Writer's Life

Getting Inspired : Pinterest

Whenever I get stuck, I turn to Pinterest. Yes, there are more ads these days, but when the page stays determinedly blank, I find a store of images on which to focus invaluable. I make a pin board for each story I plan to write, and fill it with anything that sparks an idea, no matter how minor that idea might be. I use everything from paintings by old masters to songs and music videos to snatches of poetry.

Here are just a few examples from the board I made for my second manuscript Heart of Ice.

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Image 1: This painting by Kelly Vivanco (You can buy her art at kellyvivanco.com) raises so many questions. The girl looks innocent and sweet but I can’t help but think there’s a little more than tea in that pot. Helen Grey, the heroine of Heart of Ice, has been locked in an insane asylum for ten years. Her nurse is physically violent. In the circumstances, who could blame her for occasionally spiking the tea?

Image 2: Dr. John Butler’s Electric Massage machine. Rumour has it that the vibrator was invented by Victorian doctors as a cure for hysteria. As to whether it’s true, in her book Unmentionable Therese Oneill says definitely not. But then I read The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel P. Maines which is literally an entire book about how it is true. It certainly makes one wonder about the mentality of the doctors who administered this “cure”. Helen doesn’t undergo that particular indignity but the Victorian obsession with female sexual desire was definitely front and centre in my mind while I wrote.

Image 3: Floor plan of a Victorian kitchen. I don’t know about you but I don’t have a scullery (or a pantry or a larder) and when I realised I needed to set scenes in the kitchen, I didn’t want to get things wrong. I don’t describe the kitchen in great detail since it’s not important to the story and I didn’t want to get bogged down in unnecessary detail, but still needed to know what it looked like so that I wouldn’t make my characters walk through walls, jolting the reader out of the story.

Image 4: Water is an important motif in Heart of Ice. I knew there’d be several scenes that involved bathing of various kinds and, when I saw this painting by Jean Baptiste Mallet, I knew exactly where I wanted to set some of them. The stone and stained glass make this a bit different from your usual bathroom.

Image 5: I’ve saved the best till last. Will, the hero of  Heart of Ice, has a dog. He’s called Hector and he’s awesome. He was going to suffer from melancholia but then I re-read Jennifer Crusie’s Anyone But You and realised this was not the brilliant and unique idea I’d first thought. (Just to clarify, it is a brilliant idea but Crusie’s already done it). These days Hector is relatively well-adjusted and often shows better sense than the humans around him.

If you get the chance, check out my boards. Many of them are to do with my writing and my research into the Victorian period, and I also have a board for my Top 100 Romance novels. I know I couldn’t write well in this genre if I didn’t also love it as a reader.

Writer's Life

Critique Partners (six reasons why you need one)

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(Image found on pinterest. Is this image yours? If so, let me know and I’ll credit you.)

Disclaimer: Yes, now and again you meet a soul-sucking shredder who bleeds away your confidence and leaves you a huddled shell, unable to write a word. But mostly CPs are awesome, and here’s why.

1. A critique partnership is reciprocal.

Or at least it should be. It may sound like you’re onto a good thing if your partner is happy to look at your stuff, but strangely reluctant to send their own. I mean, you’re getting something for nothing, right? But actually, you get at least as much out of providing crits as you do from receiving them. Or at least I do.

Critiquing someone else’s stuff forces me to look at why I think something isn’t working, and then forces me to articulate the reason to the other person. Without that, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to understand what makes passive voice passive, or to nail down deep POV.

2. A critique partnership is company.

Being a writer is lonely, especially if, like me, your other job is stay at home parent. I can go entire days without speaking to another adult if I’m not careful. But having a critique partner means you have someone else in the same or a similar situation, someone to talk to about craft, and about all those “Will I ever be good enough?” anxieties.

3. A critique partner is free.

Okay, so they’re going to be fallible. But a good crit partner is part beta reader, part editor, part agony aunt, and you don’t have to pay a penny.

4. A critique partner is supportive.

Once you’ve been working on a project together for a while, your partner will be almost as invested in your success as you are. They won’t roll their eyes when you talk shop and they’ll celebrate with you when you win your first contest.

5. A critique partner is not your mamma.

My first beta reader was my husband. I’m not sure if that’s a step up or a step down from getting your mum to do it. To be fair, he was actually pretty good. He gave good critique and, without him, my progress would have been much slower. He was so far from worried about my delicate feelings that we even got into fights when my skin proved too thin for his criticism.

But I needed another writer to look at it. A writer can tell you when your writing’s crappy and not have to worry about you giving them the silent treatment for the rest of the night. And although my husband was great from a story perspective (he could tell me if something needed more humor or if my characters were being inconsistent), he couldn’t point out POV slips.

6. A regular critique partner will help thicken your skin.

When I look at the most successful romance writers, they’re all class acts. You don’t catch them having a public hissy fit when someone doesn’t like their story. We should all aim for such unflinching stoicism. Readers and reviewers, unlike critique partners, aren’t there to nurture our talent. If they buy your book, they have every right to voice their opinion about it publicly, and they aren’t obligated to cushion the blow. Of course, you have the right to respond with anger if you want, but that’s a bit like storming into your boss’s office and shouting him down; It’s a risky choice career wise.

A good critique partner will offer absolute honesty by way of constructive criticism. If you can’t withstand that, how will you withstand less thoughtful criticism offered by angry readers?

(That’s not to say that you should put up with a rude crit partner. Even a well-meaning critique from an incompatible partner can leave you dispondant. If you find yourself lying on the sofa, eating pizza and feeling sorry for yourself after every critique, it may be time to part ways.)

The Upshot

I love my critique partners. Once you find someone you can work with, look after them because a good CP is worth their weight in Chocolate.