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The Help

 

 

 

 

When last we spoke I told you that the new goal was to get help. That goal was identified back in January. One of the best sources of help any writer can find is a really good writers group. Now I googled “writers groups” and Google provided me about 236 million potential hits. I cut that down to a manageable amount by picking a state to focus on and decided whether I wanted an online group. I have tried a few online groups and a couple were okay, but I was really looking for some face to face interaction with people I can get to know and trust. So, I waded through the groups based in Wisconsin and cut the number to five. All were within 35 miles from home and each listing advertised that the group members were trying to get published, a key factor in my decision. With high hopes, I sent out five emails requesting contact and additional information.

Group One Response: The reply email said that she was no longer with the group and that she thought they had folded but I could try to contact a different individual. I received no response from my attempts at the second individual.

Group Two Response: The reply stated that they had over 100 members! and that they were full for people submitting work, but I could come by and offer my opinions. In other words, I could critique other’s work but could not submit anything to get feedback. Reading other work and offering opinions is valuable and can help your own writing, but I was looking for feedback on my work.

Group Three Response:  We are a group of seniors who write for fun and get together and read our work to the group. Better, but not there yet.

Group Four Response: We are a group of writers who are trying to get published. We use writing prompts and then read our work to the group for feedback. Because this group met in very close proximity to me, I decided to attend a few sessions. There are some talented writers in this group with some interesting ideas. However, it was not the critique group I was looking for.

Group Five: On their website, the group indicated that they were a very serious group dedicated to getting everyone in the group published. They were, however, full on membership (10 people). If I was interested in joining, I could apply and if my qualifications were acceptable, they might make an exception, or place me on a waiting list in case a member left the group. I had nothing to lose so I put together a short bio of my writing experience, goals and involvement in other writers groups, and sent it in. I was actually shocked when I received an email requesting some additional information including a sample of my work. Two of their group would critique the sample and provide feedback so I could see what to expect and what was expected of me when I critiqued others. A few days later, I received their “crits” and a writing sample that I was asked to critique. I provided my feedback and was then told that they would present my request, writing sample, and crit to the group for acceptance. There was no guarantee that I would be asked to join at this point. Damn, I’ve been through job interviews that were not this intensive.

As it turned out, I was asked to join and honestly, it has been worth the effort. As advertised, the group is knowledgeable and motivated with eclectic backgrounds and styles which makes for a wide variety of comments on a submission. The crits can be hard at times, but the criticism is directed solely at the writing and not the writer. The result is that I can see a huge improvement in my writing and I have a much better idea as to what my “voice” sounds like. Many of my writing “ticks” (Bad habits) have been identified so I can catch them during revision and as I write future stories. The group”s comments have created a lot of revision work for me, but that is the point of a critique group. I always have the choice to act on their suggestions or not.

I know this is the type of group that I’ve been looking for, and needed to take me to the next level, and ultimately help me prepare my manuscript for submission to an agent. My advice is, If you decide you need a writers group, do whatever you must to find a GOOD one. One that fits your needs.

Goal: Get help. CHECK!

New goal: Finish this revision.

 

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Dual Writing Exercise

My regular writer’s group decided on an interesting writing exercise. Each of us is to prepare a ~250 word opening scene to a story. the next time we meet the scenes will be shuffled and handed out so that no writer gets their own story. The task will be to continue the story. Whether you finish the story or not is your choice. We will then critique each “Complete” story. What follows is my entry to the opening scenes. I hope to share both the final version of this story and the story that I complete. We’ll see if the other writers are willing to share.

The stench of stale beer and bad cigar smoke burned my nose and stung my eyes as I entered waterfront dive called the Broken Tankard. Tears filled my eyes from the smokey irritation. I blinked several times before the room came into focus.

A swirl of faces turned in my direction and quickly returned to the interests at hand. I walked toward the dark stained bar that ran along the back wall. My boots stuck to the floor as I picked my way through the jungle of tables and occupied chairs. Stains from semi-dried beer, blood, and other noxious fluids covered the floor. I tried to step around the worst of it. But, there were few dry spots to find. Two women stood on the stairs that led to the second floor. Wearing little more than undergarments, they tried to catch the eye of the patrons.

I continued to the bar but refrained from touching it as it was no cleaner than the floor.

“What do you want?” asked a small wiry man from behind the bar. His beady eyes never left mine as he carefully replaced a bottle beneath the bar.

Through the stench of the smoke and beer, I smelled the distinct chocolate aroma of magic coming from the man behind the bar.

“I’m looking for this woman,” I said as I handed him a faded photograph. “I was told she used to work here.”

The man looked at the picture of young woman wearing a wedding dress. She had a crescent-shaped birthmark on her neck. He glanced to the women on the stairs and then handed the picture back to me.

“Maybe I have seen her. Why are you looking for her?”

I stuffed the picture into my shirt pocket and said, “She’s my mother.”

 
8 Comments

Posted by on April 21, 2012 in Other Strangeness

 

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Cross-Genre Critiques

“I hate this genre!”

Not the first thing you want to hear when receiving a critique.

“But, I loved the story.”

Okay, now I feel a little better. 

I have a great deal of respect for the individual giving the critique so I am willing to hear what she has to say. We all have our likes and dislikes. Variety is the spice of life.

What followed was a very interesting dialogue about genre clichés, knowing who your audience is, and the difficulty of providing a critique outside of your genre. I realized that just because I’m writing for a fantasy-reading audience does not mean everyone that reads my story knows what a couatl is. Or, that a tooled leather jerkin is a piece of clothing. Now I’m not going change these things because the audience I’m targeting will know. However, having a reader from another genre critique your work is very interesting and, in my humble opinion, very beneficial. 

Even though phrases like; “A shock of red hair” or reference to “A dangerous sea crossing with marauding dragonturtles” seem like minor clichés and no one in my fantasy writers’ group commented on them, they drew this reader out of the story. That is not good. I have reviewed the “fantasy clichés” she pointed out and will rewrite the few sentences involved. They seem like minor changes but as I am reminded, the devil is in the details. I think I will add a few more non-fantasy readers to my list of betas.

The other realization I came to, is that it can be difficult giving a good critique on a piece that is written in a genre I am not familiar with. I find the need to concentrate more on specific elements and reread some sections to ensure I’m not missing something. It is becoming easier but it has been a challenge. Overall, I think it has helped my self-editing.

The bottom line here is this, even though you need to be acutely aware of who your target audience is, don’t hesitate to cross genres and sit on either side of the critique table. Whether you choose to take the critique to heart or not is still your choice.

Any thoughts?

 
10 Comments

Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Other Strangeness

 

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Next Steps…Online?

<p><span style=”font-family:Arial;”>I related in a previous post that my first short story is in polishing.My primary writer’s group has had two whacks at it and my trusted group of test readers have added their twenty-five cents. The story is where I think it may be ready to start looking for a publishing avenue. Revisions have gone well and feedback, from those I know, is positive. I will be adding a Work In Progress page soon but in the mean time I have been wondering if an additional test sample of readers is in order.</span></p>
<p><strong>I am wondering. What are your views regarding the viability of online workshops/critique groups? If you participate in them and what has been your experience?</strong> </p>
<p>I truly will appreciate all of your thoughts.</p>

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Other Strangeness

 

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