Critique Partners

critiqueisnotscary.jpgThere’s nothing more helpful than having someone read your work and give you the fresh perspective needed to improve.

Recently, my writing partner found a tiny mistake, despite having others read it, reading it aloud, and checking, rechecking, and re-editing it a thousand times. So helpful! I would have been embarrassed had it gone out with that small spelling errors that even spellcheck didn’t catch.

HOWEVER, there’s one thing that’s troublesome about critique groups or partners. The one who does not actually want the advice. I’ve worked with people who, every time I commented on their work, responded by explaining what they’d planned, meant, thought they wrote. They felt they accomplished what they wanted to do and didn’t plan on changing a thing. In other words, they’re weren’t listening. Why they even brought the story to the group, I have no idea. Perhaps they thought the story would be endlessly praised.

Ladies and gentlemen, some praise is necessary and warranted. You may have heard the sandwich method of response. First, say something positive about the work. Next, suggest and improvement. Finally, end with a positive.

In my classes, I actually students to say at least three positive things about any piece of work before we launch into the “room for improvement.”

Showing others their work is exceptionally hard for some people.And there are always good things to be said about any attempt.

But a good critique is learning to be open to hearing what is being said. Respond not with denial and deflection, but consideration of the comments received.

When I’m reading or editing, I ask the writer’s purpose and hopes for the piece. This helps me focus the response a little better. I also discuss the critique so I can be more specific with their desired outcome. Therefore, I do try hard to take into consideration the writer’s ideas.

After the last group with the writer who spent the whole time denying and explaining rather than listening, I avoided responding to that writer. A good critique is work. Not listing to other’s ideas will not win you friends and improve your work.

 

How is a Writer like a Peanut?

How are you like a peanut?

I gave this prompt to my students. Even as I was assigning this prompt, I saw the looks on their faces. They were not the first class to question my sanity; that happens regularly. So, my answer, must be “I’m a little nutty.”

Some of my students came up with amazing responses.

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  • Like a peanut, I have a hard shell. But once I open up, I’m quite pleasant to know.
  • Like a peanut, I’m coming out of my shell.
  • Like a peanut, I’m a little rough around the edges, but smooth on the inside.
  • Like a peanut, I am versatile.
  • Like a peanut in a shell, I am not alone.
  • Like a peanut, I’m caramel colored.

This is challenging and, as writers, we must challenge ourselves. When we challenge ourselves, new parts of us open and allow us to grow and see life from a different point of view.

Choose an item from your refrigerator or snack drawer and compare it to yourself.
(Or choose an item and compare it to your main character.)

If you’d like to share it in our group, please do. peanut2

 

Great Writers Say…..

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Love Toni Morrison!

Far and Wide and Every Lost Minute.

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I was doing an exercise in a seminar I was taking. I was given an article; a long, seemingly rambling, however, well executed nonfiction piece on the downfall of certain companies. Just writing that sentence feels painful. Why did I waste my time?

But, see, it turned out not to be a waste of time. In a lecture, recently, a similar topic came up and I was able to give a reasonable discussion about how this downfall relates to the business of writing.

Wow – I did not see that coming.

That is something I’ve always done, however. I’ve actively added to my body of knowledge by reading far and wide, not limiting myself just to my genre or even just to fiction.

What I’ve found is that this adds depth to my characters, validity to my narrative, realism to my stories. I’m don’t limit myself, therefore, my characters seem more authentic.

In 51WOVy2yYkL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_$I.00 Stories, I developed the homeless man from articles I’d read about mental illness and the homeless. In West End, I was able to add more depth to my character having read psychological texts on motherless daughters.

My advice is always – read far and wide and don’t limit yourself. Read when you’re waiting in line at starbucks, read before bed, read when you wake up, or you’re waiting to pick up your kids, or meet your friends. Get off of facebook and twitter or stay on those sites and subscribe to the digital magazines.

I hear people say – I don’t have time to read. Yes. You. Do. Find where you’re losing time and capture it.

 

 

 

 

Monday Motivation

 

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Writing exercise:

Take a very common thing from your kitchen and write a poem about it.

It will most likely become a poem about something else.

Share in our Facebook group!

I think I’m going to try a spoon.  (There’s actually a pretty famous poem about a spoon – by Billy Collins)

 

An Author’s Test

testIf someone says they read your work, it does not matter whether you believe them or not or whether they did or not – Don’t test them!

I work with an American Pen Award winner – he is the epitome of modest and professional.  I ran into him and said, “loved the book.” He said thank you. And that is all we should say!

I had one writer begin asking me questions about their work. I felt they didn’t believe I’d read their work, so they wanted to test me.

Maybe it was they just wanted to ask my opinion or probe my analysis of certain aspects of their work. But, see, I read for pleasure.I’m unprepared to answer questions other than what I enjoyed about the novel.

There are times I’ve read  to analyze someone’s work because I wanted to learn something from or when they’ve asked me too because they want my opinion on one or more aspects of their work.

So – when a writer asks some in depth question about some random detail on page 145 – I’m test1really sort of stopped short.

I read nightly. If I read their book or story last week, I’ve probably read another book and 50 student essays since.  If I read it last month, we’re talking at least two books, possibly three, and over 124 student essays and 300 short literature responses from students.

Last, but not least, it’s just plain rude. When someone has told me they’ve read my story, I say thank you. If they want to ask me questions or say more, I’m willing to listen. But I leave it to the reader.

 

This is a GREAT BOOK!!!

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