When the deed is done: How to run an effective writer’s critique group

“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”
      — Larry L. King, WD

Once the writing is done, you should definitely pop a champagne and celebrate.

But guess what happens next?

You can either have a sucky first draft of your novel forever, or you can get stuck into editing it.

Unfortunately, almost everyone is absolutely terrible at seeing the story issues or the misspellings in their own writing, so you need a writers’ critique group (a “crit group”).

So how do you find a good group? What should you be looking for when you need someone to really dig into your work (a critiquer or “critter”)?

What should you focus on when it’s your turn to crit someone else’s work?

And what should you be aiming for when you are the one running the crit group?

I ran the Dugong Writer’s Critique Group for two years as Facilitator and served as Secretary for two years before that while it was run by our founder, Grace Dugan, author of The Silver Road (ebook available from Penguin or on Kindle from Amazon). The group ran from 2007 through 2010 and we learned many valuable lessons from the experience.

Read on for tips not just from my group, but also from BWF presenters Vision Writers Group and memoir author Claire Dunne.

Today’s post will be charmingly illustrated by the creative folk worldwide who put captions on photos of cats.

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Music to write by

Music to write by - typewriter treble clef. Image source: Scores for Writers

Image source: Scores for Writers

 

Ever wondered what type of music will help you to focus when writing in different genres? Here’s what’s worked for me in the genres in which I’ve written or edited.

 

Okay, NaNoWriMo is nearly over, with only five days until the end is declared. So if you’re nearly there, here’s some final inspiration, to give you the last push you need to get that baby out (what a gross analogy, seriously). And if you’re boycotting NNWM and you’re kind of sick of hearing about it, soon we’ll be back to awesome posts that are not all about how to write a novel in the shortest possible timeframe.

Why does music help you write?

Studies have consistently shown that classical, Baroque era music can help students study things they’ve already learnt once, and can help workers to concentrate better during long or repetitive tasks. For those in a busy study or work environment, music has also been proven effective for blocking out distracting background noise. If you’re writing, editing, or creating art, music can help you stay focused and be more creative and open to new ideas.

By contrast, if you’re trying to learn new information that requires your full attention, music can distract you from what you’re reading. So if you’re doing research about historical methods of leather tanning for a new book, you might want to turn the stereo off and focus on the history.

Listening to lyrics can be distracting from writing, so most of the music I’ve featured in this post is purely instrumental. This is because lyrics are words and you’re already trying to think about other words when you’re writing. (People in other disciplines like maths, science or IT have no trouble with listening to lyrics while they work – in fact it helps, since their domain is largely numbers and code (Lesuik, 2005).)

So what can you use to inspire you when writing in different genres? Read on to find out!

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Phew! Made it.

2014 NaNoWriMo Winner!

2014 NaNoWriMo
Winner!

You can do it, fellow NaNoWriMo writers! You can; you can; you can!

If you are now in the slogs of writer’s block, take a look at my past blog posts about how to beat it!

(Don’t worry, this is just a little “giddy with relief” post. You’ll get a real one later in the week with some actual thoughts written down for you to read.)

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

How to keep healthy as a writer: body, mind and soul

'The happy writer' Image source: ToneBlog

‘The happy writer’
Image source: ToneBlog

This post is something different for me – a collation of all the research I’ve done into how I can stay happy and healthy as a writer and editor. We live in a stress-filled age, and writing requires us to not be stressed, because stressed people aren’t creative, as I’ve previously explained.

All the “health” tips here are ones that I personally have tried and found helpful, so I hope they help you, too!

 

Body:

At BWF in the Burbs this year, Australian fantasy author Trudi Canavan gave us this invaluable tip:

“Look after your bodies. Writing is hunched over a computer, fingers working furiously for extended periods. It’s an unnatural position that soon leads to RSI if you do it for years on end.”

She recommended we take lots of breaks from the hunched, sitting position.

For her, unfortunately, RSI is a daily issue, which is inconvenient now that she’s a full-time writer (the dream!). Because of the pain, she can now only sit down to write for half an hour at a time before getting up from the computer again. She does that over and over all day, because she has to. (Gosh! It takes me at least ten minutes just to get into the swing of things with my story again after a break – imagine only having twenty useful writing minutes each time you sit down to write.)

So don’t make the same mistake as Trudi and let it get too late to avoid RSI. Get up and walk around. Pat the dog. Do some quick yoga stretches at your computer! I got into this when I was working a job that was 8 hours a day at a computer, and it worked wonders for my lower back pain.

‘5 Office Yoga Poses (That Won't Freak Out Your Coworkers)’ Image source: Meredith Nordhem, Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meredith-nordhem/office-yoga-poses_b_5604195.html

‘5 Office Yoga Poses (That Won’t Freak Out Your Coworkers)’
Image source: Meredith Nordhem, Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meredith-nordhem/office-yoga-poses_b_5604195.html

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Commiserations over the struggle of writing, and how to keep going!

‘Mimi Does NaNoWriMo’ Image source: InkyGirl at http://inkygirl.com/wwfc/2011/11/9/mimi-does-nanowrimo.html

‘Mimi Does NaNoWriMo’
Image source: InkyGirl at http://inkygirl.com/wwfc/2011/11/9/mimi-does-nanowrimo.html

Today I’ll be talking about my two favourite web comics that provide inspiration or commiseration for writers – yay! And how to keep going when you feel like giving up (“halfway through NaNoWriMo” blues, anyone?).

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Bible stories you should read if you want to be a great storyteller

No matter what genre you’re writing in, you’ll want to be reading other stories in your genre.

Something I’ve wanted to write about for some time is what a writer can learn about writing in their genre from reading one of the oldest books ever written – the Bible.

The truth is, it has so much to teach storytellers like us.

