On Receiving Critique

Found a cool blog post on successful ways to interpret critiques from writing groups or book reviews.

Live to Write - Write to Live

In a recent post, I blogged about offering critique. When I asked fellow writers for their thoughts about giving and receiving critiques, I got some great feedback, but there was so much, I needed to divide the posts. Here is what my fellow authors had to say about receiving critiques.

“For the writer, don’t take it personally. Don’t defend your work. Take the advice that works, and use it. Disregard the rest, but if you hear the same suggestions more than once, listen. The best workshops I have been in have required the writer to be silent during the process. Very hard, but keeps you open.” – Julie Hennrikus

“Don’t jump to any conclusions – make notes so you will remember later what was said, but then put it out of your mind. Sit with it. Mull it over. Leave some time between the initial hearing and the actual…

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Got A Pleasant Surprise This Morning

It’s been a very long week, so I was happy to find a present waiting in my email inbox this morning. My second beta reader Beth sent me her suggestions. Being excited, I opened and read everything right away. I appreciate that she took the time to run down her suspect list chapter by chapter. I loved seeing how she perceived my subtle clues. Like Mike, she suggested point-of-view changes, improve pacing, and explain the killer(s) motivation more.

You guys have no idea how motivated I am to start tackling revisions now hee hee. But I’ll be good and patient by waiting on my last beta reader suggestions. In the meantime, I’ll jot down notes from Beth’s critique on how to change some of my scenes around.

Like I said before, any writer out there would benefit from hearing readers’ opinions before hiring an editor, sending out query letters, or hitting the publish button. It’s fascinating to send out the same rough draft to different people, then see how they each interpreted your story. Some will focus on story elements while others will comment on grammar and punctuation only. Some will give very detailed comments while others will write a summary. When combined altogether, you’ll get a full picture.

Once again, thanks Beth for taking the time out to help me. You’ll never know how much I appreciate it. I can’t wait to read your story; it’ll give me something to do for my very long week starting Tuesday. Long week means jury duty…

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

“One By One” Update #1

Writers are taught to just listen in a critique group when it’s their turn. To just listen and take it all in. Don’t defend their work. So how do you respond when someone wants to sit down and discuss your project, requiring a back and forth interaction? Act scared? Run from it? Embrace it?

I chose to embrace the situation. I’m used to reading comments in the margins, but it couldn’t hurt to hear what my beta-reader had to say. I was nervous (hopefully Mike couldn’t tell I kept tapping my foot and fidgeting with my hands hee hee) but played it cool. By the end of the conversation, I was at ease.

I took his suggestions for improvements and his compliments all in. I’m looking forward to the challenge of some rewriting required to polish One By One. In fact, on my lunch break, I went to the library to outline new plots and motives, feeling motivated. Throughout the conversation, I was all smiles–which was weird to be happy about someone critiquing something personal of mine.

But I couldn’t stop thinking how awesome it was that Mike took time out of his busy schedule to do me a favor. He didn’t have to, especially since he did it for free. The fact that he took the time to not only write in the margins but also suggested the talk will always be cool beans in my book. His feedback was insightful and helped me realize some of the kinks I need to work out. I’d rather hear it at this stage instead of have an editor rip my story apart.

Things I need to work on:

  • Elaborate more on characters’ motives
  • Re-tweak some plot points so everything connects together
  • Pace myself and stay consistent
  • Etc, etc

Thanks again Mike for being my first beta-reader to return my story. Once I receive my other beta’s feedback, I’ll start revising and editing again. I guess my 90 Day Novel will have competition for my attention around that time.

For writers out there, I encourage you to interact with people taking the time to read your work, if you can. There’s nothing more valuable than getting to hear answers to specific questions you may have regarding story elements. For a chance to guide the critique instead of just relying on what someone wrote. And a chance to reveal apart of your writing style or routine to them, so they can understand you a little better.

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

The Procrastinators Goals

Since NaNo was a success (we finished critiquing each others’ story around the same time), we decided not to wait to try the 90 day challenge of writing a novel. When I say “we”, I mean Melissa (my writing buddy) and I. Tomorrow starts the big day; I’m really excited! Our goal is to keep producing novels, to keep each other motivated. So after 90 day challenge, we’ll have a little bit of time before the official NaNo starts. Might as well do that too; if we post on the website, we have a chance to win. To get our name out there.

