A Punch In the Gut

Everyone needs a punch in the gut once in a while. Whether it’s physical or mental, something that brings you back to reality is never a bad thing.

I got my own slap in the face last week. I was lamenting (okay, I was whining) to a writer friend that even though I’d “improved” my query, and done some tweaking to my first pages of my novel, that I was still only getting form rejections to the agents I was sending to.

She offered to take a look at my query (both old and newly revised) as well as my first five pages.

Now, this writer friend is kinda like my Texas momma, and I’ve told her so on several occasions. We laugh and joke, and I know without a doubt that if we ever have the chance to meet, after the initial awkwardness, we’d have the same relationship offline as we do on.

So when the first line of her reply was, “Get out the rifle, you’re gonna wanna shoot me”, my heart sank.

What do you mean my story isn’t ready yet? Really? I’ve been querying and making a fool of myself–again?

Basically, in all my editing, I’ve managed to leave some B.I.G. beginner errors in my novel… which is probably why I’m not getting any nibbles.

Seeing as my TX Momma is published, and works as an editorial assist to a small press AND her lit agent, I’m inclined to take her advice.

So, here’s to hunkering down–again–and doing another MAJOR pass on “Homebody”… and hopefully, I’ll get it right this time.

Until next time,

Liberty

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Writing Lessons from the Movies: "The Band Wagon"

As writers, we all know the kind of story we want to write. As well we should! If we don’t know, then what are we doing with an open Word document in front of us, trying to string words together? Having a vision for our story is important.

In the 1950s musical classic The Band Wagon, we get a great lesson about not letting go of that vision, nor allowing someone to so skew your story that it’s barely recognizable when they’re through with it.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, here’s a brief run-down. Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is a washed-up movie actor in the twilight of his career, looking to go back to his Broadway roots and return to the stage. His friends, playwrights Lester and Lily Martin (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray), have what they feel is the perfect vehicle, and persuade him to return to New York City. Upon Tony’s arrival, they take him to meet the person who they want to direct their venture, Jeffrey Cordova (James Buchanan).

Fred Astaire & Cyd Charise “Dancing in the Dark”
Picture from Wikipedia

Cordova, however, has a very different plan for Les & Lily’s upbeat musical, turning it into a musical drama that doesn’t leave the audience with a smile on their face. The show is a flop.

As the cast is commiserating and saying their goodbyes, Tony takes things into his own hands, tells Cordova that they’re going to revamp and take things back to the original show the Martin’s had planned. When they do this, The Band Wagon becomes a hit.

You can probably tell where I’m headed with this (hey, you’re smart!) but the important lesson for us writers is this: don’t let others tinker with your story unless you’re sure about the changes they’re suggesting, if it really, truly improves things. Take everything your crit partners say and look at it thoroughly and with a cautious eye. Don’t just take their suggestions as gospel truth.

When you get notes back from critters, agents, or editors (though mostly, the critters), take things in, try to see what they’re saying, then let it steep in your brain for a while. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas when I let things sit rather than making the jump into editing immediately. I’ll start thinking about one point, mull over possible changes, then sometimes, particularly if it’s major, I’ll call up the critter or meet them for coffee and have a brainstorming session. I actually have one critter from my local writer’s group that we do this nearly every time I see him. He’ll walk me to my car and we’ll stand there and talk and brainstorm.

Some of my best ideas come while we’re talking. I make a mental note, or, lately, pull up the voice recorder on my phone and make some notes as I’m driving home.

Just remember: keep in mind the vision you’ve got for your book. Not everyone is going to be pulling for you–or even see what you can see in your book’s rough form.

My question for you: Have you ever received constructive criticism from someone where their vision for your book was polar opposite from yours? If so, how did you handle it? Did it end up being helpful?

Until next time,

P.S. My good friend and sometimes guest blogger Linda Yezak’s novel is out on Kindle! When I bought it on Thursday, it was $0.99! I don’t know if it’s still that low, but I’d urge you to go buy Give the Lady a Ride. It would make her happy. — LS

Guest Blogger: Lynnette Bonner!

Please join me today in welcoming today’s guest blogger, Lynnette Bonner! Lynnette is the author of the newly released book, Rocky Mountain Oasis. You can purchase a copy through Amazon or CBD. To get it for free, check out the guidelines for an e-copy at the end of the post! Welcome, Lynnette!

The Importance of a Good Critique Group

First I want to say thanks to Liberty for allowing me to guest post here today. What a privilege.

Jumping right into our topic…. I’d like to address the importance of good critique partners today.

Let’s face it. As writers, we are surrounded by people who often don’t get the process of writing. Many people think you write a book, send it to your editor, (who promptly writes you a 6 figure check – ha! wouldn’t THAT be nice) and then it gets published a couple weeks later. Right? When I tell people that it took me 10 years to finally get my book published, they angle me “that” look – the one that says, “Is she any good if it took her that long to get published?”

This is the first reason why it is important to surround yourself with good critique partners. As writers, we are all in the same boat and can understand and sympathize with each other. I can’t tell you the number of times that my crit partners have been an encouragement to me to keep pressing forward.

The second reason is, of course, for technical errors, grammatical errors, spelling errors, etc. – all that editing junk we need to do. My two biggest areas of weakness are spelling and grammar, but I have several critique partners who are strong in those areas. I recommend you surround yourself with people who are strong in areas where you are weak.

Also, often I get so close to the story that I miss technical details that either should be included or should be excluded. Or I can’t tell if I’ve made my point clearly enough and I rely on my critique partners to let me know if I’ve come across clearly, or if I need to say more on that particular subject. Having another person’s perspective on my story is invaluable to me.

