Archive for the ‘Critique’ Category
Recently I’ve been knee deep in revision, doing some critiques for friends, and answering some writerly questions at a bookstore event. The collision of these processes has gotten me thinking and I’ve come to the conclusion that we writers are never as good as we think we are. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s hard to see the forrest through the trees. We get so immersed in the manuscript we’re working on that we lose all sense of perspective. We forget that just because we are turning around our best work, doesn’t mean it’s THE BEST WORK. And sometimes it also means that our best isn’t yet good enough in the publication competition. This is a very hard lesson to digest.
As I look back through all the phases of my writing journey, focusing on the times when I was ready, I realize that these moments were often more about me feeling ready than the work being ready. Sometimes I’d exhausted my capabilities, other times I was so freaking sick of the story I couldn’t look at it another minute. Sometimes there were deadlines. Other times I thought it was perfect. Silly me–perfect does not exist. I lacked objectivity. Often I still do. But that is not always a bad thing. Publishing is a tough business. It pays to have a little hubris mixed in with our neuroticism. It gives us the courage to keep going in the face of great odds.But that only works if we also have the ability to take criticism and use it constructively. I’m aware that everyone is wired a little differently, and what works for one, doesn’t always work for another, but here’s my takeaway…
I need criticism–it’s the platform that I use to plant my feet and push off of. Now, no–I’m not talking about the critique your crazy Aunt Myrtle gives you, that comes with her suggestions acted our in front of the family at the holiday get together when she hasn’t even read your book. I’m also not talking about the vicious review that says your kids are doomed to a life of hell because you, dear sucky author, are unfortunately their mother. That kind of feed back doesn’t count. I’m talking about the level headed stuff. Writer friends, agents, authors, editors, teachers, passionate readers. I’m talking about thoughtful advice. I repeat. I am never as good of a writer as I think I am and that feedback helps me. I know this is true because I look at what my book and manuscripts were like before I used the feedback and I look at what my writing was like after the feedback. Big surprise (NOT!) 99% of the time the work is ALWAYS better after the feedback.
So, on your quest for writing perfection, I urge you to be a sponge. Absorb all the universe has to offer you, then take the best and forget the rest. And here’s the thing about writers never being as good as they think they are. It works the other way too–sometimes, the writers who are ready, are also never as good as they think they are–they’re better. My guess is it’s because they learned today’s lesson too well–you can always get better with hard work and effort.
How do you deal with feedback on your writing? Do you cry and then wrap your mind around it later? Does it not even ruffle your feathers? Does it sting quick like a Band-Aid, but you get over it super quick? Do you avoid it at all costs? Yell and tantrum at the person foolish enough to try to help you? Does it depend on the day?
I’m going to make this as streamlined as I possibly can because it’s 10:00pm on my last cleanse day and even the cat food is starting to look really good. LOL! The sooner I go to bed the sooner I wake up to the world of normal eating. And although I’m talking about the cleanse, it’s not the cleanse itself that has made me behind tonight. I just hit the SEND button. The revised manuscript for THE OPPOSITE OF GRAVITY is in the hands of my critters!!!! This means it’s not long now until my agent has it in her hands. I’m thrilled and scared–a typical author reaction to just about everything in the publishing process.
So, obviously I’ve been cleansing AND revising, which has made me realize that both of these things are really quite similar. Both are actions that do a deep cleaning in order to arrive at a better version of the current product. I could wax poetic about all the weird connections but honestly I’d rather go drink some organic veggie broth. But since a lot of you have asked about the cleanse I thought I’d give a a few quick tips and take aways from the experience.
First of all, I used a 9 Day Isagenix Cleanse. I’ve used it before to good results. My last cleanse was probably close to two years ago. I decided to do one now because I had gotten to a place where I NEEDED to do this to feel better. I always know when I need to do it because this isn’t the kind of thing I enjoy doing, even though I enjoy the end result. If you’d like to find out more about it, I have a friend who is involved with the program. You can contact Stephanie HERE.
If you plan on doing this or any other cleanse, here’s a few tips I’ve come up with that are helpful…
*Wean yourself off of caffeine slowly before the cleanse. I don’t do a lot of caffeine and I had almost a 2 day headache and I think it was possibly from sugar withdrawal. Help yourself out by cutting back on at least some stuff incrementally.
*Go into the cleanse with the odds stacked in your favor. I timed the cleanse so I wasn’t doing it on a holiday or ski trip. I also put myself out publicly, which works for me. Making public declarations helps me to have that group mentality and it works. I also gave myself a sort of mantra to think about. I didn’t have a specific phrase, but I concentrated on mind over matter. I wanted to feel that I was driving my own ship. I also wanted to feel healthy again. I also thought about skinny people I really don’t like and used them as motivation. *grin*
*Specifically for Isagenix–after the first day and a half–I couldn’t stomach the chocolate wafers used on cleanse days. I couldn’t do another one. I opted for a teaspoon of sliced almonds and a half an apple or some organic veggie broth. Seriously, I will never eat another wafer again. Ever. Be a little flexible. I also added fresh and frozen organic fruits and veggies to my shake on the five shake days. I had no dessert all the way up until right before the last two cleanse days. I was dying for a piece of chocolate, so I had a few squares of organic 85% Green and Blacks chocolate. It helped me to not be overwhelmed by that craving during the last two days. Flexibility is cool as long as it’s not sabotage.
*On cleanse days I found that varying the temperature and flavors of my liquids helped a lot. In the mornings I put hot water with lemon in a thermal cup to sip. In the evening I used the organic veggie broth because dinner was the hardest for me to skip. I was both physically hungry and emotionally hungry at that point in the day.
*On cleanse days I rested if I needed to and if I felt good, I walked for 60 minutes (15 min mile) This was hard for me because I’m a runner and I hate toning things down, but I also knew that I’d burn through my energy too quick and probably make myself so hungry I’d cheat. The walking worked out really well and on the shake days I did my usual.
Time for the take aways:
I lost 6.66 lbs over the nine days and my BMI dropped by 1.7 Woo hoo!!! I lost weight and inches and my clothes are fitting very differently–I no longer feel like a sausage in a casing. Overall, I feel great and I also feel VERY un-stuck. Now I’m very vested in not wasting all this effort by binging now that I’m done. I’ve shown myself what I’m capable of doing–normal, healthy eating, by comparison, should be a breeze. Seeing and feeling results is very motivating so even though I won’t be doing another cleanse any time soon–I am really glad I did it.
Are you revising and/or cleansing? Any questions about either? I’m too tired and hungry to think of more questions–add your own.
I am so excited. *fist pump* I’m almost done with my revision of THE OPPOSITE OF GRAVITY and I’m confident I’ll be turning it over to my crit partners this week!!!! I’ll be tweaking and tinkering some more while my critters do their magic, then I’ll have to turn around their suggestions. But even with that left on my plate, I’m up over the hump of this monster. I feel really, really good right now and I try to never ignore those little moments of success. *Woo Hoo!* Those highs are what gives me momentum to get back up the other side when I hit the next hump in the publication process.
And though putting myself out there–the waiting and risk of failure is hard–you know that I’m a girl who gets excited about possibility. The idea of getting this book back into the hands of my agent gives me tingles.
These are some of my favorite P words besides pizza and plethora. My little book is growing up and getting ready to go out into the world. *grin* This makes me very happy. A little nervous, but very, very happy.
Where are you in your writing process or in any big life project you’re working on? Do you like roller coasters? Are you able to celebrate each individual hump that you rise above? And do you scream on the way down????
So…funny story. Several years I ago I sat next to K.M. Walton at the NY SCBWI Writer’s Intensive. It was my second table of the day and we were right next to each other–unpublished, eager, sponges–looking for a way to get noticed or take our writing to the next level. We each read our page and a half of text and got our critiques. After the event was over, we stayed at the table to talk for a couple of minutes, admiring each other’s writing.
Fast forward to 2011 when I sold TOUCHING THE SURFACE to Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Who do I discover is also a brand new, soon to be debut author with me? You guessed it (but in all honesty I made it easy) it was K. M. Walton. Both of our manuscripts from the Intensives were going to be published to the same imprint LOL!
That wonderful manuscript that I got a sneak peek at that day sooooo long ago has turned into the YA novel CRACKED.
