Get Out Your Red Pens

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As you know, I’m participating in the GUTGAA blog hop and pitch frenzy.

I was lucky enough to be Pitch Polish #81. And so the random Monday post! Huzzah! Head on over and check out my query letter…do your worst. Read a few of the other pitches while you’re there and lend your worthy two cents.

You’ll notice that I put the genre down as New Adult. I’ve wrung my hands on this blog before about going with women’s fiction over book club fiction over mainstream fiction over… I didn’t just throw a dart and land on a random words. New Adult is a niche so new that you can’t find it in books stores yet, but it does legitimately exist. The protagonists are in their 20s (check) and still figuring out life (check). Julia may not live here forever, but I thought it was certainly wroth a try.

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Writers Group and Copies

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What I’m about to complain about didn’t happen tonight, but just having writer’s group made me think of it.

In two of my writing groups, the author brings copies of their work. It’s read aloud while group members have a copy in front of them to write comments on. After the piece is read aloud, there is time for silent note taking. It’s a time to expand those notes you jotted down or to check certain things (did he really use “totalitarian” 5 times in 2 paragraphs? I thought it said that Sarah did that…did I read that wrong?) or even to write a wrap up.

I think this is a great system, but sometimes the author doesn’t have enough copies of their piece for everyone. Hey, it happens and it’s not a big deal. Two critiquers can easily pair up and write their comments on the same paper. Not ideal…do we bump pens and elbows trying to write at the same time, or does one person write and listen while the other has to remember where certain word choices irked them so they can go back and comment during the silent time? But, like I said, not a big deal. If I team up with someone, I may not be able to write notes as detailed as I’d like, but I get my main points across (and some authors may actually prefer that!).

So, what am I complaining about? Sometimes, some writers will come up short and yet still keep a copy for themselves.

A R G

I understand how it can be helpful. You hear something that doesn’t work and the page is right there for you to mark up. BUT you know the piece. The others around the table don’t. Personally, I find it more helpful when new eyes and ears make comments. I can jot down notes on a separate piece of paper and go back afterward to add my notes on someone else’s copy. I feel that by hogging a copy for themselves, those writers are tying the hands of their fellow group members and, in turn, won’t get as detailed or helpful feedback.

Is this a “I don’t do it that way so no one else should” problem that I alone have or does anyone else feel the same way?

Art of Conferences?

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I’m about 3/4 of the way finished with yet another Julia draft, I’m thinking it’s time for a conference, a writer’s get-away weekend, an uber critique sessions…something. It seems that all the other writing bloggers do it, so it’s my turn to lemming-leap off the cliff.

I found something close by that’s reasonably priced (i.e. not the $$$$ writer’s week in Maui), but I don’t know any of the lecturers or critiquers. I know I need to google the names, but have only had time to do one so far and that was a bust. The guy’s name was too popular and anything and everything but writer showed up…not a good sign.

Why do I think I need to do this? Outside perspective. Me and my writing group have lived with Julia so long that we may not see the glaring flaws. And as many writing blogs as I read, I still think there’s industry information that I can glean at something like this…assuming the right people are there.

So, how do you know if the conference/writer’s critique session is right for you? Anyone out there who’s done this already? Pointers? Things to look for?

Go Ahead, Make My Day

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If you like someone’s writing, TELL THEM! This is not a plea for stroking my ego, I promise.

In Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life, she says to write charming notes, physical letters of appreciation you send to people whose work you admire. The idea of doing this was mortifying to me. Sure, I know that the person on the receiving end would probably appreciate it, but the idea was just so daunting. I can’t put my finger why, just that it was so daunting that several years after reading her book, I still haven’t written a single charming note. I think that will have to change.

After writer’s group tonight, I told someone how much I enjoyed his story. He said he couldn’t wait to get home and read my comments (we write comments on the print-outs in addition to discussing the pieces aloud)…that he read my comments first and then again after he finished reading everyone else’s. I was flabbergasted.

I thought that he didn’t like my comments. That, because his own writing is so fluid and beautiful and literary, he’d look down on my pleas for more pedestrian explanations as terrible and coarse and commercial.

My surprise must have shown because he explained he had a little writer crush…and then he dashed out of the room before I could say anything.

That put a spring in my step!

And it’s about time I start complimenting people I admire.

Weighing Critiques

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A few posts ago, I said that being part of a long-standing writer’s group helped you anticipate some of the comments before they are made.

That’s not always the case. In my most recent writer’s group, one of the members made a comment I didn’t see coming.

In the original version of the piece, written and presented many moons ago, he hadn’t gotten what I considered to be the ah-ha moment. Most others had. When I edited the piece for this session, I made the ah-ha moment clearer, not because one person hadn’t gotten it, but because when I adjusted my main character’s reaction to be inline with what she would actually do, her reaction made the ah-ha more clear.

Whatever my reason for the change, I was eager to see if this time this person got it. Well, I didn’t quite anticipate his reaction. He did get it, but then didn’t get something else. I felt like I was treading water and getting no where.

After thinking about it for a while, I got it. This particular person likes things spelled out…right away. In the past, I’ve ignored him and agreed with him depending on where the scene is in my story. I shouldn’t leave people guessing for too long, but a little suspense is good. He wants question and answer right there on the same page.

Everyone else in the group was OK with how I structured the scene. They had definite thoughts on what they believed had happened…all in line with what I was hoping for.

Overall, I’m going to ignore his comment this time, but it makes me wonder, should I be listening to anything he says? Yes, I realize that’s harsh. Each critique is one person’s opinion and it’s up to the writer to weigh those opinions and decide if it’s right for the story or not. However, are there people you just shouldn’t listen to, period?

As much as I hate the term women’s fiction, I’m coming to terms with the fact that is probably what I’m writing. Knowing that, should the women in my writer’s group carry more weight than the men? Is it strictly about good writing and comments, or does it matter that the potential audience for the piece sees it one way? Since they tend to agree with the direction I’m going, I’m happy. But am I missing something by not listening as closely to the potentially non-core audience?

Letting the Snark Out

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Another writing group is next week, and last week I happened upon several critique posts (Merrilee Fabber of Not Enough Words: The Yin-Yang of WritingHow to Interpret CriticismHow to Apply Criticism), all of which got me thinking about my own critique process…or rather, how I process critiques.

In January’s writing group, there was an overwhelming flood of newbies. We were one person shy of breaking fire code…oooh, us wild writers. But this new influx meant that the group facilitator had to give her writing group rules spiel. Rules isn’t exactly right. Guidelines and tips, more like. She explained that another person reads the piece; we chime in with the good first; use I statements; focus on the writing, not the writer; etc. She also gave her mother-in-law speech: Criticism is like a gift from your mother-in-law. You take it and say thank you because you know it was a well-intentioned gift, but then you take it home and evaluate it. Does it go with your decor? Is it your style? If yes, then keep it. If no, give it to Goodwill.

Then she cautioned not to read the criticism right away. I disagree.

When my writing is being read, I don’t look at a copy, I just listen. If I hear something that makes me cringe, I jot a note. In the critique session itself I also take notes. Then, when I get home, I read everything. After that, I rewrite everything (my notes, their notes, comments I remember but didn’t write down) onto one copy of the story. Why? With the good, the bad and the ugly all in one place, I can see if there are contradictory comments, if more than one person felt the same way and, if I’m starting to feel like I suck, I can find a positive comment to boost me back up. That and it allows me to let the snark out.

You would think that.”

“Any moron with half a brain would get that.”

“I already told you that two paragraphs ago.”

Then I put it away. For a day, a week, a month…it depends. When I do come back, I heed the mother-in-law advice and weed through the comments. It’s much easier to be fair to that moron with less than half a brain when I’ve already used my dazzling wit to cut him/her down to size…and had time to cool off.

Even in the middle of my snarkfest, I can tell that some comments are absolutely spot on (she can’t lisp if she doesn’t say anything that includes an s) and other are just dumb (“never use a semicolon in fiction”…click and scroll down). After all, Mary Sue always demands that I use more adverbs and Johnny Walker always says that one word dialogue just doesn’t work. Regardless, I write them down, snark and reread them later. You never know when they might be right.

Everyone has their own way of tackling comments, but the let-it-settle idea is pretty pervasive. What do you think? What’s your process?

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische.