My #1 Critique Partner
I always love writers’ process posts, so I thought I’d write a little about one of the most important facets of mine: being married to another writer.
We have completely different processes, and write in different genres, so there isn’t any competition. He writes best before noon; I write best after ten p.m. He writes first drafts out by hand; I do everything on the computer. He’s a playwright. I’m writing YA fiction. He’s written half a dozen plays in the last two years; I’ve written and revised (and revised, and revised) one novel. He works from home as a freelance reporter, so his schedule is pretty flexible; I have a 9-to-5 admin job.
My grad degree was in theatre history & criticism with a specialization in new play dramaturgy, so I’m basically trained to give tactful, hopefully insightful feedback to playwrights. Convenient, no? I’m usually the first person to read Steve’s plays, which he sends me a couple scenes at a time. Sometimes I print out the pages and make smiley faces next to lines I love and make notes about things and add all the question marks (for some reason he neglects them entirely in his first drafts and it DRIVES ME CRAZY). Or sometimes I just email him back with a list of thoughts I have while reading. For instance, today he sent me the beginning of Act II in his new adaptation of Medea. I am kind of in love with this play. He started writing it at Sundance and I think it’s pretty fabulous. It’s definitely the cleanest first draft he’s written. I was really excited to read the next installment! I wrote back about how I loved the conversation between Maddy and her aunt, how tenses changed back and forth during one segueway section, how fun and theatrical a nightclub/church scene was (musical numbers and prayers are both common elements in his plays, interestingly), and how the voices of Maddy’s dad and uncle both slip sometimes. (I think it’s a testament to how strong and unique those voices are, even in this rough draft, that I could tell when something was off.) Anyway, then Steve asked me whether I thought he should elaborate on one relationship, and I think it’s okay for now but might be something to consider for the next draft when he has the whole arc of the play figured out. We have gotten pretty efficient at me critiquing his work, because we’ve been at it for about four years now and I know what kind of feedback he’s looking for and how to present it in a palatable way.
Steve critiquing my work is still a little rougher sometimes; we’re still figuring out a rhythm. I like to throw around ideas, talk out problems I’m having. I like suggestions, but I take them much better if they’re phrased as "what if…?" rather than "you should." He’s the first person I send each new or revised chapter, and I have occasionally been so anxious for immediate feedback that I’ve made him read something at midnight while he’s blinking all sleepy at the screen. This afternoon I sent him four edited chapters–about 70 pages–with a list of dramaturgical questions (Do I drop this subplot too long? Is the pacing okay here? Is she too passive? Are the verbs punchy enough?). He wrote back noting that the action moves along more quickly now "even when the action is mushy girly romance stuff," suggesting my exposition was showing in one place, noting two awkward/not quite right terms, noting a too-obvious clue, suggesting two different character motivations, wondering if I can cut a conversation…His notes are so helpful because they tend to be really, really specific. Again, sometimes I bristle at concrete suggestions–but I’ve also taken some and totally run with them. I’ll probably talk through ideas with him tonight–because, again, I like to work things out aloud. I also have a fairly major change I’m considering for the climax that I would like his opinion on.
So…that’s how our mutual critique system works. Any questions? Do you share writing with your spouse?