Yes, I know, reading the Bible isn’t terribly easy going. But if you treat it as one big collection of short stories, then you can read a little chunk at a time and not be overwhelmed by trying to read it as a single epic tale.

One of my esteemed friends, Josh Bartlett has a wonderful YouTube channel, Storytime with Josh, where he features regular videos of dramatically-narrated Bible stories. This guy has a real flair for bringing out the real life drama of these stories – some that you might have heard many times, and some that even well-versed Bible readers will find surprising.

Storytellers should always be looking for the human side in stories. Many characters in stories never get their side of the story heard, or their point of view is always sidelined because the main hero’s actions are seen as more important. But the truth is that every character has an interesting story, even if it’s only about how the hero’s actions affected them and how they responded to that.

A guide to where you can find all the genres in the Bible:

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Reblog: Tamora Pierce and how to trip your character – in a good way

So this week has been full-on!, and NaNoWriMo is taking all my writing energy (!!!! 😀 ), so this post will be super short – cheers! But today’s “tip link” is something I know you’ll enjoy and find useful:

TIPS FOR BREAKING THROUGH the writer’s block wall.

Tamora Pierce from NNMW

Tamora Pierce
Image source: NNMW

In this great post in ‘NaNoWriMo pep talks’, Tamora Pierce talks about trying two super simple things to get your character moving again.

As for Tamora’s credentials, she is one of my favourite authors, and her writing is legitimately incredible! Her characters are believable and her plots are fantastic examples of medieval fantasy written for a younger audience that doesn’t dumb it down. I discovered her when I was ten and I’ve read almost every book she’s ever penned – which is a LOOOOOT of books.

Her idea #1 is my favourite:

Trip them up.

On the sidewalk. In a forest. Getting out of a swimming pool.

Tripping, no matter when or where it happens, is by nature an unexpected event. Depending on how tired they are, how many resources they have left, it’s something that can make your character overreact completely, do something crazy and uncharacteristic, or make them realise their newfound strength and rise to the challenge.

e.g. Whoops, my character broke their leg. Now they can either react by punching in the face the person who tripped them over, or my character can react by using the time off to do something they’ve always wanted to, accomplish a dream. Like painting a beautiful sunset. Or watching a Firefly marathon interrupted.

'The slip horse falling off a cliff' by Sidney Nolan

‘The slip horse falling off a cliff’ by Sidney Nolan

This horse (painted by the odd-but-amazing Sidney Nolan) fell off a cliff, poor fellow. Now that’s a bad day!

 

What’s a memorable time you tripped? Can you work it into your story somehow?

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

Why editors can – and should – keep writing

Graphophobia - fear of writing. Image source: WeirdPhobia.com

Did you know this is a real thing? Woah!
Image source: WeirdPhobia.com

I recently interviewed for a position at a great publishing house (the dream job – ah!).

As the head editors were interviewing me, at one point, they said:

“So, it says here that you are also a writer?”

“Yes, absolutely; I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. My first words were literally, ‘Book’ and ‘Read’. I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was four years old. ‘The Adventures of Freddy Fish’.”

“Wow!” said one.

“How do you do that?” asked the other.

I was surprised. “Um, I just love writing. It’s why I became an editor at all; I love reading and writing and I just want to make stories better wherever I can.”

“Wow,” said the first again. “I don’t think I could write anything anymore. Probably ever.”

“I haven’t read a book for fun in years, let alone written one.”

“Yeah, I mean, you’re reading other peoples’ writing all day, it just gets… It would be completely intimidating now to try and write something of my own. Because I know what it’s like, who’s going to be reading what I write. I’m used to sitting on this side of the desk now.”

“I don’t think I could take the rejection. Writers are very brave, I think.”

“Well, thank you,” I said.

And we moved on. Phew!

My point…

Editors are afraid to write because of their inner editors – just like normal writers. But we shouldn’t be, whether we’re a writer or an editor!

'Fear'. Image source: Kathy Coatney and Lisa Sorensen via Jean Oram via fellow blogger Jodie Llewellyn’s blog:

Image source: Kathy Coatney and Lisa Sorensen
via Jean Oram
via fellow blogger Jodie Llewellyn’s blog post

Whether you’re a writer or an editor, you should also be an editor and a writer. (Ooh, see what I did there?)

Writer, I really hope you’re self-editing your stuff before you show it around to people. Otherwise, I’m sorry, but you’re probably a really really poor writer. Sad face. 😦

And Editor, I really hope that you read and write as well. Otherwise, you just don’t know what it’s like for us writers. You don’t know what it took to get our babies – I mean, books – out of our heads and into the world, so you don’t treat our babies – books! (Wow, that keeps happening!) – as kindly as you could.

(Hey, if you could use the extra push, why not use NaNoWriMo to get you writing again this month? It’s fun!)

Editors in big firms and magazines don’t usually have time to write, I know, if you want to have any kind of home life and actually speak to your family once a day. You work long hours at the office and you don’t always get home for dinner. But J.K. Rowling was a waitress supporting her kids as a single mum when she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, so not having enough time is not really a good excuse.

If you want to write, you don’t have time to write; you make time to write.

For more info, the Department of English at Florida Atlantic University pointed me to this great post, ‘Who edits the editors?’ by Mark Medley, which talks about famous editors who have become published authors. Cordite Poetry Review even published a poetry collection, Editorial Intervention, entirely made up of the poems written by poetry editors.

So, in summary, writers, take a deep breath and get to that self-editing; editors, be bold and get writing again. As the great Mark Twain once said:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

'Just Write'. Image source: Trent M Kays on Rhetorical Rumination

Image source: Trent M Kays on Rhetorical Rumination

 

 

Writers, how do you get past your fear and start editing your own work? Editors, how do you get past your fear and start writing?

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.