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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Plethora of Promising Projects

write and ideas

Last night, I started having the desire to write something new… a new story. I had an idea of one I’d thought of several months ago in which I wrote a couple pages of notes. I actually wrote an opening, full page, but since then, it’s sunk to the bottom of the trash bin of writing ideas and mediocre beginnings that have turned into dust bunnies.

Then I told myself I have so many stories I’ve written that needed to be revised, rewritten, strengthened, tightened, and polished, so I don’t need to worry about another story at this time. Truly, I have several stories written from 2014 to 2019 that I believe have the potential to be transformed into real gems.

Two novels:

Passage of Promise — Took me four and a half years to write, revise, rewrite, and edit. It’s still in the hands of the publisher I queried. Waiting to see if they accept my manuscript.

What She Didn’t Know — my most recent finished draft as of the summer of 2019. Took me a year and a half to write it. It is the longest novel I’ve ever written. At present, it is going through my online critique group. It’s my most complex and profound book I’ve written so far–three broken sisters, their encounters with relationships and life events.

Novella:

Mourning Dove — I ran it through my critique group a year or so ago. After running it through, I made the suggested changes, and I also added new scenes to make the story more comprehensive and complete. Gabby, a young widow, tries to help her deceased husband’s homeless cousin back on his feet, but a messy run in with another homeless man brings violent retaliatory behavior upon the cousin and envelopes Gabby into the vortex of that violence. I plan to run it back through my group after What She Didn’t Know is finished in the critique queue.

Novelette:

The Rocky Retreat — I’ve only run this story halfway through my critique group a couple of years ago. It’s a controversial piece having to do with contention between environmentalists and 2nd Amendment activists set in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It is satire and supposed to be more humor than reality. I have some questions on its plot–if it’s strong enough. Even though it’s supposed to be fun and entertaining, the plot needs to be there and concrete. Therefore, I’ll be running the whole story through the critique queue probably after Mourning Dove.

Short Stories:

Incident at Coral Canyon — a middle school/children’s book on bullying encountering mysticism. It was the first story I picked up a pencil and wrote on paper in 2014 after nearly eighteen years of treading in the writing desert. Last month, I worked on revising this from third person omniscient to close third person point of view, as well as overall revising, cleaning up some of the syntax and word usages. This is further back on the shelf of works to complete and introduce to my critique group.

Remember the Daisies — A touching story of an elderly woman’s memories and loss. This story was inspired by a real-life event in my neighborhood back in Lancaster, PA, that I used loosely to create a unique story for my fiction writing class in college at the time. I ran it through my critique group after I’d written up the first draft and got great responses, most of which were how touching it was and how much they liked the story, more than critiques on anything regarding plot, character, or tightening of sentences. I will run this back through my critique group sometime after the others.

 

As you can see, I really have no reason to start another story at this time. I’m thinking, when the time is right, a new, brilliant idea and storyline will come to me, and I think it’ll be after a few of the projects I mentioned above are done and published. God willing!

A whole stack of stories to work on. What could be better? Life is good.

What writing projects are you working on?

 

 

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WIP Joys

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Friends, I finish up running Passage of Promise, my novel through the critique group next week. The feedback I’ve gotten through my critique group has been incredibly invaluable. Then I’ll set it aside a week or two before doing a last read through and submitting it to my editor.

A week ago, I finished up all the new scenes in my novella, Mourning Dove. This, too, is ready to go through the critique queue, but it will have to wait for its turn.

As for my WIP, What She Didn’t Know? I LOVE the sisters (three main characters in the story). I love writing their POVs, their personalities. I really feel these characters are the strongest characters I’ve fleshed out as of yet. Here’s a very rough draft (not polished, obviously)…something I just wrote really quickly in order to put it through the critique queue in a couple of weeks, so you get the idea of what this story I’m working on is about:

Three sisters, Michaela, Glory, and Seraphima, grew up with an alcoholic, abusive father. Glory, who was most abused, runs away from home and isn’t seen by her mother or sisters for ten years. Their mother, Etta, wants her daughters, Michaela and Seraphima, to find Glory. Etta has a secret she’s kept from Glory and her sisters and feels it is time to tell Glory before something happens to her (Etta’s rather a hypochondriac). For each of the sisters, their childhood trauma/events affects how they are now living as adults. But when a terrible car crash happens and lives are hanging in the balance, will Glory ever learn the secret? Will she and her sisters ever heal from their estrangement and mistakes with those close to them? Only one can save them from themselves.

I’m guessing I’ve got about five to ten chapters to go to cross the finish line of a first draft. I’ve revised and edited the existing chapters at least three or four times now. The feedback I’ll get from my critique group will really help to improve and hone this awesome story. 🙂

 

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