Archive for category Critique Groups

Do You Have a Psychic Vampire Critique Partner?

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 9.48.42 AM

WHAT do you MEAN I am head-hopping? THAT is my VOICE. You are ruining my ART!
(Image via Carniphage Flikr Commons)

Several months ago, in my Enemies of the Art series, we discussed Psychic Vampires. Psychic Vampires are all around us, and likely, we will never be rid of them. PVs are most likely to show up at a number of critical junctures. They sense the energy shift, and since that energy is no longer all about them, they will fight tooth-and-nail to bring balance to The Force (of Manipulation).

While many of my posts are directed toward writers, most people have these same issues. If we don’t learn how to guard against and handle PVs, we will always be their victims. Psychic Vampires will always feel renewed and refreshed, namely because they just sucked the life out of their victims (us).

Psychic Vampires abound in the arts, and they’re also prevalent in many writing groups. They are vamps dressed in writer clothing. Often they are so self-absorbed they can’t even see the reality of what they are.

This is why confronting PVs is almost always fruitless and will simply lead to conflict that only further feeds them at our expense. Our best option is to be able to spot them, then ignore them or RUN.

Beware the Psychic Vampire Critique Partner

I wish I could give all of you a nice, easy website to find healthy, professional critique partners, but unfortunately those don’t exist. We will have to trust, then use trial and error, then set tough boundaries. Some CPs will make it, but likely most will not.

Why?

Too many writers get into this business for the wrong reasons. They really aren’t interested in the life of a professional and just enjoy “playing author.” Writing is for attention and ego-stroking. Their goals are about THEM and this means anyone on board with them will go the wrong direction.

They will keep steering the ship the wrong way…toward the rocks.

Some PVCPs are touchy, sensitive and unwilling to learn and grow. Mistakenly, they believe that their art is just genetically coded into their DNA and that any feedback is just trying to sabotage their “art.”

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 10.00.21 AM

What do you mean too many flashbacks? YOU ARE SO MEAAAANNNN!

If you have a critique partner who refuses to listen to honest feedback. If she is touchy and oversensitive? Move on. You won’t grow. You’ll spend too much time propping up an ego that can never get enough propping up. The PV will be a continual vortex of need and if you don’t jump ship while you can? Expect to crash on the rocks with them.

This writer won’t make it unless she changes, and if you’re enabling her to be a PVCP, why should she?

We Are Who We Hang Around

I cannot recommend attending writing conferences enough. Yes, even WANACon counts.  We are having another WANACon the first weekend of October and deliver top tier NYTBSA talent right to you AT HOME. Right now we are having a special, the ENTIRE conference and recordings for $119 (which will expire soon). Just like a writing conference only no travel and at YOUR convenience.

We can arrange a TSA feel-up, but they work for tips :D.

Anyway…

The reason we need to choose friends wisely and surround ourselves with professionals, is that these writers have invested cold hard cash into getting better. When we forge relationships with writers who are professional or stronger, we grow. Water will always find its level, so make sure you’re rising, not sinking. Habits are contagious. This is one of the reasons I cannot recommend joining an RWA chapter enough (even if you don’t write romance).

RWA is full of professionals who work their tails off and understand craft and the business. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the other. Refuse to be in a place that dulls your creative edges.

PVCPs Waste Valuable Time

I’ve been in critique relationships where the other person never learned to think for themselves. Why bother reading Story Engineering, The Writer’s Journey, Hooked,  Save the Cat or Plot & Structure when we can get Kristen to so all our thinking/plotting for us?

I recall two members of a critique group who attended every week with their crappy writing to be critiqued. Instead of learning, they just barfed down junk on a page and let the group “fix” it. Odd thing was, after over a year of enduring the world’s worst writing, nothing changed. When these individuals self-published? NONE of the writing had changed.

This ticked me off. How many hours had we dedicated to helping, when the writer had zero intention of listening? The critique wasn’t a place to grow; rather, it was a captive audience who had to listen to their dreadful “story” vomit.

Most of us are short on time. We often have day jobs, kids, chores, bills and we have to do social media and MOST IMPORTANTLY we need to be writing more books and better books. It’s easier to tread water if we aren’t dragging a PVCP anchor around our necks.

The PVCP Test

1. Is the writer touchy. Does she want every bit of feedback to be handed with a box of chocolates?

2. Does she attend regularly? Or does she always have an excuse of why she can’t be there—great-nephew’s birthday party, helping a friend’s garage sale, washing her hair?

3. Does the writer actually READ? Does she read fiction and LOVE storytelling? I’ve met writers who claimed they wanted to be NYTBSAs, but said things like, “Well, I just don’t like to/have time to read.” Reading is FUNDAMENTAL to what we do. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music. TIME WASTER.

4. Does the person give back? Critique partners should be partners. I’ve had writers who took and took for months. They wanted me to plot, then re-plot, then they had a new and BETTER idea they needed “help” plotting. Never once did it occur to them, that we hadn’t talked about my book in months.

5. Does this person ever grow? Or do they keep making the same newbie errors over and over? If they are? They aren’t listening, so move on. This is a PVCP. RUN.

