Critiques without Tears (part 2)

(being published earlier than normal-by popular request!!)

Then, it happened…

I joined not one but THREE different critique groups. Oh, my disease to be liked and to please overcame any rational thought. I tried to do the run around and help everyone because I was getting what I wanted, what I thought I needed-FEEDBACK!

People actually cared about my work.

But, there comes a day when you sit back and ask yourself, “Is it worth it? Is all of this madness really worth it?”

Okay, there’s a critique group that met in a government location (I’m trying to give as little description as possible here to keep it vague). It was cool. They were late. Super late. And they whispered. I have tinnitus. It was a battle of the constant ringing in my ears versus the whispers of the group. I liked the group but goodbye.

Another group-late, late, late and off topic. I loved the conversations and the off topic but I really wanted to discuss writing. They were a fun group but man, I have never seen so many late arrivers in my life! I mean what is it with arriving late?! I get it, we all have jobs and kids, but hell, if I can make it…

Third group-on time, prompt, articulate but semi serious. Loved them but, I mean, semi serious says it all. I had to take a step back from them.

So, as my dad says, let’s get to the gravy of this-

Critique groups are interesting and fun. The key is to find one that fits you. Find the one where you don’t feel like critiques are personal attacks. One of these groups felt like straight up attacks on my writing and me, directly. I sat through a few meetings but I could not take it. How can I leave a group thinking I’m better (or at least a mediocre writer) after being faced with such hostility?

I did my due diligence. Now, I’ll tell you what I have learned:

If you don’t feel comfortable, find another group. This is the most important rule. Sometimes your instinct is yelling in your ears to leave and you may think, “Well, this is kinda the only group I could find…so I have to stay.” No, you don’t! Get out! There are groups online, at local libraries, community colleges, hell-twitter and even Facebook!-just get out? Why? Because the next thing will happen-

Critique the work, not the person. This group you may be in-Let’s call it “The Hate Group” will stress you. Every meeting causes some type of anxiety. You sweat bullets before you get there, hoping it will all work out. You get your critique back and it pretty much looks like they gave you the finger-with all the red comments. Every single line has a problem-verb tense, adverb use, adjective use…all of it is wrong. These people are not your friends. Then, you get the emails scheduling the next meeting and have a nervous breakdown. This is not your group, these people are not your friends.

Critique the work-I cannot emphasize that enough. Sometimes, when I’m doing a critique, I’ll let my brain turn to mush. Let me elaborate. I’ll pretend I picked this “book” up in a store and I’m reading it for the first time. I’m asking myself, “Does this make sense? Does the plot make sense? What about the characters, are they believable?” The last question I ask myself is: would I purchase this book?

If you answer no, offer some nice suggestions about how to make it better. Nothing like, “Dude, what the fuck were you thinking? Um, you’ve killed my brain cells because you suck.” This is the worst no of a response. You simply do not respond like this, no matter what.

I’m a Pisces, so I’m sensitive to shit like this. Continuing…

You want to find a way to make gentle suggestions like, “This works okay but maybe consider this”-and then write a got-damned appropriate response! If you read, “Joe dropped his shoes and walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He grabbed a loaf of bread, mayonnaise, bologna and set it on the counter. He opened the bread and….” You see where I’m going with this. Joe is making a sandwich. If this were me, I’d write something like, “I understand Joe is making a sandwich, and I think it may work better if you stated it. Also, and is being use a lot in the first sentence. You can make a few sentences like “Joe kicked off his shoes at the door. He walked into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and decided to make himself a sandwich.” I mean, this is really basic, but you get the gist.

Leave some awesome comments-When I give a critique, after I do my brain free read, I go back and look for lines that I like. Every writer, I don’t care who you are, likes to read something like-this line really works, I am enjoying where this is going or if you agree with the actions of a character, you can write something that says so. Personalization of comments shows that you paid attention. You are an attentive reader. You notice something so slight and beautiful that you share it. Trust me, these little comments may mean nothing to you, but when you are depressed and rereading your work where someone left you a cool comment, it lifts your spirits.

Be nice-I know, I know. I’ve been saying this all along. Put yourself in the person’s shoes you are doing a critique for. How do you think they feel if you wrote something like, “Ha ha! Have you ever thought about not being a writer? Dude, this blows so bad, I actually used your rough draft to pick up my dog’s shit AND wipe my ass!” Not so kind. Critique like you want to be critiqued. There is no law saying you have to like everyone’s work but you need to act like you have an ounce of sense in your head because what you sow, you will reap and that’s gonna be a bitter harvest.

