One Writer’s Journey

April 11, 2017

You Can’t Please ’em All: Critiques, Editorial Feedback and More

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:28 am
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Recently one of my students came to me with a worry about her manuscript.  How do you know when to accept good feedback (Love it!) vs bad feedback (This needs something more.)?

This is a really tough issue.  Accept every comment as legitimate and you’ll be endlessly rewriting every manuscript you attempt.  You’ll never get it “done.”  Ignore everything but the compliments and your writing will never improve.  The key is to find a happy medium.

Step #1:  Accept the fact that there is absolutely no way on earth to please everyone.  It is impossible.  That means that some negative feedback is inevitable.  But you’ll get a lot less negative feedback if you can …

Step #2:  Identify your audience.  And when I say identify your audience, I don’t mean something broad like 12 year-old boys.  That’s still too broad.  I mean that you should be able to say that your work will appeal to 12 year-old boys and girls who are STEM savvy.  Or 12 year-old girls who love horses.  Or 12 year-old boys who are studying tae-kwan-do.  If you can be specific about who your readers are, you’ll know that you need to pay the most attention to feedback from these readers or from people who know/work with these readers. But even then, you won’t appeal to everyone.  That’s why you need to …

Step #3: Keep an eye on your original inspiration and goal.  What made you want to write this?  What was your goal when you began?  Does this feedback fall into place with these things or is it contradictory?  Only you can say.

It is never easy to decide if you should accept or reject feedback.  Sometimes it is a matter of really knowing the person who supplied the feedback.  Some people get your work and give reliable feedback.  Other people don’t get your work.  Ever.  If the feedback helps you create a better manuscript, run with it!

As we say in my critique group, it is your sandbox.  You just agreed to let me in to play.

–SueBE

 

September 13, 2016

How-to Revamp Your Critique Group

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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Over the past two years, attendance at our critique group meetings had fizzled.  At one point, we averaged 6 to 8 people per meeting.  Lately?  Two.

discussionIt was clear that something needed to change.  Maybe the day of our meetings was to blame.  I asked other members and yes Thursday had become less convenient but the time was still fine.  So we moved the meetings to Wednesday evenings.  At first, it looked like that fix had worked because we had three or four people per meeting. Then it crawled back down to 2.  We had even had 2 new members but with a schedule change one of them couldn’t make it, but he did say that 4:30 would be much better.

Again, I asked various members.  Would earlier in the day work?  Surprisingly, many of them said yes.  So now we are meeting at 4:30.  This past meeting we were back up to six members including one who had returned (evenings no longer worked for her) and a new person.

There are a variety of reasons that attendance may be flagging and, of course, the fix will vary according to the reason.

Does the day/time still work for most people? This one can be trickier than you might think to diagnose.  Many of the people who came to our meetings swore that evenings were still better.  They said that, but they didn’t come.  You may have to try more than one new day/time to find one that consistently works.

Do you still have a genuine critique group?  Socialization is well and good, but your group will only hold the attention of serious writers if you critique.  This means managing the chit-chat.  Give everyone fifteen or twenty minutes to chat and then get to work.

Is there a shark in the waters?  Sadly, a single member can sometimes be the problem.  If you have someone in your group who pulls every conversation back to themselves or who lashes out when a manuscript doesn’t match their views of science or politics, some policing may be in order.  It is never easy to tell a fellow adult to use their nice words or shush, but sometimes it is necessary.

Do you just need a pick me up?  If everyone is feeling a big jaded, start each meeting with a fun writing exercise.  Or bring cupcakes to celebrate the birthday of a noteworthy author.  Or you might take a field trip to a local archive or library.

Is the group too small?  Once a group reaches a certain tiny size, it doesn’t function well.  Three regular members mean that an absence takes it down to one or two.  Put out a call with local writers groups.  Or get your group listed on a web site.  I brazenly introduce myself to writers at various meetings and workshops and invite them to our group.

 

Sometimes your group will need a little TLC to keep it in peak performance.  It’s well worth the effort.

–SueBE

June 9, 2016

One Manuscript, Two Attempts

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:57 am
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thinkingHave you ever had a manuscript that seemed to morph from one form to another?  That’s been the case with “What’s Up Chuck?”

As I did the research for a  book about why animals vomit, it became obvious that there was a lot of information.  In fact, there was probably too much for a picture book.  I was three chapters in when Get the Scoop on Animal Puke by Dawn Cusick was released from Imaginel Publishing.  Eighty print pages her book touched on a lot of the same animals but didn’t go into the science like I had planned for my book.  Still, I felt that the two books might too easily compete.

I took my manuscript to the Missouri SCBWI retreat and showed it to my critique group.  “Rewrite it as a picture book!” they said.