CRACKED by K.M. Walton
Victor hates his life. He’s relentlessly bullied at school and his parents ridicule him for not being perfect. He’s tired of being weak, so he takes a bottle of his mother’s sleeping pills — only to wake up in the hospital.
Bull is angry, and takes all of his rage out on Victor. He’s the opposite of weak. And he’s tired of his grandfather’s drunken beatings, so he tries to defend himself with a loaded gun.
When Victor and Bull end up as roommates in the same psych ward, things go from bad to worse. Until they discover they just might have something in common: a reason to live.
You can purchase a copy of CRACKED here…
*Barnes & Noble
Kimberly Sabatini’s Review of CRACKED…
It’s a simple as that.
Bullying is a pervasive issue in our society today and more people need to be reading a book like this. Why? What makes this one special? I have a few reasons why I think this is a stand out. But first, I’ll be honest with you… K. M. Walton is a friend, an Apocalypsie and a fellow author at Simon Pulse. I sort of wish this wasn’t true because there will be many people that assume that my respect and love for CRACKED is influenced by those connections. I’d like to take a moment to convince you why this isn’t true.
In the past I’ve been a special education teacher that specialized in children with emotional and behavioral issues. My father was a counselor in a maximum security prison. The first year I taught I can remember coming home and asking my dad…”Where is the line?” He looked at me funny, wanting to know what line I was talking about. Then I explained that the children I worked with were obviously victims. Their issues were clearly connected to the things that had happened to them in their lives. But what I wanted to know was if they couldn’t be helped, what day would they stop being victims and what day would they start to be bullies, offenders, abusers, prisoners? Suddenly everything was a blur to me. When might these children go from being someone I loved and wanted to help to being someone who might turn around to someone else and do the same things that were done to them? This thought and these children have weighed heavy on my heart all my life.
K.M. Walton doesn’t give me the ultimate answer to this bigger than life problem, but she throws ropes to her readers–giving them something to hold on to. More important, she raises question and she does it will great skill. I don’t think any one book or one person can give us the answers to such a large hole in humanity, but this is the kind of book that asks us to dig deeper as readers. It is a book that crakes creates sparks–the hope of illumination. It renews the fire within me to make the world a better, safer place–to stand up and have a voice. It helps me to put the people around me into perspective, so I can better navigate those who hurt. Because bullying doesn’t happen to just children. It reminds me that the world is not black and white–but grey–full of shades of truth that blur the lines between right and wrong, good and bad and ultimately life or death.
I highly recommend CRACKED by K.M. Walton and if you’re moved by the writing of John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson and K.L. Going, then I think you have a new hero to add to your bookshelves. If you read CRACKED I would love to hear what you thought. <3
K.M. Walton is the oldest of four girls and her three younger sisters are her best friends. Gag, right? But she’s serious. She openly challenges you to challenge her sisters’ awesomeness because there’s no way you’d win.
She has a mom, who is her other best friend. More gagging. Again, she says there isn’t a better (or cooler, or smarter, or more beautiful – inside and out) mom on this entire planet. K. M. apologizes to anyone reading this that thinks their mother is the best mother on the planet – she says it’s not possible for two women to hold the title, and her mom wins. So there.
She had a dad, a really smart and gentle dad who loved her the best way he knew how, but he passed away from cancer when he was only 51. Ouch. K. M. wants anyone out there reading her bio to know one thing: Love the people you love while you have them here – even when it’s hard to love them – because when they’re gone all you have left are memories. And you can’t hug a memory.
She’s also got this totally hot and totally cool husband that is, in every sense of the idea, her better half. She met him when she was 19; he was her next door neighbor in the dorm. Her stomach got all squishy when she first laid eyes on him and she announced to all of her girlfriends, in a rather dramatic fashion, “No one else can like Todd from down the hall because I like him, and I’m making him my boyfriend this semester.” Her friends all abided by her request. And she did make him her boyfriend; they’ve been together ever since. For the record, just so everyone knows, she’s still in love with him and it’s been 24 years since the day they met. Awesome, eh?
