April 4, 2011

Critter: (noun, dialect.) A reader who undertakes to provide a constructive critique or helpful feedback on behalf of the author of the piece being read.

Critters are great. Critters are indispensable to my writing process, and I suspect that 90% of successful writers have critters of some sort.

Where to find good critters can be a difficult problem. Non-writer friends are often not the best critters, because they don’t always understand what kind of detail is helpful to a writer. Writer friends can make good critters, but not when they’re busy with writing first drafts of their own.

Critter exchanges can be a very good arrangement, or writer’s circles in which the entire group acts as critters for each of the members in turn.

I’ve found some good critter exchanges on the ‘Nano swaps’ forum of the National Novel Writing Month online community, and I’m attend two local writer’s groups that do critiques of pieces that members bring in. I’ve even acted as a critter wrangler for the Stringing Words online forum, organizing their third CritMo (Critter Month) event and pairing up authors with volunteer critters who read their pieces and send in feedback.

Recently, I’ve also joined an amazing online workshop called… (drum roll please,), which runs something like the same program on a much larger scale. Here’s how it works, basically:

Rewriting a story in four days.

September 10, 2010

I’ve been wanting to get back to talking about writing here on the blog, so here’s a good bit to blather on about, I think. Rewriting an incomplete story idea from scratch.

I’ve had the idea for this ‘alien landing’ story for going on a year now, I think – I did a starting paragraph for it based on a challenge at Stringing Words in October of 2009, (wow, didn’t realize it was that long until I looked it up,) and I started my first draft in May of this year. It was going pretty well – four scenes, 3200 words, and then it just kind of ran into the ground at the point that the alien attacked the human soldiers.

The basic premise, by the way, is that an alien ship lands on Earth, damaged from a battle with other aliens – they need help to fix the ship, but they’ve still got powerful weapons that can hold their own against anything the Army throws against them, so both sides are forced to bargain in the end.

I asked other writers for feedback on what I had so far – I read it for the Hamilton Writers’ group on June 1st, I think, and got some interesting perspectives, including how soldiers should talk in a much grittier and fouler fashion, and some encouragement, but I still wasn’t sure how to continue, and put it aside to focus on other things, like the CreateSpace draft of ‘The Long Way Home’, JulNoWrimo… and starting my blog.

In August, I submitted the two longer scenes in CritMo, and the crits that I got managed to perfectly clarify what I needed to go. Over and over again, they kept repeating, ‘I like Doctor Juddman, I like the alien, I like the language stuff, I don’t care about the two army commanders butting heads.’

So I did a page one rewrite, telling the entire story in Doctor Juddman’s point of view, how he was whisked out of his office at UBC to go talk to an alien, and what happened after the alien attacked him and held him captive for nearly 24 hours in his spaceship.

It’s still a rough draft at this point, 5400 words, but it’s a complete first draft, and I’m happy about it. Thinking about taking this one to Hamilton Writers this week, to see what they think of the difference.

Do any of you readers have a story to share about rewriting stories quickly?

And thank you very much for the awards, Brittany. I’ll talk more about those soon – hopefully Saturday.

CritMo has set sail…

August 8, 2010

Next stop? A magical land where respectful, authentic, and specific feedback flows like – I dunno, maple sap or something?

So – over at Stringing Words, we’ve started doing a Critiquing Month, or CritMo. I volunteered to organize it, since there were interested writers, but all of the usual SuperAdmins seemed to be a bit too busy to jump at doing the legwork this time. Though SW has had 2 CritMos before, this is also the first time I’ve participated.

So far, it’s been a lot of fun, and very instructive. The basic idea was simple – you sign up to contribute a certain number of excerpts, and you’re assigned to critique two other pieces for each piece you contribute, so that each excerpt has at least two assigned critiquers. Along with your excerpt, you provide some questions or notes for what sort of feedback you’re interested in, and then you read the pieces that you’ve been assigned to critique and do your best to provide good feedback.

By the way, when I was blogging about what makes a good critique in early July, I was already planning for CritMo – I believe I mentioned that at the time.

So, this time we’re doing week by week assignments, four week-long periods during the month of August, and the first week is nearly drawn to a close – it goes until Tuesday night. I’ve finished the three critiques I signed up for this week, (we agreed to try a variation where people can pledge to do a third crit in the hopes of getting a third crit on their own work,) and received one critique on the lead-in to a fantasy short story.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Reading for feedback, and composing feedback, can be very hard.

In the end, it’s so very worth it.

However, I’ve been so focused on CritMo that I haven’t really started on the 3 longer pieces that I’ve agreed to do feedback swaps on. Oh well, I’ll get to them – and I didn’t promise a particular completion date to anybody at least.

And, as a followup to my saga of mixed-up reservations in Huntsville, Saturday turned out to be a non-event. I packed up all my stuff carefully to take to the new room, went to the front desk – and was told that they’d arranged things so that I could stay in the same room until Tuesday. Ah well, at least it’s a nice room, and no stairs out to the lobby,

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