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Ten Tips for A Successful Critique Group

#writingfiction, #writingtips, #fiction, #critiquegroup, #genre, #novel, #storybuildingblocks, #screenplay, @Diana_Hurwitz,  #temperament,#critiquegroup
Last week, we discussed how to find your writing tribe. Once you find them, it is time to lay down the ground rules.

1.Decide what type of feedback/group you truly want and need.

Are you all at the same level of beginner, intermediate, or expert? Sometimes a mix is good, but sometimes it causes aggravation. If you need help growing your craft, find a mentoring group. If you just want to be encouraged, find a nurturing group. Are you able and prepared to exchange high-level analysis, editing, proofreading, etc.? Find a master class group.

2. You must be willing to commit to it as if it were a job.

Uneven groups foment resentment. It is bad for the group when some people submit and critique and others don't. Members who don't show up are disruptive. Everyone has "life" events that intrude, but you should try to schedule a time and place and hold it sacred.

3. Make rules and stick to them.

Decide how often you will meet, where or how you meet (in person, online groups, Skype, etc.), how many pages are submitted, the type of feedback you need for each submission, and the format of the feedback (written notes, verbal exchange, notations in Word for Windows, or a combination). Some may be at the final draft stage, others at the first draft.

4. Assign a "clock watcher." It is best to divide your time up evenly so no one gets left out or feels their work has not received equal attention. Make it someone's job to keep time.

5. Assign a "temperature taker." This person keeps everyone on topic and keeps the discussion from becoming heated. Hurt feelings can fester and destroy a group quickly. Make it someone's job to keep the flow positive. It is best to confront any negative interaction right away.

6. Check your ego at the door. If you can't handle constructive criticism, then this is not the venue for you. Everyone will have a different take on your work. They will catch different things. They will have opinions. You do not have to respond to or adapt to them. Say thank you and move on. But if more than one person says the the same thing, you should listen a little closer.

7. No gossiping about each other. Period. No trolling members you don't like.

8. Don't make assumptions. You are fiction writers. Don't assume anything is autobiographical.

9. What happens in the group stays in the group. You should not discuss the other members, their work, their critiques, etc. with other people unless you have their permission. To do so is a violation of trust.

10. If you have a problem member, address the topic openly amongst everyone. Give them a chance to fix things (i.e. not submitting, critiquing, attending) with a deadline. Enforce the rules. If you decide to make exceptions because of special circumstances, make sure everyone agrees.

For more information on writing craft, hang out with me at Story Building Blocks on FacebookPinterest, Linked-In, or Twitter and visit for free downloads.

Ten Tips for Finding Your Writing Tribe

#writingfiction, #writingtips, #fiction, #critiquegroup, #genre, #novel, #storybuildingblocks, #screenplay, @Diana_Hurwitz,  #temperament,#writinggroups,#Critiquepartners
As writer, especially one just beginning the journey, it is important to find your tribe.

If you leave your writer cave and venture out, there are several places you can go to meet like minds.

1. Book events in your community such as literary festivals, book sales, and author's luncheons.

Printers Row Literary Festival in Chicago, Illinois.

The Augusta Literary Festival, Augusta, GA.

The Tucson Festival of Books, University of Arizona campus, Tucson, Arizona.

Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia,

North Texas Book Festival, Denton, Texas. 

Word of South Festival of Literature and Music in Tallahassee, Florida. 

SC Book Festival at theColumbia Metropolitan Convention Center in Columbia, South Carolina. 

2. Local books stores have author events and sometimes have notice boards for people looking for critique partners.

3. Local writing classes and workshops are great places to find your tribe.

4. If you have the means, don't be afraid to travel to workshops. You may even meet someone from your locale. I did.

Writers in Paradise conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Love Is Murder Mystery Conference, Chicago, Illinois.

MWA-U 2.0, Mystery Writers of America, Boston, Massachusettes.

The Writers' Police Academy is one of the best mystery and thriller writer hands-on workshops in the country.

Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie Indiana

Sleuthfest annual conference for mystery, suspense, and thriller writers, Deerfield Beach, Florida. 

Left Coast Crime's annual mystery convention in different locations each year.

Indie ReCon, online conference for independent authors & publishers.

