Support And Sounding Boards – Share Your Unfinished Work

The value of support, and a sounding board, during the writing process can be immeasurable.  While there are writers who keep their work locked in a vault of secrecy until the first (sometimes second and third) draft is finished, I am not one of them. I have never been able to complete a chapter without support, feedback, constructive criticism, and encouragement from advance readers.

Call it artistic insecurity, or call it vanity, but I get a little boost when I hear, “Wow that rocked!”. The enthusiasm of advance readers can be just the kick in the rear you need to keep going. I often (no less than three times a day) and like many other writers think, “Why am I writing this?  Have I completely lost my mind?” The backing and encouragement of a trusted friend reminds my of my motives for writing. I write to be read.

Sharing what you write when you are at the top of your game can come in handy when your self esteem takes a dive, too. Your advance readers can reignite your enthusiasm and excitement. When you face that nasty bout of writer’s block they’re there to push you to keep writing. When the work knocks you on your rear they’re there to pull you to your feet and dust you off.

My favorite thing about the champions of my writing is their never tiring of willingness to brainstorm with me. They don’t mind reading the same paragraph twelve times. Sometimes it’s just a thought or word they share that spurs my imagination. A five minute conversation can turn into three thousand words and a captivating new plot twist.

A true advocate will also spread the word when your work is done. He’ll back it as if it were their own.  Friends will feel a sense of shared ownership and pride in the finished product and be eager to help you market the work.

Without the supporters who spend countless hours reading, critiquing, and loving my work, I’m not sure I could have finished my first novel, let alone plunged into the ones that followed.

What are some of the other ways you stay inspired? Who do you trust with your work before it’s finished? What do your advance readers do for you?

If you haven’t shared your work yet, I highly recommend it, and I guarantee a smile.

The Opinions, Critiques, and Reviews of Advance Readers

I already had this thought bouncing in my head when I logged on this morning. It’s why I logged on to make a post. Before I wrote it down, though, I had to go peek at the headlines of the other blogs I follow, and thought it was funny that Time of Nervous Waiting was sitting out there approaching this from a very different perspective. It’s not really a parallel, more like a perpendicular. (And that, folks, is about all the geometry I know).

Anyway…as I started writing this, I realized it needed to be two posts – one rife with opinion, and the other more advice-based. This is the advice half – you’ll need to hop over to my personal blog to read the opinion half.

When I first get a story idea – when it’s bouncing around in my skull and begging to be listened to – it’s in the format I want it to be in. It’s the story I want to hear, and it’s got the characters I want it to have. Frequently it even makes it into first draft form that way. And if I was only writing for me, it would stay that way forever. To say that I dislike revising my work would be a gross understatement.

But I’m not just writing it for me. I want other people to see my work. I want it to speak to them the way the original idea spoke to me, and I want to evoke emotions and build worlds that allow them to escape, even if it’s only for a little while. That, and I love the rush that comes from seeing my name in print.

That means during the revision process, I have to make changes and tweaks so the story appeals to other readers. I have to clarify things that make sense to me only because it’s my world. I have to edit, refine, define characters, and pour depth into the original thought. I don’t think like other people – everyone thinks differently, I’m not unique in that regard – so that means I need help figuring out what components are missing, convoluted, unneeded, you get the point.

If you’ve ever heard that you should have people read your work and give their opinions before you submit it, it’s true. That’s not advice you can ignore. I envy those writers who have a wide enough circle of friends that they can get honest feedback from people they know in real life. That doesn’t mean mom tells you it’s wonderful and gives you another piece of apple pie. It means George in accounting spends the bus ride home pouring over your words and then says, “Why did your protagonist jump? Where’s the passion in your relationship? And by the way, I absolutely loved your spy agency; it was so real to me.”

Even though George in accounting doesn’t care one way or the other for my angels, I’m fortunate enough to belong to two online critique groups that do exactly that for me. I don’t always agree with their opinions, but I wouldn’t be what I am today without them. Two and a half years ago when I first ‘met’ some of them, I thought my work was ready to go to press tomorrow. Yeah…it wasn’t. I would have gone through rounds and rounds of rejections from publishers and agents and never known why if I hadn’t learned to listen to them, and trust my own instinct about which advice to take and when.

