Chomping at the Bit for Critiques

Critiques are probably the most terrifying part of a writer’s life. They can be brutal and heart ripping, like someone saying your baby is ugly and should never have been born. Defensive natures kick in and you feel like lashing off someone’s head with a butter knife.

But I’m weird. I already have a beautiful son that no one would dare say is ugly. And even if they did, I wouldn’t care. I know my son is beautiful. But as far as my manuscript goes, I’m chomping at the bit for critiques. Because I’m sure it’s a bit ugly. Parts of it are probably downright Medusa-like.

I finished the first draft of my manuscript several weeks ago and sent it out to my critique partners, writing groups, and even submitted the first chapter to a few contests. I’ve heard back from a few, but I’m really waiting for responses from others that I know I want to hear. In a way, I want them to be brutal. I need them to be brutal. If I’m doing something wrong, I need to know about it. How else am I going to learn and get better at my craft?

My biggest weakness is waiting. Patience. I don’t have much of it. Apparently to be a writer in this new and evolving industry, you need at least some of it. I probably look like a bull-dog with a smashed face gnawing on the leftover dog bone from last year as I struggle with the last remaining ounces of patience I have left.

Sure, I have others things to do while I wait. I’ve already plotted the next book, written a few blogs, worked on the newsletter for my writers group, and not to mention throw in there take care of my son, house, family, and organize his birthday party. But I really want to start completing the revisions on my manuscript. Because I want to send out query letters by January. I know the revisions will take time- they always do. But they need to be done! And how can I do them without my precious critiques?

Well, I’ve done my ranting for the day. I’m off to go wait some more.

Beta Reading Challenge

My writers group just started a new program called Beta Readers Round Table

Five of our members submitted their completed manuscripts to be reviewed by Beta Readers (myself included). Each Beta Reader critiques 2 manuscripts based on content (not line editing). Searching for plot holes, characterization errors, point of view switching, change of tenses, the bigger stuff (not grammar, punctuation, etc). And it’s a challenge.

This is what critique groups are for, in my opinion. Our meeting sessions normally focus on 10 pages at a time. The online critique sessions can be anywhere from a chapter to 5-6 chapters long. This is the first time we’re doing entire manuscripts in one swoop. And two manuscripts at that. This seems like a great opportunity to capture big plot holes and voice, flow, all the big stuff all writers want to know about their unfinished babies. A great opportunity, and a big responsibility.

When all of the beta readers are finished critiquing their ‘assignments,’ we’ll get together in a round table forum and go over everyone’s work. I’m sure this session will take well more than an hour, but it should be with gold-level content. Writers are supposed to walk away from the session feeling good about themselves and their stories. And feel like they’ve carried away a massive ruby or emerald in their pocket of exceptional critiques.

How many opportunities do these manuscripts get before a writer submits them to an agent or editor?

I’ve just finished the first of two, and I’m really impressed with the stories our members create. Truly original and completely new perspectives. But at the same time I’m also hesitant to be too critical. I’m not published, yet. I don’t have an agent, and no experience in what editors look for in submissions. But I’m an avid reader. I know what I like to see. I know the difference between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ and I’m much more entertained by ‘showing.’ I love the emotion in stories. So those are the kinds of things I look for in manuscripts. When I give critiques, I try to give ideas on how to make something better (not just, ‘I don’t like this scene. Not realistic.”) I give a suggestion on how to make it more realistic, or better for the reader.

Don’t close a door for someone without giving a them a window they can open.

I hope the other Beta Readers do the same for my manuscript.

It’s challenging. Seeing a potentially brilliant story with vibrant and genuine characters in its most raw form- I want to help the writer make it better. I don’t want to ruin it with my suggestions that may not be the best ideas. Its challenging trying to help someone. But if it’s the right idea, I’m proud to say I helped make their story better.

Plotting Frenzy Over the Week

I’ve finished plotting my third manuscript over the week. I couldn’t get enough- my brain was flourishing with ideas, even over the hard parts of plotting (like overcoming the climax and how to resolve all the conflicts in the end). It feels fabulous to have these ideas come to a temporary close. I’m sure I looked something like this:

I say temporary close because there could always be tweaks and turns from my outline as I start writing the rough draft. There always are.

