Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Free Tool for Writers – Valuable Criticism

Feedback is hard, but it can make us better writers.
by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

Usually criticism is something we should run from. In most of our lives, we hear enough negative to weigh us down like an anchor. But there are times when criticism and feedback is helpful.

Like when you’ve finished your first draft. First—Yay! Congratulations!

Now what do you do?

If you’re like many of us, you’ve written your piece without having anyone else read it. So, now is the time to release your baby into the world.

Gut-wrenching, isn’t it?

You take your precious baby that you spent, not nine months, but a couple of years perfecting, and slide her across the table to let a friend read. Then you snatch it back. “Let me do one more pass through.” “Maybe I need to change the POV.” “Make the beagle an ewok.”

Step away from the ledge and take a deep breath. Better?

This is what all the struggles over verb tenses, word choices, and selecting just the right scenes and settings have been about. To have others read it. And, if you hope to get better, you have to get their feedback.

But, then, again, we can’t even agree where to use commas.

So where do we go to let others read, or (shudder) critique, our baby without running into the closet and hiding in the back corner?

Four Ways To Get Feedback On Your Writing:
1. Accountability or Critique Partners
These are people who you’ll meet with on a regular basis to go over your current writing. For some people, this is the kiss of death. For others, their partners were the reason the writer stuck with it and finished their book. Two rules of thumb in using this, know yourself. And pick partners carefully.

I would suggest you keep this group small. I meet with two fellow writers weekly and they help me in a couple of ways.
  • I know I need to get something ready for them. That keeps me accountable to my writing and those days when I’m just not feeling it, it’s an extra push to the writer’s chair.
  • I get weekly feedback on my plot and character so I can change it before it becomes a total train wreck.
  • We are constantly helping each other improve our craft. If we run into something we don’t know or understand, we all search for the answer.
Now for the warnings.
  • Sometimes you’re finding your way through the story and you’re not ready or able to explain where you’re going. (Do you hear me pantsters?) I listen to my partners’ concerns but I trudge through until I can decide if my writing works or if it needs a new direction. (This is when I’m thankful I’m not on a deadline.)
  • If deadlines bother you, this may not be for you. Or find very understanding partners who’ll cut you slack in the tough times.
  • They may not know what they’re talking about. Consider the source. We are all learning and, I like to think, giving the best advice we possibly can.
  • However, if you feel that one of the partners is constantly giving you bad advice or doesn’t get your writing, it may be time to change. Someone who writes romantic suspense may not be the best person to go to for a YA unicorn fantasy.
  • I’ve used the term, partner, for a reason. Although you’re the author, each of you are trying to make the work better. If that changes, find another group. 
2. Writer Groups
These may be a local or online group of writers. When I first started writing four years ago, I found a great writing group, Cross n Pens, just a few miles from my home. The group included published (Hi Lynette Eason) and unpublished (Bruce) writers, fiction, nonfiction, and devotional writers. And some great encouragers (Edie Melson).

There was also a nearby ACFW chapter. In both of these groups, there were other writers who faced the same challenges and who gave me much needed encouragement and guidance.

Henry McLaughlin wrote a good post on this last year. TRAITS OF A SUCCESSFUL WRITING CRITIQUE GROUP.

If you can’t find a local group that suits your needs, there are online groups available. Word Weavers is one that is highly recommended.

3. Contests
Another source for feedback is entering contests. There are all types of contests for every kind of writing, whether this is your first piece or you have published a library full of books and articles.

I have a problem with contests, I hate to lose. And like Mel slipped up and said on America’s Got Talent, if you don’t win you’re a loser.

WRONG. God doesn’t make losers. Just because you didn’t win, doesn’t define who you are. In running, they have an equation: Finishing last is better than not finishing which is better than did not start. (It’s prettier with symbols.)

I still hate to lose. But some contests give you feedback on your writing and you can learn how your writing stacks up against others.

4. Submission
Submit your work for publication. Some of you are already groaning at me. “You never hear back.”

I don’t agree with using never (Except see below). But a lot of times you won’t hear back. It isn’t the publisher’s or agent’s job to give you feedback. But when they do, be grateful and listen carefully. They’re not always right, but they have had a lot of exposure to what works and doesn’t work.

And please, please, do not start with sending your writing to publishers without having someone else read it. (Family members, close friends, and pets do not count.) The publisher or agent should never (I am using the never here) be the first to read your work.

And once you get close to being published, they can help you see the strengths and the flaws in your writing.

Feedback is hard to accept, especially on something you’ve put your heart and soul into. But it is the way we get better. Some things God gives us are for our own inspiration. Just for us. Can you imagine, God, taking His time to do that for you?