I guess the point is – even if you’re the next George Orwell, William Shakespeare, or Danielle Steele – don’t believe it until you can find opinions you trust to confirm it. It may take some digging, but there are people out there who want to read and give advice on what you’ve written. If there weren’t, you wouldn’t have a market for your story, right? After all, that first draft is for you, the final draft is for everyone else.

Where do you go for opinions, reviews, and critique of your writing?

What you write is NOT what readers read

I absolutely HATE people who explain what a writer’s writing MEANT.
You know the ones I mean. University professors, English majors, the guy next to you when you walk out of the latest blockbuster at the cinema. They have this look. It’s as if all wisdom has been revealed only to them. They’ve “discovered” the true meaning of all things.

“Have you ever read Shakespeare’s 36th Sonnet? (you can read it here) He wrote it for a brothel woman. See here, he alludes to the fact that while they could enjoy making love together it meant nothing for him and did not weaken the true love he felt for another.” ~Me, were I ever to become one of those people who try to tell William Shakespeare what his poems really meant.


NO!

STOP!

Don’t you dare!

What Shakespeare may or may not have been alluding to in his 36th Sonnet he and only he knows. His words are unique to him and the context and meaning behind each carefully crafted phrase connects with memories that are not ours.

When you read, you are not reading the heart and mind of the writer, you’re not reading what he wrote or what he meant to write. Every word on the page is uniquely YOURS. You cannot read Shakespeare’s 36th Sonnet, you gaze at those fourteen lines of iambic pentameter and read YOUR Shakespeare’s 36th.

Every time we write we do so with our own truth and meaning. We allude to our personal experience. We create uniquely for ourselves a story no one else will ever read. Every best-selling book is not a single story, but rather infinite stories bound in a single book. Every reader reads his or her own story.

Do you think you’re reading MY post right now? You’re not. You’re reading your translation, your personal interpretation of my post. Every word is shaded, tilted, shaped, and changed in your reading of it. Your mind weighs and judges. It lifts each word from the page and sorts it, comparing it to your personal and uniquely individual understanding of that word.

Your memories and experience shape everything you read into something other than what the writer wrote. Even now your mind is grabbing at fragments that refute or concur with what I’m telling you. Its remembering situations where this truth was true or not true for you. And every time you read, the memories and experiences you’ve had between each reading creates a whole new story.

Now, can you tell me what any writer truly meant without having asked the writer? Can you truly know that writer’s mind or is a story’s worth and meaning merely a reflection of your personal insight. It’s meaning is yours, Shakespeare’s meaning is his own, and so is mine.


Shakespeare clearly agrees with me.
From Shakespeare’s 24th Sonnet

And perspective it is the painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictured lies;


~ William Shakespeare.
Click here to read all fourteen lines of Sonnet 24.

Have you ever discussed a story with others and wondered if they were reading the same book as you? How have readers transformed your writing from your original intent in their personal interpretations and reviews of it?

Free Write Against the Blank Page

A Guest Post By Kimberlee Ferrell.
Enjoying small town life and her two daughters, Kimberlee Ferrell still carves out time to write. Her blog, Freedom Writing, explores writing, parenting, and anything that flows out of her pen. Stop by to investigate the inner workings of her mind, and to learn more about her copywriting, proofreading, and editing expertise. Strong coffee and walnut brownies will be provided.

The blank page stares me in the face again. I am trying to write this post, but the lack of words on the screen paralyzes me. It causes the greatest writers among us to freeze up, and decide to wash the dishes, walk the dog, or do anything else but stare back at the empty canvas.

As writers, we face this on a daily basis. With each new article, blog post, or short story, we come full circle, to give birth to a new idea, to share our words with others. We turn to a fresh page in our notebooks or turn on our processing program, then stop. The glaring white page is empty, and our minds fill with doubts. “Where should I begin?” “What should I write about?” “Does anyone care about what I have to say?” “Are there really any original ideas?”

