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Laura Lascarso: Will You Be Mine?

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! To mark the day, I have a fabulous guest post by Laura Lascarso on creating a good critique group. Comments on the topic are welcome and encouraged. Enjoy!

Will You Be Mine? Tips for Wooing Other Writers

By Laura Lascarso

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know and it is especially true in writing.

I wrote for five years in solitude before I finally joined up with a local writers’ group. There I met my mentor, Heather Whitaker, and grew as a writer exponentially. She taught me things like conflict, plot, protagonist (seriously) and also pointed me to some really great books on writing, which laid out all those tricky devices that I’d been experimenting with, but had never mastered.

After that group dissolved, Heather and I continued meeting once a week at a local coffee shop where we wrote side by side or traded good reads or gave feedback on whatever project we were working on. A year later, Angele McQuade moved to town, and with her background in writing nonfiction as well as her pub business savvy, we formed the power of the trinity, aka the Red Eye Writers.

Good groups are made, not necessarily found. Having been a part of various groups over the years--from college workshops where the writers were amateur and the criticism biting, to a mish-mash of writers of different genres--I’ve learned a few tricks to wooing and retaining your writing beloveds.

Genre: While it may not be necessary for everyone to be writing in the same genre, it certainly can’t hurt. For instance, if you are a YA writer in the midst of Adult fiction writers, they may question why it’s necessary to get to the conflict within the first chapter, why age and description of the protagonist are important, why slang is acceptable, why the entire story is staged in a few months rather than a few years, and on and on.

Respect: I cannot stress this one enough. Constructive criticism is asking questions of the writer, giving specific examples of what aspect of the story isn’t working, offering up suggestions of books that do this one aspect well. We all want to make our writing better and criticism paired with suggestions on how to improve is so much more valuable than blanket statements without specificity.

Praise: This one is sometimes forgotten. Never forget to mention to your fellow writers when they are doing something right. Writers are delicate creatures with fragile egos, or else they are fearsome giants with steel armor, sometimes both. But it’s important to let your critique partners know what they’re doing well. Because who hasn’t been in the throes of revision, wondering what should be cut and what should be saved. Knowing what is working is just as valuable as knowing what needs fixing.

Commitment: Our writer’s group meets one morning a week and I look forward to our meetings all week long. Sometimes we critique each others’ work or brainstorm plot ideas or talk about marketing, conferences and the various facets of the biz. We often trade good reads and discuss why a certain book worked for us or did not. We stay in contact throughout the week via email, forwarding articles, conference information, good blog posts, etc. Everyone is busy, everyone is stressed, but if you’ve already made the commitment to writing, than make a commitment to your group, because they are the ones you go to when you lose your way.

Outreach: Recently, our group has begun to reach out to our local community in giving talks on writing and hosting literary events. This, in addition to increasing our web presence, not only allows us to share what we’ve learned with other writers, but also lets us connect with readers and establish a base of support for when we ourselves get published.

But how can I find my truly beloveds? Writing conferences are great opportunities for networking with other writers. Also, many communities have local SCBWI chapters that meet regularly. There are several online author forums or simply putting up a flyer in your local library or bookstore can bring great results.

Love is fleeting, but a good writers’ group is a romance that can last a lifetime.


Steve MC said...

You had me at "Will You Be Mine?"

Really, nothing but praise for this post, and congratulations on your book!

Charmaine Clancy said...

Now I'm all movitvated to go out and woo a critique group :-)

Kate Evangelista said...

Having critique partners is important to the process and the growth of any writer. Sometimes, it takes another writer to show us another way of looking at a scene. Great post!

Beth said...

Great post. The only thing I'd add is that I participated in a very successful writing group where we each wrote in a different genre. It was interesting for me to hear the wisdom they had learned from classes in their genres, and also to have my assumptions challenged.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. I'm in two critique groups. One is online. All my critique partners have helped me so much. You really lose perspective on your own work. Like you said, it's important to give positives in a critique as well as telling the person what they need to do to improve.

Lisa Nowak said...

You've hit on all the important points, here. Sounds like you've got a great group.