There are other things that are given to share with others. As God’s devotees, we need to make it the best that we can.

Where have you gotten advice or feedback that made a difference in your writing? Would you tell me in a comment below?

Are you looking for a local group? Leave a comment, with the area where you live. Maybe we have a reader near you.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

TWEETABLES
A free tool for writers - valuable criticism - @TimSuddeth on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

#Writing feedback is hard to accept, but it's the way we improve - @TimSuddeth (Click to Tweet)


Tim Suddeth has been published in Guideposts’ The Joy of Christmas and on www.christiandevotions.us. He’s working on his third manuscript and looks forward to seeing his name on a cover. He is a member of ACFW and Cross n Pens. Tim’s lives in Greenville, SC with his wife, Vickie, and his happy 19-year-old autistic son, Madison.  Visit Tim at www.TiminGreenville.com and on Facebook and Twitter. He can be also reached at timingreenville@gmail.com.

16 comments:

  1. Mr. Tim, thank you so much for all the encouragement. It is always difficult to get "other eyes" on your work, but it is less difficult than working for months and years before you find out what others think of your efforts. I always remember an old saying that serves me well; "Better is the direct enemy of good enough... let it go."

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  2. You're faithful in passing on good information for us writers, Tim. Today's message is a nugget that is a difference maker to success.
    Having been in a dynamic writer's group I've been encouraged, corrected, and pushed forward on the bumpy road of writing and publishing. I highly recommend finding a writer's group for those crossing the starter's line on a writer's track of adventure, discovery, and checkered flags.
    Share on,Tim. Share on!

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    1. Thank you, Carolyn. You're one of those cheerleaders who have been a great encourager. Thank you very much.

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  3. Thank you for your helpful post, Mr. Suddeth! I am so thankful for knowledgeable people--and I emphasize the word "knowledgeable"--be they critique partners, contest judges, or professional editors. I'd like to add that readers are often quite intuitively astute as to what works and doesn't work in a story. They may not be able to give the reason something doesn't work nor how to fix it, but they can point out what doesn't work. This reader insight has also been vey valuable to me as a novelist, as has the input from industry professionals. We do well to take advantage of these resources.

    Blessings,

    MaryAnn
    _________________________________
    MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA
    Author & Writing Coach
    www.maryanndiorio.com

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  4. Excellent post and encouragement. Great thoughts to consider. Thank you!

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  5. Thanks for the advice and helpful pointers.

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  6. Great job, Tim! I want to extend an invitation to anyone interested to visit our SC Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. We meet the fourth Saturdays, 2:00-5:00 PM in Anderson, SC. We have a free class the first half and critique of mss the second half. One can learn so much just sitting in on these critique sessions. On Oct. 28 our speaker is veteran law officer with Greenville Sheriff's Office, Tim Martin, who will share timely info for writers on Investigative Procedures and How to Put Weapons in Your Novel Without Shooting Yourself in the Foot. For more information about this meeting or our chapter, please email me, Elva Cobb Martin, President, ACFW-SC, at elvacmartin@gmail.com. Or check out our chapter blog and pages at http://www.scwritersacfw.com
    Blessings,
    Elva Cobb Martin

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    1. Elva, I wish Missouri and South Carolina were closer!

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  7. Wonderful post, Tim. I have a friend in London who is both a writer and a marketing consultant. Also a reader of mysteries. His father was a professor and a writer. I was excited to complete the first chapter of my mystery book, so I sent it to him and asked for comments. He emailed back that he enjoyed my southern dialogue even though he wasn't sure in sport what was being said. He enjoyed the style because he knew me. He added that had he not known me, he probably wouldn't have read it all because there wasn't a reason on each page to make him want to turn the page. He then referenced a book he'd finished reading recently and asked me to read Chapter 1 and notice the difference. As let down as I was, I got that book and soon saw what he was telling me: not enough action and/or conflict. So not only did he do me a big favor, he gave me a resource that was loaded with examples - thus changing my style. We're still best of friends and in still contact almost daily. Not one friend or family member within 3,000 miles had told me what I really needed to hear. Jay Wright - Foothills Writers Guild - Anderson, SC

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Jay. By him bringing up a book, he made it less personal. Great advice.

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  8. Tim, thanks for sharing your insights. I live in a rural area, so finding a face-to-face critique partner/group is difficult. I've participated in the ACFW online critique group, which was helpful, and I plan to return soon as I turn my focus from book promoting back to my next WIP. But I'm relational and would love to have that face-to-face experience! One of my consistent critique partners with ACFW recently won the Genesis Award for her genre. It was so exciting to celebrate with her...but online hugs just aren't the same. :)

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