Wednesday, August 5, 2015

INSECURE WRITERS SUPPORT GROUP: Trusting CPs


Insecure Writers Support Group posting sort of crept up on me this month. Not that I haven't given it any thought; so many ideas that went bye-bye as I . . . meditated on the month gone by. Throughout the month. You know; like, knowing Christmas is coming and you need to shop, but its weeks/days/hours away and still ya got nothing.

My initial idea for today (tomorrow) was just to say HELLO, I got nothing to say but will visit the linky and pretend I'm friendlier than I am. Of course I miss all of you bloggy friends. But, something did come up last minute. Not for me; no insecurities (I'm drafting a story idea so I don't care that it looks more like a plot summary with vague links to research or future action) and have nothing to boast about except the fact I'm occasionally working on a writing idea.

Whoop, whoop!!

But, I'll relate a writing related experience with my critique group, and hope they don't mind the lack of a heads up.

I'm involved with a varied group of nine authors. We have online meetings every two to three weeks depending on group schedules, and share documents with DROP BOX. We are all in different stages of writing/publication experience, and write in many different genre's. What we have in common is a love of good story reading, and a willingness to accept constructive feedback. They all knew me as a blunt critiquer/reviewer, and accepted me anyways. Kewl, yes?

One of my CPs is Alexia Chamberlynn. Awesome author of magic and urban fantasy, and she has self published her first novelette BLACK MAGIC AND MOJITOS (available for preorder here). Not to brag (yes to brag) but I was honored to crit this novelette prior to its publication. Like, 2 seconds before. As I'm really not a YA/NA reader and most of today's Urban Fantasy feels like YA even when its not (think Lost Girl and Supernatural, or Charmed if you're that old), most of my feedback centered on setting, forward progress, and technical issues. Of course Alexia had to endure my sarcastic remarks regarding eye rolls and quirky sarcasm of the main character; but she is used to my blunt style and doesn't take offense. Maybe she smiles sometimes while reading my remarks, who knows, she is a pleasantly optimistic individual.

The thing I like most about my writer's group is that everyone is secure about their skills as writers and genuinely wants honest feedback; but also knows when to trust their own instincts and when to get out of their own head. The purpose of critiquing is to offer advice/feedback, based on your own opinions and experience. The author can accept what is given, or reject it, or come up with alternatives that combine author and partner ideas. Many of our "hot seat" meetings turn into brainstorming sessions that could be intimidating to less confident writers. Ask an opinion in our group and you will get it. Often served with cheese, wine, coffee, or whatever confection is appropriate for the time of day. We take our writing serious, not ourselves.

But, it did feel like all of two seconds between Alexia submitting her chapters for critique and her announcement that she had self published the story as a novelette. We did not even get the chance to roast her story on the hot seat to discuss our impressions. I wondered: did she even read any of the feedback?

Apparently she did. I guess Alexia is just a fast writer/revisionist when motivated, and perhaps she already knew where some of the problem areas of her story were and just needed the collective to reassure her that her story/character instincts were working. She sent us all an ARC of the novelette, and today (yesterday) I had a few moments to download it to my Kindle and open it.

It was a quick read, as I knew it would be, and very much a YA Urban Fantasy/magical realism action/romance adventure. Well written and paced, intriguing concept, kick ass main character and secondary characters, sexy and capable love interest, extensive use of magic. I love a supernatural story that isn't afraid to use all the gifts and skills the characters possess, and they don't apologize for who/what they are. The published version is very much improved, but not much changed from the draft submitted for critique. If I were into modern urban fantasy concepts I'd likely give the story a 5 star rating and be eager to read the full length Zyan Star novel when it is available.

The point of this post? It takes a strong/confident writer to accept all manner of constructive feedback, and judge its merit. Some day perhaps an aspiring author will land that coveted agent/editor/publisher and experience far worse critiques than a like minded group of hopefuls can offer. Or even receive a review from a stranger reader who doesn't know the work and agony that goes into the creation of a story, no matter how long/short.

My advice is this: If you want only compliments and encouragement, share your writings with your adoring family and friends. If you want to improve your craft and put out a quality product, seek out a group of other writers, grow a thick skin, be appreciative of the opinions you solicit, but know your intended audience and what story you wish to impart. Be confident and humble

Congratulations to Alexia on the publication of BLACK MAGIC AND MOJITOS, and thank you for letting me be a part of the novelette's creation.

Don't forget to tip (as in visit) your host Alex J Cavanaugh, and this months co-hosts Nancy Gideon, Bob L Milne, Doreene McGettigan, Chrys Fey, Bish Denham, and Pat Garcia.

43 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's awesome she's one of your critique partners.
If you can't take critiques and criticism early, you're doomed.
I chuckle at many of the things my critique partners write. They all have a great sense of humor!

Lexa Cain said...

