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Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Writers Groups

Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Writers Groups

Though I obviously LOVE writing partners and writers groups, I’m also a huge fan of spreading the word about the need to find the RIGHT critique partner or critique group. Not all writers groups are made equal, and you shouldn’t settle for anything less than perfect. A negative experience or dynamic can do more harm than good to your writing and your confidence in your writing.

Today’s guest post comes from Ladies Who Critique member Cyndi Pauwels. She’s telling us about the pinnacles and pitfalls of writers group using her own experience. Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us about your own pinnacles and pitfalls!

 

[Laura’s note:Aren’t we all this contented when we write? (!) Image courtesy of shootingstarsmag.blogspot.com]

 

Guest Post: Cyndi Pauwels

Writing is a solitary business. We spend hours upon hours alone, immersed in an imaginary world that can become more real than the one we physically inhabit, crafting phrases and sentences into a semblance of mental clarity and grafting them onto a blank page. Eventually, for most of us, the tales of our imagination are ready to be shared. But with whom? Mothers are usually far too approving, ready to hang even the roughest effort on the fridge with a fluffy kitten magnet. If willing, spouses and roommates are convenient, but they’re not always the best judge of character development and plot holes. For more concrete results, excellent sites like Ladies Who Critique offer a way to connect to those with similar backgrounds and experience levels.

 

Each of these possibilities is useful in its own way, but to grow as writers, and sometimes to shore up our sanity, we need more. We need an experienced viewpoint, a patient teacher, and a calming voice. We need a writers group.

 

My weekly group is my lifeline. Part beta readers, part critique partners, part support group, we’re a fluid mix of six to eight struggling authors who share evaluations, encouragement, and kick-in-the-pants accountability. Our regulars each bring a different strength: Tami’s English teacher background corrects our grammar, Lori focuses on continuity, Jim ruthlessly eliminates excessive adjectives, and James shows us how to set a compelling backdrop. I’m a not-so-closeted punctuation junkie, and I’ve been told I craft authentic dialogue. We complement each other, and after almost two years together, we’re a family.

 

If you don’t have a group, ask around at conferences (you do attend writer’s conferences, yes?) or your local bookstore. Although I hesitate to encourage any of us to get lost in social media, Facebook queries can be helpful as well. My group has its own (closed) FB page where we share links to interesting blogs, submission outlets, and workshop possibilities. It helps knowing a familiar and sympathetic ear is only a click away.

 

But as in any venture involving fragile human egos, use caution! As much as I adore my current tribe, I’ve also been in groups that were toxic. One such biweekly meeting many years ago was led by a frustrated community college teacher who wanted everyone to write her way, and bow to her self-aggrandized expertise. We disbanded, finally, after one young lady caused an insurmountable rift by trying to pass off chunks of writing from a Dean Koontz novel as her own. More recently, another group I test-drove for a few sessions had a bully who castigated me in no uncertain terms for questioning his obsession with what appeared to be unnecessary graphic violence. Needless to say, I politely bowed out.

 

Run from such toxic groups. Run from groups that try to rewrite your stories, to fit you into a mold that warps your personality or stifles originality. Almost as bad are those gatherings that are little more than pep rallies. Mom can do that for you, and she might have cookies.

 

Whether you meet once a week or monthly, share pages ahead of time by email or read aloud when gathered, the mechanics of the group aren’t nearly as important as the personalities and intent. When you find (or create!) the right mix of people, seeking, questioning, prodding each other along, striving to learn something at every meeting, you’ll know.

 

Because your writing will improve. And that’s our goal, isn’t it?

My thanks to Ladies Who Critique for allowing me to guest post on their wonderfully useful site. Their matchmaking was so appreciated when I needed a new set of eyes to tell me why my novel kept garnering rejections instead of yeses. The critique partner I found is a welcome addition to my network (Thanks, Marianne!). Follow my weekly ramblings at http://cpatlarge.blogspot.com

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Focus on a ‘Ladies Who Critique’ Critique Group, Part 2

Focus on a ‘Ladies Who Critique’ Critique Group, Part 2

Jani, Tracy, Ladonna & Juliana met on Ladies Who Critique in 2011. The foursome who reside on three different continents are in contact everyday. I couldn’t wait to learn more about them and their experiences being in a critique group! Find part 1 of their interview here.