What are your thoughts? Have you been the victim of a PVCP? What did you do? How did you handle it? What are your horror stories? How did you stake the PVCP? What might be some other ways to spot a PVCP? What might be some good resources for finding a good CP? I recommend trying WANATribe, join RWA or attend conferences. But, maybe you guys have some better suggestions!

BTW, Image number two courtesy of best movie ever Army of Darkness.

I love hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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51 Comments

The Secret to Success? Learn from the Crabs in the Bucket

Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Wonderlane...

Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Wonderlane…

I am like cerebral flypaper for cool anecdotes, but one that stood out to me was the story of the crabs in the bucket. When fishermen trap crabs, they just dump them in a bucket on the pier. No lid. Nothing to trap the crabs and keep them inside. Why? Because if any crab tries to climb out of the bucket and escape, the others will pull it back inside.

Many of us, when we decide to become professional authors face “crabs in the bucket.” They often look a lot like family, friends and even fellow writers. They fear failure, so they fear our success. If we actually accomplish something remarkable, we prove that success is more choice than fate.

Leave Toxic Relationships Behind

We have to let go of the old to grab hold of the new, but that’s often the most terrifying thing we can do. The past might be destructive, stagnant or even toxic…but it’s familiar. When we decide to do something remarkable, we face the unknown. It’s easy to be lulled into the idea that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

As artists we need to guard our emotions and our muse. Negativity, doom, gloom and drama can rob our energy, erode our (often) fragile confidence, and undermine success. Refuse to hang out with whiners, complainers and lazy people. Bad habits are contagious.

No company is better than bad company.

Writing Groups Can Be Filled with Crabs

As a neophyte, one thing I didn’t understand was that just because a group meets and professes to be a “serious writing group,” doesn’t make it so. I can say I’m the Queen of England. Doesn’t make it truth.

Many years ago, I joined my first writing group, but I was naive and didn’t know that Show, Don’t Tell applies to life as well as fiction. At first, I was just a member and a lot of people actively attended and participated. My skills grew exponentially.

Then, gradually, most of the published authors stopped attending and attendance dropped off. It wasn’t at all uncommon for me to be the only one who showed up for the meeting. Most of the remaining members only attended when they wanted line-edit. They took but rarely gave (unless they wanted something).

I failed to see the climate shift in this group and stuck it out. I thought that maybe, if I became president, I could resurrect the club.

Yeah.

Instead, I fielded years of complaints, hate mail, and personal attacks, often from people who attended quarterly (we met bi-weekly). They didn’t want to help, but sure had a lot to gripe about.

They didn’t like the day, or the time, or the location or that we only met once a week or that we couldn’t meet weekends or that we met both weekdays and weekends and why can’t we do this or that or both?

The pettiness and stupidity was simply EPIC. I nearly lost my mind with the churlish politics of running a volunteer organization. Many of the members did nothing but criticize everything I did and everything I didn’t do. Yet, when I finally walked away and decided not to be a punching bag president another year? I was an @$$%^$# for that, too.

Crabs are never happy and they LIKE being in the bucket. They can’t see they will soon be made into crab salad.

Original image via Nathan Jones Flikr Creative Commons

Original image via Nathan Jones Flikr Creative Commons

Joining a writing group is one of the best things you can do as a new author, but please learn from my stupidity. If the group isn’t producing published writers? If people say they want to be professionals, but can’t bother showing up? If all they do is complain and backbite? If they never finish anything?

RUN.

I always recommend finding a Romance Writers of America chapter in your area (even if you don’t write romance). RWA is full of professionals who take their craft and jobs seriously. They can help hone your craft and be a system of growth and emotional support. You can also find peer support on WANATribe, #MyWANA or even the WANA Facebook page.

Choose Friends Wisely

We are who we hang around. If we hang around flaky amateurs who don’t keep their word, who consistently fail to honor their commitments, and who never finish anything? People who change their minds every other day what they want to do with their lives? People who whine more than work?

We’re letting them drag us back in the bucket.

Want to be successful? Professional? Hang around those people. Stalk them on Twitter. Comment on their blogs. Digital relationships are just as powerful. My closest friends (all PROS) I met on-line. I learned to be a professional by escaping the bucket, then looking to the pros. I read their books, their blogs and immersed myself in their energy.

What about you? Facing some crabs in the bucket? Have you escaped the bucket? How did you do it?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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77 Comments

Do You Have a Psychic Vampire Critique Partner?

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 9.48.42 AM

WHAT do you MEAN I am head-hopping? THAT is my VOICE. You are ruining my ART!
(Image via Carniphage Flikr Commons)

In the beginning of my Enemies of the Art series, we discussed Psychic Vampires. Psychic Vampires are all around us, and likely, we will never be rid of them. PVs are most likely to show up at a number of critical junctures. They sense the energy shift, and since that energy is no longer all about them, they will fight tooth-and-nail to bring balance to The Force (of Manipulation).

While many of my posts are directed toward writers, most people have these same issues. If we don’t learn how to guard against and handle PVs, we will always be their victims. Psychic Vampires will always feel renewed and refreshed, namely because they just sucked the life out of their victims (us).

