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teaching

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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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!

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

EPICon!

Conferences, Publishing, Teaching, Writing

EPICon starts tonight with a mixer and booze! For those of you who don’t know, EPICon is the official conference of the Electronically Published Internet Coalition (EPIC). Every year, EPIC takes nominations and members vote on the best eBooks of the year over multiple categories. The EPIC eBook Awards banquet is Saturday night and I am excited to share that one  of my authors at Loose Id, Jessica Freely, has been nominated for her eBook Rust Belt! This was the first book I worked on with Jessica and it’s still one of my favorites! If you haven’t read it, check at out at the Rust Belt Loose Id page!

I am also teaching two classes, one on Friday called Pulling More than Punches: Writing Great Action Scenes. I think the title needs to be redone though. Though it’s a very snappy title, really we don’t want to pull punches. We want to punch the reader in the head with the action. So maybe I’ll be changing this title to something like: Not Pulling Punches. Or something. I suck at titles. Except this one, which is my other class:

Manuscript Corsetry: Tighten Up That Story! Yep, it’s a revision class. I hit on lots of things to watch out for in your ms, but also different methods of approaching revisions. I think it will be a fun class!

I think I’m also taking pitches for Loose Id, but I’m still a little hazy on those details. So that’s my agenda for this weekend. I’ll be tweeting periodically (which reminds me that I need to put my Twitter feed back on my blog).

Anyone else out here in rainy Williamsburg, VA?