Ups and Downs of Critiquing

In January a friend and I started a small critique group. We were aiming for a group of four-five. We started with four, had five for a few minutes, and are currently at three members.

The first few months of critiquing were hard. Getting a critique was hard because you never knew what kind of comments you would get. Giving a critique was hard because you weren’t sure what you were saying was well phrased or helpful. Over time giving and getting critiques has gotten easier. I discovered that if I submitted something fairly new, I wasn’t attached to it. When you aren’t attached hearing that an entire section is crap isn’t a big deal.

These days the ups and down of critiquing come from finding the time.

The few days before the submission deadline are hard. Deciding what I want to share with other people is difficult, and sometimes finding the time to do an editing pass or two on the selected section feels impossible.

Then the few days before the critique meeting itself are filled with reading and rereading the submissions for the month. Sometimes finding the words to say how well or poorly something works is hard. Many months I find myself thinking that critiquing is too hard, and I’m not sure I want to keep doing it. I know it helps my writing, but is it where I want to put my focus right now?

Last is the big meeting itself. I come out of a critique meeting feeling ready to work hard and excited for the future of both my own stories and those of my critique partners. The conversations we have about passages that work or don’t are very helpful regardless of if I was the one to write it or not. For a few days I know all the time I put in was worth it, and I got something amazing out of it.

For now I’m going to keep submitting and critique with my little critique group. Maybe there will come a time when I need to put my focus and time somewhere else, but for now I’ll push through the submission and reviewing to get to the good stuff.

Do you have a critique group? Do you ever wonder if it’s worth it?

Having Your Writing Critiqued

Our critique group isn’t even a year old yet, and I can’t begin to count the number of things I’ve learned. The piece that continues to amaze me is how much I learn by reading the work of the other group members. Our abilities and styles vary, but I gain valuable insight every time I read through their work.

Having others read through your work with the specific intent of telling you what you are doing wrong is hard. I don’t know that it will ever get easy, but now that I know the benefits it isn’t terrifying.

I’ve discovered that I have an easier time getting comments on newer work. Especially if the piece is something I’m playing around with to work on improving my writing as a skill, not because I want to polish the actual piece. I guess it makes sense that I’m less attached to the words and scenes of something I’ve only just started working on.

Are you part of a critique group? What makes submitting easier for you?

Motivated to Write Again

Earlier this month I decided that I needed to pick a writing project and stick with it for the next two months until NaNoWriMo starts. I began rereading bits and pieces of my longest projects. I read a bit of my Murder Mystery and my MG Sci Fi, but they didn’t quite hit the spot. I still love them, they just aren’t what I want to be working on right now. I think the MG Sci Fi needs a bit more research, and the Murder Mystery needs a bit more experience.

Then, a few days ago, I started rereading bits of a YA Urban Fantasy I’d written for NaNo one year. It’s a fairly original concept, and I’ve always known how it would end. The story is interesting, I enjoy the characters, I already have names for everyone, and could easily spend some time expanding the characters (a weakness I’ve mentioned before).

Most importantly though, I’m excited to start working on it again. I can’t wait to dive into edits and start polishing things up. I can’t wait to write the last bit of the middle to match it up to the end. I’m going to let myself skip the beginning for now and work through the middle of the project first. I know how the story starts, I think, but I need time before I try and rewrite it.

The best part about settling on a project is that I should be able to submit to my critique group for the next two months. I’d been submitting only every second month for various reasons, but with my focus on a single project I can submit for the next two months in a row.

What project are you working on right now? Are you writing, editing, or both?

Submitting to a Critique Group

Over six months ago I started a small critique group with a friend. We started with four members, briefly went down to three, and are back up to four. Overall things have been going well, and I’ve learned a lot both from reading and submitting.

Submitting work to the group was hard the first month. It hasn’t gotten any easier. I think the part that I’m struggling with for submitting is how much I’m learning from each meeting, but I can’t manage to put any of it into practice. It’s great to know what I’m doing wrong, but frustrating that it isn’t getting any better.

It probably doesn’t help that I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve managed a bit of sewing, but mostly at the end of my day I’m brain tired. I’m not physically tired, but I can’t think well enough to attempt something as thought provoking as writing. I also can’t exercise much because of a minor ankle injury. Overall I spent a lot more time than I should sitting on a couch watching TV and reading to my son.