Psychic Vampires abound in the arts, and they’re also prevalent in many writing groups. They are vamps dressed in writer clothing. Often they are so self-absorbed they can’t even see the reality of what they are.

This is why confronting PVs is almost always fruitless and will simply lead to conflict that only further feeds them at our expense. Our best option is to be able to spot them, then ignore them or RUN.

Beware the Psychic Vampire Critique Partner

I wish I could give all of you a nice, easy website to find healthy, professional critique partners, but unfortunately those don’t exist. We will have to trust, then use trial and error, then set tough boundaries. Some CPs will make it, but likely most will not.

Why?

Too many writers get into this business for the wrong reasons. They really aren’t interested in the life of a professional and just enjoy “playing author.” Writing is for attention and ego-stroking. Their goals are about THEM and this means anyone on board with them will go the wrong direction.

They will keep steering the ship the wrong way…toward the rocks.

Some PVCPs are touchy, sensitive and unwilling to learn and grow. Mistakenly, they believe that their art is just genetically coded into their DNA and that any feedback is just trying to sabotage their “art.”

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 10.00.21 AM

What do you mean too many flashbacks? YOU ARE SO MEAAAANNNN!

If you have a critique partner who refuses to listen to honest feedback. If she is touchy and oversensitive? Move on. You won’t grow. You’ll spend too much time propping up an ego that can never get enough propping up. The PV will be a continual vortex of need and if you don’t jump ship while you can? Expect to crash on the rocks with them.

This writer won’t make it unless she changes, and if you’re enabling her to be a PVCP, why should she?

We Are Who We Hang Around

I cannot recommend attending writing conferences enough. Yes, even WANACon counts. The reason? These writers have invested cold hard cash into getting better. When we forge relationships with writers who are professional or stronger, we grow. Water will always find its level, so make sure you’re rising, not sinking. Habits are contagious. This is one of the reasons I cannot recommend joining an RWA chapter enough (even if you don’t write romance).

RWA is full of professionals who work their tails off and understand craft and the business. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the other. Refuse to be in a place that dulls your creative edges.

PVCPs Waste Valuable Time

I’ve been in critique relationships where the other person never learned to think for themselves. Why bother reading Story Engineering, The Writer’s Journey, Hooked,  Save the Cat or Plot & Structure when we can get Kristen to so all our thinking/plotting for us?

I recall two members of a critique group who attended every week with their crappy writing to be critiqued. Instead of learning, they just barfed down junk on a page and let the group “fix” it. Odd thing was, after over a year of enduring the world’s worst writing, nothing changed. When these individuals self-published? NONE of the writing had changed.

This ticked me off. How many hours had we dedicated to helping, when the writer had zero intention of listening? The critique wasn’t a place to grow; rather, it was a captive audience who had to listen to their dreadful “story” vomit.

Most of us are short on time. We often have day jobs, kids, chores, bills and we have to do social media and MOST IMPORTANTLY we need to be writing more books and better books. It’s easier to tread water if we aren’t dragging a PVCP anchor around our necks.

The PVCP Test

1. Is the writer touchy. Does she want every bit of feedback to be handed with a box of chocolates?

2. Does she attend regularly? Or does she always have an excuse of why she can’t be there—great-nephew’s birthday party, helping a friend’s garage sale, washing her hair?

3. Does the writer actually READ? Does she read fiction and LOVE storytelling? I’ve met writers who claimed they wanted to be NYTBSAs, but said things like, “Well, I just don’t like to/have time to read.” Reading is FUNDAMENTAL to what we do. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music. TIME WASTER.

4. Does the person give back? Critique partners should be partners. I’ve had writers who took and took for months. They wanted me to plot, then re-plot, then they had a new and BETTER idea they needed “help” plotting. Never once did it occur to them, that we hadn’t talked about my book in months.

5. Does this person ever grow? Or do they keep making the same newbie errors over and over? If they are? They aren’t listening, so move on. This is a PVCP. RUN.

What are your thoughts? Have you been the victim of a PVCP? What did you do? How did you handle it? What are your horror stories? How did you stake the PVCP? What might be some other ways to spot a PVCP? What might be some good resources for finding a good CP? I recommend trying http://www.WANAtribe.com, join RWA or attend conferences. But, maybe you guys have some better suggestions!

BTW, Image number two courtesy of best movie ever Army of Darkness.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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77 Comments

Enemies of the Art Part 10–Having a Thin Skin

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 8.17.25 AM

Doing critiques….

Being a writer is great fun. We are storytellers and we love entertaining people. The new paradigm is AWESOME. Suddenly, if you want to publish your work, you can. We no longer have to go the traditional route and self-publishing is certainly an option. Yet, we MUST be careful. Our product should be AS GOOD as anything out of NY. I see a lot of writers who rush to publish when they aren’t ready.

They don’t have a core story problem, or don’t yet properly understand the role of antagonists and how to use them. Many don’t yet grasp narrative structure or POV. There is A LOT that goes into writing a novel a reader will enjoy. Just because we made As in English doesn’t automatically qualify us to create a work of 60,000 or more words that can keep a reader riveted. There is a lot of stuff “behind the scenes” that readers don’t know about, but they can sense when those elements are missing.

