Browsing Tag

story critique

Writing Groups, Critique Groups, & Masterminds, Oh My!

Writing

A couple weeks ago, I attended a new writing group. Not just new-to-me, but brand spanking, first meeting kind of new. Granted, I know all of the folks involved and call them all friend, but this configuration, this purpose, was new.

I’m always a little apprehensive of getting involved with writing groups or critique groups, because I’m often the one giving a lot more than I’m getting, simply because I’ve been working in publishing for a decade. But my challenges aren’t what I wanted to write about.

It used to be that the only way you really connected with other writers was by going to writing conferences or taking writing classes. And if you wanted to put together a support or critique group, you had to find a few people local to you. And just finding those people didn’t mean you’d have a good, quality group. There were still other obstacles, such as skill levels, personalities, scheduling, etc. It was easier just to find one writer and mail pages to each other.

But obviously now, things are a lot easier. There’s still the struggle of skill levels, personalities, and scheduling, but getting together as writing groups is a lot easier, because there are many different ways to “get together.”

Great Technology

I currently run a group called The Writing Tribe on Facebook (feel free to join, if you’re a writer who’s serious about your career 🙂 ). They don’t know this, but one of the things I want to do in 2018 is start a monthly chat (probably by video), where we teach each other things and have focused discussions and learnings about different aspects of writing.

And that leads us to one really powerful aspect of technology: the ability to communicate in real time over great distances. We no longer have to rely on whomever is in our area for writing groups. We can pick and choose the people we really want to work with, having regular online meetings and chats.

Not only can we get the support and camaraderie, but we can do critiques electronically, as well. And, really, electronic critiques and edits are the standard now, versus paper critiques. I don’t really know anyone who does paper critiques anymore.

How do you organize your group?

First, decide how often to meet. Once a week? Once a month? In person? Online? Some mix of cyber and meatspace?

Next, figure out what you want to do with the group. Will you just get together to work in the same room, everyone writing together and then taking short breaks to chat, get coffee, etc? Is it a focused critique group, where each person turns in pages well before the meeting and everyone critiques those pages? Is it a mashup with a little of both?

Our new writing group has decided that we will meet monthly and critique 2 people each meeting, and then use the rest of the time to write. However you choose to do it in your group is fine, so long as everyone is getting something they need out of the group. There’s no right way to do this.

What I’m kicking around for TWT is to have monthly online meetings and then planning a weekend retreat where people come in from all over and we learn, work, and play together. (This is all still in the very early stages of brainstorming, so don’t hold me to it! 😉 )

The biggest benefit to writing groups, whether they’re work groups, support groups, critique groups, or masterminds, is that it keeps us writing. It’s more difficult to “do it later” when we have a critique deadline coming up. We get inspiration from others of our tribe, which keeps us at the keyboard. The biggest benefit of a writing group is simply being among other writers. The automatic outcome is that we write more, we write better, and we achieve our goals.

In the end, how the writing group is structured matters less than the idea that everyone involved is getting what they need out of it.

Are you involved in any writing groups? How does it work for you and your peers?

 

 

 

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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?

 

 

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Memories of My Very First Story Critique or Suck It Up, Buttercup

What I've Learned

I’ve been writing for a pretty long time. I’ve been editing for a long time too. And, truth be told, I edit way more than I write. (Yes, I’m outing myself to you, dear reader!) It tends to pay a lot quicker 😉 My editing style was influenced in a lot of ways by story critique that I’ve been exposed to over the years.

I am a graduate of Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA program. I won’t go into how awesome it is here (but contact me if you want to know; I’ll totally talk your ear off!), except to say that it is the single best thing I did for my writing.

It was also the hardest.

Giving your work over for a story critique is possibly the most difficult thing a writer can do, on an emotional level. It’s even harder than the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the manuscript itself. Writing a story isn’t easy. Getting feedback on the story can be even harder.

But it’s necessary. Because we, as authors, can’t look at our work with an objective eye — at least, not without a lot of time in between the writing and the revision. And even then, I’m not entirely sure we’re very objective. Getting the feedback of other authors, particularly, can be incredibly useful. So I believe all authors should find good people to give them story critiques.

When I started at SHU, I’d never had a real critique before. I’d had some really nice comments on writing websites, but never a story critique from someone I felt knew what they were talking about. I must have had some raw talent to get in, because lord knows I didn’t know a dang thing about the best practices of writing. I’d never hung out with real writers before. I was both excited and terrified to my bones.

The set up: critique sessions at SHU are something like a roundtable. Whomever’s story is being critiqued doesn’t get to say anything at all until the end, when s/he can finally address any questions or comments that others have put forth. It’s generally a group of 6 to 10 people, including one of the program’s writing mentors as facilitator. Each person takes a turn talking about their impressions of the manuscript (which is usually around 10 pages long), both good and bad, with the facilitator going last. We generally did 2-3 critiques per session.

My very first story critique was in a larger group of about ten people (at least, in my head it seems like a large group!). I volunteered to have mine done first, because — well, let’s rip that bandage right off, shall we?

So, yeah, terrified.

My submission was a short story (that most people were unanimous about it needing to be a novel, which I eventually turned it into) about twin girls who learn that they’re guardians of Pandora’s Box. Everyone had both good and bad things to say, which is pretty normal, as I learned over time. The facilitator for that story critique session happened to be the woman who would be my first mentor in the program, Leslie Davis Guccione. At that time, though, I hadn’t even met her yet. (She turned out to be a lovely woman and wonderful mentor!)

