February's Inspirational Quote

"One Hour at a Time"
~ Laurie Wallmark.

Dear Laurie,
You might not recall saying this and perhaps I won't remember the specifics but you are our inspiration for the rest of February and maybe even March.

You and I were on the phone and talking about how hard it is to write a novel and as usual I was whining and feeling sorry for my long-a$$ journey. And you told me about how you were working and how busy you were so you wrote your novel one hour at a time. Astounded I said, "You wrote your novel one hour at a time?" And you said, "Yup." And I thought, "Wow... ... ..."

Often times we think we need - or I think I need - huge chunks of time set aside so I can write. Do you do that too? What if we gave ourselves one hour of each day? If it turns into two, well then fine, but if not, at least you still had your One Hour at a Time. So that is the motto of the month, thanks to ours truly, Laurie Wallmark.

We love you, Laurie!

Monday, February 11, 2008

MG/YA Novel Critique Group's Minutes

Hello everyone,

Today my middle grade/young adult critique group met to discuss several stories. Some were, possibly, final copies of final chapters, and other were mere beginnings of stories; very first attempts of drafts and outlines. This brought up a very good point.

How do you critique something that is just an outline, or a very, very first draft? Do you critique it differently from a later draft? First I want to thank all the writers for sharing today. It is not easy to share such early drafts and can, at times, make a writer feel quite vulnerable.

Some of us, just made very general notes, not wanting to stunt progress - and this is a good thought. Some others of us (ah-hem) critiqued more to the reader’s thoughts, feelings, and questions while reading this early draft. I think it is important during these early stages of a story to know where you have succeeded, where you nailed the MC's voice, and where you are falling flat.

Sometimes, though receiving feedback at these very early stages for a writer can be… well not such a good thing. I think it is important to know, as a writer, what you can handle. Can you handle, do you want, feedback in these very early stages? Some writers thrive on this to know if they are on the right track, while for others – this early feedback can seriously deflate creativity and therefore stunt forward progress.

So, be honest with yourself. Know when you are ready. AND… when you are not ready, do not subject yourself to premature feedback. There is nothing wrong with missing a deadline in your writer's group, as long as it is not a habit. In THAT case, you have to be honest with yourself for another reason; to reflect on why you are continuously missing deadlines. Most likely you are afraid – afraid of failure, or success. Both can be scary, believe it or not.

Remember, only you are the true judge of your work and your readiness to present your work, and more importantly, your readiness to listen to said feedback.

Second, the topic came up that sometimes it is OK, even preferable, for a writer's group to take a session or so, here and there, where no one submits work for feedback, but instead, engages in an exercise, shares a tool, celebrates a long-term goal that has finally been met, etc. Sometimes, you need to re-connect with one another as friends, as comrades, as fellow writers, and not just critics of one another’s work. Sometimes, you need to re-connect to your love of writing and being in this group.

Point in case – a writer in my group just finished her novel – or at least we have finally finished critiquing it piece meal. Our next meeting will be a celebration of us coming to that end with her. What a huge goal to reach! – the last period, to the last word, of that last sentence, on that last page, of that last chapter in her story! WOW! We will also share elevator pitches for our current stories, perhaps write elevator pitches for one another, and maybe even do an exercise on outlining (groan) to get all of us to that last page!

So, writer’s groups can be about all sorts of things, learning about yourself, learning about others, celebrating with one another, and above all practicing on a friendly and supportive ear.

Happy Writing,


PJ Hoover said...

I shudder at the thoughts of getting a first draft of mine critiqued. Yikes! When I'm writing it, it even scares me. I'm always amazed that some (brave) writers do get critiqued at this early stage. And your post brings up an excellent point - as critiquers, we should know how to deliver the right feedback for a first revision.

Sheri said...

Yes, I agree. Sometimes, I like to hear responses from my first drafts - to check and see how I am doing. But I only open myself up for early draft critiques to the right people, such as my group, and my facilitators. Other wise, it can be too brutal.

Cathleen Daniels said...

I love it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. Well maybe not the ugly! But I do like the bad. As hard as a negative critique may be to hear at first, it is the most helpful thing to hear in the end. I think of it as the tools I need to shape up my story into the best it can be. Sheri I think you give your heart & soul into a critique and I certainly value that:)

Patricia said...

I always regard my work as a first draft up to the point of my first critique session ... even though prior to submitting I have incorporated all the knowledge I have gained up to that point and believe it is my best. That way, the feedback I get can only take me straight to the next level ... and the next after that ... and the next after that ... until I get it right.

Sheri said...

Cathleen, Thanks! I think we all put our heart and soul into our critiques, that's what makes our group so valuable and why, I for one, have seen such growth in my writing since we formed. And I agree, although it feels AMAZING when people tell you they loved your pages, it is most helpful when they tell you what didn't work. You might not agree. And later you might find when you re-read it that Damn it! You do agree. OR what is said clicks with you immediately. Either way, it is all good and needed in becoming the best we can be.

Pat, I agree with you too - it sure does feel like a first draft until you've received feedback. To me, all of us are strong in different areas, and so when everyone is looking at your work, each of us brings something different to the table.

When you are in a great group - it is truly amazing!

LEEZY said...

I think this a great discussion thread, Sheri, Thank you for sharing.

Personally, I prefer the down right dirty and honest. I don't get too much out of someone who might offer a critique by saying "Well, it was great, I liked it." I don't believe them!!!!! Or, do I get much out of anyone who might be worried about hurting my feelings.

I can learn from my mistakes, but only when I know what they are. If you don't tell me, for fear of upset, how can I change? How can I grow? How can I make it better? So, if anyone ever doubts about being honest with me, please know that I live by my mother's words (and trust me, living with her for 18 years of my life was one helluva critique!):

"Leeza, you're big enough and ugly enough to take it, so get on with it."

Sheri said...

Ahhh, but you're nto ugly, Leeza! I know what your Mum meant, of course and she is right. And I agree with you too, we need to know if we are on the right track, or not, and if not, then what can I fix? That's what I like to know...

Patricia said...


I've always been on the sensitive side (and still am) ... however, I agree with you 100%. We need honest feedback in order to grow. Otherwise, we're just wasting our time.