  • I can handle it. We’ll be pursuing these projects while editing our NaNo novels. I would hope by three months I’d be finished. I won’t be naive as my first novel when I assumed it only took a couple of weeks. Boy was I wrong. Anyway, we also want to write a screenplay somewhere in the middle of all of this. Or maybe after NaNo is over. Robin was nice enough to give us tips. Movies that are cheap to film (stay in one location, shoot in daytime for majority of it) are more likely to be brought. Something useful to keep in mind.

Wish us luck!

For the 90 day challenge, there’s certain steps that need to be followed. The first month–absolutely no writing the draft is allowed. You can only focus on structure and stream-of-consciousness questions, basically in-depth character sketches. At the end of this month, you begin outlining.

For the second and third month, you create your first draft into three different acts (the same concept as a screenplay):

  • Act I–opening, dilemma, inciting incident, opposing argument
  • Act II–false victory, midpoint, hero suffers, end of Act II
  • Act III–hero accepts reality of situation, action, battle scene, equilibrium

Cool beans–this 90 day novel challenge will give us practice on the structures of screenplay writing. I’m used to it, but it’ll be my first time with a partner :). I’m a team player, so I should be alright hee hee. This will also help me get back into the mood of writing, instead of just editing. I should have time to go back to writing creative prompts again; keeping my fingers crossed.

It feels good to work with people who are on the same page as you. Who want the same goals as you. Who has the same passion and can help keep you motivated.

We call ourselves The Procrastinators, but as you can probably tell, we’re far from it :).

For all the writers out there, do you have any future projects you’re working on?

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

Critiques That Rip: Why Criticism Trumps Praise

Yawatta would like to invite MONICA SHAUGHNESSY as a guest. She has a very entertaining post to share about how to interpret constructive criticism from critique groups/partners. Her blog is http://monicashaughnessy.wordpress.com if anyone would like to check her out. Thanks again Monica!

Quick, what’s the worst thing you can hear during a critique?

“Your dialogue reads like an Xtranormal video on horse tranquilizers.”

Nope.

“Your plot has more holes than Homer Simpson’s underwear.”

Try again.

“I couldn’t find anything wrong. I liked it.”

Bingo.

Now don’t get me wrong. Hearing that someone else likes your work can be a real ego booster. And at times, we writers need some of the good stuff to keep us going in a rejection-happy industry bent on destroying our optimism. Trouble is, if you keep hearing “I liked it” too often from fellow critiquers, you’re 1) in the wrong group or 2) in the right group, but everyone knows you’ll key their car on the way out if they tank your story. Either way, seek help immediately.

If, however, you ARE hearing things from your early readers, and you’re choosing to ignore them, then do so at your own publishing peril. I’ve been in many, many different critique groups over the years, both through SCBWI and through online classes, and those resistant to criticism are usually one of the following writers:

  • Shrinking Violet: Attends group once and only once, having relied on Grandma (without her reading glasses) and her cat, Mr. Snickles (with his reading glasses), to review her work in the past. Any negative comments will cause her to wither, abandon her literary pursuits, and take up knitting cat hair ponchos instead.
  • Blustery Gus: Attends group regularly and loves to hear his words read aloud. During comments, he lets rebuttals fly, fiercly defending his work, justifying each over-used comma and cliche, even if he suspects everyone else is right. Why? Because he CAN’T be wrong. Everything he writes is worthy of being cross-stitched in gold letters across Larry Kirshbaum’s pillow.
  • Inspector Clueless: Attends group, usually sporadically, because that’s what Real Writers do. He nods when people comment on his manuscript, but returns next week with the same glaring mistakes. He doesn’t understand the fuss over sagging tension and drifting POV’s. Further, he doesn’t understand how to FIX sagging tension and drifting POV’s.

Bottom line: if you see yourself (even marginally) in any of the categories above, you’ve got some work to do.

Angry car keyers aside, the rest of us should seek out what needs improving so we can get better–even if it’s painful. When we get better, guess what? We still have room for improvement. Hemingway rewrote the final page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times to “get the words right.” How do you know when the words are right? If after your critique group has raked it over the coals, your beta readers have kicked it through the dirt, and you’ve word-smithed it for the tenth or twentieth or fortieth time, and there’s not ONE THING you would change, then you can stop.

Until then, ears open to criticism and fingers on the keyboard.

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What do YOU think? Are you in a critique group? If so, what’s been your experience with criticism? Has it help you or hurt you?