Writing Group Nightmares

I was part of a couple critique groups for a few years, and there were certain writers who I’d just ignore. In the past, when I’d pointed out they had 47 adverbs on page one, they threw a fit. If I mentioned they had no plot? They went berserk. Eventually, I just left the pages unmarked and kept quiet.

I tried running an on-line writing workshop to help writers with this big picture stuff, and I finally gave up. It did less teaching and more “ego babysitting.” There were participants who acted so badly, I just had to ask them to leave. They came to me (me being an expert) claiming they wanted to learn, and yet instead of learning they argued every last little point and acted like toddlers, wailing how I was “trying to destroy their art.”

Um, no. Narrative structure is pretty basic. Being in ONE head at a time is basic. No flashbacks every thirty words? Pretty basic.

One writer, upon being escorted out of the group, blogged about how we’d “wasted her time” because we wanted her to have a core antagonist.

*head desk*

There is a learning curve in writing, just like EVERY art form. I played clarinet for many years. I started by learning how to read music, then how to finger the notes, proper embrochure (mouth position), etc. I didn’t start out playing Flight of the Bumblebee. I started with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I didn’t scream at my conductor that he was ruining my music when he wanted me to learn how to read music.

I happened to be president of a writing group years back. During a critique session, one of the participants brought an article she wanted to submit about how eating from home was healthier and less expensive. Her target readers were retirees with limited income.

In critique, my only comment was that, to perhaps make the article stronger, she might choose some restaurants her readers might frequent and add up the cost of some of the meals. This way, in black and white numbers, she could show them how much money they’d save using her recipes. Later, at a board meeting she lunged over the table, wagged her finger in my face and screamed how I was abusive and had called her a fat cow in critique.

Huh? Lady, WHAT are you smoking?

Obviously, I grew tired of lunatics and amateurs. I’d had my work critiqued, too and sometimes the critique was nothing short of brutal. Bring it ON! was my motto. I’d had critique sessions so blistering that I later cried in my car…but I tried harder. I relished every bit of feedback and worked my tail off. If something seemed off-base, I read craft books until I knew what I should ignore.

We ALL need good critique. We never outgrow it.

Just because someone tells us our words aren’t all unicorn kisses doesn’t mean they are trying to destroy our art. We need to be open to feedback or we can’t grow, learn, change, and become masters of our art. We need to toughen up. Reviewers can be great and give helpful feedback, but some can be jerks who have nothing else better to do than write a nasty comment guaranteed to make even the best of us cry.

The downside of publishing outside the traditional model is that we haven’t been vetted. It’s probably easier to dismiss a ranting review if Simon & Schuster published your book. You know editors have looked at your work and it passed the test.

We NEED Threshold Guardians

If you want to be a non-traditional author? Join good critique groups. If you are in the DFW area, DFW Writers’ Workshop is full of professionals, not a bunch of people who want to play writer so long as all the critique is a fluffy kitten hug. Listen to beta readers. Hire professional editors—content editors and line editors. Content editors will help with the overall structure of the book and the characters, how the story reads. Line editors will make sure you don’t embarrass yourself with mass amounts of typos.

Toughen Up, Buttercup

This is one of the many reasons I encourage writers to blog. Blogging helps us build that rhino skin we will need to be successful. A lot of critique will be subjective. But, we are wise to listen without letting it unhinge us. If we go nutso every time someone points out a problem, then we can’t grow. People will eventually just remain silent and let us fail publicly.

Have fun storming the castle! *waves*

I’ve had people I have tried to correct on very basic things who just ran and self-published. Okay, but likely the reviews are going to reflect advice given but ignored. We will all get critique. It’s our choice whether or not to listen and what advice to take. Yet, brutal feedback will happen and it comes with the job (even with great books). We are wise to take most of the tough stuff in private so we can fix it and save the embarrassment of that same criticism being in a one or two-star review that is out for the world to see.

Professionals get tough. It’s how we mature and keep getting better. It isn’t the world’s job to babysit our egos.

Have you ever had someone go nuts in a critique group? On-line? Argue with reviewers? Have you ever had a critique that left you in tears, but you were later grateful?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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111 Comments

A New Approach to a Traditional Group–The Concept Critique

So a couple of weeks ago, we discussed critique groups then I saw something shiny and forgot to post the second part of the discussion. ::head desk:: Anyway, in Part One, I posited the question: Can a critique group do more harm than good? In my opinion? YES. Traditional critique groups can have severe limitations, and, if a writer doesn’t understand this and adjust accordingly, then she can do irreparable damage to her WIP and even her career. As a note before anyone gets huffy. Just because something is limited  does not mean it is bad. Critique groups, especially GOOD critique groups are worth their weight in gold. But just like my car has limitations–I cannot traverse lakes with it–critique groups are limited as well. Yet, when we understand the limitations, then we can adjust accordingly.

As a quick refresher, traditional critique groups:

Lack Proper Perspective

Since most traditional critique groups only hear/read a small section of pages at a time, there is no way they can tell if there are major plot problems in a manuscript. Many writers hit the slush pile because their plot has catastrophic flaws. Pretty prose does not a novel make.