If you aren’t in a critique group and you want to be a serious writer you need to get into one right away. Larger cities often have critique groups that meet monthly. And if yours doesn’t have one that you think would work for you, why not start one? Some of you may live in small towns where you are the only writer for miles around. For you, there are lots of online critique groups you can join. ChristianWriters is a free one that has a lot of wonderful resources. There are others like ACFW that cost some to join but have lots of helpful classes and information by email. You can find people through the blogosphere and email your critiques back and forth to each other. There really are no excuses for not having a critique partner.

Let me quickly mention my book because I’m offering a free e-copy to a lucky winner drawn from the commenters on this post. Rocky Mountain Oasis is a Christian historical romance. To read more about it and see the first few chapters you can go to lynnettebonner.com. If it sounds interesting to you, leave a comment and Liberty and I will put your name into the hat for the drawing.

So, what is your critique group like? How often do you meet? What do you do at your meetings?

Lynnette Bonner ~ Inspirational Romance Author


Thanks, Lynnette!

As she said, we’re giving away a free copy to one lucky person. The winner will be announced on Monday, September 14th! Please leave a comment on this post to register, or if you become a follower of Word Wanderings between now and Sunday, September 13th (cutoff time 6 PM, Central Time), you will also be entered. If you leave a comment and become a follower, you’ll get your name put in the drawing twice! Good luck to everyone!

Until next time,

Analyze This: Critiques and how to make sure you’re getting the best ones


The first time I ever attended a critique group, I nearly made myself sick on the 20 – 25 minute drive and almost turned back once or twice. I was nervous. Would they like my work? Was it complete crap? Since I was only 17 or 18, and everyone in the group was at least twice my age, would they like and accept me?

After my work was reviewed, and it was scathing at best, I cried most of the way home. I gave serious thought to not going back. They obviously didn’t recognize that I had a masterpiece on my hands!

A few days of reflection, battling through my sudden feelings of inadequacy, and a good, hard look at the suggestions made, I decided I would go back. They would help me become a better writer.

____________

This was nearly ten years ago. As a writer, I’ve matured. My plots have become (I hope) more intricate than what I showed those ladies all that time ago. My characters, more well rounded and three dimensional. My writing better. Though still unpublished, I honestly believe the critique groups I’ve belonged to over the last ten years have improved my writing dramatically.

While there’s a multitude of styles to critique groups, the two I’ve had experience with have operated night and day differently. The one I currently attend (when my husband and daughter will let me!), you get instant critiques. Bring a chapter or two, pass it around during the course of the hour or two we’re together, get it back at the end of the night with notes from your crit partners that you can look through at your leisure. While I like the instant part of this, there’s one thing I miss from my first crit group, and that’s discussion.

The first crit group I went to as a teen operated differently. You’d bring enough copies of your work for everyone, they’d take it home, then at the next meeting, there’d be a discussion of your work. What I found interesting was how one person may not have seen something someone else did, but once it’s pointed out, they would jump on the bandwagon or vehemently disagree. I often wished I had a recorder for these sessions, they were that valuable to me.

In addition to the groups, I’ve found I have several partners that I love to get critiques from. My local friends Julia, Juliet, and Dave (all from my local crit group) all give me something different. With Julia, she’s great with helping me spot holes in my stories, character’s that aren’t acting the way they should, and also urging me to get out of my comfort zone. She and I write stories that are night and day apart, although they’re still mysteries. Juliet is actually, of all three, the one I dread giving my work to the most. While she’s very good, she’s a former creative writing professor at the local junior college, and is, for that reason, the one that helps me tighten my writing the most. Dave always has a unique perspective and, being the lone sci-fi/fantasy writer in our group, as well as the only male, helps me see things from another side, options on where I could go with a story. I value all of their feedback.

I also have a few online friends that have also helped me improve my craft. Katie, Holly, Michele, as well as others from the online website ChristianWriters all have contributed in various ways. Katie, a published novelist (see Katie’s site), is my go-to gal when I need a real tightening. She spots a lot of my flaws better than Juliet does, and I find I rely heavily on her feedback during editing. Holly and Michele are probably my favorite cheerleaders. While they’ll point out my errors with the gusto of a butcher cutting a prized-beef, I probably get more encouragement from them that I can finish my book and I can get it published, although all my crit friends are good at this, too.

So, now you’re thinking you need to get into a crit group. What do you look for? While I personally would try to look for a group that focuses on your area of writing (for me, mysteries) it’s not necessary. Sometimes depending on where you live, it’s impossible. What you do want to look for are folks that will dig into your writing, tell you what they like and what they don’t, but also explain why. While it may take some time to discover who your jewels are, the process of finding them is quite enlightening. You can find some groups via word-of-mouth (Ask around! You may be surprised who you know), writer/reader groups like Sisters in Crime or American Christian Fiction Writers, the library, or your local junior college.

Don’t discount your online options, either. While there are groups that charge for critiques, I prefer sites that don’t and that give peer critiques. Writer’s Digest will have some of these sites listed in their annual ‘101 Websites for Writers’ (I believe this year’s article was in June), but Google whatever you’re interested in–romance writers, mystery, Christian, etc. As noted above, I prefer ChristianWriters, but there’s a multitude of other good ones out there.

Whatever you do, go into it with an open mind. Don’t get defensive about a critique, or take one too personally. While the reader may be critical of your work, they’re not being critical of you, though I know that it’s sometimes difficult for us writers to not take our critiques as personal attacks. Do try to enjoy the experience. Hopefully, you’ll find some folks that will become good friends and colleagues.

Until next time,

For more information on critiques and critique groups, I highly recommend the following blog posts:
Write at Home: Top 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Critique Group
Word Sharpeners: How to Use Critiques to Improve Your Novel
Wordplay: Questions for Critique Partners