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5 tips

How to Create an Amazing Critique Group: Ramp Up Your Writing

Writing

Critique groups can be a big leg-up for authors as far as polishing their work before either sending it out on submission or self-publishing it. If you haven’t found a critique group that works for you, consider creating one. I’ve got a few things to keep in mind when creating or looking for a critique group that might help you with getting some compatible folks in your group.

Critique Group or Beta Readers?

Some people don’t realize there is a difference between a critique partner and a beta reader. The main difference is writing.

Critique partners are other writers.

Betas are readers.

It’s worthwhile to have both reviewing your story. They will bring different things to the table.

Writers should bring more of the professional view — how to improve craft issues, such as writing dialogue or description. Readers will bring a more general, consumer-focused view — such as whether the story is interesting, where they lose interest, if the characters are engaging.

Knowing what you’re looking for will help you decide which to utilize at each point in your writing process. I wrote a post a while back about things to think about when picking beta readers.

Find Writers

The first step to finding or creating a critique group is to figure out where the writers are. Meetup is a decent place to find local writers. There might already be critique groups or just general writing support groups. You can find other writers to talk to there about creating your own group.

You can also look for writing organizations in your area. Go to Google and search “writing organizations” <your city>. Attend some of their meetings, schmooze with other authors, and find folks you mesh with (more on that below!).

Also check out the national organizations for genres — RWA, SFWA, MWA, HWA, etc. They often have local or regional chapters where writers congregate.

Finally, you can find a lot of critique services online. Groups like Critters and Critique Circle have been around for years and have established a good base of writers who critique each other.

Choose Your Partners

Sometimes writers who are looking for ongoing critique partners assume that the criteria for choosing should be something like “writes in my genre” or “reads in my genre.” And while this can be helpful, there’s actually a more accurate thing to gauge whether someone will be a useful critique partner. That thing is: do we have similar writing goals?

Someone who is writing only for themselves or their family will not be as helpful a critique partner for someone who is aspiring to become published professionally. If everyone in the critique group is on a similar path, then the comments and suggestions they give will be aimed more at getting your work up to snuff for publication.

© Ben White; used w/permission

This doesn’t mean that someone who is just writing for themselves or family can’t give good contributions, of course. But we’re talking about getting the most bang for your buck. And in this case, you’re going to get better feedback from someone who is on a path parallel to your own.

Something else to consider is which time zones you’re each in. Obviously, if you’ve got local writers in your group, that’s not an issue. But if you find folks online that you mesh with, goals-wise, then time zone becomes important. It’s not easy to get together for meetings with someone who’s 8 hours different in time. Someone will be getting up really early or staying up really late.

And finally, also think about work ethic. Does your potential partner write regularly? Are they focused on their writing as a career or business? This goes back to finding someone who has a similar outlook. If you’re putting out 25 pages in a week and they’re only doing 5 (or vice versa), then there’s going to be a work mis-match.

Discuss & Organize

Will you have your critique sessions in person or online? Or maybe on the phone?
When you get together, will you be getting together for a writing session or to critique each other’s work?
If critique, will you have critiqued the work beforehand and discuss in person, or will the work be read there at the session, then discussed?

These are things to think about when organizing your sessions. Set the rules as the leader or have an open discussion and set the rules as a group. However it’s accomplished, everyone should be on the same page as to expectations, so that all feel included and feel as if they’re both giving and getting something of value from the group.

Act

Once you’ve got your group going, everyone should be consistent with their work. Certainly, life happens and some weeks will be more or less productive than others. But consistency is about showing up — both literally and figuratively. Agreeing to be in a critique group is a commitment. Everyone should honor that commitment.

Give to the sessions what you want to get from the sessions. It’s the old adage of “you reap what you sow.” All members of the critique group should put in the amount of effort they’re looking to receive.

Having a critique group can be a great support for any writer. Hopefully, this post has given some insights into how to find those members of your tribe! 🙂

Do you have a critique group? How did it get together? What challenges have you faced with your group? What are the strong points of having a group?

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Feeling Like a Writing Failure? 5 Tips to Overcome That Mindset

Writing

So much about having a writing career, whether it’s your main career or a supplemental career, can seem as if it’s about failure. Not finishing stories, rejection, years of writing without finding commercial success. It can be difficult to remain committed, enthusiastic.

Yes, a career in writing can be difficult. But so much of it is about mindset. It’s about how you frame the things that happen.

Last week, we talked about achieving goals. But what happens when you don’t achieve the goal? How do you manage when the story idea you thought was awesome turns out not to work as well as you’d expected? Or how do you keep writing when that short story has been rejected for the 28th time?