Agents are overworked as it is. They can love our writing voice, but they don’t have the time to teach us our craft. As professionals, we should have the basics down when we query and it is rude and amateurish to expect an agent will fix everything for us. Not their job. They can fix some surface stuff, but not the deep structure flaws that cause many queries to land in the slush pile.

I have met countless writers who didn’t properly understand the antagonist or even narrative structure. They thought their WIP was ready to query because people in critique “loved their writing style.” Just because we have command of our native language doesn’t mean we have the skill set to write a 60-100,000 word novel.

Critique groups don’t have the perceptual distance to spot the big problems. So just understand this from the get-go and all is fine. But make sure your plot is critiqued before you query. Also, understand that the group is limited then take critique with a grain of salt. If someone says, “but this spot didn’t have enough action” and you know that those ten pages were part of a sequel and NOT a scene, then you know you don’t need to punch up the pace. Write good books, not 150 individual sections to keep people at critique happy.

Other Problems with Traditional Critique Groups

Traditional critique groups can get us in a habit of over-explaining.

Because the group can’t see the big picture, they can inject things like, “But how did Gertrude end up in Disney World with a flame thrower?” Well, of course they don’t understand why Gertrude is setting The Seven Dwarfs ablaze. They haven’t been at critique for three weeks, so they missed the part about a hell-mouth being located under Cinderella’s castle. Why do you think Disney got the land so cheap? And all these years you just thought it was because it was a swamp!

When people at critique say things like this, just hold your ground and give permission for some folks to be lost.

Traditional critique groups are notorious for the Book-By-Committee.

We have to stand strong here. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you must learn to stand your ground with suggestions. I have seen writers have a lovely writing voice literally hen-pecked out of them by people at critique. Just take critique for what it is and accept the good and ignore the bad.

Traditional critique groups can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

The world does not reward perfection. It rewards those who get things done. No one ever had a runaway success with half of the world’s perfect novel. Lean to be a finisher.

Traditional critique groups can give a false sense of security.

Again, pretty prose does not a novel make. Is voice important? YES! But voice alone is not a novel. We have to make sure our structure is not a disaster area, and this is where traditional critique groups run into trouble. But today, I will give you guys a way to work within the limitations.

How can I get solid critique of my plot?

Beta readers are good for critiquing at plot. If you can, find a pal who loves to read and ask for her to read your novel. She can tell you if your book was great, boring, confusing, or made her want to gouge out her own eyes. Just make sure you allow your beta reader permission to be honest, even when it hurts.

Beyond the Beta Reader

But beta readers, especially GOOD beta readers are hard to find. A MAJOR limitation to beta readers? We have to finish the book before we get critique.

In my opinion, life is short. Why waste it writing books with fatally flawed plots? This is why I started WWBC (my critique group). I didn’t want to waste months writing a book that had a flawed skeleton. I don’t like having revisions from hell. I prefer to dedicate my time to books that actually stand a chance of being published.

Introducing Concept Critique

If you can’t find a non-traditional critique group or a good beta reader, then just modify the content you bring to critique. This is part of what we do in my writing group WWBC. We employ what I call Concept Critique. We do things a bit differently, but I have modified our methods to work for you.

Instead of bringing the first fifteen pages of your novel, write a fifteen page synopsis based off what you did when you were plotting with the index cards (discussed in Part Eight of my Structure Series). Or, for those pantsers, go back and use cards to show the scenes of the WIP you’ve written. Every scene card had a one-sentence summary, so writing a synopsis now should be a piece of cake. Write your one-sentence log-line at the top so they can critique that too, and also so they can make sure your synopsis supports the log-line.

If we are finished with a novel and it is solid and ready for critique, we should be able to say what our entire book is about in ONE sentence. (If you need help learning how to do this, then check out the above link about log-lines).

We should also be able to clearly see scenes and sequels in our WIP. Detailing our finished WIP scene-by-scene for concept critique is a far better use of time than taking a year to get line-edit on a potentially flawed WIP.

Let your brilliant writer friends chime in on what they think of your story as a whole. Is it contrived? Is it convoluted? Boring? Does this synopsis sound like a book they are dying to read? Can they tell who the antagonist is? Is your antagonist a mustache-twirler or the stuff of greatness?

Once you have your novel as a whole critiqued, take it to the next step. The next week take Act One and write a fifteen page synopsis of what happens in Act One. Get critique. Clean it up. Then, take Act Two and Act Three and do the same. Write fifteen page synopses about what happens in each act. Then take it to the next step. Break your act into scenes and write a summary of what happens in each scene.

This way you are cleaning up your concept. You are going beyond the prose. Your fellow writers NOW can help you by brainstorming better ways to build your mousetrap. And, since they have an idea of the BIG picture, their advice will be a lot better. They might even be able to offer insight into how to fix the idea before you invest the next year writing a book that is doomed from day one because the original idea needed to be fortified before it could support 60-100,000 words. Or, if you have already written the novel, you will have a better idea how to tackle revisions.

Once you have solid critique on all these summaries, take off and write/revise that novel. Now it will be way easier because you know where you are going. Also, because your writer friends helped in the planning phase, they will be better trained to see flaws once they critique your final product. They will know why Gertrude is torching Cinderella’s castle.