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LWC: What advice would you give to writers entering a critique partnership or group?

Jani: If you’re thinking about getting a CP or starting a group, talk to people you think might be a good fit.  You have to be comfortable and trust your partner with your work, it’s important. Be open-minded. Accept that your work will be critiqued, it’ll be easier to take the feedback that way. Before you enter a partnership or group, get used to the fact that other people will finally read what you’ve written and share their thoughts with you, good and bad. The forums here at LWC are a good place to start and where I met my critique partners. We either talked in the forms or we followed each other from there to our profiles, Twitter, and blogs. This is a website created especially for finding critique partners so feel free to create a forum topic, describe your novel and what you want or need. There are still people looking for partners so you might just find your perfect fit that way.

 

Tracy: First, be upfront with a potential critique partner. Tell them what you expect and find out what they expect in return. I think you should try to get know the person(s) for a short period of time before exchanging work so you can get a feel for their style and see if it matches what they tell you about themselves.  I think after one critique you’ll know if that person is a good fit for you.  
Second, be honest in your critique. Don’t beat around the bush, ignore the obvious or go out of your way to candy coat something, doing any of that isn’t helpful and you’ve wasted both your time.  My motto is “brutal truth with delicate delivery”. You can be honest but be considerate of that person’s feelings.  Imagine how you would like to be presented with something about your work.  (Personally I like the Nathan Bransford sandwich rule: positive feedback, constructive criticism, positive feedback).

 

Third and most importantly, as hard as it is to not take it personally when someone who claims to be your friend is dissecting your work to the point that you question yourself as a writer – do not allow yourself to be down for more than a day. (And yes I will have to repeatedly remind myself of this) That should be all you allow yourself to wallow in self pity.  Have that in your mindset when you send out your work. Then take that valuable information that person took the time out of their lives to give you and use it to take your work to the next level.  As hard as it is to digest sometimes, no one can do it on their own, I mean, it’s possible but imagine how long it would take you giving your MS’s resting time to gain a fresh set of eyes. How many times have you read something and on the 10th time you just so happened to catch the simplest of errors? Your critique partners are your fresh eyes when you’re tired and weary of reading the same thing over and over but can’t seem to make it better -they can. They’re not trying to tear you down, although at first it feels like it, they are making your work greater.

 

Ladonna: I think you have to like the person you are working with. I know that seems obvious, but it’s true. If you don’t like or respect them, then you’re not going to value their opinion. You also need to develop thick skin. And know that the person is telling you this because they want to make your writing stronger. There are some people that are mean. If you get one like that, run.
You have to be ready to get the emails of elation, sorrow, and frustration. Writing is hard work and you need to know that someone understands and cares. Writers can and will do this for you.
At the end of the day, you have to remember it is your work. As I tell the girls, keep what you like and toss the rest.

 

Juliana: I would say to get to know the person you plan to exchange projects with. That’s what happened here, with our group. We met and talked a lot before starting to exchange anything. We knew we would be a good match because we think alike and like the same genres, books and such. And I knew I was in heaven when I found out Jani disliked going to the mall and shopping—like me!
Anyway, you have to be ready to hear things you don’t want to or won’t like, but keep in mind the critic is only trying to help you and you don’t need to follow the suggestions. It’s your work and you decide what stays and what goes. Also, we are all learning … about everything related to the business—about how to critique, the writing craft, the query process, the waiting!
And, most important, respect. Treat the other the same way you would like to be treated. Critiquing is a balancing act between giving and receiving.

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Focus on a ‘Ladies Who Critique’ Critique Group

Focus on a ‘Ladies Who Critique’ Critique Group

Jani, Tracy, Ladonna & Juliana met on Ladies Who Critique in 2011. The foursome who reside on three different continents are in contact everyday. I couldn’t wait to learn more about them and their experiences being in a critique group!