These thoughts and doubts can instantly send your muse to a vacation in the Bahamas, without you. There is a way to rekindle your writing: the free write. Many writers have used this technique to work past their writer’s block, and write no matter how they feel. I first discovered this exercise in Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in free writing, or just looking for an excellent read. She illustrates how to free write without expectations, and how to mine your first draft for those golden nuggets of exposition.

There are many ways to free write, and there is no one right way. There are two key techniques that I use when free writing. I set a timer in my head or on my desk, to give myself an immediate deadline. I also never stop writing for any reason. Do not be tempted to fix your spelling or grammar, save it for the editing phase. Choose one of these free writes the next time your fingers refuse to hit the keyboard.

Write the thoughts running through your head. When your inner editor casts doubts on everything from your lack of vocabulary to what you ate for breakfast, get it out on paper. Write whatever is bothering you at this moment. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and just keep writing every random thought that enters your head, whether it is related to writing or not. Let your mind dump its cluttered thoughts onto the page, and then set it aside. Your mind can relax, knowing you have addressed whatever was bothering you. Plus, you have written a few hundred words. Keep the momentum going, and dive into your writing project.

Write anything about your chosen topic. Sometimes you don’t know where to begin. Give yourself permission to dive headfirst into your topic, and write anything about it. Don’t worry about writing a captivating lead, or placing your thoughts into logical order. Cover the length and breadth of your topic, as the ideas come to you. You can always organize it later. This technique unearths new ideas I hadn’t considered before, adding depth to the final draft.

Write down topic ideas. This free write can be written traditionally, or in list form. Brainstorm a list of anything you want to write about. You can write a list of article titles, blog ideas, or conflicts for your main character. Once you have exhausted your list of ideas, go back over each and write a few sentences to flesh out your idea in more detail. This technique generates a lot of new leads over a short period of time.

Write something completely different. When your current project is wholly uninspiring, try writing something in a different topic, genre, or format. For example, if you are having trouble writing another SEO article, write a few pages of your novel instead. Once you’ve given your brain some free time, you can switch back to your project and get to work.

These are just a few of the possible ways you can use free writing to rejuvenate your writing juices. Once you start to write, the words come quick and easy.

The key is to sit down, and just write.

How have you incorporated free writes into your writing life? Do you have any other types of free writes to share? Leave a comment to let everyone know what works for you when you encounter the blank page.

Find or Establish a Local Writer’s Group

Have you ever participated in a local writer’s group? In some areas it can be challenging to find any group of writers who gather regularly let alone the right group to suit your individual needs. Thankfully, there are online communities that can create an ideal home, but can it compare to the camraderie and rhetoric that a group of local writer’s generate?

Becca from Write On Wednesday asks her readers,
What would be your criteria for the perfect writer’s group?


In the past I’ve searched for writer’s group that meet these five musts for my own needs:-

  1. Meeting together an a convenient time
  2. One of the hardest challenges when finding a local writer’s group is having the time available when others are gathering. For me this means trying to fit into hours when both my children are at school or finding a group that welcomes children. Do you prefer to gather for a morning group? Or an evening? Accomodating a time that suits everyone interested in joining the group can be difficult and this can be a good reason to create a group at a time that suits you.

  3. A blend of experience levels
  4. You certainly don’t want to develop a group of “Blind Leading Blind” novices. There also wouldn’t be much point to a group consisting entirely of writer’s who believe they know all they need to know. Developing a blend of experience levels gives members an opportunity to follow their mentors or aid mentees. More experienced writers can learn a great deal from those who are just finding their feet, and vice versa.

  5. Similar genre or type interests
  6. Those writers seeking poetry critique will find better advice from fellow poets. Those who write non-fiction may prefer to read other non-fiction. Genre specific writers may build a stronger foundation with other writers of the same genre. This is another good reason to begin your own group rather than join an existing one. If your preferred type or genre doesn’t have an exclusive group perhaps it is time to begin one.

  7. A firm basis for acceptable critique
  8. set the rules early. In a group environment it can be confusing if some writers rip in and others offer only polite nods. It is important to have a solid foundation for the kind and style of critique acceptable. Never join a group that is abusive or derogative to anyone. Your ideal writers group needs to share supportive, constructive critique with a balance of encouraging comments.