Time to Get Real Honest…

I am going to warn you. This method will test your mettle. In traditional critique, we can hide behind our pretty prose. Concept Critique means laying our baby out there bare bones, warts and all. This will show us why we are really in a writing group. Is it because we really want to succeed at this writing thing? Or, are you like I used to be? I wrote really awesome prose and I got to hear every week how wonderful I was (even though the big picture was fatally flawed). I could believe the standard lies many of us tell ourselves when we are unpublished.

I just haven’t found the right agent.

Oh, it’s because my novel is a mix of genres.

New York just doesn’t publish any good writing anymore.

I hear vampires are hot and they are only taking vampire books.

Vampires are passe and they are only taking books with trained ferrets.

When I started WWBC I had to check my ego at the door. Now I couldn’t hide behind my glorious prose. If someone beat the hell out of my synopsis, there was nowhere to hide. I couldn’t use the Standard Issue Line of Writer Denial–-Well, they just haven’t read the rest of my novel. If they had, they wouldn’t say that.

If we really long to be successfully published, then we need to hear the truth. As I like to say, Excellence begins with honesty. If we are attending a group only to hear how every word we write is a golden nugget of joy, we aren’t going to grow.

What are some of the problems you’ve had with critique groups? How did you overcome them? Any suggestions? Opinions?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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108 Comments

Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good?

After six years in critique, her novel was “perfect.”

Critique groups can be wonderful. They can offer accountability, professionalism, and take our writing to an entirely new level. But, like most, things, critique groups have a dark side. They can become a crutch that prevents genuine growth. Depending on the problems, critique groups can create bad writing habits and even deform a WIP so badly it will lose any chance at being traditionally published.

The key to avoiding problems is to be educated. Not all critique groups are worth our time. Some critique groups might have limitations that can be mitigated with a simple adjustment in our approach.

Traditional Critique Groups

Many of you have attended a traditional critique group. This is the “read a handful of printed pages or read so many pages aloud” groups. Traditional critique groups have some strengths. First and foremost, they can clean up a new writer’s prose.

When we turned in that high school paper with 60 glorious metaphors on page one, we got an A. Why? Because our teacher’s goal was to teach us how to use a metaphor properly. Her job was not to train us for publication in New York.

In a good traditional critique group you will learn that POV does not mean “Prisoners of Vietnam.” You will learn to spot passive voice and “was clusters” and will even learn why adverbs aren’t always extra-nifty. You will hopefully learn self-discipline in that you need to attend regularly and contribute. You will forge friendships and a support network.

So where’s the problem?

Traditional critique groups lack perspective.

Once a week reading fifteen pages only cleans up shoddy prose. Traditional critique groups are looking at a work the size of a skyscraper with a magnifying glass. They lack the perceptual distance to see flaws. A novel can have perfect prose page to page and yet have catastrophic faults. In fact, I would venture to say that most writers are not rejected due to prose, but rather, they meet the slush pile because of tragic errors in structure.

Traditional critique groups can tell you nothing about turning points or whether a scene fits properly. They lack the context to be able to discern if our hero has progressed sufficiently along his character arc by the mid-point of Act 2. They have zero ability to properly critique pacing, since pacing can only be judged in larger context. So, my advice is to get a beta reader that you trust. Critique groups cannot do what only beta readers can.

Traditional critique groups can also hurt us in the following ways.

Traditional groups can get us in a habit of over-explaining.

As we just mentioned,  those in a traditional critique group sitting around the table can’t see the big picture. It is hard to pick up a story on page 86 and understand what is going on. Our fellow writers care about us and believe if they don’t say something that they aren’t helping. Thus, they will say things akin to, “But how did Cassandra end up in a meat locker wearing Under-Roos and wielding a chainsaw? I’m lost.”

Well, duh, of course they are lost.

They have missed the last three weeks and haven’t been keeping up with the story. So learn to resist the urge to over-explain in your prose. Your job is to write a great novel…not 600 individual sections your critique group can follow.

Traditional critique groups are notorious for the Book-by-Committee.

Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If you are like me and lean to the people-pleasing side, you can get in a nasty habit of trying to please your critique group at the expense of the big picture. Learn discernment and how to stick to your guns, or you will end up with a Book-by-Committee, also known as Franken-novel.

One great way to know good advice is to READ craft books. Read every craft book you can find. In fact, here is a list of my favorites. That way, when someone offers suggestions, you will know whether or not that advice is supported by leading teachers in the industry.

They can get us in a habit of perfectionism.

The world does not reward perfect novels, it rewards finished novels. I still run into writers that have been working on “perfecting” the same novel for the past ten years. As professionals, we need to learn to LET GO. Either the project was a learning curve and it needs to be scrapped and parted out, or it needs to be handed a lunch box and sent off to play with the big novels via query. Scrap it, part it, or shop it but MOVE ON.

Yes, I know NY publishes novels that have typos and grammar errors. But when writers are under contract, they don’t have 6-10 years to ensure that their manuscript doesn’t have a single misplaced comma. In fact, I would be so bold as to posit that readers don’t generally get to the end of a novel and declare, “Wow! That was riveting. Not one single dangling participle in the entire book!”

