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!

How Do You Get the Words on Paper? Return to Writing

A couple of days ago, I was on the phone with a dear friend. She works in theater and has written her own plays in the past few years that she also directed that were performed at the local theater of which she was a member.

Unfortunately, some serious family health issues came about for her family a few years ago, and it’s been extremely stressful and emotionally draining for her and her family.

She’s not been able to continue the goals she had set for herself since then but is patiently waiting for a time where theater work and going back to school can re-enter her life.

I know how hard it is to go through and cope with a sick family member and the stress and strain it puts on both your mental and physical health.

My friend does need a healthy outlet that gives her a short window of time to herself. It’s important for her own health.

So she texted me yesterday using a voice message, that she’d attended a board meeting at the local theater she is now connected to (don’t know how long and when she started up with this particular one), and they were discussing upcoming events for the summer and short, one-act plays.

She’d actually brought this up to me a few days ago, and I will maybe do another blog post on my own plays, but this post is about picking up writing after serious life events takes up all your free time and energy.

She’d told me in our last conversation that she’d lost her creativity and didn’t know how to regenerate it. She asked me how I do so in my writing.

I told her I hadn’t written from the time I married in 1997 until 2014. A very long hiatus because of family life and health issues of my youngest son replacing any creative writing ideas and even thoughts.

But my writing returned when it was the right time for me in my life. God’s time. And it brought me through a lot of emotional hardships. I began to rediscover who I truly was, found catharsis and healing through these years, and continue to find content and healing in my writing.

My advice to her, using my own method, was to jot down notes of what she was wanting to write about. The characters, plot, and have a beginning and end in mind so that you are more likely to be able to finish your play or story.

Yes, I’ve struggled through the ideas of characters, scenes, etc. for upcoming chapters in a current work-in-progress, as well as on potential stories that swirled in my mind for a couple days that I hadn’t yet written any notes for. And even when I know what I want to say and how the scene will play out, there are times I can’t get anything down on the Word document or paper.

The answer to this is to just start typing whatever comes out in creating your scene and chapter. Eventually, about halfway down the first page, you become engrossed in your characters and what they’re doing in the scene, and you are able to complete at least that scene or even a full chapter.

This has worked for me every single time I’ve done it.

My friend had told me she hasn’t even been able to write down simple little poems she usually can do quite easily.

I told her to think of her writing as an escape from her stressful current reality to a realm where she can immerse herself for a time to find solace, creativity, and contentment for that short period. It will help her feel a sense of joy and a quiet moment to herself.

She’ll be creating as she’s wanted to do, and at the same time, experience relief from stress, which will help her overall health.

I’m sure I’ve written a few blogs already on the difficulties of getting back into writing after short or long dry periods, but I felt compelled to write this today after having the talk with my dear friend.

If you are having troubles writing caused by whatever events or obstacles in your life, remember that you can find a window to that creative side of you.

Try reading material you’ve already written to prime the pump in getting ideas to flow inside your mind and heart that will translate to writing on your computer or paper.

These strategies of mine always work for me. I hope it does for you too.

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