Welcome to Week 3 of Writer In Motion, CP (critique partner) edits! For previous posts regarding Writer In Motion, click here.
Of course, that meant I had to critique their pieces too. I’ve been part of writing groups for over a year, so being a CP/beta reader isn’t anything new to me. My own personal critique style is that I read through and jot down any reactions or questions that occur to me, as well as highlight any typos I might spot. Then I’ll go through it again, sometimes questioning whether or not an issue is there or if I merely misread it. I also try to include what I liked and suggestions for improvements instead of nothing, but criticism.
There are two bad things about being a CP. Reading something so awesome that you have no suggestions and feel like an amateur in comparison, or reading something that makes you so angry due to the subpar writing or plot elements it’s hard to finish. Thankfully, my partners were neither. Both were well-written, but had room for improvement. Both made me think more critically of my own piece, and what weaknesses I could still improve on– which was before I even saw their notes on mine.
When it comes to going through CP and beta feedback on my own works, I prefer to let it sit for a day and then tackle it in one go. Reading feedback is always a roller coaster of emotions. I send it off thinking I polished it as much as possible, followed by a quick low of thinking it’s the worst thing ever. Then a few more ups and downs as I gradually come around to looking at the feedback and seeing it’s not as bad as I feared, and is helpful. The key to a good CP/beta relationship is finding one who can balance between pointing out your strengthens along with your weaknesses and doing so in a helpful way. A CP who does nothing but praise your writing can’t help you improve. A CP who does nothing but criticize your writing can kill your writing muse and motivation for good.
In this case, my CPs were definitely good ones. They didn’t tear the story to pieces, merely pointing out issues and giving advice for improvement. My concerns that the dialogue overpowered the piece were unfounded, but there were several bits of dialogue which could have flowed smoother (which some part of me already knew).
As always, there’s usually one piece of feedback that throws me for a loop and causes me to reflect on it. In this case it was regarding the age of Luce and Ray, and how they talk more like high school seniors than college seniors. Which upon rereading it with that view, I could see.
Ultimately (at least for the time being) I decided to leave their dialogue and age as is. While it might sound younger, their conversation is something I can easily picture myself and friends having today despite being out of high school for at least a decade. The whole ‘should I Google? I think I’m going to Google’ bit is something that occurs often with my husband when he decides to take a different route home after visiting family. In my professional life I talk and act different than how I do around my childhood friends and even my husband. So while the CP had a completely valid point, I decided to let it be because I know firsthand how who you’re around affects your speech and actions. Especially when you’re in a nostalgic mood with close loved ones you’ve known for years. Of course, that’s just me, so your own experience may vary.
But there were plenty of other valid points and suggestions I did take. Cutting words, rephrasing sentences, strengthening dialogue, clarifying information. I went line by line, paragraph by paragraph, editing my piece. Some were easy yeses and fixes. Others caused me to scratch my head a bit on how to address them, such as smoothing out the ending dialogue while still allowing Ray the last word. The majority though, I either agreed with or had no problem with changing.
After going back and forth between adding words and cutting them, I actually managed to reduce it by a whopping four words: 995. While it is stronger with CP feedback, I don’t know if I’m quite ready for next week’s editor feedback. I’ve never really worked with an editor on a piece before, so it’s a little scary handing my first piece over. What if they hate it? Think it’s amateurish? Have suggestions for rewriting every line? Spot all the embarrassing typos I thought I fixed? But I’ve made it this far. If want to get my WIP published someday, it means I’ll have to get used to working with editors. Might as well start now.
Here’s the final result:
The Magic Jar
“We’re lost, aren’t we? Maybe I should Google directions…”
“Relax Ray. I’ve rode with my parents a million times, I know where we’re going.”
“That’s not the same as driving Luce…” muttered Ray. A two-hour car trip had ballooned into three, and they still hadn’t reached the turn off. At the rate the day was going, her high hopes for the weekend were beginning to fade. “It’s really—”
“Trust me. I’ve got this.”
Holding tightly onto her drawstring backpack, Ray slumped against the tan faux-leather car seat. “Okay, but if we’re still not there after thirty minutes, I’m using Google.”
“You do that.” Dark sunglasses on, Ray’s best friend and driver glanced over. “So… how was your internship?”
“Boring,” shrugged Ray. “Analyzing data all day isn’t as exciting as spending two months in Spain. One time I spent ten minutes trying to text on my graphing calculator.”
“Nice. Can you believe we’ll be college seniors this fall? Next spring we’ll be actual adults with jobs and stuff.” An uneasy knot began to form in the pit of Ray’s stomach. “Look, there’s the turn. See? No Google required.”