 

Tell us about yourselves. Who are ya?

Jani Grey: I am a twenty something writer from South Africa.  By day I work at a local newspaper where I’m lucky enough to sneak writing in whenever I have a few spare minutes.  My boss either doesn’t mind or doesn’t know. I think it’s a combination of both. Oh, and I’m not a fan of shoes in summer, as I’m typing this I’m at work, barefoot.

 

 

 

 

 

Tracy Rohlfing: I am from and currently reside in St. Louis Missouri. I am a wife to an ex-marine, mother of a 2yo little boy. I work part time as well as a part time stay at home mom. I’m an animal lover with three dogs.  I love movies and books. I started writing nearly two years ago (I believe I’ve started several times before that while I was still in school but have only recently made it a permanent part of my life).

 

 

 

Ladonna Watkins: I’m a Canadian girl exiled to Southern California, and I’m a stay at home mum. I enjoy writing, reading, and running.

 

 

 

 

 

Juliana Haygert: I’m a Brazilian wife, mother, friend and writer. I started writing when I was 13 but only about two years ago the hobby status was lifted and I gathered enough courage to go for it. I lived in the US from 2004 to 2009 and have not-so-sure plans to go back next year. *fingers crossed*

 

 

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HE SAID, SHE SAID: 10 Tips for Writing Good Dialogue | By Barbara DeSantis

HE SAID, SHE SAID: 10 Tips for Writing Good Dialogue | By Barbara DeSantis

As an editor, I receive a lot of fiction manuscripts from novice writers and inevitably I see the same mistakes repeated on the page.  Poorly written dialogue is a common problem, and one that will get your manuscript a “thumbs down” from an agent, or if you’re planning on self-publishing, a no-sale from a potential customer and reader.  

Image Courtesy

 

Readers may not know what makes good dialogue but they sure can tell when it’s bad. They lose interest, or worse, they stop reading.

No doubt about it, good dialogue is tough to write.  It just looks easy, that is, when it’s written well.  Some writers have a natural ear for it, and instinctively know when the sound and rhythm are right. Others have to work at it.  

Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing dialogue. (more…)

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Doing the Critique |  MAKE SURE YOU HIGHLIGHT THE POSITIVE

Doing the Critique | MAKE SURE YOU HIGHLIGHT THE POSITIVE

This is a guest post from the wonderful Jolene Perry, whose writing blog can be found at www.jolenesbeenwriting.blogspot.com and author’s website is at www.jolenebperry.com.
You can find her young adult novel, The Next Door Boys here. It’s Out Today!!! Go check it out 😀
 
Doing the Critique|  MAKE SURE YOU HIGHLIGHT THE POSITIVE

 

When I offer critique for anyone I’ve never done a crit for before, or even for long-time friends, I’m always a little nervous.

 

I SHOULD be nervous. Someone’s gong to be on the other end of this giving serious consideration to what boils down to MY OPINION on their words, their story, and possibly their chances for publication.

 

Now, I feel fairly confident when critiquing for beginner writers, but the longer I write, the more published authors I’m doing critiques for – and let me tell you, it’s intimidating. And I think it should be. Always.

 

Something that struck me recently is that highlighting the positive is just as helpful as pointing out where we need to improve.

 

I recently read an amazing manuscript. There was a lot of good stuff in there, and some things I wanted explained more fully, a few parts I ADORED that she was thinking of cutting. She was thrilled, because that’s the angle she’d wanted to take initially. I can’t wait to read it again and see what she’s come up with.

 

I’ve made comments on how things made me laugh, or how one simple phrase made me feel and understand the character better. This is SO helpful for me to see when other people make notes in my WIP. I want to know what makes people laugh, what makes them cry, the parts that touch them, because I’ve been surprised more than once.

 

And when a scene isn’t working, but something in there IS working, it might be able to be used somewhere else. This is good stuff to know.

So, just remember that it’s not just the corrections that help us become more publishable, it’s also highlighting and learning where our writing is the strongest.