With summer here my stress level might go down, but life continues. I still have to work, and I’ll have even less time to myself than I do during the school year. More sunlight, means more vitamin D, but it also means forcing sunscreen onto myself and the kid. It also means all the work keeping him reading falls to me.

Does the rest of your life often get in the way of your best writing intentions?

Creativity

green triangles for quiltingWhen I was young I never thought of myself as a creative person. I didn’t excel in art, I can’t play a musical instrument, I can’t sing, and when I started writing in junior high it was fluffy teen romance stuff. I had friends who were creative. Friends who played piano, who could dance, or who could draw.

During university I took up cross stitch. My (at the time future) mother in law was big into it and made some amazing things. She was creative, but my cross stitches were small and simple, so in my mind I was not creative. At the end of university my best friend decided to learn to knit. Since she was learning I figured I would too. I made hats, mittens, scarves, and even my only knitted sweater. I still didn’t think of myself as creative. They were simple projects and I always used a pattern.

Next I took up quilting. I read a fanfic where the main character was a quilter, and my good friend’s Mom was a quilter. I wanted to own quilts like that, so I decided to learn to quilt. I got that quilt top about half finished (it’s still on my bucket list to finish it). For the first time I felt creative. I was picking fabrics and designing patterns. I made a digger quilt top for my son from a pattern I had designed myself.

Shortly after learning to quilt I did my first NaNo. I wrote 50,000 words on a single project in a single month. It was by far the farthest into a writing project I had ever made it. It had a beginning, middle, and end. It was utter crap, and I never let anyone read it, but I was proud of what I had accomplished.

These days I know I’m creative, and if I haven’t created anything in a while I start to get a bit twitchy. Cross stitch, knitting, quilting, and writing are all different ways I choose to be creative. These days I focus my creativity on writing, but sometimes I need something a bit more meditative and I pull out my sewing machine. Last night I chain pieced the triangles you see in the image at the start of this post. They are for my shoo fly quilt. I was supposed to be writing, but my brain needed a break. I might just take another break from writing tonight to get the blocks for this quilt started. I guess it all depends on what kind of creativity I need.

What are your favourite ways to create? Do you creative in different ways depending on how you feel? or is that just me?

Unexpected Consequences

I don’t often have reason to keep secrets. It isn’t that I can’t keep a secret, I can , but when it is something I am bubbling to share or talk about, it gets hard. This time it is also a secret I’m keeping from an unexpected group.

I started a new writing project a few weeks ago. It isn’t anything special, but because it is being sent to my critique group so quickly I decided to keep it a secret. Before now, I hadn’t considered what having my sounding boards be part of a larger critique group would mean. In this case I have a brand new story idea I am itching to share and hash out with the usual suspects of my writing group. Since I am submitting it so quickly to the critique group though I’m in a position of being able to get an opinion untainted by any previous knowledge.

It turns out there are unexpected consequences of having these two writing groups overlap. It has brought out questions I wasn’t expecting. Am I always going to want a completely fresh opinion on my work? Will I only care about having fresh opinions when it’s a brand new idea? Are there benefits to having people who know some of the background before diving into the work, while others know nothing?

In this case, no one knows anything. I’ve kept the genre, age, and type of story to myself. I haven’t told anyone about the characters, plot, or expected story arc. They are all going in blind. I guess I’ll be able to start answering some of those questions after the April meeting of the critique group.

Do you have a writing or a critique group? How do you deal with the overlap if there is any?

Plans for February

My Goals for January were:

  1. Have the first meeting of our new writing critique group. Done! Our first review meeting will be next month, but we met to sort everything out.
  2. Read through the YA Portal Fantasy and make a final edits list. Nope. Big fail on this one.
  3. Write 5,000 words on my MG Sci-Fi. Nope. Ya, not a good writing month in general.

I would say January was a failure. Time to pick myself up again. I need to write more!

My Goals for February are:

  1. Use the Word Count spreadsheet I developed to track my writing progress. My spreadsheet is similar to the chart used by NaNoWriMo to track your progress over a month, but it runs over a calendar year and can cover multiple projects.
  2. Get chapter 2 of the YA Portal Fantasy ready for the critique group.
  3. Read through the YA Portal Fantasy and make a final edits list.
  4. Write at least 3k on something. It can be on one thing or a mix of things. I really hope I write a lot more than this, but I am about to sink into edits on a few things so writing won’t be my primary focus.

Was your January more successful than mine? What big projects do you have coming up.