No, that's not me. But I write in a notebook like this.

But the best part, my friends:

It’s all on paper!!!

It’s in ink on a physical white sheet, as well as a digital file on my trusty Macbook. I can see it. Touch it. Absorb it on my skin and leave ink marks all over the place. Or maybe not, my husband would be mad with black fingerprints all over the furniture. But it’s not in my head, swirling in a massive cloud, much like the pensieve in the Harry Potter books.

But the characters are alive in my brain, each whispering their dreams, pet peeves, sense of humor, and even what turns them on. (Hey, it’s a romance. I gotta know the juicy details better than anyone).

And it took about a week to put the whole thing down. So cool!

Although don’t get me wrong folks- I’ve had this idea for the third novel in my head for over a year. I have just been more focused on the second novel and finishing the first draft and sending it out for revisions.

But I love being this productive. It’s hard to go to sleep at night because I have so many ideas churning and bursting to get out. I love this part of writing!

Yes, folks, this is how I feel right now!

Can’t Wait to Plot

So, I’ve only gone through the first round of revisions on my manuscript and have sent it out to my critique group. And I’m not stopping there.

I’ve already started plotting and creating the character sketches for the next book that’s twirling around in my head.

Some could call me a glutton for punishment, since I have at least 2 more rounds of revisions on this thing. But I’d rather get these ideas on paper than let them continue to torment me in my head. I’ve had this story idea for a little over a year, but didn’t have enough of a concrete plan to bash it out on paper.

But this time around, I’m paying more attention to the character development than before. Because in this particular story, their personalities are going to be a lot more center-stage. So for the first time in my life, I’m focusing on the characters first, and not the plot.

Even searching several screenshots of people online (Yahoo Images) to see if I can find anyone that closely resembles the image I have in my brain of my characters. I can’t draw for crap, so literally sketching them isn’t gonna work. I’m much more visual.

But I can sketch the rest of them on paper. Their goals, motivations, conflicts (GMC to any of you writers out there). What makes them tick, sing, cringe, and I can find all their buttons (and push them relentlessly!)

A writer friend of mine gave me what she uses for Character ‘Interviews,’ where she gets to know them more by playing the role of a therapist while her MC’s sit on a couch and dish out their lives and inner most thoughts. Creative!

If you peruse around on the web, you’ll find a whole bunch of different resources to help you create your characters. Character Development, character sketches, character questions… type in anything for ‘character’ and you’ll find umpteen-million.

The one I’ve used before I found here.

But clearly that’s not the only thing I’m going to use to know every inch and cranny of my characters for this iota of an idea. But you need to start somewhere.

Critique Groups are Supposed to Help, Not Hurt

I recently read another author’s blog that made me think about critique groups.

First of all, I love my writers group. And I’m not just saying that because I’m the President. My writers group and the fabulous other writers who’ve critiqued my work have been one of the best assets of my entire experience.

But the author’s blog I read claimed that her writers group ‘critiqued the voice out of her novel.’ I can only imagine session after session of sitting with her critique members and them offering suggestions of how to improve her language, grammar, and characterization efforts backfired. So when she finally read the ‘revised’ version of her manuscript, she couldn’t even recognize it as her own. Maybe it felt flat to her because she didn’t recognize her words. But her voice was gone.

How frustrating!

But then I thought about it further. She had the right to refuse those suggestions. They were just there to help, not to be vicious and purposely make her spicy work become vanilla. Why didn’t she speak up for her own writing? Why did she cave?

Perhaps she thought the other members were more experienced than she. Therefore, her opinions (while mattered) weren’t as crucial as the others.

Perhaps she believed her fellow writers were experts in the genre she wrote. Or if not experts, at least liked the genre and had read a lot of books to be knowledgeable of it.

Very possible. Even plausible.