 

And that’s my random bit of happy to share with you today.

 

How does positive feedback help you?

Or are you one of those who just wants to see what they need to fix?

 

 

 

 Jolene’s Next Door Boys is out TODAY!!

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My Fave 3 Revision Tips | With Author Jenn Johansson

My Fave 3 Revision Tips | With Author Jenn Johansson

 

Today we welcome the lovely Jenn Johansson, author of the YA novel INSOMNIA, to tell us about her Top 3 Revision tips! Find out more about Jenn at the end of her guest post. Take it away Jenn!
 

Thanks for having me! I thought I’d stop by the blog today to give everyone a couple of my handy-dandy tips for revising. First of all, let me start by saying that revising is my absolute favorite part of the writing process. Taking something I’ve spent so much time on and finding the changes to really polish it and make it shine is especially rewarding. 

Plus, I don’t usually get stuck like I’ve been known to do in the drafting process…you know, that walled-in, can’t find the right answer feeling that makes running into a burning building sound like a good idea in comparison?

Who am I kidding? You’re writers, of course you know.

 

  (more…)

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Implementing a Critique Partner’s Suggested Changes | Meredith Jaeger

Implementing a Critique Partner’s Suggested Changes | Meredith Jaeger

Happy Labor Day!

I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be ‘happy’ or not, but hey if you have the day off then I’m sure that you are 🙂

What better way to spend your day off than to begin implementing revisions to you WIP (ahem.) You’ve received some great feedback, now how do you go about putting these suggestions into play? I invited Meredith Jaeger, author of The Trouble with Twenty-Two, a novel about the quarter life crisis, to tell us her process of making the changes. Over to you, Meredith!

I have a confession to make. Up until four months ago, I’d never had a serious critique partner. I’d taken writing classes in San Francisco, but in the same nature you’d expect from the land of flower power, our group of aspiring novelists exchanged only kind words. These happy vibes were meant to keep us moving forward in our writing (and to prevent us from wanting to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge). But happy vibes don’t get you published. Tough love does.

Then the beautiful Sally Hepworth (an agented writer!) contacted me out of the blue, asking if I’d like to be her critique partner. She’d found me through my blog, which she enjoyed reading. I was humbled to share my writing with her. Sally and I had completed our novels, so we agreed to swap them, to perform a detailed content edit of each other’s work.

You can imagine my disappointment when I received an email from Sally, telling me my manuscript wasn’t quite ready to leave the slush pile. I’d done a year’s worth of revisions on my own. I hadn’t given her a rough draft for critique, but a manuscript I thought was polished.

Sally wrote, “I’m not sure if you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing (if you haven’t, you must!) but he likens writing a story to an archaeologist removing a fossil from the ground. You have a great story here- you’ve removed the fossil intact. Now it is time to get out your tools and polish the fossil until it sparkles.”

My novel was 100,000 words long, but Sally felt it would be better at 80,000. She didn’t see enough of a character arc, and felt the writing could be stronger in the second half of the book. I felt overwhelmed by everything needing to be fixed.

I bemoaned to Sally over email my fears of never being published. She responded, “I can almost hear you telling the story of all the re-writes to a group of writing wannabes when you are published. I am not just saying this because I am your critique partner, but I honestly think you have what it takes. You write beautifully, and this is a very special, raw story.”

Sally’s kind words motivated me. For anyone else who finds herself back at square one, here’s a step by step guide to implementing changes from a critique partner:

– Breathe. Remember to take in the positive along with the negative. It’s okay to cry in frustration, but move past it and get to work.

– Take a few days to let the comments sink in. See which ones resonate with you. It is after all, your book. Sometimes the hardest changes are the ones that need to be made.  

– Make the biggest changes first, such as adding and removing scenes. For example, one of my big changes was cutting a plot thread in the novel where the best friends go to a Madonna concert. I went through and cut out all references to Madonna.

– Write new dialogue. I had to write new scenes from scratch, such as the best friends reuniting before the novel’s end. I allowed myself to write really badly at first, just to get words on the page. Later, I went back and polished my prose.  