In an industry that is marked by hard work — yes, writing is hard — and rejection, how do we take those “failures” and keep going?

Framing, Reframing, and Mindset

The first thing I try to do is reframe my “failure.” You might notice I keep putting that word in quotes. It’s because I’ve discovered that failure isn’t concrete. It isn’t universal. I get to decide what is a success and what is a failure. If I decide that something isn’t a failure, then guess what? It isn’t.

My favorite thing to de-failure is rejections.

Wait, what?

I know, that sounds weird, right? How can a rejection not be a failure? I could tell you that it’s because not all rejection is about the work. Sometimes agents or editors will reject because they just contracted a similar piece. Or because they have enough of that genre. Or maybe just because they’re feeling overloaded and don’t want to take anything new on unless it *really* grabs them. None of that is an indictment on the work.

I could tell you those things. But really, it’s because when I finally started sending my work out, I decided that there are a certain number of rejections between me and the acceptance. And every time I get one, that’s another one out of the way. I get to mark it off the list. So, in this case, rejection is actually success.

I’m very good at mind games on myself! 🙂

And why not? So much of writing is perseverance. If I have a chance to choose whether something is positive or negative, how does it serve me to choose the negative, the thing that hurts my feelings and makes me sad or upset? I suppose if I responded to negative with renewed vigor in that “I’ll show you!” sort of way, choosing the negative would serve me. And for some people, that’s an awesome way to do things! For me, though, the negative is truly that. It can freeze me in my tracks. So why should I choose to do that to myself?

Instead, I choose the positive and use that to create momentum for my life. There are so many instances where we can choose the positive spin rather than the negative spin, but we tend to default to the negative. I don’t know whether that’s because we’re human or because of the way we’re socialized. Regardless, we don’t have to do that in our writing!

Mindset isn’t just about playing these mind games with yourself, though. What happens when you don’t reach a goal, like a daily word count? Say you’ve decided that you’re writing 500 words per day. And then you miss a day. Not for a valid reason, but just because you decided not to write that day.

Are you the type of person who then decides not to write the next day too, because you’re already behind and so what’s the point? Are you the type that will beat yourself up for missing so much that you make yourself too miserable to write the next day? Do you make legitimate-sounding excuses for why you didn’t write (which, in turn, makes it easier to make excuses in the future for not writing)?

As you might imagine, none of those are particularly productive. What can you do instead?

5 Tips for Overcoming Failure

Forgive yourself

Getting rejected or struggling with a story — or any other thing that you feel didn’t happen the way you felt it should have — is not a reflection of your worth. Forgive yourself. It’s very important not to spend a lot of time reprimanding yourself or feeling bad for missing your goal. All you do is make yourself miserable and then how much good work will you get done? Not much, more likely.
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Why be defeated twice, once by our mistakes and again by our attitude toward them?
~~ Lowell L. Bennion

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Assess why you didn’t make your goal

One of the first steps to fixing a problem is to figure out what went wrong. So what went wrong? Did you not have enough time to write? Or did you not manage your day well enough to get your writing done? Were you just being lazy? Were you too stressed out to write? Be really honest with yourself here. If you were just being lazy, then admit that. No one else is going to judge you and you’ve already forgiven yourself. So be honest with yourself about the real reason, because knowing that is the only way you’re going to be able to address it.

Brainstorm ways to avoid whatever problem caused you not to make your goal

This can be something as simple as putting aside fifteen minutes at a set time each day to write. Or something more complex, such as creating a punishment if you don’t do your writing. Perhaps every time you don’t write, you must donate $5 to a charity, cause, or organization you would never support. If you’re not writing because you’re stuck, consider working on a different project. Or creating a big brain dump of all the things you *could* do in your stuck story.

Make a list of all the things you’ve brainstormed here. They’re all tools in your writers’ toolbox.

Hang out with writers

Writing is solitary. Even when we collaborate, the actual writing is solitary. If you’re in a rut, go find your tribe. Let the enthusiasm and excitement of other writers rub off on you! You might go to a writers conference, a Meetup group in your area, or even just find a Facebook group for writers. Let your tribe invigorate you!

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BICHOK – Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard

Sit your butt down and start writing. Even if you’re writing, “I hate writing” over and over again. Even if you’re writing about how you’re having trouble writing. It doesn’t matter. Just get back on that damn bike and pedal!

What are ways that you come back from failure? Share with me below!

5 Simple Things to Help You Reach Your Writing Goals This Year

Writing

Writing goals. They can be hard to reach, especially if the goal is a novel. Finishing can take so long that we easily lose our way or get distracted by the new shiny idea rattling around in our head. But if you have a publishing goal, whether self-publishing or traditional publishing, you *must* finish. Writing goals should always include finishing the project.