Monica Shaughnessy

Update #1 on Romance Drama

I figure it is time for a status update since I haven’t mentioned my story in quite awhile.  Trust me, I’ve been working pretty hard on it.  In fact, I’ve officially come up with the title Though I’m Missing You.  This ties into the fact that even though Poe and Oliver are around each other, they are still emotionally disconnected and missing each other.  Also ties into everyone missing Jenna.

I stated back on December 12th that my 2nd draft was complete.  I didn’t want to revise it until I got a critique by someone else.  I didn’t know that finding a critique partner would be such a long process.

CHASE

On December 29th, Chase approached me on Absolute Write to see if we’d be a good match.  He was writing a mystery with the two leads falling in love, so he wanted my opinion on the progress of his story.  Of course, I said “yes”.  I thought it’d be cool to get a guy’s perspective on my story.

I enjoyed working with Chase, my FIRST critique partner ever.  I always thought that in the critique stage, writers only share about two chapters and possibly a few scenes they feel they need help on, then call it a day.  From there, they revise their entire story from the crit partner’s overall suggestions.  So, I was very happy when he wanted to swap chapters until our rough drafts were complete.

He taught English, so Chase advised me on the correct usage of commas and told me to stop using short, simple sentences ALL  the time.  From him, I learned to use a variety of sentence structures, and I love my semi-colons (which my second crit partner dislikes, but that’s for later).

He let me know that Poe and Oliver came off as self-centered.  I wanted Poe that way; it helped me know that I was successful in showing rather than telling.  I wanted to express she was scared of children.  This is relevant because for the majority of the story she watches Raven, who’s only 4 years old.  Raven was Jenna’s daughter.  But, Chase said it was coming off as Poe being unsympathetic, disliking Raven.  From there, I wrote revisions because that wasn’t the expression I wanted to give off.

Overall, his feedback helped me.  He never said my story was boring (I was afraid that may be the case for him since he’s not used to reading romance AT ALL), so that was a plus.  We actually sent our chapter 4 critiques through email on January 9th, which I didn’t know that’d be the last I’d hear from him.  No goodbye, see ya later, peace out, thanks for helping me.  Not pressing the issue, I just moved on.

Chase, if you ever read this, thanks for being my crit partner.  From your advice and suggestions, it helped me better edit my rough draft for the next person, which is—-

ANAM

On January 7th, I approached Anam to become my critique partner because I wanted a female perspective (hello, female readers are who I want). I found her on LadiesWhoCritique; her story sounded interesting–a man and woman met 5 years ago, then meet again.  She strictly writes romance, so I knew I could learn a lot from her.  And, it’s a plus that we swap two chapters at a time until our stories are complete.  As of today, I only have fifteen chapters left; so close, yet so far away.

Anyway, she’s taught me a lot. Anam is like a beta-reader and critique partner wrapped in one, and it’s so amazing.  She’s going way beyond what I thought a crit partner does, so I’m very grateful.  She’s teaching me about the unwritten rules of romance.  Perhaps we’ve covered them all–who knows because I still have chapters left for her to make suggestions on.

Rule #1:  Female main character doesn’t have to be sunshine and rainbows, but she shouldn’t be selfish or self-centered.

Like Chase, Anam was good in picking up that Poe was a little self-centered.  From her suggestions, I decided to tweak Poe’s personality quite a bit.  Romance readers have to like the female character in the novel.

Rule #2:  Female main character shouldn’t think nasty thoughts about other people unless they’re horribly nasty first.

Poe is sarcastic; I refuse to change that.  In fact, Anam seemed to enjoy some of Oliver’s interior monologue where he was snarky too, so I changed his personality to be a little sarcastic as well.  I need my humor somewhere.  Anyway, there’s a tension filled scene in chapter 4 where Poe wishes she could be anywhere else besides in the car with her ex Oliver and his girlfriend Kate.  Kate’s made it pretty obvious that she hates Poe even though Poe hasn’t done anything to her.  Kate and Oliver argue in the car, and it’s through Poe’s point of view.  Of course, I made it as snarky as possible.  Poe is one of those people who hides her discomfort or nervousness through wit and sarcasm.  So, that’s the vibe I was going for with Poe’s interior monologue (or narration).