– Start from the middle. As Sally says (in her awesome Australian accent) “I’d start from the middle, because in my experience you start off strong and by the middle you’re knackered and sick to death of your book and can’t be bothered editing clunky prose.”

– Go through the entire novel and make sure your changes have followed through to the end of the book. Make note of where you have loose threads. Use a system to keep track of which chapters you’ll need to revisit later.

– Don’t feel rushed. Agents who request revisions would rather get your manuscript back in a month or two, knowing you worked really hard, than after a week. Take your time.

– When you’re ready, send your revised novel back to your critique partner. If you’ve made the tough changes, she’s bound to tell you it’s fabulous.

One of the first things Sally wrote me after she sent me her critique was that she hoped we were still friends. This touched my heart. Being honest with someone about the flaws in their manuscript isn’t easy, but it’s what a good friend should do. I’m so grateful to Sally for sharing her feedback with me. Sometimes it’s been hard to stomach, but I’m a better writer because of it. If I earn the honor of being a published author, I will surely thank Sally in my acknowledgments.  

Meredith Jaeger has been in love with creative writing since she was a little girl who drew skateboarding cats. She lives in Oakland, California with her fiance and overweight feline friend, Sylvester. She writes women’s fiction and her first novel is titled The Trouble with Twenty-Two. She blogs at http://thetroublewithtwentytwo.wordpress.com/ and tweets at @meredith_jaeger. Please say hi!

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Critique to Help the Author, not Yourself | Victory Crayne

Critique to Help the Author, not Yourself | Victory Crayne

Victory Crayne, author of the Internet article “How to Critique Fiction” and a professional independent editor at www.Crayne.com, is a seasoned critique group participant. She talks to us today about how to critique a work in order to help the author, and not follow our instinctive reaction to help ourselves.


I’ve participated in many critique groups over the last 15 years. My take-home has been in three parts:

(1) I became more sensitive to weaknesses in the writing of others, and therefore became more sensitive to those same weaknesses in my own writing

(2) I have often found some really good examples of ways to write something that I had not been aware of

(3) I’ve learned from other critics how to do a better job of critiquing.

All writers (nonfiction and fiction alike) need feedback on what they’ve written. “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, co-authors of “The One Minute Manager”

The least expensive way to get feedback on your writing is by participating in a critique group. It’s a case of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” Well, at least in the clean sense of those words. You know what I mean! (more…)

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Secrets of a Healthy and Happy Critique Group | Interview with Gabriela Lessa

Secrets of a Healthy and Happy Critique Group | Interview with Gabriela Lessa

Gabriela Lessa is the founder of a critique group of six wonderful women. She tells us a little about how she has kept the group thriving for almost a year, and how she couldn’t do this writing thing without them.

 

Can you tell us a little about your critique group?

 

My critique group started in August of 2010, so we’ve been together for a year now. Back then, I decided I couldn’t do this alone, and I needed support if I was ever going to finish my manuscript.

(more…)

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Problems You Might Encounter with Your CP & What to Do About it.

Problems You Might Encounter with Your CP & What to Do About it.

Though we would love them to, things don’t always go swimmingly in critique partner relationships. Much like every other relationship on the planet, we encounter some problems, but hopefully nothing that can’t be solved. Here some common scenarios that may happen in critiquing relationships, along with some ideas on how to overcome the difficulties.

 

Problem 1 : You are not getting the feedback you want

Solutions:
 
 
Next time you communicate with your critique partner, describe to your partner exactly what you want in your feedback in detail. The more specific you are the better. Here is a list to give you some ideas of what you might want pointing out in your feedback.

 

Explain what the goal of having a critique partner is for you, and give as much context as possible. For example: “This is my first draft. I want basic feedback on the plot and tone” vs. “I want to submit my manuscript to agents next month, are there any glaring errors?”

 

As well as listing what you do want, also point out the things that you don’t want. If spelling and grammar is not important to you right now but character development and the plot is, be sure to make this clear.

