Thursday, 8 October 2009

Eleni-fest: Fiona Gregory - Critique Partner Extraordinaire

One of the most important relationships a writer can have is the one they have with their critique partner. So, I’d like to introduce you to Fiona Gregory, my online critique partner and special guest for today. We’ve been swapping work for two years now and during that time we’ve really clicked. I consider Fi to be a great friend as well as a great CP.

Hi Fiona. Welcome to Eleni-Fest.

Hey Eleni. Thanks for having me.

Tell us about your writing at the moment?
I’m working on a futuristic romance, and I’m starting to percolate ideas for a short story for the RWA Little Gems contest. I’m on leave from work in October so I’m hoping to give the futuristic a bit of a kick along.

(Eleni: Fi has had a short story published in this year's Little Gems Anthology. Go Fi!!)

Have you got a typical writing week?
I work almost full-time at the moment, so my traditional Tuesday writing day has gone out the window. Instead I try to fit in at least half an hour on work nights and more time on the weekend. My face-to-face writing group meets every two weeks and I aim to have a chapter ready every time they meet.

Which face-to-face critique group are you a part of?
My face to face group is the fabulous Hells Belles, a group of six writers from the southside of Brisbane. We have a great mix of styles – romance, romantic suspense, fantasy, horror and futuristic. Everyone brings different skills to the table – grammar, story structure, characterisation. We use a timer and everybody reads the same work for 20-25mins and the group gives feedback at the end.

Fiona with Hells Belles member (& Bootcamper) Roseanne Smiles

You’ve also chosen to work with an online critique partner? (Me!)
Yes. I wanted to incorporate the feedback from the Belles and then show my work to a fresh set of eyes. The RWA Critique Partner scheme is a great way to match people looking for a critique partner. I initially made contact with two partners, one in Australia and one in the US.  I really enjoyed having my US partner, but it didn’t work out, mainly because the timing wasn’t right for her. 

But, having you Eleni as a critique partner has been fabulous.  As well as developing a good working relationship, we’ve developed a great friendship as well. As well as swapping work, our regular chat sessions are great for brainstorming ideas. 
(Eleni: I totally agree! It has been fab!)

Fiona & Eleni at this year's conference

Are there any downsides to working with an online partner rather than a group?
 I like both. Probably the biggest downside to working online is my ability to miss our deadlines for sending work, whereas with the face to face group, if I don’t produce something for the meeting, I still have to front up empty-handed and face them. Belles is a working group, so turning up repeatedly with no writing isn’t considered acceptable.

Ever had any bad critiquing experiences?
Only one that sticks in my mind. I’d working really hard (probably too hard) to fix a chapter and it was unanimously declared to be one of the most boring pieces I’d ever brought to the group. I was devastated and wanted to cry. But I wrote down everything my critique partners said, went home and fixed it.

How do you critique?
I like to do a quick read through to start with, mark anything that “throws me out”, where I have to re-read to clarify, or doesn’t make sense. Then I go back and do a more comprehensive read through looking for spelling, grammar, inconsistencies, plot holes etc.  It’s important to identify the problem, give suggestions for how it could be made stronger, but recognise that the work belongs to the writer, and they may not agree with you. 

I use track changes most of the time for my online work, but sometimes if I know my time will be limited I print and mark up the work during my lunch break or while I’m on the bus. Then I post it back.

At Belles, we have 5-10 minutes for feedback, so I try to comment on something I really love about the manuscript, then focus on areas that need work, then give a more generalised positive comment on the work (eg I love the way the story is developing). I try and write down all the comments made about each work on the back of the manuscript, to allow the person receiving the feedback to concentrate on digesting the information, rather than capturing the comments on paper.

Is there anything you’ve learned from your critiquing experiences?
Lots. With my writing, I’ve learned that I tend to overthink and overwrite. I need to concentrate on letting the story flow in the first draft and then edit it, rather than editing the life out of it as I write. 

I’ve also learned a lot from listening to other people’s critiques, including the right way to give feedback. And if more than one person gives you the exact same feedback, its something you really need to fix.

Well Fi, as always it’s been great chatting. I should let you go, so you can organise those next 3 chapters to send *grin*

Thanks Eleni. I’ll get onto that….

Just a note folks: the CP scheme is available to members of Romance Writers of Australia and Romance Writers of New Zealand. Check their sites for details.

As a special give away in honor of having Fiona on the blog, I have a mini-pack to give-away. 

Just comment about the topic of critique partners to enter. Comments can be posted until the end of the 11th of October.

Comments for Mini-Pack now CLOSED.
Congratulations to Moonsanity!

Good luck!!

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