But bottom line, its her writing. At some point in every writer’s career, they will receive critiques and ‘friendly suggestions’ from friends, other writers, editors, and agents that may not be in the best interest of the story.  I’ve had several. But I at least recognize it’s meant to help. Everyone’s critique is his or her own opinion. It’s up to the writer to determine what they’re comfortable with accepting. To determine how open minded they want to be. To find out what kind of suggestions they are getting and how credible the sources are.

I know that’s a tremendous hodge-podge of what-ifs, and can scare the crap out of any aspiring author. It still scares me from time to time.

I think it all comes down to 3 things.

First, the writers group you belong to. What kind of people are involved? Are you comfortable reading in front of them and sharing your thoughts? Are they supportive, open, and constructive? Do you feel comfortable not accepting a crit?

Second, how open-minded are you? Meaning, do you defend every tiny detail of your manuscript when someone tries to make a suggestion on a character, setting, or plot line? Or do you cave at every suggestion without getting second opinions or really thinking it through?

Lastly, and most importantly, you gotta love to keep writing. Even after all the crits, suggestions, revisions, rewrites, and gut wrenching rejections from agents or editors (if you’ve submitted), you have to love the story. The characters. Everything about it. Because if you don’t, there’s no way anyone else will. You are your story’s greatest fan and biggest cheerleader. If you don’t love it, go back and ask yourself why. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your own voice.

All that being said, I feel very lucky. I’ve found a writers group I’m comfortable with.  They’ve made fabulous suggestions for me that I’ve loved and have only made my writing stronger. But I also don’t feel threatened when I don’t take one of their suggestions. If you don’t have the same feeling about your ‘helpers,’ find new ones. Stand up for your voice.

 

Revise, Revise, Revise… I Need More Coffee

For those of you who are wondering which stage of my manuscript I’m in, and what that looks like:

Even though this cartoon shows working on 6th draft, I’m currently on the first round of revisions (just me looking through it), which should take maybe another two weeks to complete. And about three more bags of coffee beans. Preferably French Vanilla or Snicker Doodle flavor). Then I send it out to my critique partners for their full glance-through. I have no clue how long that will take, but I’m sure that’s at least three weeks. Perhaps I should buy them each a bag of coffee. Or tea, whatever floats their cup.

I think in total I may have about 4 rounds to go through, but if it takes more, carpe diem and carpe cafe!

Keep writing forward!

Cartwheels over Finished Rough Draft

Cartwheels, electric slide, general happy dance inspired by Steve Carrell, once again.

I finished my rough draft on Friday this week. While my husband and son went to sleep early, I pounded at the keyboard for another 3 hours to finish it. I had to keep up the roll I was on earlier in the week and it paid off. (I wish literally, but for now just figuratively). Don’t ask me how long it took me to complete the first draft. It’s embarrassing. But that doesn’t matter. What counts is that I finished it.

I’m under no illusions that this is ready to submit. Far from it. I have an ungodly amount of revisions to complete that I kept track of during the first crash course, and obviously I have to pass it through my writers group, trusty critique partner Kim, and a few others. Then revise. Then do it all over again. Then revise. And all over again once more. Then maybe… maybe,  I’ll be ready to submit to agencies again in January. That’s my goal, anyway.

And hopefully avoid the pesky slushpile. 

 

 

 

So for now, as the weekend winds down and I gear up for my writers meeting later today, I shall do the happy dance.

Commence Celebrate music…

“Ce-le-brate good times, come on! Duh, nuh-nuh-nuh, nuh, nuh-nuh-nuh, Weehoo!”

Doesn’t that just make you smile?

On a Roll…

The last three days have been exactly that- on a roll. And I’m lovin’ it!

Vacations really do work wonders. Before my vacation I averaged about 500 words a week on my WIP. In two days I wrote 1700 words. The following day I wrote another 3000. The story just flows from my fingertips, I can see my characters so clearly, it feels great. For months I struggled through scenes because I couldn’t see my characters, couldn’t follow which themes were most prevalent and back tracked time and time again.

Now my WIP is at over 75,000 words, and I’m expecting to end around 85,000 (first draft).