 

Problem 2 : You are getting too much harsh and negative feedback from your partner

Sometimes we can take feedback a little too personally, even if we think we are ready to hear it. If you felt like the feedback you have received was overly harsh, take a break before re-reading it. Try to determine whether your CP is truly being unfairly critical, or whether you just weren’t ready for it. That’s okay too – if your goal of working with a critique partner is to build your confidence and to improve your writing, and not to hear all of your faults, then you just need to let your partner know. Remind them of your goals and again, state specifics on the kind of feedback you are looking for.

 

Is the harsh feedback intentionally so, or are they just unaware of how strong their tone and delivery is? Even great writers can be poor critiquers – it’s a skill that one has to learn and work at. Some people have no idea about how their delivery comes across. Perhaps you can help your critique partner to learn more effective and sensitive ways of delivering critique, by suggesting pointers such as these.

 

If however you have determined that the critiquer is just plain mean, then politely inform them that it isn’t working for you and walk away. This kind of critique can be damaging to your confidence and is not the sort of company we wish to keep at Ladies Who Critique. See problem 6 for more tips.

 

Problem 3 : Your CP takes your feedback personally and is defensive when you deliver your comments

 

It’s hard to hear less than swell feedback, even if we have actively sought it out. Your writing is your baby, and no one wants to hear that your baby’s face is a little flat or they should be walking by now – even if it’s true. Sometimes the truth hurts.

 

Hopefully all members of LWC know that critique is hard to hear, yet it is not a personal attack or anything to take to heart. It’s important to recognize this and accept it.

 

There are several ways to soften the blow – include lots of positives, make sure the tone in which you write your comments is soft and diplomatic, give her time to build up some resilience. It gets easier, with time, to accept criticism and see it as anything but a personal attack and in the meantime encourage her to go deep with her feedback on your work.

 

Problem 4 : You make many suggestions but your critique partner does not implement them!

There are several things that might be happening here.

a) They might feel overwhelmed from the critique, or might not know how to implement them.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed from a critique and putting the changes into effect can be daunting. If you wish to spend the time and energy helping her do this, ask her if she needs more clarification, or whether a brainstorming session together would be useful. How to make the changes might be very clear to you but she might not be able to see the path so easily.

b) Your comments might try too hard to change her voice or vision and make it your own.

 

Remember that your comments are only suggestions and she has no obligation to put them into action. When critiquing, remember to avoid suggesting how you would write something unless there is a glaring problem.

 

c) You are not giving her the right kind of comments or critique.

 

Check in with her again about her vision and goals. Ask if she found the comments in your last critique valuable and if there is anything you could do better. The best kind of critiquing relationship is one where not only does your writing get stronger, but so do your critiquing skills and value to each other.

 

Problem 5 : Your CP is trying to change your voice or story

Just as we remind brides that it’s “their” day, I remind writers that it’s “their” story. Critique suggestions are just that – suggestions. However, it’s always good to hear a different angle or spin on things, even if at first it is overwhelming and upsetting.

 

Take suggestions with a pinch of salt, and get a second opinion if needs be. There is nothing to stop you from having more than one critique partner – in fact it’s very valuable and we recommend it. If you start to hear the same remarks over and over about your story, then perhaps there is room for improvement in these areas. It’s all subjective however – follow your instincts and let your partner know why you don’t want to implement their changes even though you respect their idea.

 

Problem 6: You received an insulting or rude critique

First, analyze why it is that you think this person is being insulting and rude. Did you accidentally upset them first by unintentionally delivering a harsh critique? Are they new at this critique business and unsure of how to deliver a good critique?

Or do they have issues than run deeper than that?

Some people have a bad day and take it out on others’ – this holds true in all areas of life, from bad customer service to an obnoxious colleague. Don’t tolerate it: forget it and move on. There are plenty more critique partners in the Ladies Who Critique sea!

If it’s really aggressive and offensive please inform us and we will look into removing membership privileges. See our terms and conditions of what will and will not be tolerated here.

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