Friday, May 22, 2009

10 Hints for successfully being in a Critique Group

I'm not sure what made me pick critique groups as a topic today, but there you go. It's a topic that will never go away (for creative types, that is) and there's always more to learn about them. I won't get all pedantic on you, though. I'll just mention a few things that have made critique situations work for me.

Hint 1.Join a critique group. It's good experience. We all need experience. Even if it's not the best match right away. Why? Because you need the experiences of: having your material read and receiving criticism and reading other people's material and giving criticism. Think of it as a class with a test every time you meet, not a popularity contest.

Hint 2. Leave your ego at the door. Humility not hubris. Remember your goal of making your story the best that it can be. Be open to what people are saying, not defensive (this is difficult).

Hint 3. Don't hog the floor time. Be gracious and fair. Succinct. Concise. Got it?

Hint 4. Do your homework. Give your fellow writers (and their manuscripts) the respect they deserve. Don't leave reading until the last minute with half-hearted comments. This is also a difficult one. We all have busy lives but it is possible to make time. How committed are you to your dream? This is serious. Give it your all because you expect your peers to.

Hint 5. Mind your manners. That's right. I shouldn't have to say it, but sometimes people get whipped into a frenzy and forget. Be nice. Golden Rule and all that.

Hint 6. Show up. Yep, I know. Another obvious one, but apparently it's needed. If you are part of a critique group and you have a scheduled meeting, but nothing to show or share, go anyway. Give your feedback, be committed to the success of the group. If you absolutely can't make it, it's understandable, but don't expect everyone to change their schedules to suit yours. Doesn't hurt to ask, though.

Hint 7. Neutral territory or rotating hosting is recommended. Fairly self-explanatory, but I'll spell it out. Always meeting at one person's home may have the psychological effect of 'critique group ownership' real and/or perceived. It gets tricky once that sets in.

Hint 8. Don't let your group turn into a social gathering. I know this sounds uptight, so don't take it too literally. Be professional, do your business first, then pleasure, that's all. I know people that lament the fact that they're in a group with great people, but nothing gets accomplished. Remember why you are in a group and if you don't know why, then figure it out fast.

Hint 9. Remember that the people in the group don't have to be your friends or confidants. It's okay to maintain a professional distance. In fact, it's a really good idea, at least until you are well established in the group.

Hint 10. Leave the group when it's the right time. This is a hard one to see sometimes. I'm not saying that you will always have to leave a group, but it's very difficult to have a group of creative types together over long periods of time with out personal dynamics getting in the way. Don't have unrealistic expectations. Also, needs, minds, and goals change. Listen to your intuition and get on with it. Yes, you'll find (or create) a group (or partnership) that works better for you.

Well, that pretty much covers some of the more pressing issues about critique groups. Next time I'll put out some great ideas for critique group rules. Enjoy the weekend wherever you are.

Monday, May 18, 2009

WWA SCBWI Writer's Conference 2009

Wow! That was a great weekend of amazing speakers. Every year of going to the SCBWI conference gets better.Just wrap your head around the idea that it's more about networking than pitching your goods to an agent or editor. Meeting other writers is great fun and reassuring. I met real beginners and had an opportunity to encourage them to keep going, I met published authors and got to ask them questions about their career path and how they get/got things accomplished. Always an interesting answer.

It's always humbling to hear the success stories of local author panel and what they have to say about their backgrounds; how they achieved their dreams. Motivating too. This year I was particularly pleased with the selection of agents. Nathan Bransford is not only a stellar agent, but he's humble and generous, straightforward and efficient. If I could be so lucky.... Also Steven Malk from Writer's House gave a great talk on how writers should have a career strategy. It was very welcome information.

Ellen Hopkins, Patrick Jennings, and Lisa Papademetriou were three of the authors I was lucky enough to see speak. Ellen is a ballsy woman with the guts to closely examine the most difficult of subjects in teens' lives: meth addiction, incest, rape, suicide and more. Not exactly uplifting, but exactly what teens want. Honesty. Patrick Jennings gave a talk on school visits and demonstrated how he captures the attention of hundreds of elementary school kids at a time: subversive manipulation. Of course! Much the same techniques of another one of my favorite authors, Jon Scieszka (keynote speaker). Lisa Papademetriou was really a hoot. She's an unrepentent fantasy geek and spoke on world building. Very entertaining.

There are always a few fun games to play during the weekend and this time I participated in the haiku contest and got an honorable mention with a haiku about Michael Stearns (agent at Firebrand!!) after seeing his talk about plotting on Saturday:
Thirteen points of plot
for Michael Stearns to cover
good thing he talks fast

And that's all for now!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

the importance of field trips

So you're in a slump. Writer's block, whatever you call it. You're tired of researching online and still looking for something to inspire you, something to help you make it through that difficult scene. Or maybe you just need a fresh look at your character's personality or biography. Take a field trip. Go somewhere your character would go. Find a place that will put you in the mood. Maybe it's just a walk in your neighborhood. Maybe it's a specific park or geographical detail or shop. But go. Open your mind and heart and cool things will happen, I promise you. It's a bit of magic in the creative process, whether you are a writer, photographer, sculptor, or even a lab rat, getting out of your normal surroundings for a little field trip of the mind can work wonders. Don't make it a mental vacation. Don't check out. This is work, but of the most adventurous and exciting kind. Be open to serendipity, opportunity, and chance. Be spontaneous. Do things you wouldn't normally do. Go places you might not normally do... all withing the realm of common sense of course. And come back to your work fresh!