Friends Helping Friends

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Critique partners. I just can’t say enough good things about them.

Officially, I have two groups of critique partners, an in-person group that meets once a month, and an online group that runs 24-7 (or whenever people are awake and available) – although it’s been almost a year since I’ve participated in my online group, due to the whole concussed-brain-can’t read-docs-on-the-computer thing.

I think every aspiring (and established) writer should surround themselves with as many critique partners as they can handle. My in-person crit group consists of 5 1/2 (one person can only attend about half the time) people, and each of us lends our unique talents to the group. For instance, one person is very good at seeing the big picture, the overall plot arcs, they know right away when a scene isn’t moving the plot forward. Another is good with character and their emotional development – if a character acts, well, out-of-character, they’ll call you on it. I, on the other hand, happen to be very good with the nitty-gritty details – if you have a character picking up his coffee twice in one scene, without putting it down, that’s the kind of thing I’ll notice. We all have our strengths. And I think that’s what makes our group balanced, and helps make our work as good as it can be.

But what happens if you get different opinions from your crit partners?

Well, sometimes it’s a matter of listening to the message underneath. Last year I had two conflicting opinions on a chapter. One CP (critique partner) told me that she really liked the parts where the action flowed quickly, but felt that the rest of the chapter dragged. Another CP told me he really like the more detailed parts of the chapter, but felt I rushed through the other parts. Confusing, right? Does the chapter need to be more detailed or less? The underlying message: the chapter was inconsistent. I ended up fleshing out the less detailed parts, and trimming down the longer sections, until the chapter read more consistently.

But what about when there really is no middle ground?

My latest chapter I submitted to CPs had exactly this problem. One CP went through the chapter and crossed out just about every line of interior thought, while another CP told me the interior thoughts were her favorite part, and made her feel connected to the character. What to do? This is where having multiple partners can come in handy. CP #3 liked the interior thoughts, as well. But more importantly, so did I. So they stayed.

Ultimately it comes down to you, the writer, having to decide what’s right for your book. But I think this is where having multiple CPs is invaluable. It’s easy to brush off a single opinion on your work – maybe the CP has a different writing style than you, or doesn’t understand where the story is going, etc.  But if all your CPs are giving you the same opinion, then maybe it’s time to listen.

What about you? Do you have multiple CPs, or one trusted reader? Let me know all about it in the comments.

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On the Ball

End of April 055

 I’m about six weeks shy of the one year anniversary of getting my concussion (if you missed the embarrassing story of how that happened, read it here).  And I’m finally starting to feel better. In fact, last week marked my return to Facebook and Twitter (I’m not on every day, but at least I can check in and pretend to have a social media presence). I even managed to comment on a few of the blogs I follow! Okay, so I still can’t watch tv, or spend too long on the computer, but I can read large print on paper, go out in the sun without developing a splitting migraine, and (super yay!) work on cakes again.

Basically, I’m finally starting to feel like my old self. Most of all, I’m finally starting to feel in control again. For the first time in a year I have birthday cards and presents bought before the day of the party, blog posts written more than a day in advance, my MG Fantasy is just about perfect, and I’m starting to think about new writing projects. My house may be a bit dirtier, but I’ll take it in exchange for being able to write and think again!

I don’t really have any writing thoughts or advice this week, I just thought I’d take the time to check in and let you know how I’m feeling. What about you? How you doin’? Let me know in the comments.

Lost in a Book

Between nursing sick kids and frantically getting ready for my sons’ birthday party this weekend, I’m running short on time this week, so I’m going to keep my post short and sweet. As you all know, I’ve been wrapped up in the revision of my MG Fantasy for almost two months now. In fact, it’s possible I’ve become a little too involved with this revision. I give you:

The Top 5 Signs You’re Spending Too Much Time on Your Book:

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5. You subconsciously buy flowers that match your revision tools. (Yay orange!)

4. You start actually believing the philosophy of your invented famous historical philosopher.

3. You’re surprised to see a snowstorm out your window when there should obviously be a raging sandstorm.

2. You start using the made up swears in your book. (For Ashe’s sake!)

1. You start craving the food you invented. Mmm…rhejberry keshli. (When this revision is over I am so making up a recipe for these bad boys. Honey-coated pastries filled with berries and goat cheese; no wonder I’m craving them. Yum!)

 

So, there you have it. Have you ever been so involved in writing you’ve lost track of where you actually are? Tell me about it in the comments.

Conference Critique Confusion

Don't worry, I'm not suffering delusions of becoming an illustrator, I just didn't have the time or ingredients to turn this cutie into cake this week.
Don’t worry, I’m not suffering delusions of becoming an illustrator, I just didn’t have the time or ingredients to turn this cutie into cake this week.

Writers’ Conferences are great. Not only are they a great way to meet other writers, illustrators, agents and editors, but they’re a great chance to get critiques from industry professionals. In fact, the conference I’m attending at the end of May has three different types of critique available – which is amazing. And confusing.

With submission deadlines looming, I’ve spent a lot of time this week stressing over what work to enter for the various critiques. I looked online for advice, but couldn’t seem to find any, so, I thought I would ponder it out here in the hope it may help other writers trying to make their own critique decisions.