She has two sons who, you guessed it, are the best two kids in the world. Yep, another challenge. They are thoughtful and kind, genuine and funny, brilliant and creative, and she swears she couldn’t be more proud of how they are turning out.
K. M. had a dream when she was a little girl. Actually she had a gazillion dreams and she spent a large amount of her childhood dreaming. Her one dream was to be a teacher. Her three sisters – the same awesome chicks from the first paragraph – played her “students” in the basement while she played teacher. And they still like her even after that. Teaching became a reality for K. M. and she taught for twelve glorious and spectacular years – some of it in Osteen, Florida and most of it in Springfield, Pennsylvania (Hi, Osteen Elementary and ETR Middle School!!).
Writing, it turns out, is K. M. Walton’s favorite thing to do in the whole world. Even the hard parts – and there are a lot of hard parts. She is very, very thankful that she is where she is on her journey as a writer. And she can’t wait to see where the road leads her…
And if you love CRACKED, like anticipate you will. Watch for EMPTY expected out on January 1, 2013…
Dell is relentlessly teased about her weight, and she’s devastated when a tender moment with her long-time crush turns violent. Distraught and isolated after the attack, Dell’s depression—and life—spins out of control.
Finding that food no longer eases her pain, Dell turns to her mother’s prescription pain pills. But what starts as a quick fix rapidly escalates. How far will Dell go to make the loneliness, the self-loathing, the heartbreak, the shame, and the name-calling stop?
You can find out more about K.M. Walton and CRACKED and EMPTY here…
Today my fellow authors at teamTEENauthor are also talking about bullying. Here is a list of their blogs if you’d like to stop by and check them out…
Have you read CRACKED? Any other great books on bullying that you loved and think are important? Have you been bullied? How did you handle it? Are you being bullied and need help?
I don’t know if I mentioned that my friend Linda Hanlon and I have taken over as
co-conspirators co-coordinators for The Hudson Valley Shop Talk. This is my local writer’s group for the SCBWI Eastern New York. We had our second meeting of the year yesterday (I missed the first get together due to attending the New York SCBWI Conference) so for me, it felt like the first. I’ll admit it–I was a little nervous but I think it went well. We are still in a kind of transitional phase, trying to see what works best for the group. But I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you and see what you guys like out of your writer’s groups.
First of all, this group is a very mixed bag. Not everyone will be able to attend all the time, there will be a mixture of illustrators and writers from picture book to novel and there will also be a range of members from newbie to published.
This is a tough group to work with. Because of the diversity it can be very hard to meet everyone’s individual needs IF you think of Shop Talk as primarily a place to get a critique done on your work. But you guessed it–I don’t think of it that way. I know you’ve heard me mention this before, but I think of these Shop Talk meetings as a tribe gathering place–almost like a family reunion. All good families have a mixture of people at varies ages and stages of life and for Shop Talk to be an effective tool for all of us, I think we need to treat it as our tribal reunion for the month.
Here is what I see happening at a successful Shop Talk…
*Information and resources are readily available-Anyone new, walking in for the first time, should have a plethora of information about the SCBWI at their finger tips. Every month we will be adding more resources to our reference documents.
*A monthly book club where we all read one PB and one MG/YA book and briefly discuss it as WRITERS. It’s an optional exercise but it helps us all to learn to read with an eye towards craft.
*A monthly topic. On Saturday we talked about critique groups. We touched upon the traditional skills that are needed to give feedback. We also addressed a common occurrence–negating our own worth when it comes to giving feedback. We need to acknowledge that our critique skills will grow with time and practice, but that we are all capable of giving a thoughtful response as a reader. Then we discussed a blog post by Kristen Lamb, which suggest that we would benefit from being a Non-Tradtional Critique group. I have to agree. It is my personal belief that there is a limited amount a large, mixed, rotating group of people can truly do for each person’s individual manuscript. Instead we need to focus on learning general critique skills, working with big picture plot/synopsis critiques, creating relationships that will result in successful critique partners/groups and beta readers. We also need to utilize the diversity in our tribe to foster mentorship within the group. I began attending Shop Talk meetings with no real knowledge or skills about writing or publishing–I learned everything I know from the SCBWI and other children’s writers. I feel that there is no better way to say thank you for what I was given than to pay it forward. I’m inspired by the idea that the Hudson Valley Shop Talk will be a community where we all share and learn from each other.