So then I created the picture book version.  Just as I was finishing that up, I needed a manuscript for the next Missouri SCBWI retreat.  Naturally, I sent the editor “What’s Up Chuck?”  I hoped to get a few hints that would make it sing.  ::cue the music of doom:: To put it simply, the editor likes my voice but thinks this book is way too short to work.

Now I vaccilate.  I’ll be talking to the editor in two days.  Based on her comments, I think she considers this a much better chapter book idea than picture book manuscript.  I still love the idea of this book and I have to admit that I really like the idea of writing it up as a chapter book.  There is so much information and the science is really interesting. Yes, it’s gross but it is also interesting.

But my last critique group was certain it would work as a picture book.  Certain.

I’ll be talking to the editor and I’m running three chapters through the peer critique group.  I know that whether this book ultimately takes shape as a picture book or chapter book, the decision is mine to make.  I just need to make up my mind.

Think . . . think . . . think . . .

–SueBE

 

June 12, 2015

Feedback: Arthur Slade Offers to Critique Your Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:56 am
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slade

My favorite Arthur Slade book.

Getting feedback on your writing can be tough.  I’m lucky in that I live in a major metropolitan area with a strong writing community.  Not only do I know a number of writers who live in my area, I’m connected on line with even more.

If this isn’t the case for you, getting feedback can be tough.

Arthur Slade is a Canadian author of young adult fantasy.  I “met” him online through another writing friend.

Anyone who suscribes to his newsletter can get a critique of their first manuscript page.  Anyone.  Not one person.  Not three people.  Subscribers.  This means that it might take him some time to get back to everyone but seriously?  This is an amazing offer, but then again he’s just this kind of person.

The offer will go out in the June 16 issue of the newsletter which means you want to get hopping and subscribe.  To do that, see the original post here.

–SueBE

 

May 5, 2015

Critique: The wonder of a top notch critique group

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:04 am
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grandma's china

Coffee and critique — the best friends of any writer.

One of the best parts of the Misssouri SCBWI Writing Retreat is the opportunity to work with a top-notch critique group.  I have the honor of getting to run one of the groups each year but I have to admit that it’s a socialist affair.  I want to hear about everyone’s groups and then we decide how our particular group is going to work.

What’s there to decide?  Most of the decisions have to do with how we present our work.  Sometimes the author reads the work out loud.  Other times, one of the other participants has that honor.  My group usually just reads things silently and then we discuss them.

At the retreat, we decided to combine techniques.  We read silently and then someone other than the author got to read out loud.

I have to say — I’m sold on reading things aloud.  We didn’t catch any rough spots but we did catch some repeated words that didn’t stick out when you read silently.  We also caught a few places where the ear expected some word play or a chorus and then . . . nada. I will definitely recommend this technique to my other groups.

Other than that, we were pretty informal.  We didn’t go around the circle and make comments one at a time.  In fact, we had a tendency to interrupt each other as we bounced ideas around or asked for clarification.

Sure, we disagreed with each other sometimes but it was always with a great sense of fun, probably because we were all running fun picture books past the group.

If you are putting together a new group, here are some things to consider:

Goals.  Everyone at the retreat wants to publish traditionally but also electronically.  A hobby writer or someone who wanted to self-publish might not have fit in as well.

Time.  We had a tight schedule with only so long to critique.  Since we all had short pieces, we just had to keep an eye on the time.  In fact, we had an official time-keeper.  If you are doing novel length work with your group, you might have to do one novel/meeting.

Written comments or oral.  Some groups do either or.  We did both.

It can take several tries for a group to gel.  We were very fortunate that things clicked at our first meeting, perhaps because most of us knew at least one other person in the group.  If you try to put a group together and this doesn’t happen, don’t worry but do try again.  A good critique group is worth their weight in gold.

–SueBE

September 12, 2014

Critique: Why You Need a Critique Group

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:17 am
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CritiqueAt the Missouri SCBWI conference this past Saturday, many people paid for critiques.  There’s no doubt about it — critiques from agents and editors are helpful.  It is the one way you can find out how they respond to your writing and what you might need to change.  I hope some of you were able to take advantage of this feedback.

As writers, we spend much of our time working in isolation.  Focusing on a piece of writing, its easy to loose perspective.  What works?  What doesn’t?  After a while, it is really hard to tell.  But we don’t an agent or editor to be the first person to give us feedback.  That’s where a strong critique group comes in handy.  Paid critiques are great but a critique group gives you regular access to feedback from multiple people and these people are writers.  We are always learning new things about our craft. You need to benefit from this experience.

How do you find a critique group?

  • Check your local book store or library.  Critique groups often meet in these locations.
  • Ask other writers that you know.  I host a critique group that is open to new members.
  • Check with your groups.  Do you belong to SCBWI or your local writer’s guild?  See if they have a list of critique groups.
  • Ask on Facebook or Twitter.  Make use of your social media connections.  Put out feelers.
  • Look online.  Do you belong to an online community for writers?  See if there is an online group.

