This week we received feedback from CPs (critique partners) to help us further strength our drafts. Huge thank you to Sheryl Stein, Susan Burdorf, and K.J. Harrowick for taking the time to read my work and provide detailed feedback and suggestions!
To me, CPs are invaluable. Not only do they point out all my typos (yes, there were more, ugh!), redundancies, weird word choices, etc. they also let me know what needs improvement with the story as a whole and what’s working well. That last part is really important. It’s not all about constructive criticism. Often, knowing what resonates with readers is just as helpful as understanding what doesn’t.
How I Approach CP Feedback:
Step 1: The read-through
Before I make any changes, I read through all of the comments from my CP. Yes, every single one. The compliments, the suggestions, the questions, and the criticisms. It’s very hard not to dive right in and start making changes; however, reading them all through first always helps me digest their feedback and get an overall feel of how the story resonated (or didn’t) with them.
Step 2: The easy fixes
Once I’ve gone through all the CP notes, I’ll take a pass through my work fixing all the small things: typos, word redundancies, confusing sentences, etc. Essentially, all the line-edit style items. It’s true that some of these might be unnecessary as the lines could get cut or changed in larger rewrites or cuts later; however, it gives me a sense of accomplishment to make these small fixes. Further, it helps me to see what errors I make and correct them, especially if I make similar ones multiple times. Fixing my errors helps me remember those bad habits in the future and correct them, making my writing stronger going forward.
I had a good bit to clean up in The Clementine. Redundant character actions. Typos (yes, still). Sentences or words that didn’t add to the story. Removing filter words. Tightening prose. My CPs really stepped up in helping me improve in this area.
Sometimes, when it comes to wording or sentence structure, I won’t make the corrections my CPs suggest. If I believe their suggestion isn’t write for what I’m trying to convey or isn’t a natural fit for my writing voice, I skip it. Voice is very important here. Each writer has their own unique voice and style. When digesting detailed feedback, I think it’s very important that writers know their own voice and have the courage to stick with it (assuming it’s grammatical correct). I’m guilty of providing feedback and suggestions that may not fit another writer’s voice. It’s easy to do since we each have our own style. That’s why it’s so important to trust your gut and do what’s right for your story. Even for this short story, there are some suggested changes from my CPs that I didn’t make for this reason.
Step 3: The to-do list
The broader suggestions come next. These include questions on plot points, inconsistencies, questions about characterization, the need for more detail/world-building, and any other developmental feedback. I’ll go through each of these notes and make a list of things I absolutely want to change, and also other things I am unsure about but might change. For longer works, I’ll break these notes up by chapter to help me keep them organized and create a to-do list for my revisions.
Step 4: Marinade
Before I jump into any major changes, I like to let the notes and my own to-do list of changes marinade for a while. This gives my mind the chance to wander and discover the best way to improve upon my work. It also keeps me accountable to the heart of my story. Do the comments and my own revisions notes still feel right to me? Is this the direction I want the story to go? Will this make it stronger? Sometimes the answer is no, and other times it may be different that the revision I originally considered. Time away always helps me see things more clearly, which is why it’s an important part of my revisions after CP feedback. For this short story I only waited a day or two, but for longer works I’ll sometimes wait weeks.
Step 5: Performing surgery
Sections get rewritten, some are cut out completely, others get added, and a rare few may not change at all. This step looks different depending on what changes I need to make, but it’s typically by far the most time intensive part of my process. There are times when I’ll go through this step multiple times until certain scenes and chapters are cleaned up and flowing the way I’d like them to. For The Clementine, I did not make many large changes as a result of CP feedback. Most of my tweaks this time around fell into the line-edit style changes.
Step 6: Proofread
A thorough proofread is necessary after any round of revisions, particularly if I’ve rewritten or added a significant amount of new text. Those pesky typos sneak in all the time, so this is where I go back and clean them up.
After feedback and revisions, here’s where I landed with this story:
Today would be the day Jane’s dreams came true. The certainty of it wrapped around her like the thick, Florida humidity. Almost ten years ago to the day she’d first heard the tale of the lost ship Clementine and its hoard of stolen Spanish doubloons. That legend sparked the burning passion which led her toward archeology.