But as we already agreed, it can be hard to get there. I want to share some tips that I’ve learned over the years. Not about setting writing goals. I mean, I think we’re all just fine at setting the goals. But these are things I think will help in actually getting to those goals.

Set Yourself up to win with your writing goals

The work we do on the front end can really impact how (and when) we get to the finish line. And I’m not talking about outlining or anything like that. I’m talking about processes. If you want writing as a career, you should treat it like a business, and that means creating efficient processes for yourself that will help you get things done.

Create time in your schedule

Yes, I know. You can’t create time but you can create space in the time you already have. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, create a space in your schedule that is dedicated solely to your writing. Think about it. You dedicate time to sleep. You dedicate time for meals. If you’re working in a company, there is dedicated time where you’re expected to be working. If you have kids, you likely have dedicated kid-time. All the important things in your life have room in your schedule. The least you can do for your writing is to dedicate a portion of your time for it.

Get important folks on board

If you co-habitate, with parents, significant other, children, roommates, whoever, get them on board with what you’re doing. Let them know how excited you are to be able to dedicate X amount of time to writing your story. Get them excited too. Keep them updated on your progress. And then they will be less likely to interrupt you during your dedicated time. They’ll be more understanding when your brain is a little fried from a productive writing session. And they’ll be ready to celebrate with you when you write The End.

Track your words or pages

Writing a story, especially a novel, can be long, hard work. It’s easy to get bogged down in the process, because you don’t have any quick gratification. Keeping track of your progress via some sort of tracking system will give you visual gratification for how far you’ve come. And if you don’t usually keep running track of how much you accomplish, you might be surprised at how motivating it is. Success breeds motivation.

Create deadlines

There’s a reason newspapers and magazines get to print on time. Deadlines keep people in gear and motivated to get finished. I know that I work my hardest when I know a deadline is looming. And I think most people are the same. A couple things to note:

  • Create a big deadline, like the end of the project, but also create smaller deadlines: chapter 4, due by X date; chapter 5, due by Y date. As noted earlier, success breed motivation, so if you can check things off a list, you’ll be more enthusiastic about remaining on track, because you’ll want to check off those other things on the list

  • Make your deadlines short — and by that, I mean to allow for the least amount of time you will need to achieve the goal. Don’t build in extra time “just in case something happens to throw my schedule off.” If something happens to throw your schedule off, deal with it when it happens. Don’t build in time for something that doesn’t exist.Why? Because of Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Meaning if you set yourself a goal for two weeks, even though you could really finish that thing in six days, it will take you two weeks because that’s the expectation you create for yourself.
    So no long deadlines!

Don’t cater to the muse

I know. You’re probably all O.O at that. Of course, I don’t mean that you should banish the muse. But the muse is capricious sometimes, isn’t she? Be honest. How often have you been in the middle of a project, slogging along, and the muse entices you to start another project? “It’s new! It’s shiny! It will be SO much more fun to write than what you’re working on!” I know you know what I’m talking about 🙂

So when I say not to cater to the muse, I mean: don’t bounce from project to project throughout your writing time. The muse gets to be capricious. She’s a muse. Writers don’t. Well, not writers who want to actually finish anything. And, yknow, reach their writing goals.

When you decide on which project to work with that day, focus on it. If the muse tries to entice you away, jot down her new, shiny idea, but stay on task. You can devote a little bit of writing time another day to sorting out the new project. But for now, you decided on this project, so work on it.

And the other question I know is brewing is: But what about if I’m not feeling that project that day?

To which I answer: I don’t feel like cleaning out my cats’ litter boxes, but guess what?

Writing isn’t always going to be a walk in the park. Sometime it’s going to be hard and sometimes the muse is going to desert you (or, worse, try to drag you away). But if you want to do this as a career, or even just a serious hobby, you need to finish things. And that means slogging through the crappy parts.

Do a review every 2 weeks

Huh? What? Yeah, this isn’t something I see suggested to writers very often. But it’s important. We’ve already talked about success breeding motivation. But sometimes you can’t see the success very easily. We need to close that feedback loop so we can see what we really accomplished.

At the end of a two week stretch, go back and look at your word/page tracker (here’s a handy-dandy one!). Look at the number of words you wrote. Think about the things that happened this week. Did something set you behind? Did you lose momentum? Did something motivate you more than normal? What was good? Bad? How much closer are you to your next small goal? To your big goal? Write all that stuff down.

Knowing where you are makes knowing where you’re going much easier!

