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How to Make the Most of Your Writing Group, and How it Can Ruin Your Story

10 Jul

Last week we talked about how to find a writing group. Now it’s time to look at how to make the most of that writing group and some issues to watch out for.

When You’re Critiquing

Be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Describe how you’re feeling in different scenes. Point out problems where you see them, but don’t try to solve them. Only the author knows where the story is going.

Try to view things in the context of the book, from the target audience’s point of view. Try to see where the writer is coming from. If they write young adult and you write adult, don’t tell them that their book isn’t long enough and that their voice is juvenile. Try to read the book like you were its target audience, keeping in mind that not every story is for every reader. Even if you hate it, it might still be good stuff.

Don’t forget to say good things as well as bad. If someone just told you everything they hated about your book, you’d feel like a rotten writer. And it’s important to know what’s working as well as what’s not.

When You’re Being Critiqued

If you’re in a group that meets in person, don’t interrupt anyone critiquing you. Don’t try to defend yourself, don’t try to explain. If they don’t understand things the way you thought they would, take that as an opportunity to try again. If you explain what you meant, you ruin the chance to see if you could write things in a different way that they would understand.

Be sure to write down everything. Even if you think they’re wrong, write it down. Look over things later and decide what advice you agree with.

What to Watch Out For

Writing groups are bad at judging pacing. Most likely, you’re in a writing group that will read your novel chunks at a time. They won’t be able to help you much where pacing is concerned, though they might try. Don’t put too much weight on their opinions.

Know that in writers groups it’s common for the members to pick up on a certain aspect of your writing and harp on it. Someone will comment that your prose is too flowery one week, and then another person will see that and comment on it the next week. The problem can seem bigger than it really is.

Some people will get caught up in the vision of your story and try to tell you where it should go. Listen to their ideas and write them down. Heck, they might even be good, but don’t incorporate anything into your story unless you’ve thought long and hard on it. If you added in every suggestion, you’d end up with a draft that went all over the place! So, smile and nod and write down everyone’s ideas, but then maybe ignore them.

Anyone else had problems like these in their critique group? How did you get around them?

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How to Find a Writing Critique Group

3 Jul

“Finding friends to read through an entire novel might be tricky…” That was a comment from Pinar Tarhan on How to Ruin Your Novel. And it’s so true! But writers are terrible at judging their own work. Even if your friends and family do read your novel, chances are that they aren’t writers. They won’t be able to give you the best feedback.

If you have a critique group, you will be in much better shape. They will be more willing to read your stuff if you’re willing to do the same thing for them, and they will read your novel with a writer’s eyes.

So if you aren’t part of a critique group, what are the best ways to find one?

Take a Writing Class

Spend the money to take a class from your local community college. Most likely, your teacher will put you into critique groups, and you will get to know the people in your class, their writing style, and the ones you work well with. If things mesh, you can continue that writing group even after the class is over.

Attend Local Writing Conferences

Writing conferences are where lots of writers, agents, and editors, gather to attend writing workshops and classes. They hold these nationally, but the local ones will be better for finding a critique group. You’ll have a chance to meet other writers that live in your area. Here is a great website where you can search by region for local writing conferences.

Join an Online Critique Group

Though I recommend meeting in person, sometimes that’s just not an option. And online critique groups can be way helpful! You can post your work, a whole chunk or a piece at a time, and other online users will give you feedback. Don’t worry! Most of these sites will allow you to keep your copyright so that you can publish your work somewhere else.

Here are a few online critique groups I’ve found to be helpful:

  • Internet Writing Workshop: Here you have to do a minimum amount of submissions and critiques of other people’s work per month to stay a member. People will always have motivation to critique your work! You’ll have to critique other people’s work, too, but that in itself can be really useful. Looking at new author’s writing and finding their mistakes can help you improve your own writing.
  • Critique Circle: This is similar to the Internet writing workshop, but you don’t have to do a minimum number of submissions and critiques. So, if you want to critique and be critiqued only every once in a while, this is the way to go.
  • If neither of these work for you, here’s a great thing to do. Go to Yahoo, click on groups, and search writing critique groups. This comes up with a huge list. Here’s a link to the search that I did.

Critique groups can be so helpful, but they’re hard to find. I hope that one of the above options works for you!

One last thing! Last week I guest posted on Storyfix.com, one of my favorite story help websites ever. Check it out to read “What to Do if You Hate Your Novel”.

How to Ruin Your Novel

26 Jun

Don’t Have a Plan

If you’re in the business of ruining your novel and you have a plan, scrap it. Start from scratch. Write whatever comes to your mind, as it comes to your mind. If you like to write this way anyway, be sure to never think ahead. DO NOT figure out how your novel is going to end before you get there.

No plans. Got it?

If you are a writer who will die without an outline, no worries, you can still ruin your novel. Just use the first outline that pops into your head. Don’t revise it. Don’t optimize it.

Don’t Get Feedback

If you’re trying to ruin your story, feedback is the last thing you want. Once you finish your novel, don’t send it out to friends and family. Don’t join a critique group. Just read through it once and send it off to agents.

If they happen to give you some feedback, don’t listen to it.

Do Write With Flowery Prose

Short, concise writing will be good for your novel. You should fill your sentences and paragraphs with fluff. Put in as many adjectives (better yet, adverbs) as you can manage. The more, the better.

Flowery, fat prose will do many things to ruin your novel. It will slow your pacing to a crawl. The more random junk your characters say, the less real they will sound. Your novel will be waaaay longer than it should be. Fluffy prose only has benefits as far as we’re concerned.

Do Take Long Breaks

Yeah, every writer needs breaks, but yours should be super long. I’m talking months or years. This way, when you come back to your novel, you won’t really remember what you’ve been writing, and your work will turn out disjointed. Perfect.