As you find out about various critique groups take a look at what each of them offers.  Some will only critique one type of writing; a picture book group will be of no help i you write novels.  Check their goals.  A group of people who write for fun will look at your work very differently than a group of people who want to sell their work.

Going to a group and critiquing the work of others is unnerving if you’ve never done it before.  Check out my post tomorrow on the Muffin for some tips on how to critique the work of another writer.

–SueBE

May 21, 2014

Writing Advice from one of the Greats — Jane Yolen

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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I love it when I find inspirational videos from big deal authors.  Here’s a fun one from Jane Yolen that touches on such a wide variety of topics including:

  • Why you should both read and listen to your work.
  • How to better deal with rejection letters because even Jane gets them.
  • How to work from a critique.
  • Why you should write what you want to write.

And, because she’ll say it so much better than I would, here’s Jane —

I’ll have to see if I can find some more of this kind of video.  If any of you have any favorites you’d like me to share, let me know!

–SueBE

 

February 19, 2013

How Would You Describe Your Critique Group?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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The MuffinWhat is the first thing that you think of when you think of your critique group?  Mine is a jumbled image of laughter, food, fun and story.  They are among my biggest supporters.  They are, quite simply, the best.

They always have my back which means that they not only point out where I need to grow as a writer but they also have no qualms about showing me what I’ve done right.  Nope.  They are not going to let me wallow in self-involved angst, at least not for very long.

When I talk to other writers who insist that their group is the best, I know that they have what I have.  A group that fits perfectly with what they need.

Unfortunately, finding just the right critique group is a lot like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans.  Sometimes there’s an uncomfortable pinch or altogether too much space.  You may think that you know what you want until you get it and realize that, no, that isn’t working either.   Expect that it is going to take several tries to find the right group.

That’s the topic of yesterday’s blog post on the Muffin.  If you don’t have a critique group, check it out for hints on how to find or create a group that will meet your needs as a writer.

–SueBE

February 11, 2013

How Do You React to Critique?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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The Muffin“Compromise need not mean cowardice.”
John F. Kennedy

Although it has nothing to do with writing, that quote reminded me of how a lot of writers react to critique.  Tell them anything other than “submit it,” and they get their hackles up.  Maybe they can tolerate a few minor changes, but nothing big.

If this describes you, then you do not want to be in my critique group — not that everyone is looking to pick you apart.  In fact, I’ve been told that I’m the biggest pain simply because I have no qualms about pointing out structural problems.  To make it even more fun, often I have no idea how to fix it.  I’ll just know that the pacing is slow, the character motivations aren’t big enough or I don’t feel the setting.  Fixing it is, after all, the writer’s problem.

Some critique groups have the rule that you aren’t allowed to defend yourself.  Just sit there and take it.  Then go home with it and think it over.

That’s not how things work in my group.  We discuss things, not necessarily defending ourselves but explaining what we were trying to do and why we did something a certain way.  That makes me think that this is why our group works so well.   In discussing it, we often figure out why something doesn’t feel right and several different ways to fix it.

While this is hugely helpful, there was something else that helped me even more at our last meeting.  Recently, they told me what was working in my story.  I am doing a re-write from the ground up.  Because my antagonist is all new, much of the original plot doesn’t work.  This is a whole new book and I’m having a heck of a time wrapping my brain around it.  Find out more about how my group helped me out by reading my post, What Every Writer Needs, at the Muffin.

–SueBE

November 15, 2011

Avoiding the Critique from Hell

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:45 am
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There’s no doubt about it — critiques cause no end of anxiety and it doesn’t seem to matter if I’m giving or receiving.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  I worry much less when I get a critique. But when I deliver a critique, especially to a new writer, I worry.  Did I help?  Did I scare the snot out of them?  Was I clear?  Or did I sound something like this —

Fortunately, I’ve never received a critique that was quite that . . . how would you actually describe that critique?  Mental?

To avoid delivering that kind of critique, keep the following 5 tips in mind:

  • You will not connect with every piece of writing.  I have this problem with very young picture books.  And chick lit.  And romance.  If I end up having to critique one of these things, I’ll warn the writer ahead of time.
  • Lead with something positive and the person you are critiquing will be more likely to hear the less-positive.
  • “I don’t get this at all” isn’t a critique.  Helpful comments include:  “this part seemed awkward,” “I was pulled out of the story right here,”  or “this paragraph confused me and I need you to explain what is going on.”
  • Remember to critique the work and not the author.  You may end up critiquing work for someone whose lifestyle or religion differs from your own.  Suck it up and critique the writing not the person’s belief system.  Does this mean you can’t ask for clarification?  Not at all.  But if you feel the need to work the word “Hell” or “Damned” into your critique, think again.
  • And, perhaps most important of all.  Keep it as short and simple as possible.  Do not monologue.  That’s for comic book villains (see below).

–SueBE

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