Anam advised me that this scene will make Poe unlikeable.  Instead of the readers rooting for Poe to get back together with Oliver, they’ll be siding with Kate.  I have to decide whether I want to keep the scene as is or change chapter 3 to make Kate do something nasty to Poe unprovoked.  In that chapter, they all meet at Dominic’s (Jenna’s husband) house.  Maybe I can add a scene where Kate is rude to Poe, so there’s a reason she has her guard up in chapter 4.  Or, I can just change Poe’s perspective in chapter 4 a bit, so it’s not “cruel”.  But, it’s so funny…

There’s a huge double standard in romance novels that I don’t agree with.  It seems like the woman has to be perfect all the time; she’s not allowed any leeway.  She’s judged so harshly while the man can do whatever he pleases.  So not fair.  Like, Poe seems bitchy for making fun of Kate in her thoughts, but Oliver gets a pass for throwing Kate out of the car.

I would think Poe could get a pass for some of the tension later on in the story since she is grieving the loss of her best friend.  Besides there are unresolved issues with Oliver that she’s still upset about.  I don’t see why Poe gets called bitchy for expressing some slight frustration with him.  I don’t know anyone who’s conflict/argument style is one of acting rationally, or thinking ‘oh boy, I better not say this because it’ll hurt the other person’s feelings’.

How can I have tension and conflict if Poe is expected to be a Mary Sue about everything?  I want something else besides sexual tension from the two exes.

Rule #3:  Males in romance novels have to be strong.

Oliver isn’t a Gary Stu by any means, but I wanted him to be shy, nice, and respectful.  The guy who wears his heart on his sleeve to counteract that Poe keeps a wall up.  Think of how Dr. Carter acted around Kem on E.R. with emotional side,but one of Jason Batemon’s characters in anything he’s ever played in.  You know, the responsible one, tends to his girlfriend’s or wife’s needs, the one guys make fun of.

But, I’ve been advised by Anam that he comes across wimpy.  Yikes, I don’t want that.  I’m editing to make him more assertive if you will.  Think Pacey Witter–reasonable, low self-esteem, challenged Joey but always respectful.

Is it true that guys can’t cry at all in a romance novel?  I mean, Oliver’s cousin did die after all.  Is he not allowed to cry in the privacy of his own apartment?  What about later during the funeral scene?  Is there any leeway?

Rule #4:  Relationships should take up a lot, if not much of the plot or it isn’t a romance.

In chapter 1, Oliver calls Poe to let her know that Jenna had passed away that night.  Then, chapter 2 they officially meet at the airport.  So far, Chase and Anam didn’t mind the opening, but I’m still debating if I should change it.  Maybe I should start with chapter 2 to open up with all the awkward tension they have towards each other, leaving readers to wonder who Jenna is and why the exes haven’t spoken in a year, etc.

From Anam’s useful suggestions, I’ve managed to show rather than tell how much Poe and Oliver mean to each other even though she’s afraid to admit it aloud.  Trust me, he has no problems shouting it from the rooftops.  She pointed out in some scenes where Poe may be thinking about Raven or Dominic, but Poe should be thinking about Oliver because of what happened in the previous scene.  I’m happy that she helped with that–the perks of having a critique partner in the same genre you write for.  I probably wouldn’t have received that keen advice from Chase if he hadn’t jump ship.

OVERALL PROCESS

I’m very excited how my story is turning out.  It’s way different than my 2nd draft.  It’s more improved with a higher word count.  I have to give thanks to Anam and Chase.  Hopefully, Anam and I can keep this steady pace going, so we can finish.  We usually swap about four to six chapters a week.

 I look forward to her suggestions and concerns because I see it as a challenge to fix.  Anything to improve my story is a plus–no more just writing for myself.  I have to consider what fans of the romance genre want to read.  Anam gives me experience on how it’ll be like to work with an editor.  To show that I can revise in a timely manner and am flexible.  As long as the story is still my own, I’m good.

Hopefully, within a month, I’ll be posting that I’ve finished my 3rd draft and am looking for beta-readers.  Right now as I receive my critiqued chapters, I begin editing straight away.  I don’t send my next batch until I’ve worked on some (not all) of her suggestions.  A lot of stuff I agree with, and some I have to stay true to myself.  Like, she dislikes my usage of semi-colons, but I can’t get rid of them.  Then, it would fall back to me having too many short, simple sentences all over the place again.

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

P.S.  I didn’t expect this post to be so long; I guess I had a lot to say.