Archive | August 2013

Writing Critique Groups

I put myself out there. I took my “baby” and gave copies of it to a writing critique group. To be honest about the experience, I came home crushed. I put the copies with the criticism, edits, and comments aside, licking my wounds and medicating myself with a couple of New Mexico Martinis.

So you have a point of reference, let me tell you I’m writing a fictional memoir in first person, present tense. This seems to be extremely controversial, with some people telling me it’s hard to read and other people telling me they love it. I’ll simply insert a shrug here and promise to discuss that decision in a future post.

The next day, emboldened by sleep, I went back to the critiques. With the exception of one complete “diss,” which is, after all, not a critique at all, it wasn’t all as bad as I remembered.

Sure, there was still the “diss” critique. Then I remembered back to that particular person, continuously calling my protagonist “deaf” when, several times over the first page, I make it completely clear that he is hearing. In fact, the fourth paragraph is a note from the neonatal nurse saying, “Congratulations! You have a normal, healthy baby boy. And he can hear. You should be so happy!” I took the liberty of discounting his demoralizing critique.

However, upon closer inspection of all the others, there was some excellent editorial advice and I figured out a way to deal with it all. I pass it on to you, herewith.

1. When you attend a writer’s critique group, get to know the people. Are any of them published authors? Are they avid readers or do they only read books in their genre? Is their genre anywhere near yours? Do you respect their writing? How do they approach their critiques with other people’s pieces?

2. Don’t bring your work for a critique until you have answered the above questions.

3. Understand this is a critique group. As such, people are going to look for things that are wrong with your piece. I’d love to bring in an excerpt from Steinbeck to see what the group does with it. After all, if they don’t correct something, why are they there?

4. After the group, put the copies they’ve marked up aside. Sleep on your experience a couple of nights. Things you might have been hurt by might begin to make sense. You might take some other comments and realize it’s a difference in style preference. Just keep working. Don’t stop because your feelings are hurt.

5. When you’re done feeling sorry for yourself, start reading the written comments and edits. Look for commonalities. Look for things that make sense to you. I had one critic do some excellent edits on my piece, catching things I didn’t. If several people make the same comment, take that seriously. If only one person comments on something (other than a point of grammar or punctuation), take it with a grain of salt.

6. Don’t stop going. Even comments made to other writers, in other genres, can be useful.

7. Remember that cliche: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The critique group may well prepare you for a future encounter with an agent or an editor.

Me? I’m going back to the group today. I won’t be presenting anything of mine for a bit. But I did take much of the advice I was given, using it to edit and clean up the excerpt they critiqued. Maybe I’ll be ready to go through it again in a couple of weeks!

Have a great Labor Day weekend.

 

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Strip It Down and Build It Back Up

This is for all you writers out there.

When I was in school, I was a very concise writer. If a paper had to be a minimum of 500 words, I was hard-pressed to write more than 400. This is still true today.

Let’s take compression and turn it into a writing exercise.

Take a piece you’ve written and delete any of the extra words. These include words such as that, however, anyhow, so, very, etc. Pare your piece down to the bare essentials. Then put it away for a couple of days.

When you take it out again, read it out loud, and listen closely to what you hear. Is anything essential missing? If so, add it back in. You might be surprised at changes in your new choice of words.

Be sure any words you add back or replace move the piece along. Often, extra words cause the reader to get bogged down in verbosity. Cleaning things up can give a better flow to the movement of your writing.

Happy writing!

Protesting a Lack of Precision

I would like to protest against the lack of precision in written language. It’s becoming more and more prevalent in our books. Unfortunately, it seems it’s also become more prevalent in our scientific journals, a trend which might have an impact on science.

The journal article to which I refer is a study indicating increased mortality on younger (<55) people drinking more than four cups of coffee a day.

While discussing this with my husband this morning, I asked, “What constitutes a ‘cup’ of coffee? Are we talking about the standard eight ounces, or are we talking about fourteen ounces or more?”

I imagine, though I could be wrong, a detail like this is important to a scientific study and, as a result, should be included somewhere in an article about the results of said study.

I can’t control what others write. But omissions like this cause me to evaluate my writing, to be sure I don’t omit important facts, causing my readers to wonder if I’ve researched my topic well.

A caveat: I did not read the original study done by the Mayo Clinic. However, the article I did read in The Guardian online, says, “There’s a huge variation in caffeine from cup to cup. Compare a three-shot monster coffee from a chain to a half-a-teaspoon weak cup of instant you make yourself; all this kind of detail isn’t picked up in this study.”

Sometimes Just Writing Isn’t Enough

As I work at writing, I try to remain conscious of the fact that simply putting down the words isn’t enough. I need to figure out ways to keep the reader reading, turning the pages, getting invested in my main character and his life.

Today, I came across a webpage illustrating how and why people either continue reading or decide to abandon a book. The top reason for abandoning a read is “slow, boring.” The top reason for continuing, after “As a rule, I like to finish things,”  is, “I have to know what happens.”

Even before seeing this graphic, I’ve been conscious of writing in such a way that my readers will want to keep turning the pages. As the book grows, the chore becomes more difficult, since I have to juggle all the different parts while maintaining the whole.

You can see the full graphic here.

How I Read

This post is, actually, a good follow-up for the previous one on How I Write. I firmly believe good writing comes from avid reading.

I read almost everything: classics, literature, nonfiction, memoirs, biographies, etc. (Though I have to admit I have not, nor ever will, read the Shades of Grey series.

Currently, as you’ve seen in other posts, I’m immersed in books about Deaf culture and coda (children of deaf adults) lives.

I recently came across an interesting webpage asking the question “What Kind of Book Reader Are You?” I find I’m somewhere in between the Chronological Reader and the Book-Buster. It all depends what mode I’m in at the time.

Usually I read one book at a time, usually finishing it no matter how much I dislike it. However, once in a while I go into a more voracious state, where I read three of four books at the same time. That’s where I am right now. Once I’m done with all my research reading, I’ll probably pick up a single book and revel in the simplicity of a single story.

So, what kind of book reader are you?

How I Write

It’s always interesting to hear how different people choose to compose.

What’s been working for me is a daily schedule of writing at least 600 words every morning while I have my coffee. It seems to me the words flow more smoothly at that time, so I take advantage of the situation. Of course, because the writing comes from a half awake brain…… Well, you get the idea!

My break in writing is when I get to my day’s activities. I’m a potter, so I usually spend some time in the studio creating things out of clay rather than words. I come home, have some lunch and, sometimes, watch a little tv. Judge Judy happens to be my favorite mind-numbing afternoon waste of time.

After that, I get back to my computer. I open up something I’ve already written. Often, it’s a scene or two from a few days prior. Then I begin to edit.

Editing for me involves removal and replacement. All the extraneous words come out: apparently, however, but, etc. Then, all the words I’ve written with that half brain are reconsidered. I believe language should be like a razor’s edge, smooth and precise. The subtlest change in a word or a phrase can make all the difference.

My editing is an ongoing process. I’ll go over the same words day after day, until I think I’ve gotten it just right.

Reading coda Memoirs

I’ve found quite a few books, both nonfiction and fiction, about children of deaf adults. A common thread is the universal use of the word “love” on either the front or back cover.

Tensile Strength goes against that norm. It’s the story of a coda born into a chaotic world of dysfunction and the ripple effect on the rest of his life.

Codas are often credited with protecting their deaf parents. I wonder, were the codas in Hands of My Father and In Silence lucky, or did they choose to take on the protective role assigned to them by accident of birth?