Writer’s Journal Vol. 3.6


It Takes A Village To Write A Novel

or

Being Mean For Critiques Sake

Writing a novel or any work for that matter, is going to necessitate finding others who are willing to read your work and give you honest, critical, feedback. (Hopefully for the price of mutual gratification – you read my novel and critique it, I’ll do the same for you.) The kind of feed back that requires putting on the big girl/boy panties, with feelings tucked away where they belong.

Aunt Betsy’s Turkey Stuffing

One of the greatest challenges I’ve found in writing a novel, isn’t so much about putting the story down in words, but finding a community of fellow writers with the expertise and kahunas to tell me what I’ve written, sucks. It’s as if their mothers had come to the meeting as well and were sitting next to them whispering troupes like, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’

Well, that’s fine if you’ve been invited to Christmas dinner at Aunt Betsy’s and cousin Suzann blurts out how delicious the stuffing is. When in fact you think it tastes like cardboard. Absolutely nothing good will come from your being honest. Instead, you take too large a sip of wine, pretend to choke – all the while praying the conversation will move on.

Unfortunately, its that kind of thinking that makes most writer groups ineffective for anything other than a place to go when you’ve realized you haven’t left your writers cave in over a month.

Lacking Empathy

Now this isn’t to say I’ve never gotten good feed back from my fellow authors. If not for a small group of writers I met with for a short period of time, I would have never known that, despite my efforts to show my readers what I wanted them to see, they told me my characters lacked emotion, texture and depth (In other words, they were as flat as Aunt Betsy’s stuffing.).

As you might imagine, their comments were invaluable and I’ve since made a concerted effort to crawl inside my characters hearts – not just their heads.

But emotions are just one aspect of writing. What about the story itself. Flow, plot, scene accountability? (I personally get incensed when I read a novel and discover plot discrepancies.) Not everyone can afford to pay a structural editor every time they do a re-write. Besides that, shouldn’t I wait until I think my MS is perfect, before shipping it off to my editor so I can be told it isn’t?

I would think so, but maybe that’s just me.

images (6)Putting On The Big Panties

Anyway – After publishing several books, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the key factors in helping me write a good story, one that gives my readers bang for their buck, is a writing group with seasoned authors able and willing to point out where my novel needs improving and why. Hopefully within the genre I’m currently working in.

A little rabbit trail here. I was at a conference in Montana last year and asked one of the guest speakers whether a writer should in fact, stick to writers within his/her own genre for critique partners? His answer was no, as he felt the diverse background would help to uncover things genre specific critiques might not.

I’ve since discovered I disagree with that theory.

While writers of other genres might add value to my novel, only those familiar with the genre itself, and thus reader expectation, would be able to give me the type of help needed to make my book marketable. Unless of course I wanted to write for purely altruistic reasons. In which case I might welcome an author who wrote SyFy or woman’s issues, to look at my MS about Madame Curie’s life and tell me where I might improve the technical descriptions of her research, or flush out the challenges of what it meant to be a woman physicist in 19th century Europe.)

But if I want to  stay current with the market trends in the genres in which I write, finding a group of mutually like minded people would, in my not so humble opinion, be the better choice.

Desperately Seeking Susan  download

So I’m back to the question of, Where do I go to find the type of writing group that will help me become a better writer? (Please don’t tell me Facebook. Accept for Indie Author Writing Group [of which I’m a member], all the others I’ve looked into are just spamming sights for authors trying to get noticed.) I’m currently scoping out ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors) andbooksgosocialauthors, a UK based group of authors helping and promoting authors.

The following article, ‘The 4 Hidden Dangers of #WritingGroups‘ by #JaneFriedman, is by far one of the best articles on this subject I’ve read to date. I especially appreciated comment #2;Struggling writers are not often the best judges of struggling writing.

In the article, Ms. Friedman quotes Edwin Catmull from Pixar, as saying this about critique groups; ‘A good note is specific. A good note does not make demands. Most of all, a good note inspires.’

Catmull goes on to list the four things the ‘note’ should include: What is Wrong; What is Missing; What Isn’t Clear and What Doesn’t Make Sense.

As I work to complete the first draft in my Blog2Book ‘The Exodus‘, I feel like Rosanna Arquette in Desperately Seeking Susan. Only its not Madonna I’m looking for.

All constructive and potential critiques, welcome. ‘Mean’ comments – not so much.

Sharing the Journey’

SSpjut

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