Now I feel like an Olympic runner, or swimmer (yes, let’s keep this water-based since my WIP is based on a water sport) in the middle of the Individual Medley, in the zone, and surpassing their best personal record.

I’m all giddy when I get to update the word count meter on my blog page, even if there’s only a 100 word difference since my last update. Seeing that bluish-purple bar approach the end is fantabulous and self-affirming.

Now I’m off to take a break and go swimming with my son, hubby, and parents. It’s a great way to relax my brain, beat the record heat wave hitting Texas and share my accomplishments with the main supporters in my life.

I hope everyone has such an awesome cheering section as I do because it makes all the difference.

Take it easy, stay cool, and keep writing forward!

Refreshed for More Writing

My vacation this past week was the typical summer family vacation: exciting, entertaining, full of laughter and joy, a breath of fresh air and out of the ordinary… and exhausting.

The typical need-a-vacation-from-your-vacation kind of feeling when you get home. I LOVED the break from the daily grind in Hilton Head and plan to go back. But I have to add it’s a great feeling to be back home and sleep in your own bed and get back to your normal routine (as a parent to a toddler, routines are essential).

I had hoped for a few brief periods of writing time on my vacation (while my son napped or was busy playing with his cousin), but that didn’t happen. Nap times seemed to disappear while on vacation, or were significantly shorter. And I can understand that; when I was a kid I wanted to spend every moment ‘on vacation,’ and napping just seemed like a waste of precious time. And when my son napped, we spent the time cleaning up the condo or planning for the rest of the day or doing laundry. Kinda like at home.

But now since we’re home and getting back into routine, I’d like to say I’m refreshed and re-inspired to continue with my WIP. And in a way I am. I thought about my story and characters, and scenes I’d already written, and the scenes yet to come and unfortunately I’m backtracking. Again.

New ideas sprang to mind throughout last week and I’m struggling to find a way to incorporate them into my work without a complete re-write. Complete re-writes scare the crap out of me. Makes me feel like the time I spent on the first version was a waste (even though my logical brain knows it’s not a waste) but it feels like one.

Changes to my character’s emotional growth, and even major plot changes.

So to combat this feeling, I move forward in my WIP with the new ideas and know I’ll have to go back and fix previous scenes during my revisions (and make note of it in my trusty “Revision” file.)

So, am I refreshed from my vacation to continue writing and actually get the first draft completed? YES I AM. I just hope my son will let me focus on it, instead of pulling on my arm to go back to the beach. Or pulling on my own arm for the sand between my toes.

I Win the Fights in my WIP

I don’t get to win too many arguments in my life. Mainly because I get too tongue-tied or flabbergasted to respond, until several hours or even days after the argument, I think of the perfect comeback or stinger, and by then of course it’s too late. I’ve already lost. Easy to say I’m not a confrontational person.

Except for writing. I just finished a scene in my WIP where my heroine and hero have a fight (not with fists, although she has the urge to slap him), but with words. I still suffer from the same deficiency and have trouble creating comebacks on the spot, but that’s what’s great about writing. I can think of the perfect quip and insert it in the middle of the argument later. Doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It still flows, and either way I WIN THE ARGUMENT! 😉

It’s interesting to note that the fight scene between my main characters flowed from my mind more easily than other scenes. I wonder if it’s the same with other authors. The most tense scenes in novels are often the easiest to write (or the scenes authors already have visualized before the rest of the book is plotted. It is said that JK Rowling had the last scene between Harry Potter and Voldermort completed before she even started the series). I write out the harsh words as I feel them come to me, and if I think of something later that’s better, more damaging to their self-confidence, or more of a knife-in-the-gut, I can amend it.

Writing has helped me explore my confrontational side, which I believed was non-existent before I started. I’m not saying I’m more confrontational in real-life now that I’ve started writing, but it’s helped me delve into a side I didn’t know I had. And I’m glad I’m able to put that side of me into a character that’s on paper, that way none of the evidence leads back to me and the only people who are hurt are entirely fictional. 😉

I must say, its nice to win an argument every now and then.