Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mascots and Critique Groups and Who Knows What Else


Well. You BGs put me to shame. You came up with so many ideas yesterday. Thank you, thank you for thinking when I couldn’t. Sometimes I just get brain dead.

First, we have a new acronym. High time, don’t you think? BGU. Bloggee University. Gotta love it. Of course our theme song is “Stayin’ Alive.” Goodness knows that’s hard to do when you’re a novelist. Especially at deadline time. They don’t put the “dead” in that word for nothin’. Our mascot? Somebody said , “Ooh, hope it’s not a spider.” Well, of course it’s a spider, what else? Anybody got a better, more fitting idea? After Violet Dawn comes out, our mascot could be a black mamba, but, hey, would that really make you feel any better?

With all the suggestions/questions to respond to, it’ll take awhile. Good thing. I don’t have to think of another topic for days. Yay! Today, I’m going to respond to some of the shorter issues. Then we’ll take one of the bigger ones and start tackling it tomorrow.

First, I want to respond briefly to LaShaunda’s question about revising a manuscript so it’s ready for submission. That is a little question with an absolutely huge answer. Revising means making it better. There could be a million and one ways to make a manuscript “better,” depending upon the weaknesses within it. LaShaunda, if you’re new to this blog, I suggest you go back to, oh, around June (after we ended our NES—Never Ending Saga) and read through the posts up until now. We’ve covered quite a few techniques that may help you. Also, in general, I always advise writers to submit to an agent first before sending to publishers—a good, solid, reputable agent with experience in the market. (Unless you’ve gotten the go-ahead from a publisher at a conference to submit your material.) The process for finding an agent is a good sounding board for the readiness of the manuscript. If the work is publishable, you’ll find an agent to represent it. If no agent takes it on, you know the manuscript needs more work, and meanwhile you haven’t shot through all the publishing houses you’d like to send it to.

Now, Lynette E., who ran into the editor at the airport—I have a word for you. Send in the manuscript. What do you want next, a bolt from heaven?

Suzan asked about critiquing groups. They can be wonderful and they can also be nightmares. People have had vastly different experiences. ACFW runs a great critique group program. If you’re a member of ACFW and wanting to get into a critique group, go for it. You’ll find encouragement and friendship there as well as help with your writing. When the group works right. If personalities don’t mix, or the critiquing you’re getting just doesn’t sit right with you, find a new group. I know quite a few BGs are in critique groups that have really meshed well.

A possible problem with a critique group is when everyone’s pretty much at the same level. How do you help each other improve in writing? Well, folks at the same level can still help each other. One person may have studied how to handle speaker attributes, for example. Another may have bought the CD for some workshop on backstory or tone or setting. One way a group can become more effective is to divvy up the learning. Have one person really study up on how to handle description, and have another study dialogue. Then report to each other during meetings and within the critiques. Also, in general, simply having a pair of fresh eyes read your work can really help. Others will see things in our work we can’t see, because we’re too close to it.

It’s sometimes good to have a mentor in the group—someone who’s published and way ahead of the others in the learning curve. The inherent problem there is that this person becomes the “last word,” and that shouldn’t be the case. Everyone—even a brand new writer—can come up with good suggestions for improvement. Think back to our editing of the AS (action scene). Many of you made suggestions for editing, and some of those were things I’d missed. Together, we all worked on that scene.

Another positive thing about a critique group is that it helps you develop that thick skin we authors must have. It’s hard hearing what’s wrong with our work. We just want people to read our stuff and love, love, love it! Learning how to listen to another’s opinion is a tough but good lesson. Trust me, you’ll be listening to lots of opinions as your book goes through the editing process at a publishing house.

Who out there is in a critique group? Is it working? Have you been in a past one that didn’t work? Do you have a way of dividing up assignments for learning particular techniques?


Check back tomorrow. We'll tackle description. Or maybe marketing. Or maybe one of the other ideas y'all threw my way.

13 comments:

Ron Estrada said...

I'm in a critique group with three wonderful, talented ladies (yes, they read this). Seriuosly, though, each one has a different strength, just as you said. One nails me on backstory (I employ BC's "Don't" method now), one catches my weak verbs, etc. I'm the token male, I let them know when a man type character would never know chartruse from burgandy (3 colors outside of primary for the male POV, ladies! Pink, green, and...ummmm...let me think on that last one).

I also waisted several years in "free" online groups. You can tell when a writer never intends to improve. If your crit partner never changes, chances are she's bogging you down, too.

Almost as important as the crit groups, BC, is to read the writing books. I'm going through "Stein on Writing" right now. Talk about revelations. I'm also reading "Story," which is aimed at screenwriters, but the basics are the same. It's awesome. Think Hollywood producers don't know the plots they're getting stink? Think again. They have nothing to choose from! So get busy, people.

Gina Holmes said...

Being part of a critique group was the single best thing I ever did for my writing. I started in one group, outgrew it and was chosen for another, then another. Funny thing, I've caught up with my mentor in skill. Each of us has a different strength and though we may discuss, we never argue or get mad at a tough critique of our work. We rub our hands together in anticipation and get busy! We have pubbed authors and brand new. We keep a balance and the new authors suggestions are often just as good as the ol' pro's.

Cara Putman said...

When I joined ACFW in April I was put in a mentor group where I learned a lot about the basics from Pam Meyers. I also was able to help others by catching grammar issues and just "I like or don't like it" kind of things.

Now I'm in a suspense critique group and love the way we really focus on is the story working? How's the GMC? Are the characters more than cardboard cut-outs? etc. We're all good writers, so now we get to focus on craft.

I still have so much to learn but crit groups have helped me get started and facilitated some great learning.

Suzan Robertson said...

Random thoughts on critique groups:

I've had good experiences and not-so-good experiences.