*We need to take it to the streets–or the book stores or the restaurants or online. For this group to harness the power of it’s members we need to be in contact more than just for 2+ hours a month. Friday some of us will be heading to one of our local independent bookstores for a YA author event. We’ve got an online group on Facebook to help stay in touch and we’ll be putting together an email list so we can stay connected. Additionally,there are SCBWI conference events, book festivals and more coming down the pike. I’m excited to get to know everyone a little bit more.
I’ll be honest–I’m sure some of our best laid plans–well you know how that goes LOL! But I’m hopeful and really, isn’t that the best way to be? So, now it’s time for you to step up dear reader–whether you’re in my local Shop Talk or not. You don’t even have to be in a writer’s group to have an opinion of what you’d like out of a group. Spill. Tell me your wishes. Share your best tips.
I’ve been thinking about manuscript critiques a lot lately. This might be because I’m evaluating the manuscripts of two different friends. It’s a ton of fun, but so much work. It is a time consuming process, but if you do it right, it can be as beneficial to you as it is for the person you’re helping.
Have you ever critiqued someone else’s writing?
It is scary (or at least it was for me) the first couple times I did it. I second guessed everything I commented on. Then I expended just as much energy worrying about what I had missed. I was convinced that I was an idiot who lacked the magic editorial gene. I KNEW I was doing it wrong.
What I didn’t realize is that critiquing is a lot like writing. It’s a muscle that gets stronger when it’s flexed. Or to make it easier to visualize–it’s just like running. The more you do the activity, the better you become at it. You get faster and go further. But running doesn’t just make you a better runner, as you become stronger, you become a better athlete. The benefits carry over.
So how does this translate to writing? Sometimes it’s hard to practice the things that we’re learning (about writing) in our own writing. We have so many balls up in the air at one time, some days we’re just lucky not to knock ourself unconscious trying to keep them all aloft. CLONK! When we work on someone else’s manuscript, we have the distance needed to safely practice using the tools in our bag of tricks. And the beauty of this, is that our critique partner wants the exact same skill-set we’re bringing to the table. They want fresh eyes. It’s win-win for everyone.
Now, I freely admit that over time, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in my ability to make suggestions in a manuscript. The very fact that I’ve been through several rounds of edits with my brilliant editor, Anica Rissi
of Simon Pulse
, has given me the equivalent of a master class in critiquing. And I won’t lie–I’m a lot more helpful now than I ever was. Do I still have a long way to go? You betcha! But, even when I started critiquing and didn’t really know my ass from my elbow–you know what? I was still giving a good and helpful critique.
Seriously–I was–because I cared. I read the manuscript with the same attention that I would want for my own book. I commented with praise for the things that I thought were well done. I tried to be honest in a kind way. My suggestions for improvement were not attacks. I gave a good critique because, at the core, I’m an avid reader. I might not have been able to point out the same details I know today, but I could give an honest evaluation of when I was confused and state why. I could tell you why character A made me swoon and why character B infuriated me. In the margins, I carefully logged my organic responses as a reader. And even though a question I raised, might get clarified two sentences later, the author now had a running record of my thoughts and how I processed their writing. This is valuable.
If you are a writer, you should have your work critiqued. You’ll learn a tremendous amount from the experience. You should also evaluate the writing of your peers. It is an equally powerful exercise. In the video below, Jackson Pearce
gives a visual guide of how to work with a critique partner. She gives great advice.
Take it a step further if you must… There are lots of things that you can do to enhance the critique experience. There are a million blogs and books and videos that will give you wonderful advice on how to do it better. Or even how to survive a bad critique partner. *shudders*
But in my opinion, if you’re a kind and thoughtful person, the only way you can really mess up a critique, is by being too afraid to try. So get out there and throw on those scarves, hats and gloves. Pull the skirt out of your Buddy’s underwear. We are a tribe. We work together to up the quality of everyones writing. And equally as important, to ensure that no one gets picked to star in the show What Not to Wear. Team work is excellent!
What is your favorite tip for critiquing or being critiqued?
Additional critiquing resources: