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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In Writing, When Do You Get to that “It’s Ready!” Pinnacle Point?

Gift wrapped book

With so many revisions to my novel over the past three years, I began to wonder when I’ll know when my story will be at that perfect point to call it completely finished. When will it be in the best polished condition to send to my editor and then work on publishing it?

Because I don’t know about you, but at times, I’ve felt just like this frantic writer in this cartoon.

COD editing support group for blog post

The comfort in this cartoon is knowing some writers suffer the endless revising of their novels that I fear my continuous revising may be headed for.

Therefore, I googled this question, and many links popped up. I read through at least four of them, from top ten ways to go about getting your book in the best shape to submit it to publishers to what entails revising your novel.

“Half my life is an act of revision.”  John Irving

So, after picking through these websites, I discovered the basic answer. Unfortunately, it’s not a silver bullet, a “Eureka! I’m done!” kind of answer.

But if you trust in your own discernment and ability of when the pinnacle point that renders a polished product is, you’ll be on the right path.

“I have rewritten–often several times–every word I have ever written.        My pencils outlast their erasers.” Vladimir Nabokov  

So, it looks like while you’re going through your many revisions (I’ve lost count), you’ll be refining the wording, sculpting the scenes, sharpening the dialogue to reach that apex.

Your story will eventually culminate into a satisfying whole piece in which you will know in your heart this is the moment to tie it up with a pretty bow and send it out to the editing and publishing world.

In conclusion, trust in your own ability to discern when your story is at its best, most  whole. 

How has your revising process been going? How did you feel when you reached the polished stage of your writing endeavor?

 

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Revising Once, Revising Twice…Going, Going…Keep Going! It’s Worth it

Michener-rewriting

How many times have you revised your novel before you think it’s in pristine shape for the publishing process?  A dozen times?  Fifty times? A hundred times? There’s no end, right? It feels that way often.

Author, Roald Dahl, says of this subject, “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.”

So, how many times have I revised my stories?  I’m not really sure.  Perhaps a dozen times total? Teetering on the barely-broken-in writing scale. But it’s all good.  Some writers may not need to revise their work dozens or hundreds of times.

With that said, I’m back to revising my novel, Passage of Promise.  Yes, my first novel I wrote back in 2015.  I’m back at it after the last editing, proofing, and editorial suggestions from my editor (second round?).

show don't tell book cover

Since reading through half of the Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) book so far…and I will finish it soon…I truly do understand it for the most part and can see the difference in my sentences and wording through my latest revisions.  I’m strengthening my scenes, character traits, and dialogue.

But I must admit.  A part of me has this urge to turn the story on its head, change it up drastically. Yet, another part of me says don’t jump in the deep, murky water.  You’ll get pulled into the endless, bottomless sea.

I’ve got to resist the waves of temptation and focus on making the story sharper, deeper, and stronger with the plot, characters, and scenes posing in proud, unique form on the stage of my make-believe world.

I may have to run it through the critiquing group again, which means my thirty-nine chapters will travel through the queue for the next few months, but it’s worth it.

My editor said it wouldn’t hurt. People’s feedback may give me a different direction or new ideas, and of course, in the critique realm, I take some of the suggestions that work and discard others that don’t.

I heard some authors have spent five to ten years on one book.  That’s a huge chunk of time, but when you want your work to be its best, three, five, or even ten years may be in order.  J.R.R. Tolkien labored twelve years on his book, Lord of the Rings, before it was published.

lord of the rings wizard book cover

I don’t think it’ll take ten or twelve years to finish my novel, especially since my novel has considerably less words than Tolkien’s sequel to The Hobbit. Also, in my case, a stressful deadline doesn’t exist, whereas it does for some others.

This fresh return to my novel fell on the heels of my novella’s (Mourning Dove) feedback journey through my critique group the past several weeks, counting this one and next week.  I’ll then collect all the comments, remarks, suggestions and work on revising it.

What made me delve back into the revision process of my stories? I am presently reading a book by my muse, Jodi Picoult. THANK YOU, JODI!  Keep writing! 🙂

What are you working on, how long have you been working on it, and what’s your average number of revisions?

 

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