As I wind this down, let me say this: When I was looking for a writing group, I studied all the editing stuff I could get my hands on-Pinterest, books, Ted Talks, professors and I found out a lot. I, personally, don’t like adverbs. Are they over used? Quite a bit. Does that make it wrong? Nah. Second, I don’t like these words: very, just and really, also not a big fan of that or using the word thing to describe something. I like showing and telling. I don’t like people who try to write smart using big words no one understands (I sigh as I write this because it happened. Also do the damned due diligence and get genders right! I mean, ask if you don’t know. And don’t use the language of the 50’s or even the 30’s. Yeah, a conk is a perm, but we don’t need to know how ‘hip’ you are.). Even though I don’t like these things, it doesn’t mean I need to impose IRON WILL on everything I critique. Some people LOVE adverbs. I do not. It is a struggle to get through adverby readings for me. I will walk away for a few days and come back. They aren’t my thing.

I realized I was imposing my IRON (Naruto like) WILL on all that I surveyed. “All the lands shall be banished free of adverbs! These words will get you in the stocks-there, very, really, just, in order, quite, get, got, thing and any -ing verb! Be free from this paper or be gone, dammit!” I have to step back and realize people will be people. I’ll point out something I see to the writer in a fun way, “Dude, you have used that 185 times and it’s only four pages. You may want to have a look.” I will not become grammar bitch and destroy a paper because of it. This is my own personal life lesson.

Finally, wrap up the critique. Give your honest opinion-without being a first class ass-in a few paragraphs at the end. Prepare yourself to explain why you feel that way in a group. If the writer wants to argue you down, stop talking. You can say something like, “You don’t have to agree with me. This is my opinion. Everything I said is not gospel.” (You don’t have to add the gospel part, I can be a bit sarcastic sometimes.)

Remember

  1. Critique the work, not the person– I may think you are a dick but I don’t take it out on the work. Then, I will be the dick.
  2. Don’t impose your IRON WILL over everyone
  3. If you feel uncomfortable or attacked, leave the group. Anxiety attacks aren’t cool when you have a meeting. Also, carrying and going through so much deodorant because you are sweating like a hooker giving confessional-is not cool. You should never feel like this. Ever.
  4. Find a few lines you like and leave a note in the margin. It makes a writer feel good.
  5. When you join a group, establish rules and boundaries. If you miss X number of meetings, you are out. (There can be exceptions-I had two deaths in my family in 3 months, I want to say, my brain was NOT in the game and the critiques I gave may have been ass? I don’t remember. I had funerals and mourning) Be on time. If you are going to be late, let them know. If you can’t make it, let people know ahead of time. Seems like semantics, but a little goes a long way.
  6. Wrap up the critique with a few paragraphs focusing on what you liked and what you think needs work. Notice I didn’t say-what you didn’t like. I said, “What needs work.” Or as Stewie Griffin says, “The compliment sandwich.” An example, “Hey Tracy, I really liked the way you used plot as an integral part of the story. Also the theme of darkness really worked well. One thing I would have a look at is the number of times you repeat phrases like ‘and then he did’ or ‘she said as’. It was a bit distracting from the story. Another thing you may want to keep an eye out for is the word very. Goth can be very dark and very scary, but maybe stretch it out some and explain why instead of the very. Finally, I’m looking forward to seeing what Xander’s plans are for the future since his wife died and he moved into the family castle. I can see a lot of great things coming!” What i did was I showed that I read the story by including information at the end, I talked about theme and plot (very loosely) and my suggestions weren’t said with a lot of force.
  7. Do unto others and all that jazz. Again, how would you want to be critiqued? Then, critique in that way.

That’s what I got folks. Anyone that knows me, knows this is pretty much the truth. Otherwise, you can join my new club online writer’s group, inspired by the Little Rascals:

The new name would be: NO BS WRITERS CLUB: NO ADVERBS ALLOWED!
(I’m kinda joking but maybe I’m not. )

How to give better…critiques (Part 1)

When I joined my first critique group, which feels like years ago, I was green. I had no clue how to do a critique. I didn’t know how to do much of anything. I read directions…instructions and whatever I could get my hands on. I read Pinterest, I googled critiques and I was ready.

