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Critique Group Dynamics

Sometimes it’s difficult to find a critique group that fits your needs. I believe that when you’re looking for a group or forming a new one it’s important to be with people who are compatible personalities. Everyone should focus on similar goals and what type of writing they do. For example, fiction writers usually participate in groups who share the same genre or similar genre. Non-fiction writers generally get together in a separate group. That isn’t to say that fiction writers don’t ever write nonfiction. If those in your critique group members occasionally bring  something they wrote that is different from their usual fiction or non-fiction, then it’s up to those in your group to decide whether that’s okay with them. A group gets to set the basic rules. I know some multi-published writers are in more than one critique group. Decide what type of group you need to receive value and return value to others with your opinions and knowledge. Being a part of a critique group can help you become a better writer and provide different view points that may reveal something about your writing that you wouldn’t have seen yourself. We are too close to our own writing to see everything by ourselves. Not in a critique group? It’s worth looking for one. With busy schedules, you can even find groups online.

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Personal Writing Retreats

Most of the writers I know personally don’t have the budget to travel to writing retreats around the country or the world. I Googled the topic ‘writing retreats’ and found them located in many states as well as other countries. Since I live in the United States I look for any close to my part of the country (Texas) and pour over the websites for those that look wonderful. Since I needed a break from my regular schedule and wanted to go to a writers retreat, I decided to look for alternatives.

Some businesses and organizations give personal days or mental health days to their employees. Since I’m an author and my other job is consulting. My husband and I own a business consulting firm with a partner. Since I’m a boss so to speak, I gave myself a writers retreat day – okay I did it on a Saturday – but it was like a retreat. A friend and member of a critique group spent all day last Saturday away from home, locally at her office. We had the quiet and the focus we needed. We chatted but worked on computer program tools that can help us edit manuscripts. We covered four chapters in both of our works in progress. It was great! We took salads for lunch and then met our husbands for dinner at a local Chinese food restaurant. We felt refreshed and energized – like when you come back from a retreat or conference.

Try setting up your own retreat day. It’s worth it.

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Constructive Criticism vs. Feedback

If you are not a part of a writers critique group, then I’d recommend finding one. There some on line though yahoo groups that are for writers. Local or area writers organizations in Panhandle Professional Writers or Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., to name a couple are good places to connect with other writers and form a critique group. This way you can put eyes on your manuscript that can look at it from a different perspective.

These critique groups usually have some loose rules or guidelines. For example, they focus on fiction, nonfiction or a specific genre. Critiques focus on the writing and not the person. Comments should be restricted to constructive criticism and focus on how to make the piece better.

However, what do we usually think of when we hear the term constructive criticism? We have a negative reaction. No one wants to be criticized. Writers put a piece of themselves out there for anyone to see. Sometimes we get defensive. Sometimes the comments are cutting and harsh, not purposely, but they can be interpreted that way. I’ve seen new writers devastated by someone else’s comment and they never want to write another word. I know it is difficult to have someone else show you everything that is wrong with your writing. You just spent hours writing and feel pretty good about it and then … Unfortunately, our brains interpret any kind of criticism. even if it is called constructive, as a personal attack. It feels like we are personally rejected and criticized.

Feedback is different, and I’m not just redefining a term or giving it a new face for the same old thing. Feedback is consistent and ongoing. It’s like a coach teaching your child how to play baseball and become a consistent, good hitter. You hear the coach say things like, “spread your feet apart a little more”; “keep you eye on the ball”; “see yourself hitting the ball in your mind”. Other coaches may work with a child learning to catch the ball. It can be as simple as keep your eye on the ball. Each time they throw the ball the coach says, “catch” or “miss”. With practice, the child hears more “catch” than “miss” and gains confidence.

I believe that the best we can do for each other in critique groups is to give honest feedback without any energy or emotion attached. If we think there is a disconnect in the character, then tell the writer that you experience a disconnect. Suggest changes. Share your own learning experiences dealing with the same type of challenge. Ask more experienced writers to come and visit with your group. I’m not saying give fake compliments and praise or patronizing comments. Be honest, but focus on the manuscript, not the person.

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Tips From the ACW conference

For many people, this week is Spring Break and they are off camping or to the beach or visiting family and friends. I on the other hand am focusing on ghostwriting, always reading a good book – Twelve Ordinary Men – and filing away my conference notes after reviewing them. I promised some tips and here they are:

1. Be healthy when you write. Use an ergonomic keyboard. It is the one where the keys are split down the middle and you can type in a much more natural position. It can keep you from getting carpal tunnel or other repetitive motion injuries. In addition, take a break at least for five minutes every hour away from the keyboard. Get a chair that helps you avoid back pain. There are ergonomic chairs available. Set your keyboard at a height that your elbows are at a 90% angle if at all possible. That puts less pressure on your neck and shoulders as well as your wrists and arms. Your screen needs to be set on a level so that you don’t have to hunch over or stretch to see clearly. You should be able to look straight ahead.

2. Treat your writing like a business. If you treat it like you do an office job downtown, then other people will too. Set work hours and don’t let people take up your time because they think you aren’t doing anything because you’re at home. If you don’t respect your time, then no one else will either. Sometimes the hardest part is getting your family to understand you are working.

3. Join writers organizations and attend conferences because you will meet other writers. You can learn from each other. Writing is a solitary endeavor and it helps to talk with other writers. Network with other writers. Join a critique group that can help you hone your writing skills.

4. Write what you know and what interests you. Write everyday and enjoy yourself.  If you don’t know what to write, then keep a notebook or computer file that is just for free-writing. Free-writing is taking a minimum of 10 minutes to write anything that crosses your mind. You can even write disconnected thoughts to start. It gets your brain working and gets you unstuck.

5. Most of all submit your writing. If you never submit anything, then you’ll never get published. Submit. Submit. Submit.

Have a great week and enjoy yourself!