  9. A commitment to encouraging growth and motivation
  10. Just as you want to ensure a foundation for critique the lifts writers your group focus should be on the encouragement of growth and motivation. You should leave your regular gatherings with a renewed passion and drive to return to your individual writing. Share experiences, invite lessons, and push each other forward with love and consideration.

Finding a group that adheres to these five traits might be difficult. That doesn’t mean you cannot found one of your own. Find a location that suits your needs, arrange a time that works best for you, decide the type and genre you wish to focus upon, and write a foundation for critique and encouragement.

Show up for your writer’s meeting regularly. Meet with yourself. Advertise the group to others. Be welcoming as newcomers tread the waters of your group. It may be slow to grow but in time you’ll gather a sampling of writer’s who blend with your ideals and who bring a new element to each others work.

This new kinship is a true gift that will be cherished long into the future. From the humble beginnings of a writer’s group you all progress to greater things.

Have you found your ideal writers group? Do you have experience with starting your own? What is it you look for when gathering with local writers? What other local writing experiences have you enjoyed?

Are you a Western Australian Writer?
Every Thursday afternoon from 12:30pm until 2:30pm I gather at Seville Grove Library (formerly Westfield). I’d love to welcome other science fiction / fantasy novelists. Children are welcome, as are laptops.

Do you gather with an existing writer’s group?
Share your groups details in the comments so other local writers can visit!

Critiquing Your Critics

Critiques and reviews are an important part of every writer’s success. There are many helpful responses readers, writers, editors and agents will give you but along with these you’ll often find much of the feedback you receive will be of no use to you. Some suggestions, if followed, could actually prove problematic for your writing’s success. This occurs for many reasons, so what should you look for when you critique your critics?

1. Accuracy – Firstly of course it’s important to make sure your critic is accurate in his or her comments.

When it comes to suggestions on alternate spelling and grammar, various dialects and locations can differ in opinion. For example, some words when read by an English audience should be spelled differently then they would be if written for American readers. This is important to remember when you are writing for a specific audience but the real rule in this case is to be consistent. You are not incorrect if you use one spelling over the other since both are correct but it is important to maintain the same regional choices throughout your piece.

Some corrections and suggestions readers may make will simply be incorrect. If you’re not sure, always double check in a reliable dictionary or style guide. Check your resources and confirm your facts and your source. It’s better to be sure than to be mistaken.

2. Style and Voice – Some critics will comment on points that are purely personal choice.

Style and Voice are two things that are uniquely you. It’s important when revising the comments of your reviewers that anything relating to areas where opinions will differ greatly should remain true to your own opinion, or the opinion of your primary audience. There is nothing worse than a writer adhering to suggestions in bits and parts of a piece that alter his personal voice. A fluid line of language will quickly become a jumble of multiple personalities that confuse and frustrate readers.

It’s also important to remember that the “you” factor is what makes your writing your own. There is no point listening to the comments of an acclaimed author if your story begins to sound more like their story than your own. Maintain your personal integrity and make changes with your own voice and not the authority of someone else.

3. Motion, Plot and Character – It is important that any suggestions maintain the whole rather than destroy it.

You know your story, plot and characters better than any reader. If you’ve done your job you’ll have given your readers the information they need to fill in all the plot blanks and by the end of your piece you should have answered those pressing questions (and left a few hanging if there will be sequels).

Some critics will pick at points in your story, plot or characters. Much of the time these will be valid and you should pay particular attention to verifying their comments. Decide if you agree with their suggestions and if you make changes ensure they are rounded; follow through with every fact throughout the piece. Consistency is the key to keeping your readers enthralled. Any changes you make need to be maintained by every corroborative scene.

Give Thanks!

Regardless of the value of each critique and review it is important to thank your critic. They have taken the time to read and respond to your writing. Time is a valuable commodity. All feedback enriches your future work. Every review offers you significant insight into the minds of your readers and what they like or dislike. Even if their comments cannot be used with this particular piece you can carry the thoughts into your next story or article. It’s important to acknowledge the efforts of your critics. Besides, you may want them to offer their comments on your next piece.