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Monday, December 29, 2014

Collecting Criticism: Writing Groups vs Critique Partners

This was originally posted on J.D. Horn's blog as part of The Paper Magician blog tour.


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Writing groups aren’t for everyone.

What? BLASPHEMY!

But hear me out.

When I say writing groups aren’t for everyone, I don’t mean that some writers don’t need criticism. Every writer needs criticism. Rowling and Brown and Martin and Patterson all need a second, third, and/or fourth pair of eyes on their work. But over the years I’ve noticed two models for critique: the writing group model and the critique-partners model. I personally started out with the first and have moved to the second with grand success.


So which model is right for you? Allow me to deconstruct them:

The Writing Group

The Writing Group is a very sociable setting, great for making friends and sharing cookies and just generally being loud. It’s like an in-depth book club.

Pros
  • Getting to hear group discussion on your work as though spying on a book club.
  • Acquiring a more social aspect to writing, which can be very isolating work.
  • Eliminating a lot of wait time. Everyone reads your manuscript at the same time and gives you feedback at the same time, so there are no gaps between critiques.
  • Real-time feedback. If you have a question, you can ask it and get an answer right away. No waiting on emails.
  • Keeping structure. At least, a writing group should have ground rules. Otherwise it’s chaos.


Cons
  • Disappearing into the crowd. If you tend toward introversion, it’s easy to get your voice swallowed up.
  • Defensive authors. A writer who won’t take criticism and defends their every word makes for an awkward meeting.
  • Lazy readers. Sometimes group members don’t stay on the ball, and you end up with only a portion of the feedback you were hoping for.
  • Possible embarrassment. Not everyone is tactful in a writing group. I once sat in on a writing group where a guy actually printed out a speech about why another member’s writing was terrible. Made her cry. It was awkward.
  • Scheduling problems. Finding fellow writers who can all meet at the same time and the same place can be a headache, especially if your group is online and you have to deal with time zones.


Critique Partners

Critique partners are fantastic if you don’t have fellow writers in your area. A few of mine I met online; others are friends from previous writing groups or from high school/college. It’s a great way to get feedback without changing out of your pajamas.

Pros
  • Having a wider range of people critiquing your work (since they don’t have to be local).
  • Receiving all your critiques pre-written for you. No note-taking; it’s all in the document. This also makes organizing the criticism a lot easier.
  • No scheduling required.
  • Picking and choosing your readers is a lot easier. If you use a critique partner you end up not liking, it’s simple to cut them out of the loop and use someone else; in a writing-group setting, if you don’t like someone’s critiques, you either have to deal with it or leave the group as a whole


Cons
  • No community desserts.
  • There’s a lot more wait time. Some critique partners are really quick to get back to you, others aren’t. And sometimes you’re not sure if that email actually went through…
  • No group discussion. Someone may point out a problem, and if you want a second opinion on that opinion, you have more emails to write and more waiting to do.
  • You have to actually find each critique partner. Joining a writing group is a two-step process: find the group and join it. Finding the same number of readers you’d have in a writing group to use as critique partners is much more time-consuming because you have to seek out each one personally.
  • It’s less sociable.



So how do I do it?

I have about fifteen critique partners, which I suppose I could split into two “writing groups”—my alpha readers (fellow writers) and my beta readers (non-writing readers). My rough draft goes out to the first set of readers, and I make changes to my manuscript based on their comments as they filter through my email. That modified manuscript then goes out to my beta readers, and I incorporate their changes as well.

If you go the route of the critique-partners-model, I highly recommend using several of them. That way you get the varied feedback of a writing group, and if someone is too busy to read your stuff, you have others to fall back on.

Side note: If you’re one of those writers who won’t share your work for fear of others stealing it, you can always do a poor man’s copyright and email the manuscript to yourself. Don’t open the package when it arrives. The post office stamp will more or less keep your creative works yours.




Monday, December 22, 2014

Brain-brewing (and Aqua Notes)

This was originally posted on Alex Bledsoe's blog as part of The Paper Magician blog tour.


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There are millions of places a writer can go to get an idea: museums, national parks, Wikipedia, even other writers’ books. The “what ifs” and crazy combinations of stuff in this world are endless. (Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon, for example, came from shoving Pokemon and a lost Roman legion into the same story.) Ultimately, the question of, “Where do you get your ideas?”, is relatively moot, because ideas are everywhere. Though, alternatively, I’ve recently discovered that sometimes the best place to get an idea is inside my own head.

The human brain processes thousands of stimulants and chunks of information daily. All of these—news articles, your strange new neighbor, that weird pear tree that smells like a corpse*, the story of your best friend’s cousin’s most recent breakup—leaves involuntary dregs inside your mind, much like a snail trail. Whether you’re actively thinking about the information or not, it’s all sitting inside your skull, forming piles of puzzle pieces that don’t seem to fit together. It’s surprising how many ideas I can come with when I’m forced to stand in a locked white room with my own brain, staring at said puzzle pieces until I see a bigger picture.

Ever heard of Aqua Notes? 

This product is ingenious. I can’t think of how many times I’ve gotten a great idea in the shower and have had to repeat it to myself over and over so I could remember it by the time I got out. We’ve all been there. But why do great ideas come in such a strange place? Because [usually] we’re alone. Just us and the ceramic. Just me and my brain.

Road trips are even better. Instead of twenty minutes alone with your thoughts, you have hours. Long, boring hours of dry southern Idaho countryside. After you’ve played the alphabet game and forty rounds of 20 Questions, it’s either white-room-brain-time or jumping onto the pavement whizzing by at eighty miles per hour.

I’ve “discovered” so many story ideas just by letting my thoughts drift until I reach one that’s especially unique or bizarre. It was during the long, twelve-hour trip from Moscow, ID to Salt Lake City that I came up with the idea for The Paper Magician: the idea of using man-made materials to cast spells. The idea of making the setting of the story an internal organ. The idea of giving a man a paper heart.

An idea is like good wine (or so I’ve heard, I’ve never actually had wine). The longer it ages, the better it tastes. And sometimes, when writers step away from the world and stare at the bottle long enough, they discover a blend of flavors that makes their writing excel.

Go ahead, try it. This drink’s on me.




*These are all over BYU campus.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hot Men & Hot Books: Best Books of 2014

The Paper Magician made the list for the top Kindle romance books for 2014! If that isn't exciting enough, THEY MADE A VIDEO OF IT. With dancing guys. I love it. :D