One Year of Blogging

Today is my blogiversary! One year of blogging here at wordpress. It had completely slipped my mind until wordpress so nicely sent me a reminder. The anniversary of my first post isn’t actually until tomorrow, but it is interesting to think how things have changed in the last year.

I like to think I am a little more organized now than when I first dipped my toes in the water a year ago. I have discovered a few surprising post types I like. There are a few I now know aren’t my style. I have nailed down a new schedule that will start tomorrow. Overall it has been a successful experiment and I hope I’ll keep it up for quite a while.

Writing Critique Group

My friend @CateReads and I have started a writing critique group. We both decided that this is the year we need to focus on more than just writing stories. We need to spend time working on the craft of writing stories. Over the years we have both done various things to improve craft, but exchanging writing has been something we only played with a few times.

This year we pulled together some of our favourite local writers and convinced them to join us in a critique adventure. Everyone in the group already has multiple time commitments. The usual things like jobs, families, time to write, and other hobbies. To that end we are taking things slowly. To start we will review two pieces a month. At our current group size that means getting a review every two-three months. Somehow I ended up sharing in the first round. I will be sending out the first 3k of my Portal Fantasy before bed tonight.

I am always amazed at how hard it can be to hit the send button on a email that contains a piece of my writing. I shared an earlier draft of my YA Portal Fantasy with my mother early last year. It was (and I expect will be for  a while) the hardest bit of my writing to send out. While hitting send is getting easier over time it still isn’t easy.

This time I am sending to another group of writers. The scary part isn’t sharing exactly. It is that they are going to tell me what they think. These are all people who will have no problem telling me what they enjoyed as well as what need works, but hearing that something you wrote kind of sucks (or more likely one part or aspect sucks) is still hard. Knowing that it is going to improve your writing overtime doesn’t make it that much easier. I am trying to look at it as both a good way to grow as a writer, and as a way to develop the thick skin everyone says you need if you ever want to publish anything.

Do you have a critique group? Is sending your writing out to other people intimidating or is that just me?

500 Words – The Tarot Reading

Drina slid open the cutlery drawer on her side of the wooden table and let her fingers glide across the decks of cards. The first deck was for lovers. Those who wanted to ride into the sunset one day with their perfect match. The woman across from her had two wedding rings. One on her finger, the second on a chain around her neck.

“Can we get started dear?” the woman asked. Her wrinkled hands clutched her purse in a shaky grip.

Drina smiled and grabbed the fifth and final deck. The one she reserved for clients who didn’t want love, wealth, health, or revenge.

“A mysterious person will help you with what you desire most. It could be a friend, or lover. It isn’t particularly clear,” Drina said.

“It will be a friend dear. I‘ve had my great love.”

At the end of the reading Drina reordered the cards and put them away.

“Come in,” she called to her next client. The woman was middle aged, with a wedding ring, glowing skin, red soled shoes, and a picture clutched in her hand.

Drina opened the drawer and lifted out her revenge deck.

“I’m Susan and I need to find my daughter,” the woman said.

Drina nodded and flipped over the first card while the woman hovered next to the table.

After a long silence, Susan asked, “is it bad?”

Drina shook her head and tried to put a reassuring smile on her face. “No. I haven’t started yet. Please hang your coat behind the door and take a seat.”

While Susan’s back was turned Drina tucked the card back in the deck and checked the next three cards. They were as they should be. Her shoulders relaxed and she put on a somber face as Susan settled in her seat, ankles crossed. “What now?”

“Focus your thoughts on your daughter,” Drina said, “then flip the top three cards and lay them in front of you. Past, present, and future.” She rested the deck in front of Susan.

Susan flipped over the first two cards. Drina stared at them. They were wrong. She had just checked, but the cards had changed. “Death.” Susan’s voice trembled as she read the heading on the second card. “My daughter is dead?”

When Drina found her voice she said, “it isn’t literal. Death is about change, second chances, and embracing the unexpected.” Drina tapped the deck twice with her finger.

The final card trembled as Susan laid it on the table. “Nine of cups. Is that bad?”

Drina leaned back in her chair and nibbled at her lip. “You will get what you desire.”

“My daughter,” Susan said with a smile. She placed the creased picture on the table.

With the tip of her finger Drina dragged the picture along the table until she could see it. She pulled her hand back as if burned, and looked up at Susan with wide eyes. “Why do you have my baby picture?”