Mistakes Made When Starting Out in a Critique Group

Critique groups are invaluable.

I mention them a lot. Like, every few blog posts. Well, okay, maybe not that often but often enough that you get the picture.

In my last zoom interview, I reiterated I wouldn’t be where I am today with two published books without my critique partners and my editor.

BUT when I started writing again in September 2014 and joined an online critique website in January 2015, it was a mixed bag experience for me.

Why?

Well, it’s because I had a lot to learn in my writing.

The “rules” in how to write a novel, novella, or short story. They all required the same basic elements: character ARCs, the different points of view, story structure, setting/scenes, natural and realistic dialogue, a believable and solid plot, vivid descriptions, and well-developed characters.

I’m sure I missed something in that list. Nevertheless, it will work for what I’m talking about in this particular post.

In joining the online critique group, I learned rapidly these elements, especially points of view, character development, plot, and engaging dialogue.

But in the process, something unfortunate happened.

Something that caused me to nearly lose my ability to write when I’d just started writing again after nearly eighteen years away from the craft.

I couldn’t decipher well which criticisms were constructive and pertinent to how I wanted to revise and edit my storylines and characters. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough then.

Because of my lack of understanding and knowledge on this, I ended up losing my voice, my writing style, and ability to write easily or naturally. My sentences became mechanical, stilted, and plain boring.

With that, confidence in my craft plummeted for several months. Nearly a year.

I was in college then, so I had many papers to write and course work to read over daily. Therefore, I didn’t wallow in my loss of my art, but it did surface at times, and it didn’t feel very good.

Eventually, I went back into my online critique site and posted the story again, after having made many massive changes via rewrites and drastic changes to the opening chapter and a few other chapters within the novel.

Somehow, along the way, I found I couldn’t write the way people suggested I write, which, in reality, was writing the way they thought was the right way or their way. I could only write my way, through my voice and my style.

Because every writer has her own voice and style and is unique.

Once I’d discovered this, I felt comfortable again in my own skin, and confidence blossomed within me as a capable writer.

From that point on, the ability to discern which feedback was useful or not came more clearly and easily to me.

Sometimes I get the general feedback about not using “to be” verbs or “filter” words, like “thought”, “looked”, “felt”, etc. I ditched this worry, which had originally caused my writing to turn into drivel and eventually come to an abrupt stop for a few months.

Why did I ditch this reasonable advice? Because I read fiction novels by bestselling authors, and every single filter word critics had mentioned and I had read in writing books were sprinkled throughout those popular and engrossing novels. The key is using them sparingly, every so often.

Therefore, if you’re looking to join a critique group or have recently joined, please keep in mind that it takes a while to discern which feedback will be useful to you in your writing.

BUT never give up your voice or writing style.

Nobody has your voice or writing style.

Just you.

And that makes you and your writing unique and important.

If you preserve that, critique groups are gems, and you can acquire wonderful, dedicated critique partners that help sculpt your work into stellar finished products.

Now, go out there in the writing realm and be you.

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Newest Video Interview!

Thanks, John, for the wonderful interview!

Folks, it seems I was channeling Ray Charles through this interview with all my nodding and swaying. LOL Must just be a nervous thing. So, try not to get dizzy in the parts where you might be watching me in this interview. Ha ha! Anyway, excellent questions by John! He’s a pro!

All the Life on Earth

For Earth Day, I’m sharing the above icon of Christ creating the animals on Earth, and also this story of St. Gerasimus taken from the online book, Saints and the Animals that Served Them. The link is here. It’s my favorite story of a Saint and the precious animal he took care of and the mutual respect and love they had for each other.

Excerpt:

Saint Gerasimus was born in Lycia (Anatolia, Turkey) in the fifth century. Even as a child he lived as a Christian, doing as he thought God would want him to. Because of his love for fasting, vigil and prayer, he was blessed by God with heavenly gifts. He healed the physical sickness and the souls of those who came to him with faith. A special gift was his loving authority over wild beasts.

After becoming a monk in the Egyptian Desert Thebaid, Saint Gerasimus founded a monastic community of seventy men in the desert east of Jericho, not far from the river Jordan – the river in which St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus. The monks of his monastery lived a very simple life. They slept on reed mats, had cells with no doors (so they did not have the luxury of privacy) and kept silence. They drank only water, and ate dates and bread.

Saint Gerasimus taught the monks to live a holy life, and also to work by making baskets. Their prayerful life helped the monks to help others.

One day Saint Gerasimus was taking a walk along the Jordan when he heard a loud roar and saw a lion in great pain because of a large splinter in its paw. Saint Gerasimus felt very sorry for the lion. Crossing himself, he went cautiously over to the animal, took its huge paw gently in his hand, and removed the splinter. The lion did not return to its cave but meekly followed Saint Gerasimus back to the monastery. A loving and trusting relationship grew between them. The other monks were amazed by the lion’s acceptance of a peaceful life and a diet of bread and vegetables, and by the animal’s devotion to Saint Gerasimus, who was now the abbot of the monastery.

The abbot gave the lion a duty. Each time the community’s donkey went to pasture by the Jordan, the lion went along and guarded it. The donkey was assigned to bring back water to the monastery. One day while the lion was sleeping, the donkey was stolen by a passing trader. The lion, with its head hanging low, returned to the monastery alone. The brothers decided that the lion had failed in keeping its monastery diet, and had eaten the donkey. As punishment the lion had to take over the donkey’s duty, and was required to go to the Jordan and carry back water from the river to the monastery in a saddlepack with four earthen jars.

Time passed, until one day the trader came to the place where he’d stolen the donkey. The lion recognized the donkey following behind the trader, and let out a loud roar that scared the thief away. Then the lion took the donkey as well as some camels tied together with it back to Saint Gerasimus’ cell. Knocking on the wall of the cell with its tail, the lion presented the donkey and camels.

The monks realized they had misjudged the lion, and as a way of acknowledging the lion’s honesty and willingness to do the humble work of carrying water, Saint Gerasimus gave the animal a special name: Jordanes.

Saint Gerasimus continued as abbot of the monastery. He also attended the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451. There, with Saint Euthymius, he was a champion of the Orthodox faith and defended it against the Monophysite heresy.

In the years that followed, Jordanes stayed in the wilderness, coming once a week to bow before Saint Gerasimus as a sign of obedience and devotion. One day, Jordanes came as usual but could not find the monk. A loud roar came forth from the animal’s throat—a roar of what seemed to be anger and grief. The monks sadly led Jordanes to the newly-departed saint’s grave. Letting out a final roar of grief at losing Gerasimus, the lion lay down and died. The year was 475.

The monastery founded by Saint Gerasimus still exists on the southern side of the Jordan valley and contains many icons depicting his holy life.

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Works cited

Zebrun, Christine Kaniuk. Saints and the Animals that Served Them. The Department of Christian Education, 2015.