Writer In Motion: Week 4

WIM Week 4: Second CP Round

Part 2: Trusted CPs


Now that I’ve talked about the difference between CPs and Beta readers, I thought I’d talk about how I look for CPs, how many CPs I’d like to have, and where and when I like to have my CPs help with manuscript development.

The very first thing I consider is myself and my needs. That sounds very selfish, doesn’t it? It is. I’ve discovered over the many years of my life that I’m a very independent person. That’s not the greatest quality to have when it comes to receiving and processing feedback, but it is who I am, I’m a bit old to expect my personality to change that much.

I handle criticism best when I fully trust the individual giving it, when I love their writing and their style, when they have the ability to see through what I wrote to what I meant, and when they suggests a change that they can brainstorm with me, and when I can argue the changes that are the most difficult. These changes are ones that I can see happening, but I sometimes struggle to visualize how I will make it without unraveling the whole story to do it. I know I’m not the easiest person to work with, and so I try to choose my CPs carefully.

I’ve found CPs from contests, from forums, from writing groups. They can come from anywhere, but once I’ve found these writers, it’s time to test out whether or not we might be a good fit long-term.

First of all, they are writers who write and read in my genre. Ideally, they have a number of finished manuscripts in that genre, and are busy writing more. They don’t have to be fast writers, but I am looking for dedication. Once I’ve decided to see if a writer is a possible CP, I will usually offer to Beta read something for them. This gives them a chance to see how I evaluate their work, and it gives me a chance to see their story craft, prose, grammar, weaknesses, and strengths as a writer. I want to be on close to equal footing in terms of writing ability, but I also want to be of use to that writer.

Ideally, after deciding that their style of writing is something I like, and want to work with, I may ask if they want to try to CP something for me, and I will CP something for them. I like to start with a single chapter, or better yet, a short story. See if their feedback is actionable and understandable. Sometimes, I will even ask for specific feedback on one or more areas, to see if they are adept at brainstorming, thinking through a problem, and coming up with possible solutions. I will challenge some of their comments, and see how they handle that. Can they think through my responses, incorporate them, and see my side of the argument? Ideally, they’d do all this to me, too. I like give and take.

If that all works out well, try with a longer piece of work.

My personality plays a role in the decision too. I’ve got a temperamental side. I can be hard to get along with. I’m not all that great at recognizing when I’m getting on my CP’s very last nerve. I don’t pick up subtle hints. My CPs know this about me. And for some amazing reason, they don’t hate me! At least not entirely. And for that alone, they are rare, special, precious unicorns! When they need me to read, I clear my desk for them as fast as I can. They put up with me, and for that alone, I am incredibly grateful!

So, how many CPs should a writer have? I have no idea. I want four. I have two.

I’d like to have a few more for a couple of reasons.

First, CPs are writers. They have their own stories to write. I don’t need a lot of handholding, but I do need a reasonably rapid return on manuscripts. If one CP is tied up in revisions, and another is mired in a particularly tough second draft, it would be nice to have a few other CPs to turn to.

Secondly, I have come to realize (the hard way) that if I use the same CP for the same manuscript more than twice, their feedback becomes less useful. They get too close to my work. When they become too familiar with the world, the characters, and the magic, they get cut-happy. Since I do the same thing, I blithely hack through my manuscript, slicing out things that are actually important to readers who aren’t as immersed in character and world, especially in the critical opening chapters.

If I must have a CP work through something with me twice, I really need to give them a minimum of six months between work, and ideally, another manuscript from a completely different world with all new characters. Because I revise hard and fast, sometimes I need feedback before that CP has had time to regain objective distance. So, having multiple sets of eyes can be a good thing.

Thirdly, I love having CP’s with specialties. We can’t all be great at every aspect of writing. I have my strengths, and so I like to have CPs with different strengths from mine so I can choose who I need and at what time in a manuscript’s development. Ideally, I like CP’s in early development (2nd or 3rd draft) and after Beta readers (5th  or 6th draft).

However, once you have multiple CPs, you’ll find you have a new problem to sort out: conflicting feedback. You’ll seldom get anyone more opinionated on how you should write than your own CPs! Why? Because they love your story. They love your words. They want what is best for it. But sometimes, what is “best” is probably not going to make all your CPs happy. And that’s okay. Advice is subjective.

However, you have an option with trusted CPs that you don’t have with Beta readers. You can ask your CP why they made that recommendation. You can tell them that their feedback is in conflict with another CP. You can discuss your vision with them. You can brainstorm ways to bring out that vision. It’s not a my-way-or-the-highway relationship. Just be nice about it, and invite them to do the same with your feedback! The goal is to make the story better, and that can take some tinkering, arguing, problem solving, rewriting, and reassessment. That’s what CPs are there for!

So that’s CPs. Tomorrow, Beta Readers.

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