Despite Luce’s confidence, Ray kept her phone in hand. With a jerk, the car turned off the smooth asphalt and onto gravel. Crunching the small rocks beneath its tires, the car tore down the narrow road sending clouds of white smoke billowing behind.
“Luce! There’s no need to go so fast.” Arms clutching the backpack protectively, Ray closed her eyes to ignore the feeling of weightlessness as they bounced over small hills. “Are you trying to kill us?”
“No, just trying to get there faster. You were the one complaining about not getting an early enough start.”
Each bump in the road tightened the knot, encouraging the greasy hamburger from lunch to come back up. Getting car sick during their last free summer weekend was the last thing Luce wanted. They were so close; she wasn’t going to let anything ruin their trip before parting ways for college. Even if it meant putting up with Luce’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride driving-style.
Relieved as the car came to a merciful stop, Ray allowed herself to glance at the structure outside. A two-story house with a balcony and wrap-around porch featuring sleek, modern windows and sturdy, wooden beams. A hand-carved ‘Welcome’ sign hung over the double entry doors.
The knot grew larger at the wrongness.
“Where are we?”
“At the cabin, duh.”
“That’s not the cabin,” gestured Ray wildly, “That’s the cover of some fancy home magazine.”
With a puzzled look, Luce tilted her head to the side. “You mean the cabin from when we were kids? That place was barely standing then. Grandpa tore it down when he built the new one.”
“You just said he built a new cabin, not that the old one was gone.”
“I thought it was implied. You wanted to spend a weekend together at the summer cabin; who cares if it’s not the old one? The new one has a Jacuzzi, Ray. A Jacuzzi.”
“But… but…” The knot was now a giant tangled ball squeezing her chest; nothing was going according to plan. “It has to be the old one! That’s where we measured our heights on the back door, made daisy chains, roasted s’mores, and…” Opening the backpack, she peered inside. “And caught magic bugs.”
Reaching over the center console, Luce plucked out a small item from the top of the bag. “You still have this old thing?”
“Be careful with that!” snapped Ray. “It’s magic.”
“Magic? It’s an old mason jar we drowned in glue, tissue paper and glitter for catching fireflies. We were so covered in glitter our moms told us to wash off in the lake before stepping inside. That night we caught mostly skeeters. Remember?”
“Of course I remember, that’s why I wanted to come.” Snatching the jar back, Ray sighed heavily. Nestled safely in her lap was a chaotic rainbow of mismatched shapes and colors. Frayed ribbon ends, close to losing their stolen Christmas decoration bells, dangled off the sides. Gold and silver glitter half-flaked off. Yet to Ray, the old Magic Jar was as beautiful and wondrous as the day two little girls made it.
Perching her sunglasses on top of her head, Luce’s voice took on a serious tone. “Rachel, what’s really going on? You’ve been on edge all day.”
“It’s just… we barely hung out this summer, or the past year. We were last here when we were what, thirteen? Like you said, next spring we’ll be actual adults. What if this is our last chance to be together? To catch magic bugs?”
“Oh Ray… you’re not the only one worried about our future you know.” Cold glass was replaced by a warm hand giving a gentle squeeze. “But you forget what we’d do after we caught them.”
Ray’s head bobbed up. “Huh?”
“We’d release them so they wouldn’t die. But they always came back. The next night, the next year… they always came back. Just like we will. How about we make a promise? Each summer we set aside one weekend to get together. It doesn’t have to be at the cabin. There’s the city, the beach— they all have magic bugs we can catch.” Extending her pinky finger she asked, “Pinky promise?”
“Pinky promise,” agreed Ray, shaking it.
“Good, my butt is starting to stick to the seat. We might be a little tipsy on my new sangria recipe when we catch us some magic bugs tonight, but it’ll be like the old days… just with alcohol. Adulthood does have some perks and magic. Trust me.”
The tightly knotted lump in Ray’s chest went limp, unraveling at her friend’s earnest smile. Returning it with her own, she squeezed Luce’s hand. “You’re right. Maybe being actual adults won’t be all bad. If the magic bugs can come back, we can too. We’ve got this.”
That’s it for this week. Come back next week for the final edit.
All Writer in Motion posts:
Writer in Motion Post #1: Initial Thoughts on Prompt Reveal
Writer in Motion Post #2: Insight to Writing Process and Outline
Writer in Motion Post #3: First Draft
Writer in Motion Post #4: Self-Edit
Writer in Motion Post #5: CP Edit
Writer in Motion Post #6: Editor Feedback and Final Version
Writer in Motion Post #7: Final Thoughts