Writing is hard, after all. Taking long breaks will be better for your health.

Working hard on your novel only leads to publication. If you want to ruin your novel, take breaks often and make them as long as you can.

If you happen to be one of those crazy people who actually want to write a best-selling novel, just do the opposite of everything above. It’ll work.

Can you think of any other ways to ruin your novel? I’m always looking for ideas.

Michael Jordan’s Guide to Writing a Book

19 Jun

Okay, MJ wasn’t a writer, but he was an expert at what he did. And, surprisingly, a closer look at his basketball skills can teach you a lot about writing a good book.

It’s Okay to Fail

Did you know that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team?

I know, huge surprise! But he got passed it. He moved on, learned from his mistakes, and kept trying. Even when he was in the NBA, he still had failures. Twice he played a game where he only scored two points!

Did you know that JK Rowling collected eleven rejections before Harry Potter was published? That Kathryn Stockett received over forty before The Help was accepted? Getting rejections is part of writing.

And it’s totally okay. Getting rejected doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer.

Don’t ever stop trying, and you will publish.

Get the Basics Down First

Michael Jordan didn’t start off by doing crazy dunks and alley oops. He practiced dribbling. Then shooting.

Writing is just like this. You can’t begin by trying to nail the intricacies of subplot and prose unless you have a solid foundation of plot, setting, and character. Make sure you have hammered solid your understanding of the basics before you begin working on the flourishes.

Learn the Nuance of Your Craft

I know I just said to make sure you have the basics, but every player in the NBA knows how to make a basket. Being strong in the details, that was what made Jordan truly great.

So, once you have the basics down, be sure to learn the nuances of writing. Soak in all the advice you can. Every bit of information you gain and integrate into your work will get you closer to publishing. And when you are published, it’s the deeper craft of your story that will set you apart.

Anyone can write a story. (Just how many boy-goes-to-wizard-school novels are out there?) It’s how you write it that will make you great.

So, any MJ fans?

What Type of Writer are You?

29 May

I’m not talking about your genre. I’m talking about how you work as a writer. Knowing this about yourself and working to complement your strengths can help you maximize your productivity and become a better writer.

Let’s go over the different types, shall we?

Burst Writers

If you’re a burst writer, you like to get all your writing done in one setting. You will be best writing for a block of 2-3 hours each day. You’ll sit down, write quickly, and get it all done. Even if you can only put in half an hour, you’ll still be productive.

Is this you? Then make sure you have a block of that time that you can use every day just for your writing. No distractions.

Graze Writers

You graze writers out there will to come to the computer and work for 10 minutes, get a snack, come back and write, then call a friend… So on and so forth. Graze writers like to have short periods of writing, followed by a break.

If this sounds like you, make room in your schedule throughout the day to allow for those periods of writing. Take every opportunity you have to get in writing time. Instead of checking Facebook, consider using that time to work on your story.

Binge Writers

The binge writer is someone who doesn’t write for months. This type of writer will spend that time planning. Then, for a few months at a time, the binge writer will write like crazy. At the end of this, they will collapse. And then go back to planning.

If this sounds like you, learn how to outline, and outline well. Planning will become essential for those few months when you write like a crazy person.

Steady Writers

This type is someone who craves writing daily. You need it. Writing for hours every day sounds better to you than anything.

If you’re a steady writer, make sure you carve a chunk of time that is your writing time. You will work best if it’s consistent every day. A burst writer can sit down and write anytime, but a steady writer will work better within a regular routine.

How Knowing Can Help

It doesn’t matter what type of writer you are, as long as you know. If you’re not sure, read over these again and find out. Try different strategies, and keep track of the word count you achieve with each one. See which one makes you the most productive. You might be surprised.

So, what type of writer are you? Have I missed any? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Get Published

22 May

Want to be a story writer? To get on the path to publication, you’ll need to know a few things.

Know that Writers Write

You’ll have to put in a lot of time. I mean a lot. Malcolm Gladwell said that you have to work at something for 10,000 hours to become an expert, and writing is not an exception. If you love it, it’s all worth it.

Writing professionally is about having good habits. Set a writing schedule for yourself, and stick to it. Whatever amount of time you can put in during the day, do it consistently. You will see improvement.

Brandon Sanderson is a great example of this. (He’s my favorite author. I took a class from him – that’s right, it was awesome! – and I will definitely be referring to him throughout this blog.) Sanderson wrote 13 novels before he published one. 13 novels!

Was it magical novel number 13 that he published? Nope. It was his 6th.

Sanderson didn’t write one novel and spend years trying to promote it. While trying to publish, he kept writing and writing and writing.

Know Why You Want it and How Badly

I’m working on being a writer because I’d never be happy doing anything else.

I tried doing cancer research (yeah, I know Science is the opposite of English), but I was always wishing that I was writing.

If writing is just a hobby for you, that’s all right. Just know what you want. If you want to write for 15 minutes a day and chug along to get that novel done, that’s great. Set that goal and stick to it.

If you want to become a full-time writer, you need to act like it now. Set aside as much time as you can for writing time.

Do something to remind yourself of how much you want to publish. Find writing quotes to inspire you, visualize yourself achieving your goal. Put a reminder on your computer desktop or on your fridge, somewhere where you’ll see it every day.

Writing takes work. You need something to remind yourself how much you love it. Speaking of which…

Know that Writing is Hard

But know that it’s worth it. Every bit of it. Every word you write will make you a better writer. Don’t ever give up.

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve learned a ton about story writing – from Brandon Sanderson, from other writing classes, from reading a lot about it. I want to share that knowledge. I want to make your life as a writer easier.

I want to help you publish.

If this is your goal, subscribe. Every post in your inbox will make your story better.

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