There are writers I know who have been working on the same book for 4,5 even SIX years. I see them at conferences dying to land an agent and get that three-book deal. WHY? New York isn’t going to give them another 12-18 YEARS to turn in manuscripts. The hard reality is that, if we hope to make a living at this writing thing, we need to learn to write solid and we need to learn to finish…quickly.

Traditional critique groups can offer a false sense of security.

We must always be looking for ways to have our work critiqued by professionals who are willing to be blunt and who possess the skill set to see our errors. Don’t join a writing critique group simply because they say they are a writing critique group. Look at their credentials. How many traditionally published authors has the group produced? I’m not picking on self-publishing, but self-publishing doesn’t have the same rigorous peer review.

How many people in the group are career writers, authors, or editors? Gathering together because we love writing is always a great idea, but if the group is solely comprised of hopeful unpubbed writers, the critique will be limited. Limited is fine, so long as we make sure to reach beyond our group for additional critique.

Make sure your work is being reviewed by people who will be honest about any problems. Meeting once a week to sing kumbayah is not the best preparation for being published. Once our book is for sale, we are open to the big bad real world of people with nothing better to do than skewer a writer publicly on-line in a blistering review.

You will know them by their fruits…

Make sure any group you join is producing successful novelists. I began Warrior Writer Boot Camp because my old group of six years produced many successful articles, short stories and NF, but they had never produced a successfully published novel. I knew I had to create a different critique format capable of critiquing a leviathan work of 100,000 words or likely that trend would continue.

Some writers naturally understand structure, and so they do fine in the traditional setting. I didn’t naturally understand structure, and my novel ended up on so many bunny trails I needed a pack of plot-sniffing dogs and a GPS to find my original idea. If you are the same, then make sure you take traditional critique for what it is…critique of prose. You might need to find or start another group on your own dedicated to looking at the big picture.

Or…be creative. If you can’t go to the mountain, make the mountain come to you. Next week I am going to give you guys a new approach to a traditional group. Skilled beta readers are hard to find and skilled editors can be expensive. But, apply the technique I will teach you and you will know for sure if your novel has the right stuff.

Critique groups are WONDERFUL. I don’t know what I’d do without mine. But, we are wise to be aware of the trouble spots so that we can get the most out of this fantastic resource.

So what do you guys think? Have you had problems? Or am I off-base? What are your solutions? Ideas? I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

IMPORTANT–I will announce last week’s winner on Wednesday. Need to catch up on a few things since I no longer have an assistant :C. So stay tuned!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

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115 Comments

Dare to Be Excellent (This Might Hurt a Little)

Years ago, when I first started writing, fiction was my passion.  The problem, however, is that passion devoid of training is a formula to end up with 174,000 word tome that is the stuff of agent nightmares.  I wish I was one of those talented people who “got it” from the start. I didn’t. I have had to take the road of hard knocks. But, in truth? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Over the years, I have hit a lot of roadblocks when it comes to writing fiction. For instance, I didn’t truly understand the antagonist the way I needed to.  We have a running joke in Warrior Writer Boot Camp that an antagonist is a serial killer (which can be substituted by ninjas if necessary).

For years, I could edit narrative structure, but I failed miserably when I tried to create a plot of my own. I understood conflict as a reader, but when it came time for me to ante up? Again, I stumbled away unsure how I ended up on the wrong road. I could spot plot holes in a microsecond when editing…but somehow developed tunnel-vision when it came to my own fiction.

Over time, I began to see I wasn’t alone. Others shared the same problem.

We have the ability to spot problems in the work of our peers, but when it comes to the construction side, we founder around like a goldfish out of a tank.

Why?

First of all, we aren’t emotionally vested in stories that aren’t ours. Sort of like, we can see the flaws in other people’s children, but ours are perfect little angels. We often lack objectivity.

Also, there are no great monuments erected to critics. Anyone can pull others apart. Criticism is easy. It takes more to create, to dare to dream, to admit when we are wrong and try again.

I started Warrior Writer Boot Camp for a very specific reason. I was president of a standard critique group. We did the typical read 5 pages and then everyone could chime in and give feedback. But, over time, I became frustrated and disillusioned.

Week after week I had the same complaints—no clear antagonist, fuzzy/nonexistent objectives, one-dimensional flat characters. Week after week I made the same red marks, but the writing never improved. I began to lose faith. I had become president of the group with the hope that I could change the format so we could make meaningful critique.

I believed there was no way to really fix a novel by looking at it through a microscope. A handful of other writers agreed with me. They too had begun to lose hope. No matter how we tried to pry our home group away from their addiction to line-edit…nothing changed.

So we never changed. We couldn’t grow.

Then I asked NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer if he would come to DFW. If he would come to Texas, I would fill a workshop. That core group of disenchanted members and I made just enough to make it worth Bob’s time.

Unlike the others, we were desperate enough to admit we were struggling. We knew we needed professional help. Bob was the answer to our prayers. In two days, we learned more about the craft than we could ever hope to retain. We felt delivered, but at the same time we were fearful.