Critique groups may fall into the habit of being a "line edit" group, red-lining your chapter and returning it to you with no discussion, no brainstorming, no creativity. Sometimes that can cause hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

I'd like to be in a writer's group someday in which an author submits a chapter then everyone reads that chapter and comes together to brainstorm and offer suggestions.

Of course each group is different and serves different needs.

Someday I hope to find a mentor to work one-on-one with, but writing mentors are difficult to find.

At the ACFW Conference, an editor who did my paid crit told me to be careful not to slant my writing to please my crit group and stifle my unique voice.

I'm taking a break from critique groups right now. Maybe in a couple of months I'll figure out what type of group would be best.

Suzan Robertson

Domino said...

I've been in a once-a-month crit group for 9 months. That's my whole crit group experience. I also have submitted work to about five contests for feedback. Bottom line: everyone has a different opinion. Love the prologue. Delete the prologue. Rip out the first two chapters. Rip out the backstory and put it in real time. Start sooner. Start later.

A little frustrating for me. I'm going to have to try the ACFW crit groups since I haven't done that yet.

Right now, I'm heavily into rewrites -just going with what I know. I'm halfway through Stein on Writing. I'm reading with a pencil in my hand.

Wayne said...

I've tried several different crit group options. First I joined a local group, but I quickly discovered that the leader (a pubbed author) was more interested in having adoration showered upon his work than in fostering an environment of learning. And I don't think he liked newbee Wayne finding fault with his work. :) I left that group. Strike one.

Next I tried an online group, but it was very random. Some people thought my work was horrible, others said it was the work of a seasoned professional. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, but further from the later. I moved on. Strike two.

I finally joined an ACFW crit group. Three of the five of us in the group are frequent BG posters. We all write suspense, though I'm the only one twisted enough to write supernatural suspense. I think we all bring valuable insights to each other's work. I think over the several months I've been in the group, my work has improved quite a bit (both from comments I've received, as well as from critiquing the work of others) which is what I was hoping to get out of a crit group. What I wasn't expecting was the friendships I've made. We share our frustrations and our triumphs, we encourage each other, we pray for one another. Four of us were able to meet face-to-face at the ACFW conference, and it was like seeing old friends. Finding this group has been a blessing in my life. Home run.

(And yes, Brandilyn, I threw the baseball refs in there just for you. :)

Jennifer Tiszai said...

I don't want to repeat a lot of what's been said, but I'm in an ACFW crit group that's been together for 2 years and we have all become close friends, a wonderful side benefit to improving our craft.

Two things that we've done that have been helpful. One, when we get conflicting advice we ask why. Why should I cut this? Why should I add something? That helps the writer narrow down what the true issue is and discern whether it's a craft or personal preference issue.

Two, we all went through Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook together and talked about the assignments, helping each other through them. This made a world of difference for all of us.

Someone is always learning something from a contest, a CD, a book and sharing it with the others. It's great to be able to bounce off other people things that you are learning.

Pammer said...

My first crit group (ACFW - well ACRW back then- online group) is the one I am still with. They are wonderful gals. We all have different strengths and it works so well. I love them so much I have a pic of us together at Nashville next to my computer. And when I get a crit back I can hear each one of them speak. :0) We have a published author and one that is newly published. I would never send anything in without running it past my CPs. And you can always tell when one of us has been studying cause we tend to share the info we learn with the entire group, teehee.

Of course our mascot is a spider. :0)

Must go do some more brainstorming. Why is it I get the most wonderful ideas at work but before I can write them down...here comes a customer. sigh.

Gina said...

First of all, can I give my crit partners, Cara and Wayne, a cyber HUG for all the wonderful things they said about our group.

I'm in two groups right now, one feels like family, the other feels like I'm standing before a firing squad. I love the fact that my ACFW crit group can be honest with one another and not get offended. I think that's because we season our crits with lots of praise and we point out what's good. In my other group, where crits are from different people every month, some people forget to tell you what you do right and it can really bring you down. That's when I go running to my AFCW group and they're there for me while I lick my wounds! You guys are awesome!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I joined the critique page at Faithwriter's.com. It was a nice experience but from there I met two awesome women, who are now crit partners with me. We have a very special friendship and each of us has a totally different strength.

P.S. I love the Maass: Writing the Breakout Novel workbook...I learned a lot from it!

Becky said...

I'm in an on-line crit group--limited membership with required number of weekly crits and subs. It's pretty rigorous, but I have learned so much by DOING crits as well as by receiving crits. As others have said about their groups, some of the members focus on one particular aspect of writing and others focus on different things, so it is helpful on different levels.

My group is not exclusively Christian writers--in fact, I may be the only writer trying to publish with a CBA house. I actually like that. Since I hope my writing will be read by Christians and non-Christians alike, this gives me a little idea what non-Christians might think about it.

cara putman said...

I guess I'm becoming a two-a-day poster.

I know the biggest challenge for me with critiques is being able to walk through it and figure out what needs to change and what is simply style, my voice. I think I'm getting better at taking comments and incorporating those that strengthen the story while realizing just because a comment is made doesn't mean I have to make the change.

Camy Tang said...

It's been hard for me to find crit partners that will match the timing of my writing method--I'm an anal plotter and I usually take several weeks of just plotting before I start writing anything. Then I try to get everything down on paper as fast as I can.

I've been really blessed because God has brought crit partners into my life who are able to tackle my ms whenever it finally comes off the presses. I also tend to see more "high-level," so my crit partners' line-editing skills are invaluable to me, and in turn I help them with structural glitches in their stories.

I found that one of the best things was when my crit partners have read the same writing book(s) that I have. If one of them says, "I flagged this because Swain says this..." I know exactly what she's talking about.

Camy