Monday, June 29, 2009

When inpsiration strikes

So a few nights ago, after a long day with two kids, many errands, cooking and probably a few loads of laundry, I got in bed, turned out the lights, kissed my man, and said goodnight. That's it, right? For him, yeah. He was snoozin' in no time. Me? My eyes were wide open, my mind was still wide awake and not in the mood for shutting down. This was 1:30am. I'm a morning person and this does NOT happen that often, but when it happens, I have to grab the bull by the horns.
It was time to write, and being summer, the office was warm enough to do it. Give me this scene in December, and I'm reaching for the novel and booklight, so I don't freeze my bum off by exiting Duvetland. Wuss, yes, I know. That's what happens when you move from the 'Kick your ass' weather zone to the sissyfied weather zone (where I currently reside and love it, love it, love it-- I can drive an hour to the mountains if I miss the mosquitos or snow).
What I'm trying to say is, strike when the iron is hot. Get out of bed, and get writing. Especially if you have kids and a day job. Every minute counts and every word counts, so get it down, and sleep hard. Believe me, after writing through a tough chapter (even with three kid interruptions--guess I wasn't the only one that couldn't sleep) I was ready to sleep at four in the morning...all the way to eight.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Critique group guidelines

If you're a writer, being a member of a critique group is indispensable. Critique groups range from formal to casual and it's best to join or create one that suits your personality. In fact, to maintain the tone and success of a critique group, it's not a bad idea to have a few rules. What follows are a few suggestions.

You may want to have a confidentiality agreement for all members. Note: this may seem a bit paranoid, but some people swear by it. It is merely a measure to discourage plagiarism and keep people honest. Take it or leave it.

It's not a bad idea to ensure that members of your group are at similar levels of skill and commitment. One way of doing this is by having membership requirements, whether that's obligatory membership to a recognized writer's association or the completion of writing classes beyond high school. You may want to limit the number of members in the group. Other things that may fall into this category are: minimum attendance, output, and feedback at meetings.

You may want to have manuscript requirements. Examples include genre restriction, numbering of pages, minimum or maximum number of pages submitted, requiring manuscripts to have been proofread for basic spelling and grammar errors before submission. Some of these suggestions may sound a bit uptight but are all ways to get writers accustomed to doing what must be done for submitting a manuscript to an agent or editor anyway. It is just one of the ways critique groups can shape you into a better writer.

Other rules that often go into a critique group involve the critique process itself. Consider submitting by email in advance to give others a chance to review material before giving comments in person. Do you want only one person to present material or everyone? I have found that 3-4 people can reasonably present new material (read ahead of time by the others) and get feedback within a 2 hour meeting if there isn't too much chit-chat or snacking. Add half an hour to an hour if you meet at a pub. Do you want to read submissions out loud? This may be helpful for difficult passages. Make sure members write comments on the manuscripts they've printed out and critiqued. Don't interrupt the person giving comments. Wait your turn, and, if you're the author, be careful not to be argumentative or too defensive of your baby. You'll hear this many times, but if you hear a specific criticism more than twice, PAY ATTENTION!

Above all, as a member of a critique group, remember that criticism should be given with the goal of helping the writer improve the telling of the story. Do so with a generous spirit. As an author, remember not to take criticism personally. You should be able to take harsh criticism as well. If you are easily discouraged and want to quit writing, you probably should. This path is not for the faint of heart.