Manuscript Crit

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I just found this in my draft folder…from back in January. It’s appropriate to post now, though, since Midwest Writers’ Workshop was last weekend.

In my last post, I mentioned that I bought a manuscript (first five pages, really) critique at the Midwest Writers’ Workshop. I submitted the opening of my current WIP and waited impatiently.

In addition to the paid critiques, everyone had the opportunity for an open critique: putting your pages on a table in the library for anyone to read and critique. I tossed those same pages into the ring.

As part of the weekend, I signed up for an all-day intensive workshop with the same published author who was doing the paid critique. I figured I needed to learn more about him so I could better weigh his comments.

One of the first thing he said was that authors need to name their character right away so readers know who they’re dealing with and aren’t confused when the names are finally mentioned. My first person narrator wasn’t named until the end of the submitted pages. Strike one.

Then he said when he’s reading he wants a description of characters’ clothes. If not, he has naked characters running around his head. Strike two. Plus, the two main characters in the first five pages were college girls…kind of icky to have them running around naked in readers’ heads.

As the day went on, my Strike List got longer.

I wasn’t looking forward to the critique session. However, I figured that since I knew what he was looking for I could at least steel myself for my pages to come back dripping in red ink.

Except they didn’t. He liked the pages. He liked my characters. He liked where and how I’d started.

“But, the clothes!” He hadn’t noticed.

I was elated. I’d managed to break “the rules” and get away with it.

Meanwhile, the open critique of my pages had comments that contradicted each other and the comments from the paid critique.

I’m not surprised. For good writer’s karma, I critiqued a few of the manuscripts (too many to read them all). There was a range of genres, but most of the manuscripts I picked up were fantasy. I was out of my depth, but tried to give helpful feedback anyway. I’m sure that many of my comments were written off because it was obvious I didn’t read the genre.

Ask five people, get five different opinions.

Looking back, on this post, I would say that the real take away is that all comments aren’t created equal.

An incredibly important part of a writers group, or any critique, is learning how to decide if a comment is good or bad. It’s not easy, but it’s an important skill to hone.

More on that next time…

Bad Month, Bad

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So, it’s been a bad month for writing. Got nada done on my blog (obviously) and nothing on my stories. It wasn’t fear of the blank page. It was fear of being bad. I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t immediately called stupid by my inner editor and I just didn’t have the energy to fight her.

After listening to my inner editor all month, I finally pushed through and send a few pages to one of my writers’ groups. I didn’t like what I wrote, but I sent it anyway – thank goodness for deadlines. And you know what? The world didn’t end. My writer friends didn’t disown me…in fact, there were parts that they liked.

That was earlier this week and last night and this morning on the commute, what I had been struggling with all started falling into place. Not perfect-I’m-done-and-everything-is-polished place, but definitely getting there.

I don’t know what lesson to take away: write every day even if you think it’s stupid or it’s OK to take a break…as long as you come back.

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?