5. Libraries often have classes or community writing events. They may have a notice board where writers post ads looking for critique partners.

6. Check out local colleges. You don't have to take classes there, but they may have other budding authors looking for their tribe.

If you prefer to stay in your jammies, you can look for your tribe online.

7. Join social media groups for your genre or writing in general. Interact, don't just observe. There are pages for all of the main genres on Facebook. Many have their own websites you can follow.

On Facebook there are open and closed groups. You can ask to be added to a closed group. None of these sites like to be spammed with book promotions. Join the community, interact, and make connections. You can find hundreds of local, national, and subgenre groups using the Search function on Facebook. Your Facebook avatar should be a photo of you or your book, not blank.

Do not post your work in progress on groups that are not designed for critiquing. Unsolicited pleas for input are a huge turnoff in writing communities.

Build a reputation as someone who is helpful and supportive. Don't give in to the urge to criticize or deride other authors, no matter how much you dislike their work.

Romance Writers of America

Mystery Writers of America

International Thriller Writers

Horror Writers Association

Historical Novel Society

Fantasy Writers

8. Take online workshops. You are often assigned to a critique group.

Gotham Online Writing Workshops

Writer's Digest Online Writing Workshops (they often do local workshops as well).

Ten Universities offering online writing workshops such as MIT and Purdue.

Stanford University

The Crafty Writer

9. Post your work in online critique forums. You may meet other writers in your genre who are interested in finding critique partners.

10. Fan fiction sites are a place to meet other writers who share your passion.

Here are links to more resources on how to find your tribe:

The Write Life: 40 Places to Find a Critique Partner

Writer's Digest: Find the Right Online Critique Group

Inked Voices: a source for small, private writing groups

Jane Friedman: How to Find the Right Critique Group

Writing World: a critique and discussion group

Jodie Renner has complied a list of workshops and festivals for 2015 and 2016.

Whether virtual or in person, there is nothing more exciting than finding your tribe to keep you motivated, improve your skills, and grow your audience when you have a book to promote.

Join Story Building Blocks on Facebook  and Pinterest for more tips and tricks.

Five Kinds of Critique Group

For the past few weeks, we have looked at how temperaments affect writing styles. Let's take a tongue-in-cheek look at critique groups.

I’ve had the pleasure, at least the adventure, of participating in several writing groups throughout my career. Not all are what they should be. Of the ones I’ve experienced, I divide them up into five categories:

1. The “I Want To Be A Writer” group. This group of people has often considered writing a book. They meet to talk about their dream of writing like Stephen King. They can be very lovely social gatherings amidst witty, wordy people, but you won’t learn much about craft and probably won’t actually complete anything. The feedback is usually nonexistent because there is really nothing to critique yet.

2. The “I Want To Be Praised” group. This group contains people who are actively trying to write their magnum opus. They come together to egg each other on to write like Stephen King. They are typically light in the craft department and very full of the cheerleader-ish “you-go-girl” moments. You will leave eager to sit down and write, but will have no insight into what you are aiming for. The feedback is usually lacking in solid craft advice.

3. The “I’m A Writer and You’re Not” group. This group contains someone or “ones” who is/are an officially published author(s) who want/s to teach others what they have learned about writing from Stephen King. These can be very uplifting or very damaging depending on the egos at stake. You might walk away with some sound advice or with your manuscript in shreds. It depends on the level of nature versus nurture. The feedback is usually lopsided.

4. The “We All Write and Don’t Need Advice” group. This is where everyone in the group is convinced that he or she is the best thing since Stephen King and does not need your feedback but enjoys “sharing”. This can be a fun group. Doesn’t do much to grow your craft, but it can be hilarious. The feedback can be useful but is typically completely ignored.

5. Finally we come to my personal favorite, and one I subscribe to, “The Master Class Group.” Everyone is there to learn and grow their fiction into the best thing since Stephen King. All of the members can write and critique like professional editors. You leave feeling good about your work and with your manuscript polished and spit-shined like a pair of expensive leather shoes. The feedback is equal and honest without being catty or cruel. Egos are checked at the door and everyone makes sure to offer their advice in a palatable way.

I am lucky to have a group that not only challenges my plot, my characters, and my prose, they also help me fix it! 

Not everyone needs or wants the same kind of group. My needs changed with my experience. My advice is to avoid the ones that aren’t serving your needs and to seek out ones that do. And if you are very, very lucky, you find a Master Class.

If you are interested in serious conversations and information on craft, come and hang out with me at Story Building Blocks on Facebook.

Next week, we will take a serious look at how to find your "writing tribe."

What Type of Writer Are You? Part 3

Most writers are introverts. That’s just the nature of the beast. Writers spend a lot of time alone and palely loitering over their pads of paper or keyboards. 

Introversion is not shyness or social anxiety. Those are fear-based psychological conditions.

I suspect there are more introverted editors, because they are usually confined in a cubicle or freelancing at home. Editing is tedious, lonely work. 

It’s easy to tell whos's who at writing conferences. Introverted Jane tends to hang with the people she knows. She scans the crowd looking for familiar faces, or brings her buddies with her. She meets internal resistance when asked to pitch or take the microphone. That doesn’t mean she isn’t interesting or a witty conversationalist. 

Once the ice has been chipped, she is eager to talk about what she loves most: writing and reading. She isn’t there to compete. She is there to absorb. She is interested in what other people are writing. She enjoys the individual exercises and lectures but struggles to share in public. 

She attends the workshops to hone her craft. She enjoys meeting other introverted writers. It’s the self-promotion and exposing herself to public scrutiny that gives her ulcers. Jane may shun the bar after dinner, unless her friends go with her. Even then, she is likely to seek a table in a back corner. Jane leaves the conference drained and in need of a vacation. If she received negative feedback or criticism, she will ruminate in private or sound off to her trusted circle.

Extroverted writers are in the minority, mainly because they are not natively drawn to long periods of pondering and working in solitude. They tend to be sports or comedy writers, but can show up in any genre. 

Dick writes for the recognition or impact. He wants to be the next J. K. Rowling. There are extroverted agents and marketing professionals present too. 

Even if the agents, presenters, and editors are introverted, they are forced to schmooze and perform in an extroverted way. Extroverts thrive on it and are easy to spot. The introverted ones can be painfully awkward to watch.

Dick loves the limelight. He flits from table to table, introducing himself to perfect strangers. He hogs the microphone and loves publicly reading his work. He likes watching the other conference attendees. He likes talking about them as well as to them. He is more interested in who you know than what kind of writing you do. He is there to network and promote himself.

Dick finds it hard to focus on the individual exercises. He is easily bored and can be highly competitive. He likes the voting, the rah-rah, and the woo-woo. He likes winning. Dick is concerned about his image. He wants to fit in. He eagerly pitches his ideas to other people. He may never write them. 

He is found networking at the bar after dinner long after dinner. Dick leaves the conference humming with energy. If he received negative feedback or criticism, he leaves fuming and vents to everyone about it.

The Dicks at the conference struggle with all the Janes. Extroverts tend to think introverts are boring loners. He couldn’t be more wrong, but that is his general impression. He thinks they are an unfriendly bunch, especially if they don’t eagerly embrace his overtures. He flits until he finds the extrovert’s table.

The Janes at the conference are annoyed by the Dicks. They think the extrovert tables are too loud and rude. They may very well discourage Dick from landing at their table. They will cross the room to avoid his.

Every writer must shore up his weak side. Jane is forced by the very nature of a conference to step outside her comfort zone. She is put on public display and forced to interact with people outside her inner circle. She must sell herself as well as her work. It feels slightly dangerous, but she is in good company.

Dick finds the conference slightly confining. He may not find an audience for his bubbling repartee. He may feel silenced or marginalized for the first time in his career. It isn’t a comfortable sensation. He may be rebuffed, left to bounce around the room like a loosed helium balloon.

Each needs to take pity on the other. They should spend a little time getting to know one another. Opposites can help each other grow. Dick can help Jane learn to network and put her best foot forward. Jane can help Dick learn the pesky details of craft. Both have something worthwhile to offer and to say. Getting Dick to sit down and Jane to speak up is the challenge.

Next week, we will continue to explore writer temperaments.

For more tips on how to craft believable characters, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback and E-book, and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook, also available in paperback and E-book.