Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Joining Writer's Crit Groups

I hope you're happy and that your writing is going well.

Ever the sucker for more work - why do I do this to myself? - I have managed to talk a local theater group into staging my Christmas musical next November (2011).

I wrote "The Last Christmas Carol" in 2005 - and tried to stage it myself at the time, without much luck - spending oodles of cash in the process. This time, fingers crossed, it should work out.

Andrew Burt at Critters asked me to tell you that they have now opened up genre writing critique groups for every major genre of writing - fiction, non fiction, screenwriting, the lot.

Critters were the first to start "Writers Workshops" on the Net - fifteen long years ago to be precise - and they are still going strong. Here's what Andrew has to say:

Everyone is welcome, no matter what skill level - our 10,000 members cover the range from newbie to seasoned pros. So come on in, as long as your goal is to improve and write or create at a professional level.

To that end, Critters has perfected a unique sort of "Critters process," which emphasizes in-depth and courteous critiques from a wide range of reviewers. This has proven very successful at helping creative folks improve their craft.

We'd love to help you too; and perhaps best of all, it's completely free. For info or to join us, visit: http://Critique.org

I know many writers swear by Critters - and rely on them for good solid feedback from a wide variety of writers - because it's helpful, confidential and, best of all as Andrew says, it's free. Check it out.

Many new writers join critique groups for the wrong reason. Actually, it's not so much wrong - and it's common enough - but it does hamper what you might get out of judgment by your peers.

Namely, newbie writers usually only want one thing, and that is: validation.

It can come as a great shock to new writers to venture out into the world - to finally summon up the courage to show their work to other writers - only to discover that they are not universally and immediately acknowledged as a genius.

Robyn and I have seen this phenomenon over and again.

New writers come down to our own crit groups and read their material. You can tell they most times only want one response - to be told that their work is brilliant!

Any other gentle criticism from group members can result in a tirade of explanations and justifications from the author - who is hell bent on defending his/her work to the bitter end.

At this point we often ask, "Why are you here?"

"Do you want help? Or simply accolades?"

Writing doesn't really work that way. And writers are generally hard-wired to criticize other writers. But not in a bad way. Most writers just want you to improve your own writing.

Mostly, when a new writer appears in a crit group, they need to be warned against all the usual mistakes that newbies make. And, don't forget, we all make them.

My own experience at my first writers' crit group is typical.

I read my cherished story and in no particular order, the dozen or so writers around the table informed me of the importance of point of view (don't change it mid section etc), the overuse of adverbs, the desire for less verbiage, adjectives etc, the need to quash the indefinite article (it) and excessive description, the ugliness of exposition, being active rather than passive, and various of the other faux pas that tend to litter newbies work.

Of course I was crushed. Weren't they listening to the story, I wondered. Why all this nit-picking?

But it's the nit-picking that will teach you the most, we've found.

Because you can't really take anybody's writing seriously unless they get the basics right first. And this, to me, is what writers' crit groups are best at providing: a sound basis to move on to a more professional attitude towards your writing.

The story and the concepts are all well and good. But their impact and relevance can only be assessed when you have the basics down pat. Style too is irrelevant before you get the fundamentals.

Every new writer has to learn this.

Technical competence is not something you can leave till later - or hope that an editor can fix for you.

No, you have to learn this stuff yourself. And learn it quickly, so you don't spend years submitting work that is routinely rejected for basic errors. Because this is the number one reason why 70% of all MSS are rejected. Not story or ideas - but basic technique.

If this thought scares you, it's supposed to.

So, if you join a crit group and find the other writers tend to pick on the basics, don't fight it or be hurt by it. Listen to what is being said, ask for clarification, appreciate the reasons for the basic rules of writing - and learn them quickly.

Because if you absorb the fundamentals immediately - and act on them - you'll find that the next time you read out your work - or submit it to a crit group - you'll find the reaction is completely different.

Because only when your basic errors are corrected - the ones we all make at first - does your writing deserve to be taken seriously.

Writing rules are made to be broken, sure, but ideally only when you know them all backwards!

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

THIS WEEK'S WRITER'S QUOTE:

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." Howard Aiken
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