward, each scene and character necessary and not just loved.
All three books have all been completed and the third is about to be published, so I’ll be back in the query trenches again shortly. I’ve just started writing the first book in a new Contemporary Romance series and plan on sending it out once I’m done.
I’ll be with the masses soon enough, trying to brush off rejections and holding tight to my dwindling confidence, as we all hold our breath, praying an agent pulls us out of the slush pile and falls in love.


About the Author:

Negeen Papehn was born and raised in southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and two boys. She wasn’t always a writer. A graduate of USC dental school, Negeen spends half of her week with patients and the other half in front of her laptop. In the little time she finds in between, she loves to play with her boys, go wine tasting with her friends, throw parties, and relax with her family.

Her Forbidden Love series is currently out with City Owl Press. 

Forbidden by Faith