Jane ran her hand along the chunk of coarse wood on the table, the first piece they’d dug up. Aged. Weathered. Testing at the university lab marked it for the right time period. It gave them the evidence needed to greenlight their permits and approvals for further excavation.
She bit her lip to hide the grin threatening to spread across her face. Finally, they’d uncover the wreck and its legendary fortune.
“Jane!” Adam called to her. Excitement laced his voice as he waved her over to the area he and his partner Miguel scanned with the metal detector.
They’d uncovered just the port side of the ship so far, buried under layers of sandy soil and grown over with brush. Historical records claimed the ship was lost in a storm over 100 years ago. A fierce Gulf hurricane could have smashed it on these shores, dragging half the seafloor over it.
The blazing sun beat down on Jane as she raced through the marshy ground to their dig site. Broken edges of half-rotten planks bowed out from the muck. The ping and beep of the metal detector in Adam’s hand grew louder, as did her racing heart. She slid over the earthen wall they’d constructed to keep the tide at bay, uncaring of the dirt and muck that smeared onto her clothes.
“What have you found?” Jane gasped, nearly breathless with anticipation.
The rest of their crew gathered around, waiting with eager eyes for the treasure to be uncovered.
“We thought you should have the honors.” Adam winked.
Miguel held out a short spade and nodded to the shallow hole at his feet.
“It’s reading as iron,” he continued. “Just a few inches down and large.”
“Iron…” Not gold. Jane couldn’t hide the press of her lips as she grasped the tool.
“No, but it could be—”
“A chest,” they blurted at the same time. The iron of a chest could shield the signal of gold below.
Jane’s momentary disappointment vanished into a burst of joy.
Four chests of stolen gold. The treasure they’d been searching for. She’d finally make her mark on history. Maybe get a display in the Smithsonian. And the gold! Oh, the expeditions it could fund… once they repaid the loans for this one of course.
Jane knelt next to the hole. The spade shook in her hand as she scraped away a layer of thick mud.
Slowly, carefully, she dug toward her goal. The air hummed with anticipation as her team murmured around her, shifting and craning to be the first to see the wonders below.
The spade struck metal.
Salt teased her tongue as sweat rolled down her face. A mosquito buzzed in her ear. None of it mattered.
Jane’s head snapped up, locking eyes with Adam across the hole. His wide-eyed look and parted lips reflected her own excitement.
The world faded away as her focus limited to the object.
Dark. Large. Slightly rounded.
Too big to be the fittings on a chest.
Sound returned as her heart slowed. Heat beat against her back as heavy as her disappointment.
“Cannonball?” Adam adjusted his glasses.
Jane nodded. “Almost certainly.”
“Well… that’s great! Another piece of history uncovered.” He grinned, always the optimist.
Jane forced a smile in return, but her chest ached. Doubt slipped in, taunting her over another potential failure. She blinked against the sunlight that swarmed in as the others returned to excavate the rest of the wreck.
“Pass me that metal detector,” Jane said, rising to her feet and dusting off her pants. “We need to scan every foot of this site.”
Every beep and squeal of the detector sent Jane’s heart racing. This spot. This was it. Until she looked at the small screen on the device. Not gold. Another cannonball. Some chain. Nails.
They’d found everything they expected, except the treasure.
Miguel’s hesitant call sent her hopes soaring. Until she saw the deep frown etched on his tanned face where he crouched next to a section of the wooden hull.
She crossed the site to Miguel, dread building as he shook his head.
“I’m sorry, miha.” He nodded toward the section of the boat he’d uncovered.
He didn’t need to tell her the reason for his dour expression. Three letters stood out, carved deep into the wood with hints of dark paint still clinging to their boards.
I. N. D.
The rest remained buried, but it didn’t matter. Her shoulders slumped; her throat grew thick. Dirty, worn nails dug into her palms as she wrestled away her disappointment.
It wasn’t the Clementine.
Somewhere along these shores lay the ship of her dreams. Buried. Almost forgotten. But not by Jane.
Another day. Another dig.
She’d find it.
Now my short story is off to my editor Justine Manzano for more feedback! I’m excited to see what suggestions she has for me to further improve upon Jane’s hunt for the Clementine. Stop by next week to see Justine’s feedback, how I digested it, and my final draft of The Clementine!