Tag Archives | critique groups

Working With a Writing Group, Writing Coach, or Beta Readers

Everystockphoto_152132_mSo, the time has come to get some feedback on your writing.

You've worked hard on this novel, committing to a regular writing schedule to get it done, and you've rewritten and revised until it is shiny like a precious jewel.

Or, so you think.  But who can be sure until your cherished gem has seen the light of day?  What you need are other readers to weigh in on your work.  Every writer can benefit from letting trusted readers look at their work before starting the submitting process.

Your Options

There are several ways you can approach finding readers for your writing:

1.  Take a class.  Many community colleges offer extension classes in writing, and lots of writers also teach privately.  Refer to the Google to locate classes that suit you. Classes can be a great way to learn, but the format may not allow a lot of personal attention for your writing.

2.  Join a writing group.  Critique groups abound!  Many of them are quite good and can be very helpful to your career–my novel would not have been published without the input of my group!  These groups will meet on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, and read short excerpts each session. It may take you a few tries to find the right one for you, but keep at it.

3.  Send it out to beta readers.  Many writers prefer to get an idea of how the whole book reads–and thus will select trusted beta readers to send their novel to.  You can find beta readers through friends, family members, and other writers. 

4.  Hire a coach.  Working one-on-one with a mentor or a coach can be a fabulous way to get feedback on your work and light a fire to write in your belly.  Each coach will work in a slightly different manner, and most will happily schedule a time to discuss their practices with you.

Okay, so you've decided on one of these options.  What should you expect? How can you best get ready for this new stage of your writing?

How to Prepare

1.  Investigate your commitment.  You've successfully written, so obviously you're committed to the craft.  But are you truly committed to learning the most that you possibly can about your work?  Are you ready to take the time that any of these options will require? 

2.  Be ready to listen.  In many MFA workshops, the format requires the person whose work is being discussed to sit quietly without making any comments herself.  No defending, not rationalizing, no ifs and buts.  Even if your group or coach or class does not require this, its a good rule of thumb–you might miss some good points if you're busy talking about your work.

3.  Maintain an open mind.  Your initial reaction to the feedback might be negative, but it can be difficult to listen to criticism, however well-intentioned of your work. Try to stay open to the suggestions others give you.  In the moment, you may not like them, but back at your desk you might just see some value there.

4.  Don't let emotions cloud your vision. Emotions easily get in the way.  No matter what anybody says, our writing is personal–very personal.  And when someone is picking it apart, it can feel like your baby is being destroyed.  Remember, if you've found the right group, class or coach, they have your writing's best interests at heart.

5.  Be ready to step it up.  Any one of these options will result in an increased clarity on the page.  Be prepared to improve your writing.  Be prepared to learn all kinds of things about yourself, too!

Which way do you choose to share your work?  What do you like or not like about it?  Please comment!

Photo by clarita.

 

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5 Guidelines for Critiquing The Rough/Discovery Draft

On Friday, I wrote about the writing process, and talked about the importance of allowing yourself to write a rough or discovery draft. Manuscriptpage

A question that comes up, and I've had quite a discussion about this lately with my separated-at-birth-sister Candace, is what happens if you are in a critique group and working on a discovery draft.  You want to bring your writing in to get some sense of guidance, and yet you're working on a rough draft, which is going to be, by its very nature, rough.  So do you go back and labor over every scene or chapter after the group has critiqued it? Or should you just not take your work in yet?

There's a fine line here.  I'm a huge fan of writing groups, I could not exist without the one I'm a part of, and I think you sometimes have to guard your work in the early stages.  Because far and away the best thing to do is write one entire draft from start to finish, without getting hung up on making scenes perfect along the way.  Why?  For a couple of reasons:

  • When you get to the end of the first draft, you know a helluva lot more about the story than you did when you started.  Guaranteed.  And part of that knowledge is going to involve rearranging things.  Once you get to the end, suddenly you realize that you have to change things up in chapter six.  And since you're going to go back and rewrite chapter six anyway, there's no reason to make it perfect along the way. 
  • Because it is just way too damn easy to get hung up on rewriting the first 50 pages until they are perfect and never make it to the end of the book.  I've seen this happen repeatedly.  Just write a  discovery draft all the way through to the end and get it under your belt.  You'll be thrilled with yourself.

Should you want to take your rough/discovery draft into your writing group (and I do this all the time), follow these guidelines:

1. Make it clear that this is a rough draft and that comments should be made accordingly.  In other words, readers do not need to dissect sentence structure and word choice at this point.  Have them comment on big picture things, such as if the plot is making sense and characters are acting congruently (which they probably won't until future drafts, but you can start to see where they go astray).

2.  Apply what you've learned from critiques to future scenes and chapters.  If readers say your dialogue sounds wooden, experiment with making in more natural as you continue to write new scenes. 

3. Consider presenting the work in bigger chunks, if the format of the group allows this.  It is often easier for readers to follow threads and throughlines if they can read several chapters at once, as opposed to reading one chapter in isolation.

4.  Take good notes.  I have one notebook dedicated to notes about the current project, and I take notes as I listen to the critique.  As soon as I can when I get home, I go over the notes and make certain I understand them.  I scribble a few ideas about how I'm going to utilize the changes.  And then I go back to making forward progress on the draft.

5. Don't take it personally.  It's about the work, not you.  If you internalize any commentary in a personal way, you'll not be able to carry on with finishing the draft.

All right, time for you guys to chime in.  How do you deal with writing a rough draft?  With taking criticism?

And stay tuned, because over the next few posts I'm going to be discussing each phase of the writing process in depth.

Photo from Photl.  Yes, I've found a new source for photos.  Don't fall over in your chair.

 

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Talking Your Story To Death

Mouth_surprising_open_268839_l Have you ever talked about a story so much that you then could never write it?

I have. 

When I was a newer writer, this happened to me several times.  Sometimes it was in one-on-one conversation, but mostly it happened in a critique group I attended.  I loved that critique group, adored the people in it and enjoyed our weekly meetings.  But, looking back, I think we just talked too damn much.  I was working on a novel then and I never was able to pull it together, though I got about three-quarters of the way through.

Talking about it took all the energy from it.

Of course, I now belong to a different critique group which is no less amazing.  And we talk and talk and talk, too.  So what's the difference?  Why was I able to finish my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and feel satisfied with it, whereas before I couldn't? 

Perhaps it has to do with confidence.  In this group, when people talk about something that isn't working, I'm able to take that criticism and figure out my own solution to it.  Before, I'd always do exactly what the others' said, even when I knew it wasn't right, because I lacked confidence.  As I ponder this, it also has to do with confidence in the collective wisdom of the group, as well as myself.

Still, I've learned not to talk too much about my work.  When people ask me what the novel is about, I give them a vague answer.  Now that is it finished, I don't have to be quite so protective.  In truth, I need to be less protective and figure out a decent elevator pitch, so I don't find myself opening and closing my mouth and saying, "Um, well, it's about this woman….and she goes to LA…and…" By that time my questioner is so bored she is walking away from me.

But when a work is in progress, I find it beneficial to me not to talk about it too much.  I've finally learned just to tell people that.  When they ask me what my novel that I'm working on is about, I answer, "I've learned not to talk too much about my work while it is in progress, because it sucks the life out of it."

People generally respect this, perhaps because it sounds very writerly and somewhat mysterious.  Well, the creative process is mysterious, isn't it?  And we learn what works for each of us only by engaging in it.

I'm a bit in awe of all the writers on Twitter who happily gab away about their works in progress.  They even tweet lines from their writing and others comment.  Laurell K. Hamilton, best-selling author of the Anita Blake series, tweets constantly about her characters and what they are doing.  Part of me wishes I could do this because it seems so natural to all of them.  But I've learned that I can't.

So, do tell.  What works for you?  Do you talk about your writing in progress?  Have you ever talked a book to death?

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