Critiquing

20 12 2013

Into every Writer’s life, some critiquing must fall.

Fellow writers ask you for feedback, reviews, close reading, affirmation, whatever. And there you are, suddenly out on the end of a very thin branch, trying to determine how best to respond.
Sometimes you get lucky. The stories you are asked to read are well-written, need only a few tweaks, show promise. The requester genuinely wants feedback.

Sometimes you get regimented. The Canadian Authors Association has a great process for critiquing, following careful rules established over years to provide the most information with the least hurt. Everyone plays along and everyone learns.

And sometimes, you are stuck, gawping, at some really inescapably horrid writing, over which you spot the hopeful eyes of the writer, begging you to find something, anything, encouraging to say.
Some people can’t write. They do things like forget the noun-verb-noun basics of sentences. They write vignettes and call them stories (been guilty of that myself). They write chocolate-box stories so ridden with cliche the sugar hurts your teeth and you long for a Thomas Kinkaid painting to cut the ache.

And it never fails. These people are the ones who are most persuaded of their writing skills. They argue, get hurt, stomp off when you ever so gently suggest a rewrite…or they send you hateful emails when you review their self-published books and don’t give 4 stars…

There are only a few folks I trust with giving me feedback on my stories. I recently had yet another bad experience with a critique group and it reminded me of why I am so picky.

And it made me long for a group of kindred spirit writers to talk with.

Check out “Story is a State of Mind”, the intensive program, if you’d like some useful and encouraging feedback. The course, by Sarah Selecky, is one of the most useful ones I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken a lot of courses. I’m going to miss it, now that I’m done. Great feedback, charmingly given. Just what a critique should be. I’ve taken notes, for the next time some soft writer heart asks for advice.

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Drifting gaily along

3 11 2013

I signed up for Sarah Selecky’s excellent Story is a state of Mind online course and I’m in the intensive mode, where we actually have to do the work and get in assignments and such.
This latest one is freaking me out a bit, especially in line with Nanowrimo. For both things, I’m doing what Sarah calls “drift” – holding my pen like it’s going to write independently, and then relaxing and letting my mind go, letting my subconscious find it’s own way, let things float by and pour out on the page.
I find this approach helpful for first drafts. I start with a sketch of a character and then let them explore their world, showing parts of themselves in every interaction.
The challenge is trying to do it with two very different stories simultaneously.
It’s like multitasking, and me poor wee MS brain doesn’t do that so well these days.
So, if you see me and my eyes are spinning in two different directions, bear with me. I’m following a hero and a demon. They aren’t drifting together….
Though maybe they could…hmmmmm.





Loving your inner editor, or why too much freewriting might screw you up

19 02 2013

Everyone seems to love freewriting. Julia Cameron, with her morning pages, even Sarah Selecky in her

Story is a state of mind

online course (which I’ve just started). Everyone in writing classes and conferences and lectures and such tell we learning writers to just write and write and write, and never mind the level of crap that spills from our pens.
The aim is good – get the writer over the hump of feeling ridiculous or frozen into immobility.
I’ve got a million journals filled up with my scrawling, and then there’s this blog thing. I love writing down vignettes of scenes at the coffee shop, doodling writings with the starter of “I remember”, digging in my head to clarify my thinking, sort out my loose threads, play with the colours of the windmills of my mind.
I seek comfy pens that can skim across the page without slowing my thoughts. I choose journals carefully so the paper has just the right give.
Have I published a lot of stories, novels, articles?
Nope. I’m having too much fun freewriting with my writing time. It’s easy. It doesn’t need a plot, well-drawn characters, believability. I can tell myself I am a writer simply because I am writing, right? It’s not about having people read my writings, is it?
I would actually argue that most freewriting is really another source of procrastination. Sure, if you can’t get going, do a bit here and there. Explore a thought while you warm up your creative mind.
But Cameron’s 3 pages daily risks exhausting that creative spark on what really often ends up being pages of dreck.
Sure, sometimes there’s something to mine from the pages. Sometimes an idea will pop up that is worth pursuing. Not often, though.
What needs to happen is the hard work of writing a coherent story, rewriting it, and finding it a home. Clutch your inner editors in an embrace and welcome them then – they are just what you need.
Because writing is meant to be good. It’s meant to mean something. It is meant to be shared.








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