Nancy's Books

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Critique Groups Provide First-Aid for Writers, Part III

For the last two weeks, I've presented reasons to join a critique group. Today, I'm focusing on how to join a critique group.

One way to form a critique group is to post notices on the bulletin boards of public buildings—library, college, church, museum and other places that may attract potential members. Church bulletins, free classifieds in local newspapers, and community calendars on local television and radio are other ways to notify writers. Attend local writing groups and writing conferences to network with attendees. Check out Web sites, such as and SCBWI, that have message boards for writers.

Critique groups vary in size and goals so join or start one that fits your needs. Hand over your manuscript to the members you trust and respect. Your manuscript will come back to you, stronger than ever.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Critique Groups Provide First-Aid for Writers, Part II

A critique group is vital to the development of a writer, not only in the realm of the craft of writing but the emotional ups and downs associated with publishing. Here's an inside look at the critique group to which I belong.

Members of my group provide emotional support for each other. If a member has a manuscript rejected or another personal problem, we listen and provide words of encouragement. When a member receives good news, we perform a chocolate dance in celebration.

Each month, a member is responsible for generating a weekly newsletter that provides news about grants, conferences, and all aspects of writing, marketing, and promoting our work. Since my group consists of four people, I will be responsible for the newsletter three months (twelve weeks) per year.

The primary purpose of a critique group is to read and evaluate works in progressfor each member. My group submits manuscripts, a maximum of 1,000 words per submission, on the first and fifteenth of each month. That means that each membercritiques three, 1,000-word manuscripts every two weeks. That also means that each member receives three critiques per manuscript every two weeks. Critique groups require a vast amount of time and effort from each member to be successful, but the rewards gained are invaluable.

If you decide to join or form a critique group, set guidelines. How often will members submit work? What is the time period for critiquing and returning each manuscript? What is the maximum number of words per submission? How extensive are the critiques, line-by-line or general overview? Set guidelines on allowing additional membership once the group is established. Remember to critique the manuscript, not the writer. Be respectful of the writer at all times. Be honest in your critique.

I want the members of my group to be honest in each evaluation of my work and react to my manuscripts as an editor would. Anything less than total honesty is of no benefit to me. I want to know WHY my manuscript didn’t get the contract and HOW I can improve it. If I could figure out WHY and HOW on my own, I wouldn’t need a critique group. The honesty of each member and their varied viewpoints can only make my work stronger, better, and more likely to be accepted for publication. Therefore, I have a responsibility of not taking the criticism personally. I wear my rhino hide when I read the critiques and often think AHA! She’s right! when I read a criticism or a suggestion. Why didn’t I see that? Because I only see from one perspective—mine.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Critique Groups Provide First-Aid for Writers

Since many students will soon be on a holiday break, I’m going to write about tips for writers in a series of three blogs that focus on critique groups.

You’ve pounded the keyboard day after day, week after week, creating your story. You’ve spit-shined the revisions, rearranged the sentences, and typed the last word. Now you’re ready to kiss your manuscript good-bye and ship it off to strangers, AKA editors.Not so fast! Mailing you’re manuscript at this time may be a little premature. Consider joining a critique group. Not only will group members view your work with new perspectives, they will also provide feedback, positive and negative. The critique group will hone in on areas of quality writing, praising your efforts, and will offer examples for improvement in areas that need revision.

I’ve been writing for publication for twenty years and have had thirteen picture books and one chapter book published. During that time, I completed revision after revision, relying on my skills, alone.

A couple of years ago I joined, via the Internet, a critique group composed of four children’s writers. In that short period, my critique group has provided professional input into picture and chapter book manuscripts, making each work stronger. This group completes line-by-line, in-depth critiques, rather than general overview critiques. For me, the more specific the evaluation, the better.

Next week, I'll provide specific detail as to how our group functions.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Overused Words

We writers strive to make our stories and articles interesting. One way to up the interest level is to avoid overused words. Every writer falls prey to the overuse of certain words, and those words vary with each person who puts ink to paper. My downfall is the word just. I just didn’t realize I was so dependent upon the word just and wrote it over and over throughout a manuscript. A member of my critique caught the problem and justly brought it to my attention. Hats off to my critique group.

From that point on, I use the computer to check for those words that just seem to pop up all over my manuscript make it look like it has a bad case of chicken pox. I highlight the entire text, click on Edit, click on Find, and write the word in the box. The magic of the computer points out each use of a particular word. Just like that, I find how many times I’ve use a word.

Here’s a list of words that are often overused.

Check your writing. If you’re dulling the text with the same old words over and over, just eliminate them and add sparkle and shine to your manuscript.