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.

 

Glass Slippers Waiting for RWA Conference

Thousands of writers, editors, agents, wanna be authors, and throngs more are headed to NYC today for the SuperBowl of the romance writing world: RWA Conference. (Romance Writers of America). And I’m turning an unusual shade of green that I don’t see on my own skin very often. When I’d rather be wearing a pair of glass slippers to such an important event in living the dream.

I’m a member of RWA. A newbie. First year. And I desperately wanted to go to this conference. Not just because I had a completed manuscript that I wanted to pitch, but these conferences are crown jewels for insights into the publishing world. Awards for the best published and unpublished works, workshops on improving your craft, Q&A sessions with editors and agents who provide invaluable tidbits into what they’re looking for/things they hate/quirks, and the main chance of the year to pow wow with the industry’s most successful and experienced gurus. Particularly since the publishing industry is changing so much with the increasing popularity of e-books, self-publishing, and all the controversy along with it. And I’d desperately want  a chance to wear my glass slippers (they’re blue, just for me!)

But as a fairly new writer living on one income, the expense was too much for my tightened financial belt. With the registration fees, flight, hotel, food, cabs, and inevitable souvenirs and gifts for my friends and families back home, I knew I couldn’t afford it. Cinderella must wait… again.

So now, as I anxiously twiddle my toes waiting for the 2012 conference in California, I’m watching the Twitter feed of everyone in NYC so I can live vicariously through the little blue bird on Twitter. The conference moves from city to city every year, and I’ll have to wait until 2014 until it comes even remotely close to home (2014 will be in San Antonio, TX). Waiting for the dream is so hard.

All I can do is keep dreaming, writing, researching, learning, hoarding self-help books, and reading other authors I admire. And keep my glass slippers ready.

How about you? Are you going to RWA Conference this year, or are you like me and waiting for the next one? Or are you rolling at your eyes at my envious Cinderella blog post?

Returning the Favor

Since I’ve been under a random version of writer’s block for the last few weeks, I’ve been practicing my critiquing skills for others. I figured it was a good way to pull myself out of my void of creativity by helping others with their WIP’s. Returning the favor.

Get away to write

My local writer’s group has a few chapters posted from members here and there, so I go there first to give my advice (as a reader) on ways to improve what they have. If you’re local to the Dallas/Ft Worth area, please come join us! Greater Ft Worth Writers

But recently over the last 2 weeks, I’ve become addicted to two different sites as well that was created specifically for that purpose. To get feedback on your work and help others with theirs.

BookCountry.com

Scribophile.com

BookCountry.com I was actually a betafish for the launch of the site and helping them fix bugs, create new features, and of course participate in the community (created by Penguin publishers). It’s recently been opened to the public and I highly suggest checking it out if you’re interested. It’s specifically for adult genre writing (i.e. no children’s books, Young Adult or Middle Grade). But they have romance, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, all that good stuff. You can follow individual writers, their works, or just follow certain discussion threads on a whole slew of topics. The really cool thing is that not only writers and authors are perusing the site, but also agents and editors too. It’s a great way to get visibility.

Scribophile.com is a whole other enticement. I found Scribophile from another author blog I followed who raved about the advice and support she received from Scribophile and the readers who critiqued her work. So I gave it a shot. LOVE IT!!

Scribophile works off Karma points. You have to earn 5 Karma points in order to post a chapter of your work, and you earn those points by critiquing others’ work. The longer your critique, the more Karma points you earn. But they do it in a very creative way to help you earn even more. Some writers offer higher critique points if you post a review over a 200 words from their own Karma bank. So if you wanted, you could search for the options with additional Karma points. Also, if you only wanted to critique Fiction Thrillers, you could search through just those. Just interested in short stories or poetry? You can peruse those as well. They make it very easy to access other people’s work in any filter you want. They also have writer’s circles and forums. If you wanted to connect with other Romance Writers, or Thriller Writers from New York, they have circles for that. If you wanted to post your work and have it only visible to that circle, you can do that. If you wanted feedback on your work, but only on certain aspects (i.e. plot, voice, characterization) you can specify that.

It’s an excellent site to get the kind of feedback you’re looking for. I’ve learned quite a bit so far, and I’ve only been actively perusing it for a few weeks. I HIGHLY suggest looking at that site if you’re writing, or want to write. But you have to be willing to review other writers’ works to get something out of it. And you learn a lot that way, by seeing other people write: their strengths, their weaknesses, and even get ideas for your own.

I’m hoping this gets me out of my writer’s block, or funk, or whatever the heck this is.

Even Muses need to read for Inspiration

I’ve been enjoying it and wanted to spread the love. Have a great week, my friends, and keep writing forward!

Snail’s Progress on WIP

Golf bunker

Image via Wikipedia

Happy Easter everyone! And even if you aren’t Christian, I wish you peace and love.

Since I shoved my first manuscript in a drawer, I’ve been trying to focus more attention on my current Work In Progress (WIP). I’m up to 58K words, which is just a little over half way. Inquiring friends and family always ask me how far along I am in the novel (just like they do when you’re pregnant, “How far along are you?” “Oh I’m at 28 weeks.” And how we always answer in weeks, instead of months like normal people.) And I realized something.

I have been at the half-way point in my WIP for about 2 months. That is extremely frustrating. In 2 months, one would think I would have gotten a little further. Probably to the 2/3’s mark, or 3/4’s even. But no. I realize I’m still only halfway. That’s like being stuck in the vomiting and constipation phase of pregnancy for the whole nine months.

Good lord, am I rambling in my WIP? Just like I ramble in my blog posts?

The only thing that means is that I will have a crap load of editing and revising to do when this thing is done. Bummer. But that’s just par for the course as a writer. Par for the course… Completing an 18-hole course slower than a snail. Yep, that’s me. A snail. But I hope a pretty snail with minimal (if any) slime that doesn’t run into any water traps or bunkers on my trek through the literary golf course.

But granted I’ve been working out the battling themes in this piece at the same time (a big sand trap), and I’m sure that’s also taking some of the focus away from actually writing. (Not to mention a 2.5 year old who has rebelled against naps and declared anarchy in this house. Which he can get away with because he’s so freakin’ cute.)

But I have been getting good feedback from fellow critique partners (thanks Greater Ft Worth Writer’s group) and critique sites (Scribophile) that I’m on the right track. I have a good story line, and that to me is always the first step. The story line. Goes back to my need for outlines and planning, since I’ve never been a pantser writer (I envy those people). I wonder if snails are planners. Probably not. Since they go so slow, the path they plan on changes constantly so they have to be able to adapt and change plans.

So I must be the first Planning Snail in existence. Not sure if I like that title. I’d rather be the bunny. 😉

Happy Easter everyone, and keep writing forward.

My Literary Creativity Spreads

laptop

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve not accomplished much writing over the last week or so.  It irritates me that I have so much running through my mind to add to my stories, but I’m occupied with another creative area of my brain.  I’m creating a website.

Yep, as scary as that might be or strange as it sounds, I’m creating a multi-page website for the Writer’s Group I belong to.  We need to expand, and therefore need to have a more professional site with more capabilities than we’re currently utilizing.  And it was sad to realize I was the most technologically savvy member in our little writers group.

Here comes the frustrating part.  Despite the costs of purchasing a domain and the additional ‘widgets’ we need for our site, navigating the Website Builder that comes with the package we purchased is a step above Sanskrit.  I’ve spent over a week trying to figure out the ins and outs of this ‘Easy To Build’ program from GoDaddy.  I’m left with several conundrums on how to implement certain ‘widgets’ I’ve purchased into the site so its usable.  And every time I turn around, the site gives me an error message and I have to start all over again (including logging in).

But I’m slowly making progress.  Of the 5 pages on the website, 3 are finished.  The background and layout are beautiful and much more professional than I hoped for.  But then again, we all know the value in a website is the information it provides and the ease of use for its members.  Which is where I’m struggling (not the information part, but the ease of use).  I want it to be more interactive than it’s allowing.  And I’m unwilling to pay for more additional features that were supposed to come with it.

But I’m still impressed with how far I’ve gotten on so little experience.  With 2 pages left to finish I’m hoping it will take less than the week I’ve already spent.  Perhaps then my humble and small, yet most deserving writing group will have a website they can be proud of and make us more marketable.  And visible.

When it’s finally ready, this will be the first place I post the link to the newly released website that I’m sure I will be so proud of, just like my baby, and just like my manuscripts that are also waiting, begging, to be finished.