Leslie’s really big on active verbs. I, on the other hand, was pretty clueless about active verbs. (Like I said, raw talent rather than any actual knowledge.) Leslie started by telling me that she agreed with those who were saying it read like the opening of a novel rather than a short story. She also said how much she liked it. She pointed out strengths right away. And then she schooled me about active verbs versus passive verbs.

If you don’t know, passive verbs are any that are “to be” verbs. So “was,” “were,” “been,” etc. Apparently enamored of these sorts of verbs, I had a lot in my ms. Seriously, a lot. When she passed me my hard copy (Leslie, at that time, only did hard copy edits), she’d taken the time to highlight all the instances of passive verbs in the first two pages. Thanks, Leslie! 😉

My first two pages were as yellow as a fluffy chick. There was so much yellow, you might have thought the page itself was yellow. I had no less than 15 — fifteen! — instances of “was” and “were” on each page. Almost every single line. Sometimes twice!

So that’s how I learned about passive verbs.

But here’s the thing — seeing all that yellow made me really aware of the use of passive verbs. So after that, as I wrote, I recognized when I went to type “was” or “were” and I checked myself. Could I find a better way to phrase this so the verb is more active? And, almost always, a better verb was there, just below the surface.

That critique session, all by itself, made me a better writer. It taught me how to create more vivid sentences, more accurate descriptions. Leslie’s tough love about passive verbs stuck. Thanks, for real, Leslie!

Maybe someday I’ll tell you how Leslie failed me on my initial thesis submission for messing up “further” and “farther” continuously (which I also never do anymore!).

Have you participated in critique sessions? Gotten a story critique? How was it for you? Did you learn things? What was your biggest take away? Tell me about it in the comments!

Stay awesome!

 

 

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How to Cope With a Substantial Story Critique

Writing

What I’m Listening To: The space heater on the floor under my desk. It’s a chilly day today! Maybe it’s because I’m talking about story critique today? 😉

Something Cool: I’m putting together an accountability program for authors! If you need help with motivation to write, stay tuned. Details coming!

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Okay, so you’ve gotten your manuscript back from your editor or critique partner and now you want to curl up with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and cry into your Chunky Monkey.

Go ahead and do that. Wallow if you need to wallow. Getting critiqued is hard. It can hurt. And that’s okay. You can be sad about all that red ink (font) for a little while. But give yourself a time limit. And once you hit the end of that limit, pull yourself up by your inkwells and get to work.

I’ve been a pro editor since 2008. I’ve contracted with a couple publishing companies and I do freelance fiction editing. I’m a hard editor, but a good one. My authors all say that my first pass on a manuscript is the hardest and that’s true. It’s because I hit everything that I see on that first pass, whether it’s a misplaced comma or a plot hole.

Every…single…thing.

Even if it’s multiple instances of the same issue. I do this for a couple reasons. First, because it makes later edits a complete breeze. And second, if we, as writers, keep doing something over and over again it’s because we can’t see that we’re making the mistake. Having to fix it eleventy billion times makes us see it, and so in the future, when we’re writing so that we don’t make the mistake in the first place. (I learned that first-hand from a mentor in my MFA program!) This also makes both our jobs easier for story critique of future work.

So with these terrible, fiery edits (I promise, I’m also nice in my edits 😉 ), I give new-to-me authors some advice on how to handle the manuscript. Keep in mind that the following assumes the story critique is done with Track Changes.

Three steps to working through your story critique

1. Get your Ben & Jerry’s and your spoon. Sit down at the computer and read all of the story critique comments in the ms. Go through all of them without making any changes. You might want tissues and something soft to throw. You’ll get angry; you’ll get sad; you’ll laugh; you’ll yell at the screen. Most of all, you should make sure you’re eating your Chunky Monkey (or preferred flavor) as you go. Ice cream has been proven to help deal with emotional edits. (via the Institute of Venessa nods)

2. Now, put your Ben and Jerry’s back in the freezer (or in the garbage can, if you’re more like me) and jump into the meat of things. The first thing you’re going to do is go through the story critique and fix all the easy stuff. Review and accept (if applicable) the punctuation changes and the pronoun recommendations, the quick-fix suggestions, etc. If it will take you a minute or less, fix it during this pass. Make sure you delete the comment(s) associated with the changes you make. Consider it like checking off a to do list!

3. Once you’ve got those things done, your ms should look a lot less scary. You will likely have
fewer notes, but the work will be more in depth now. These will be things like plot holes, story inconsistencies, characterization issues. These will be a lot easier to deal with when you don’t have a bunch of minor changes all around them. You’ll have a clearer view of how you need to make changes.

Once you’re done with the three steps, make sure you do another full read of the ms. Though you may want to set it aside for a week or so to allow yourself some distance before you read through it.

Something to keep in mind: Just because the editor suggests a change, doesn’t mean you have to make it. It’s your book, after all. But do look at the suggestion objectively and not through the lens of, “But this is my *baby* and that idea couldn’t possibly ever work for my baby!” Because no matter what you might think, that statement is wrong. 🙂

If the idea really doesn’t work for your story, that’s one thing. But just make sure you’re not so emotionally involved with your story that a suggestion for change becomes an insult to your soul mate.

How about you? Have you had a rough edit? A difficult story critique?How did you cope and work through the suggestions? Chime in below!

Stay awesome! :)

 

 

 

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