Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's Writer's Wednesday

One of the most important things we can do for ourselves as authors is to develop a strong support system of fellow writers who can offer us helpful critiques.

We write in a vacuum and nothing can help elevate the quality of our work like fresh eyes on our manuscripts. I'm very fortunate to have a best friend who is an amazing writer so we are able to share and support each other on our writing journey. Not everyone is so lucky.

There is help out there, but it can take some work to find it. My first recommendation would be join SCBWI - the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. SCBWI has regional chapters that offer a variety of educational and networking opportunities such as writer's days, critiquenics, workshops, etc. This can be a great place to connect with people who share your particular interests.

Local colleges and adult education classes through your city also offer writing classes. These classes are helpful in developing your work, but offer another advantage. Many of the instructors also lead or are familiar with private critique groups in their area.

Of course, you can always consider beginning a local critique group or joining an online group.

Finding the right fit doesn't always happen on the first try. You may have to visit a group more than once to get a sense of the group dynamic or visit more than one group before you find the place where you belong.

Here are some questions you'll need to answer:
  • Does the group read the type of work that you write? Yes, good writing is good writing, but there are specifics related to picture books, MG, YA and the genres (mystery, sci-fi, etc.) that you and the other writers will need to know to maximize the experience. A general writing group can be fine in the beginning, but at some point it will be helpful to have at least one other person in the group who is familiar with your particular kind of work.
  • Is there an established routine? Does the group spend a few minutes sharing news and then get down to the business of reading manuscripts or do the members devote most of the meeting to conversations about what they are going to write some day?
  • Are there rules for critiquing? The comments can be hard to hear, but they should be kind, well-intentioned and offered with clearly stated suggestions for improvement not vague remarks such as, "You need more character development." Members should recognize that their reaction to and assessment of a manuscript is a subjective one. The goal of each critique should be to help the author find their voice, not rewrite the work in the style or voice of the other members.
  • Are there rules for the person whose work is being critiqued? It's human nature to defend your work. However, if you are busy forming an answer or explanation for the comments being offered, then the chances are you aren't listening as carefully as you could. Members of the group should be encouraged to listen, to take notes, to consider the comments over time and then to decide for themselves which remarks they will act on.
  • Is the group dynamic well-balanced, warm, and welcoming? Does everyone receive fairly equal time to be read and to make comments or does one person's writing or opinions dominate the session. Do the members genuinely like each other and get along? Even if you are leaving the meeting with pages of notes for correction and improvement, do you feel good about the experience? Are you already looking forward to coming back?
A critique group should empower you, inspire you, and push your creativity to the next level!

No comments:

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer