Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Critique Groups: Who?

Once you decide that it's time for a critique group, how do you know who to join or recruit?
There is no single answer. Just like the "when" of critique groups, the "who" depends on each author. Some people like to have others who write in similar styles or genres. I think that this is especially helpful for me because if someone I'm working with is familiar with the children's or young adult market and literature then I feel like their feedback will be most helpful. On the other hand, there are certain things that someone not familiar with my particular genre can point out.
When it comes down to it I think the most important criteria for group members is how they approach critiquing.
Group Members should:give positive feedback
  • be easy to work with
  • point out what needs work and refrain from giving their specific opinions on how to fix it
  • be committed to writing
  • contribute both compliments and constructive criticism
  • are able to take criticism easily
If you get into a group and the members aren't as dedicated to writing as you are, or they tell you that you suck, or they can't take criticism, or they just don't seem to be a good match for you and your writing, then find a new group or new members. Nothing says you have to stick with people that aren't helpful or easy to work with. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right critique group, but like any good relationship it's worth sifting through until you find a good match.

I went to a reading and book signing at the King's English in Salt Lake City for Gail Carson Levine. She shared a story about an assignment she did when she was young and still in school. The teacher had written on her paper that her writing was pedestrian--that it was boring. She didn't write for years after that.

What that teacher should have done was point out specific areas where the writing or the plot or the characters seemed to slow down or lose the reader's attention, so that she could re-work over those parts and make her writing stronger and more engaging. If you encounter a teacher like Levine's then move on to someone else who can recognize the good, strong parts of your story as well as help you identify the not-so-strong parts. Don't let anyone tell you that your writing sucks or that you should stop writing. Even if your writing is boring, that doesn't mean that you can't make it exciting--just keep writing. You can't get better at something unless you do it regularly. No matter what anyone says, DON'T GIVE UP.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Critique Groups: When?

Now that we've gone over what a critique group is and why it's good to have one, how do we know when to get one?

Sara Allen @http://fromsarahwithjoy.blogspot.com/ says that she recognizes the importance of a critique group, but she doesn't want anyone looking at her manuscript until it is finished. I've heard a few people say that this is how they like to do things, and I'm sure there are plenty more out there who need to finish their first draft before letting anyone else take a look.

On the other hand, I find it very helpful to have a group throughout my writing process. I like to workshop as I go because sometimes I get hung up on plot or character or rhythm or pacing and it helps me to hear other people's ideas even if I don't use them. Most of the time I probably won't use my group members' ideas, but their input helps me see where I need to improve and I fix it in my own way.

Are there other options? Maybe some people like to wait until they've already gone through a couple finished drafts before taking it to a critique group.

I'd say, if you feel ready for a group to help you along, then go for it. But, I will advise that you at least have something written before you look for a group. Ideas alone just won't cut it when it comes to critique groups.

When do you think is the right time for a critique group and why? How do you know when you're ready?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Critique Groups: What?

In my excitement to talk about why critique groups are wonderful I forgot to start with what a critique group is.

I'm sure most people know what a critique group is and if they don't I bet they can figure it out. But, just so I can be safe (and so I can be ocd about completing each of the what why when where how questions) let's define exactly what critique groups are.

Writers get together with other writers and give each other feedback on their manuscripts.

That's really all there is to it.

There are good groups and inexperienced groups and every other kind of group you can imagine.

Of course critique groups can also apply to a variety of works. Perhaps it's a group of painters or composers or screen-writers. The gist of it is that people critique each other in some way, most often on a piece of work (maybe you can find a group to critique your outfit every day or your cooking or your mannerisms). For the purpose of my blog, though, let's stick with the first definition and just apply critique groups in the writerly sense.

Do you have a different idea of what a critique group is? Do share.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Critique Groups: Why?

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow writer (Sarah Allen @ http://fromsarahwithjoy.blogspot.com/) today about critique groups. She works in different ways than I do as a writer, but we both agreed that there is value in critique groups.
I've come up with a few things for the Why, how, where, who, and when on critique groups. Today is the Why?

Why have a critique group?
Almost every author will tell you that having a critique group helped them become better writers.
Carol Lynch Williams and Ann Dee Ellis @ http://throwingupwords.wordpress.com/ are involved in a critique group with some other fantastic writers, and it helps them catch little things in their manuscripts that they can't do on their own.

It's hard to see the flaws in your own manuscript, especially after you've worked on it for so long and gone through dozens of drafts. It helps to have a new set of eyes on your words to help with anything from huge plot structure problems to placements of commas and periods.

Not only is a critique group a chance for you to get your stuff workshopped, but it also gives you a chance to see what other people are writing and to learn how to receive feedback as you give it.

A great aspect of critique groups is the motivation factor. Sometimes it's hard to get to work. It's hard to finish a chapter or a whole novel. A critique group could be your reason to meet your deadlines. They'll help push you to be great just like a piano teacher or a track coach or the director of a play. Your group members will keep tabs on you and ask you where you're at in your writing. And you'll do the same for them.

Most people enjoy a sense of community at least on some level. A critique group will give you a small community where you can share what you love with others who love the same things. They'll support you, love you, and cheer for you all along the way in your process towards publication.

If you have a critique group, tell us why you think it's a good idea to have one. If you don't maybe you should think about getting one, or tell us why you don't want one.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Writing Conference

I went to a writing conference last week. I took my mom with me. The conference was a sort of birthday present/mother's day gift to her. She loved it. And I enjoyed being with her.

I asked my mom what her favorite part about the conference was.
She said that, other than the food (which was delicious), she liked the workshop we went to about show, not tell.
Here are a few tips on how to show instead of tell a story.
  • Use the 5 senses. Try to have at least one per page. But don't forget the overlooked ( or undersmelled) ones like touch, taste, and smell.
  • Let the reader SEE what is happening. Include tiny details such as facial expression, gestures, setting.
  • Never say your character is sad. Show us their body language and their expressions so we can see what they're feeling.
  • Be specific. Avoid vague words such as tall, big, small, etc. because they are only big or small when compared to something else. If a man is tall, then say he had to duck through the doorway and when he stood up straight he made the 8ft ceiling seem low.
  • Instead of saying what happened, put it in scene. Let us see it happen. Rather than saying, she made cookies, let the reader watch her shuffling around the kitchen with all the cupboards open and flour dusting her eyebrows.
There you have some tips.
If you can think of any more then let me know!
I'd love to have your comments.