I completely agree with you. In fact, my IWSG post hits on many of the same facets of groups as yours. Finding people you trust and being open to feedback are crucial. Good luck on your new project!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

When I complete my next book, I'll be looking for critique partners. It's such a different genre for me and I want to know what I really need to do to make it the best.

Melanie Schulz said...

Well said, all of it. As long as criticism is constructive, it is always welcome.

Pat Hatt said...

Getting great constructive feedback sure help everything to flow and be better in the end.

Yolanda Renee said...

Agree one hundred percent. You want compliments and kudos, show a non-writing friend or family member. You want real feedback ask a writer you can trust!

Yolanda Renee said...

Just want to add, I've been blessed to have found such people via the blogging community, IWSG, and the WEP!

Olga Godim said...

Great post. Dealing with critique is never easy, but writers must learn the skill if they are to improve. I wish I had a group of critiquing friends like yours. Perhaps that's what I'll blog about on the next IWSG day.

cleemckenzie said...

She must have dug in, read, revised and moved ahead. She was on a roll!

Karen Jones Gowen said...

How fortunate to be part of such a helpful group!

alexia said...

What a pleasant surprise! I pop over to comment on your latest post and see I'm the star of the hour! LOL.

I DEFINITELY read all of the crits you guys provided. And great crits they were! I changed a few things based on your specific comments :) I had indeed already revised it a lot since I first posted it for you guys to look at, and then went back and edited more after the comments came in. About 9 rounds of edits altogether, including little "polish" rounds. And yes, I do work really fast - I love deadlines!

It's probably weird, but I actually LOVE getting feedback on my writing. A lot of people hate crit groups for that reason, but I'm a masochist, what can I say :)

Anyways, I'm so flattered you dedicated your post to me! Thanks a bunch :)

dolorah said...

Alex: I think a sense of humor for a writer is essential. And lots of smiles at ourselves.

Thanks Lexa. I'll be stopping by for your take of crit groups :)

Diane: those extra eyes can really help with those technical errors. I often read my writing as it should look, as opposed to what it actually says.

Melanie: exactly, "constructive" is the key word.

Pat: yep, it does. My own short story publications went through several rounds of critiques.

Yolanda: this community is a good place to find great CPs.

Olga: there are lots of forums out there to join. And occasionally bloggers just put it out there they are looking for CPs. I'm sure you will find good people.

cLee: she certainly was. Nice when that happens.

Karen: I do feel fortunate.

Alexia: *waves* That was some amazing work you did. I'm jealous, lol. I loved the opening setting. Well done :)

DEZMOND said...

too many writers use their family and friends as beta readers.... you need someone harsh and strict

Misha Gericke said...

I agree with you. And I can say that I'm a fast editor too. The closer I am to done, the faster I edit. :-D

Chrys Fey said...

It's important for us to know our stories. To be confident in them. To take feedback and know what is right for our stories and what isn't. To apply that feedback or push it aside and move forward.

Nice story! And great advice!

IWSG co-host Write with Fey

VR Barkowski said...

Spectacular advice, Donna. You’re fortunate to have such a varied, honest, and supportive critique group to rely on. The willingness to accept critical feedback is essential for any writer. Compliments and back pats don’t improve writing, they only inflate the ego.

Congrats to Alexia!

VR Barkowski

L.G. Smith said...

Good post on the need for developing a thick skin as a writer. Seems somewhat masochistic to submit our writing for brutal feedback, but there's no other way to get better. Gotta learn to take a punch, that's for sure.

Denise Covey said...

That's awesome that Alexia has self pubbed her book. Sounds like a great critique group. Everybody needs somebody sometime as they sing. At the very least we need one other, and I'm happy I now have someone who gets me and will give me a crit without destroying me, lol!

Second time this week I read along those lines--if you want someone to say how wonderful your story is, give it to your mother to read. Ha ha.

Glad you're outlining a story Donna. Hope it develops into something marvellous.

Denise :-)

Arlee Bird said...

The best thing we can do is surround ourselves with secure, confident, and positive people. When we have someone to lean on and pick us up is harder to slip into the doldrums. Sounds like you're in good company.

Lee
Wrote By Rote

Jeffrey Scott said...

Sounds like a great group of people for support and encouragement.
Sometimes the best answer is the direct answer. And yes, not all advice need be taken. That's what it is, after all, just advice. More often than not, it should be headed, but ultimately, the Author knows their story better than anyone.

Madilyn Quinn said...

Congrats to Alexia for her release! I like urban fantasy, so maybe I'll check it out.
I learned a while back that you need a thick skin for this crap to not beat you down and while I can't say I'm 100% on it, I'm pretty good at taking criticism and would prefer it to 'oh it's good' or whatever pleasantries. That sort of thing doesn't help.
I talked about trying to find a critique group earlier in the week. Still haven't gone through with it, but your post further solidifies that I need to.

Jay Noel said...

Good point, Donna. As long as the feedback is constructive (you can say my writing sucks, but also tell me some ways I might fix it). A great crit group isn't filled a bunch of coddlers.

DEZMOND said...

PS Donnzie, just dropping by to tell that you need to either lock, block or erase totally your old blog because in recent weeks I've noticed some spam blog has taken over your address and is appearing in our blog lists with countless new posts on it.

dolorah said...

Thank you Dezzy.

lorilmaclaughlin.com said...

Congrats to Alexia on her new release! You're so right about critique partners needing to be brutally honest and writers needing a thick skin. Otherwise, there's no point.

Kelly Hashway said...

Constructive criticism is so important if you want to improve. You have to be willing to see areas of improvement.

mshatch said...

I may not like all the suggestions my CPs make, but I usually end up implementing most of them.

Mark Koopmans said...

Hear! Hear! And, jolly well said, as they say in the House of Commons :)

PS: I agree, a stinging but well-delivered and honest critique is worth so much more than a well-meant friend who "just loved everything about the story." :)

Happy Monday, Donna :)

Dixie@dcrelief said...

Hi Donna - thanks for leaving a get well message on my blog. I plan to BOTB Sept. 1st.

Julie Dao said...

Wonderful post. I think someone who's only looking for compliments and positive feedback is in the wrong field. It's nice to hear good things about your work! But the problem is, they don't help you improve.

cleemckenzie said...

You're right about the strength it takes to accept criticism of our work. We just have to set aside that ego and take a hard look at our writing from a different perspective.

Robyn Campbell said...

It took me forever to find people I was comfortable with. Now that I have them, I will keep them. I usually end up agreeing with 90% of what they say. Crocodile skin. That's all it takes. :-) Good luck on the story. *waving* Congrats to Alexia.

Pat Garcia said...

Hi,
I don't know how I missed your article in August, but I am sure glad you're co-hosting because I did some backtracking and found this great article.

I so agree with you. In fact, that is one of my pet peeves. An honest critique may make you cry, kick, or scream a little bit, but in the long run, it thickens your skin and prepares you for that future agent or publisher that you're looking for and it will help you even if you self-publish.

Thanks for your honesty.
Shalom,
Patricia

Melodie Campbell said...

Excellent advice, Donna. Another I would add: make sure people in your writing group are at the approximate same level of publishing history, and know your genre. That's ideal. My group is all published crime authors, and we know what the genre demands. Nice to meet you!

Melissa said...

Excellent post. Processing feedback is not easy. It's as much as learned thing as giving it. I agree that honest feedback is necessary, but it gets easier to take the more we gain confidence and skill as writers. We do need to be sensitive to that when critiquing for newbies.

It's cool you have such a great crit group. I'm lucky to have some awesome writers in mine. If people ever read some of the comments we leave for each other, they'd commit us. xD

Thanks for co-hosting.
IWSG #119 until Alex culls the list again

Nancy Gideon said...

Hey, Donna! Thanks for being a Hostess with the Mostess! I LOVE my critique group. They have my back and keep me honest - with myself.

Nicki Elson said...

Sounds like you have a great thing going with your critique group. I have a couple of trusted writer friends who give it to me straight, and I do the same for them, and I feel so lucky to have them. It's true that you need to know when to take the advice and when to stick with your gut. When I was editing, I always appreciated an author who didn't automatically accept every single suggestion I made.

Megan Morgan said...

I'm a big fan of constructive criticism--I love to learn and grow. Your group sounds very supportive and helpful!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Thanks for co-hosting, Dolarah. Yes, accepting critiques can be difficult. More power to Alexis. She's a lucky writer to have such a great group of critiquers. I know, there's no such word. But there should be. Critiquers are worth their weight in gold.

Shah Wharton said...

*waves hand in the air "I want to be in a group like that!"

It's not easy to get good critiquers you can not only trust to be brutal, but kind. I want everything when I offer my work for feedback, otherwise what's the point? I don't get those who only want positive comments. Everything, even edited finished works can improve to someone. We're al different, so cannot all love the same thing in the same way.

Great post.

http://shahwharton.com

Stephanie Faris said...

A good critique group is hard to find, so hold onto one when you find it! It's funny but my agent said once that it bothers her when someone shoots a manuscript back to her within days of getting her feedback. She would rather you take time and think over the revisions, then be extremely thorough with them. I've deliberately slowed down because of that. I could probably do the revisions in one day, working hours and hours at it--and I would do that because it's important and everything else can wait! But because she said that, I slow it down and I don't really see that it's any better because of that...it just looks good to her!

Birgit said...

You make great points and it is true in anything we do actually. Many people do not have any skin, not even a thin one and become offended by everything. I believe most say, It's not good because all they want is to hear how wonderful it is. Now if one critiques something but they start attacking the person or something that is not about the book or anything else for that matter, then they should not be a critic. If they stick to the topic and state the issues, the person who asked for it should be prepared to accept it and learn from it.

farawayeyes said...

I am seriously looking for a critique group EXACTLY like this.