Don’t get bogged down in defeat

 

Listen, life happens to all of us. Sometimes we don’t get everything done we wanted to get done when we wanted to get it done by. That’s okay. And I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to ignore the successes and beat myself up for the perceived failures. Don’t do that.

We’re going to talk more about this particular piece in next week’s post.

What things do you struggle with in achieving your writing goals? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

 

 

 

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How to Speed Up Your Writing Process

Writing

A few weeks ago, we talked about about finding more time to write. This week, let’s talk about using that time more efficiently.

Some of these writing process tips I stumbled upon myself and others come from learning about how successful authors use their time. I don’t currently use all of these and I’d been known to balk at one or two of them in the past. (Because I’m stubborn!) But all of these tips have the ability to really speed up your writing process, so consider them all, rather than dismissing any out of hand.

Manage your writing process environment

This isn’t always doable. But as much as you can, create an environment conducive to your style of writing. And, probably more important, create boundaries for those around you who would distract you, even without meaning to.

Turn off the sound and notifications on your phone, or put it in another room.

Disconnect from the Internet.

Close your door.

If you don’t have a door, there are other options. I have a friend who, when her kids were small, wore of a funky unicorn hat when she was writing. They knew that if she had that hat on, not to disturb her unless the house was for real on fire. You don’t have to embrace the silly quite this much if you don’t want to. Anything that you can display on your desk as a communication that you’re writing will work. A snowglobe. A photo turned in the opposite direction that it usually is. A stuffed animal. A baseball. Pretty much anything that will get someone’s attention when they approach will work.

The point is that you want to create an environment for your writing process that allows you mental space and time when you’re writing. Even though we can find time to write in the margins of life, having dedicated time will often be able to used more efficiently.

Know your characters

I always recommend taking a few hours to get to know your main characters. Decide what they look like. Figure out where they grew up, what their childhood was like. Learn about their family and how your character relates to the other members of that family. Discover what big events happened in their lives that brought them to the point where your story begins.
And write this all down. Don’t just keep it in your head. Because you’ll forget. And at the beginning of your story, your character will have grown up outside a Native American reservation in the southwest and by the end, they’ll have grown up on a farm in upstate New York.

Keep track of that stuff! 🙂

Create your writing process plan

As a former hardcore pantser (I’m now a hybrid), I balked at the idea of doing any planning at all. Ever. I believed that my stories should be told exactly as they came to me, whatever that was.

For me, that ended up being super inefficient. More likely than not, I just ended up getting frustrated or, worse, bored with a project and went on to other things. And that led, of course, to never actually getting anything done.

 

You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.
~~ Neil Gaiman

 

Now, you don’t have to go full-fledged outline if that sort of process doesn’t work for you. But my suggestion is to at least have a general structure with these elements:

  1. Main conflict
  2. Any sub conflicts
  3. Character sketches
  4. Where the story starts
  5. A bullet point list of each of the pivotal points in the story (and bullet point lists for each of those bullet points, if possible)
  6. How the story ends
  7. A paragraph (for yourself) about how the ending of the story resolves the conflict(s) & how the ending affects the character(s)

Having each of these things on the front end will give you clarity about what direction your story (and your writing process) should go at each juncture. Now, none of this is set in stone, of course, because we’re not always 100% in control, we authors. But having a roadmap for your story, just like in real life, will help you when you decide to take the scenic route, rather than the highway.

Leave love notes for yourself and your writing process

Okay, maybe not love notes, though you can definitely do that too!

Have you ever sat down to write, all excited because you’d been on such a roll the last time you wrote, and then discovered that you have no idea what you’d meant to start writing now? And then you had to go back and re-read what you’d written, which read just fine, but the spark that ignited that fire seemed to be gone now. Have you had that experience?

One way to combat this is that when you’re done writing for the day, leave a few lines for yourself describing what you need to write next. It can be two lines, just to jog your memory or it can be a paragraph that includes reminders for emotions to include or twists or turns that are coming up. It’s whatever gets you back to that fire for the story that you had in the previous session.

Talk it out

This is one that I haven’t tried yet, but a number of authors swear by it, including Kevin J Anderson, probably the most prolific living author in the specfic genres.

Dictate your story. You heard correctly. Write your story the way it was meant to be — as a story you tell.

The great thing about modern technology is that you can do this just about anywhere. Download a speech recording app on your phone, get a headset with mic, then go for a walk, or a bike ride. “Write” on your morning commute when you’re stuck in traffic.

Once you’ve got it recorded, you can either transcribe it yourself, use a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking, hire a Virtual Assistant, or pay for a service like Rev.

Now, if we could only figure out how to do edits like that!

Do you have any tricks or tips for making your writing time more efficient? Drop them in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

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