Here we had this new insight and we were afraid we would lose it if we didn’t do something different. Bob had given us a lot of great tools, but we were light years away from being experts. We watched in awe as Bob pulled apart plots in minutes. He could hear three sentences and know if there was a story.

We wanted to be like Bob.

So we started what we called Warrior Writer Boot Camp. It was a gesture of thanks to Bob who had enlightened us with his Warrior Writer ways. We knew that without consistent practice, we would lose all Bob gave us, that his seeds of wisdom would die if not nurtured, and that the weeds (bad habits) would return.

Even though it was highly emotional and we lost a lot of people we believed were our friends, we pulled away. We started with Bob’s books, which I highly, highly recommend. Then, we totally changed the format to resemble what Bob did with our novels that fateful Saturday. We bought whiteboards and had to find a new meeting location.

We had no real idea what we were doing, but we had faith we would figure it out. We knew practice would make us stronger.

Once finished with Bob’s books, we added in more and more material, ideas and methods.  As de facto leader of this gaggle of misfits, I read every book on the craft I could find and added in other tactics and techniques.

But, the point of this blog is to share with you the lessons I learned and hope you might be blessed.

Find a mentor.

Bob was my first of many mentors. Bob’s teachings resonated, and so I bought every book he ever wrote. I even read the “bad” ones from when he was new. I wanted to look at how HE had grown. What made Z different from Area 51? Could I see where Bob struggled? How he changed? I sign up for all his workshops and I still read all his blogs. And I STILL learn something new every time.

I even started this blog to talk about all the things I was learning after Bob’s workshops, before I even knew I had it in me to become a social media expert. It was Bob’s teachings on fear that revealed a destiny I didn’t even know I had.

*Snorts and rolls eyes* I wasn’t an expert. I just spent too much time on Twitter.

Bob’s Warrior Writer Workshop helped me be brave and realize that maybe I did have something to say that others wanted to hear. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media might not have happened without Bob’s workshop. I still apply his techniques and have grown tremendously as a person and a professional.

If  I blog about Bob, his methods, his teaching, it is only because I can never express how grateful I am. I doubt I would have grown as much as I did and as quickly without his influence.

In time, I made mentors out of other writers. I read their books and studied their methods. I read their blogs and listen for the craft books they recommend. Twitter is an excellent way to make mentors out of successful people. Follow agents, editors, authors and pay attention to their habits, sign up for their classes, read what they recommend.

It’s okay to admit you don’t know everything.

It is hard to find mentors if we won’t admit we need to grow. When I left a career in sales to start writing, everyone thought I was crazy. I couldn’t admit I didn’t know what I was doing, because then I was sure my family would have me committed. It took a long time to let down my guard and set down my pride and humbly say, “Teach me.”

Every day I bow my head to others and humbly say, “Teach me.” Every day is an opportunity to grow, but we have to be empty vessels. If we are already full of our own “knowledge,” there is not room to be filled and refreshed by others. We become a stagnant, stinking pond of our own rotting hubris.

Dare to do things differently.

It was terrifying breaking off from a group I’d known and even led for 4 years. I had to open myself to new friendships, but that could only happen if I let go of the old. If something isn’t working, then do something different.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.

Break away from toxic people.

One of my favorite movies is The Devil Wears Prada. I love studying that movie. In the beginning, Andy Sachs lands a job as the assistant to one of the city’s biggest magazine editors, the ruthless and cynical Miranda Priestly.

In Act One, Andy is comfortable with her average friends and her average boyfriend. They regularly get together to gripe about their bosses and the unfairness of life. Their attitude is naïve in regards to success. They fail to see the work and sacrifice successful people make.

Act Two we see the tension build. Andy’s boyfriend and friends have issue with her new job. She is working long hours and can’t hang out like the old days. We see how they resent and undermine her. We know they will eventually force Andy to choose between her career and them.

Act Three, Andy has to make a choice. She can go after her dreams or make her old friends happy.

When you decide to become a writer, you will very likely lose friends. They won’t understand why you can’t hang out, go shopping, or even remain in the same old critique group. They won’t “get” your blog and will resent that you are changing.

Daring to dream will show you who your real friends are. The quicker you let go of toxic friendships, the faster you will make room for friends who love and support you no matter what.

Surround yourself with excellence.

When I broke away to create a content-critique workshop, a core group of friends supported me every step of the way. Had I remained tethered to my fear, I would have remained tethered to people who cared more about maintaining the status quo than they cared about me.

Why did I sign up for this? What was I thinking?

WWBC is full of the most talented, hardworking, amazing writers. I am inspired to try harder every time I am near them. Some of them not only blog multiple times a week, but they write thousands of words a day on their WIPs…and have families and school and other obligations. They raise the bar and make me work harder. I am honored to be part of such an outstanding team of committed professionals. It scares me every time I think how close I came to giving in, how close WWBC came to dying before it even began.

Remember…we can only shoot for the stars if we are willing to let go of the ground.

What are some sacrifices you have had to make for your dream? Has it cost you friends? Did you make new friends? How do you find excellence? What inspires you to keep going?

I love hearing from you guys, and to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced). For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

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71 Comments

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