As always, these are just my opinions. Feel free to disagree with them in the comments.

One-on-One Manuscript Critique

Description: For an extra fee, a writer can get a synopsis and the first ten pages of a novel or one picture book manuscript critiqued by an agent, editor, or published writer.

K’s Thoughts: This is the critique dreams are based on. You submit your very best manuscript and hope and pray an agent or editor will read it and fall in love, begging you to submit the full, or better yet, offering you a contract right then and there! But let’s face it. While that does happen to the occasional writer (including one of my critique partners), more often you get (well-deserved) notes on how to fix your ms’s problems. Which is great, and helpful, and (if you’re like me) generally leaves you feeling like a failure and desperately seeking chocolate.

So, last conference I tried a new technique. Rather than sending in my best ms, I sent in a completed, crit group-approved PB ms, that I had queried with no luck. The result? The author who critted my ms actually liked it, and had only minor improvements to suggest. Which left me feeling great, but not much further along.

This time around I had two manuscripts to choose between: a (different) complete, critted, queried PB I’ve been told isn’t marketable, or my YA work-in-progress (which has a very shiny synopsis and first 10 pages *By the way, I recommend having your crit partners look over your synopsis before submitting for a critique – I always thought they were just for the critiquer’s information, but in my experience, they get critiqued as well*). I kept going back and forth between the two manuscripts, and in the end it came down to what I thought would get the best advice: my YA Contemporary piece. I’m hoping that whoever critiques my submission will give me valuable advice on the voice and plot (via the synopsis) that I’ll be able to apply to the whole manuscript. Because, after all, that’s what I’m paying for: a critique.

 

First Pages Critique

Description: Included in the cost of the conference, the agent and editors critique anonymous first pages live at the conference, in front of everyone. In order to keep them anonymous, these works may not be entered for other critiques at the conference.

K’s Thoughts: You have to have a strong stomach for this one. It can be hard to hear your precious work torn apart (in the most helpful way possible, but still) in front of a room full of people. If you’re not brave enough, just listening to the critiques can often offer great benefits, as you hear straight from the agent (or editor)’s mouth what works and what doesn’t.

If you are brave enough to submit, this should also be a polished, finished manuscript. After all, the agent and editors are offering their feedback as if this page was a submission in their inbox.

I’m not sure if I’ll be submitting something this time around, but if I do it will most likely be the PB I was considering for the One-on-One critique, so I can get more feedback on its marketability. Fortunately, I still have a few weeks left to make this decision.

 

Critique Circle

Description: Participants submit either the first ten pages of a novel, or one picture book manuscript to be critiqued by a small group (usually 5-8) of their peers, writing similar works. Submission genres must be picked at time of registration, and groups are assigned by the conference organizers. Critique circles may or may not include faculty members, depending on the conference.

K’s Thoughts: Because of my concussion, I opted to submit a PB this year. (Last year I entered a novel, naively thinking my head would be up to the task, and I had trouble participating.)

I don’t have to select my actual piece until the day of the conference, which is good, because I have no idea what I’ll be bringing. In previous years, I’ve brought highly polished works, but I think the on-the-spot nature of the critique lends itself better to problem manuscripts. So, most likely I’ll be bringing either a new revision of a stubborn manuscript (one of those” just can’t seem to get it right” picture books, I’ve put aside in the hope of divine inspiration for how to fix it) or else maybe a first draft of a new idea. After all, I have a few floating around in my brain since being unable to write for most of the last year. Whichever one I pick, I’m sure to get some great feedback from my fellow PB writers.

 

So, there you have it. My thoughts on conference critiques. I’ll let you know after the conference how those choices worked out for me.

 

P.S. For those of you wondering why I’m not submitting my MG Fantasy for critique, it’s because I’m still very much in the middle of the revision process, and nothing is worse than getting critiques on a chapter that no longer resembles the one submitted.

Fresh Eyes

Boys' First BDay 157

Thanks to my concussion, when I sat down to start this latest round of revisions on my MG Fantasy, it’d been almost a year since I’d last looked at it. I was worried I’d become so attached to my memory of the story that I wouldn’t want to change a word.

But I was wrong.

Getting some distance helped me see the problems in the manuscript more clearly. And, rather than absence making my heart grow fonder of those mistakes, it let me see most of them with a detached and impartial eye. I won’t lie, it still hurt to cut some things – but I was able to delete them (even if I required consolation via chocolate afterwards).

I’m almost done my first pass on this round of revisions, and I think fresh eyes are called for. So, I’m going to put it aside for a week or so before I print it back out (I know, I know, I’m an eco-terrorist, but my concussed head still can’t handle too much computer time. If it makes you feel better, I’ll be printing on the back of my last version) and read it through.

I know a week isn’t as long as a year (duh!), but I’m hoping even a little time off will create enough distance to see the flaws in my revised manuscript. And I still plan on letting the even fresher eyes of my crit group have a look, too. With any luck, all our fresh eyes will result in a fresh, shiny new manuscript to send out.

What about you? Ever put a story aside for a while and come back with fresh insights? Tell me about it in the comments.