I also went first in my group. The critique was not great, not bad. But, you must remember that I submitted my first zombie apocalypse story to a small press and it was accepted. (To which a person told me-that never happens! Send it to me! I want to read it! They never did.) This was a chance to share my work with my peers and get some feedback.

I was a writer. A full fledged writer.

The way the critique went was everyone spoke, then you answer questions about the story, defend it or whatever. I think I gave too much information (like I always do). Looking back, I feel like a total ass. But hey, I also fell off my bike the first time I rode it, prompting my mother to take one of the training wheels. The one wheel I had was my crutch until she took it away and I was riding like a pro.

I’m not saying I’m a pro at this, but I did get better. I learned my groups pet peeves. I learned my pet peeves. My first group was fun. There was a really great sci fi story and when it was super duper good, the author goes, “I’m scrapping this shit and starting over.” It seems to be the way of my group. At some point, everyone scrapped something (except for me and another member). We had a good run. I could see our writing improving. It was great! I also got complacent.

A new member was added to our group. I’ll leave it at that. The person was interesting, attended two meetings (got one critique) and never came back. No great loss.

The group dwindled down to three of us (from five). I like to think we became close but things happened in our lives that caused the group to simply dissipate. I hear from two of the members once in awhile. I follow one on twitter. Ran into the temporary member joining another group and the other person dropped off the radar.

It was time to go back to having one on one critiques with a friend from Cleveland. She was cool and going through major life changes. Not bad, but good. She had a baby. And her world went upside down and right side up, then inside out. Having a baby will mess you up. You want to write but the baby wants to feed. You want to edit, baby has pooped the diaper. You want to read a book, baby wants you to read.

I went on Pinterest, signed up for editing software and tried to do things alone. It’s nothing like having that feedback from other people that keeps you going. Something about getting a positive little not scribbled in the margin saying, “Dude, I can so relate to this!” Those are the little things that make critiques.

I tried following all the guidelines and doing what I was supposed to do. It was like I was on drugs and needed a fix, walking around asking, “Will you read my story? Will you give me feedback?”

I reached out to other writers but everyone has a life, so I understand.

Then, it happened….

Who Are You Writing For?

I was listening to a podcast and one of the mini assignments was to ask yourself, “Who are you writing for?”

I sat for awhile. I’ve been thinking about it and came up with generic answers like- everyone or myself or people like me or people that like books and lastly, my kids. Do I really want my kids reading about flaying someone alive or playing hide and seek with katanas?

We can rule out my kids. I’m not writing for the haters. People that like to rip other people’s stuff apart while they are working on their “masterpiece” that will never be ready because…just because.

I’m not writing for closed minded people. I have been around a lot of racist black and white folks. These are very narrow minded people. Ask me about my teen years some day, if you are feeling dangerous. These people don’t want to see anything like interracial relationships, let alone interracial friendships because in their mind, you (or whomever) is betraying their race. Bye racists!

Now, who does that leave? Dudes? I have had a lot of guys read my work and like it. Which is super cool. I get a good reaction from dudes. Let’s add “dudes” to the writing pile. Except the time my dad read my worked and promptly called my sister to see if I was okay. We can take dads off the list. They give it a college try but end up concerned about your mental health.

(Imagine me doing that wiping thing with my hands)

Now, do we add chicks? Here’s the deal-some chicks just don’t get me. They don’t get my shit or have soooo many questions that my eyes roll back into my head when I try to explain it. But I do have some chick friends that are awesome and read my shit. Let’s add open minded, non critical chicks to the list.

Notice, dudes and chicks are not black or white. They are just dudes or chicks.

Moving on.

My friend told me she was going to or kinda accidentally used my work in her classroom. It was a super short story under 2000 words. I’m gonna reach out and add teachers to the list.

Okay dude from the “Write Minded” podcast, I know the show was a good while ago, but I’ve got my list: open minded chicks, dudes and teachers.

Oh, and anyone reading this blog post because you fucking rock!

EWF19 (Part 2)

This shall also be known as “The Day I Didn’t Make 10,000 Steps Despite Running All Over Old Town”.

I was better prepared. I was able to eat breakfast, catch a leisure train, listen to a podcast-with my bluetooth headphones (they acted very diva like Saturday) and stroll through the city because I knew where I was going. I even took a picture of this cool sign-near a tarot shop-for my other two sisters.

The picture for my sisters. They both loved the shop was near a house of tarot cards.

I had a jam packed schedule. Working with An Editor was the first one. I have a loud ringing in my ears and really wished one of the Jedi used a microphone. She made some big gestures and I knew she had to be saying something interesting, but I only was able to hear every third word.

The Jedi-Michelle Koufopoulos, Jane Friedman and Laura Chasen (working the hell out of a spanish vibe-again…my heart.)

After the editorial panel was the panel on How to Write Successful Applications for Grants and Fellowships. Jennifer Baker was on the panel. I knew it would be good. She’s my total Type A type-with handouts! handouts!, Hannah Bae (who has the best energy I’ve ever seen. It’s like she shines like a sun) and Kris Zory-King (If you have not ever seen tattoos on a woman, you need to find her. Her fingers left me speechless until I realized I was drooling.) I didn’t get any pictures because there was a handout! It was super cool. It was also the time I ran into my other Fellows and some awesome chicks I met the day before.

Then, we all ventured to lunch. There was funny conversation, which I will cherish and remember. Suffice it to say, we are not fans of the administration in the White House.

We had Writing the Personal Essay with Hannah Bae. I’m telling you her energy and her class. Also, I love handouts. She had a handout. She is now my next favorite to Jennifer Baker.

After lunch is when my footsteps needed to count. I had the essay class with Hanna. I ran down the street for the Social Media for Writers class with Kendra Baker. No handouts but power point presentations! Small class means lots of one on one questions!!! I lost my mind (and came home to change my brand and platform on Monday. She’s a total boss.)

We told Kendra we needed to hot foot it back down the street to “The Path to the Debut Novel” with Angie Kim. She was animated and funny. She also was a lawyer before and had that experience with negotiations that we do not have. I wouldn’t be able to negotiate my way out of a bag. She was super helpful.

After a day of all this, it was time for me to go. I missed two readings but gained so much knowledge that I slept soundly but woke up like Christmas on Monday to get to work.

Long story short, I would totally recommend this to anyone that asked me. Not because I was a Fellow but because of the wealth of information that I learned. I’m still going through Jedi Jane’s powerpoint and all my notes.

I also only made 9,035 steps on Sunday. I was kinda pissed.

If you have an opportunity, go in 2020!

My Weekend at #EWF19 (part 1)

I was chosen to be a Fellow at the Emerging Writers Festival this past weekend. It was sponsored by Old Town Books in Old Town Alexandria, VA.

A few things-being a Fellow means I had to read an excerpt of my writing, I was able to attend all the events and panel discussions and I met a whole bunch of really cool people. I was so excited and I could hardly sleep the night before. I was a bunch of nerves, woke at 5 am, packed too much stuff and sweat through everything I wore.

Great start, I would say.

(One quick thing-I follow Jane Friedman. I saw on her site that she would be at this festival. I decided to sign up for it. When I saw they were offering fellowships, I got super busy. I forgot and actually wrote on my calendar to sleep in that Saturday when I got an email that said I was in! My plans changed fast and I needed a sitter. Thank God for sisters!)

After arrival, I met the other fellows. They were two pretty cool chicks. There was a lovely breakfast served-the awesomeness of it! A Southern breakfast with biscuits, sausage and something I will dream about forever-Nashville Hot Chicken. Oh man, they even had pickles. Sadly, the chicken was in the same tray as the pork sausage. I haven’t had pork since I was 16. It would have been a very, very bad idea. Although I heard it call me when I was getting my picture taken outside.

The chicken is calling to me. I’m trying to look like I have some common sense.
When I finished reading, everyone looked at me and didn’t say a word. I scared them, I think.

Saturday I went to some events-There was the Panel Discussion: Against the Algorithm-Online book communities as resources for emerging writers. The panelists were Lupita Aquino, Amanda Nelson and Kendra Winchester. (I think I now have secret crushes on all these women). The panel was great with a lot of good info.

There was hardly time for lunch because I also attended Fiction Craft Intensive, Polish Your Pitch (with the super awesome Jennifer Baker) and the Publishing Masterclass with Jedi Jane Friedman. She answered just about every question you could answer from getting an agent, to residuals, manuscripts and everything in between. It was a three hour panel and I made it through to about 2.75 hours. I needed to get home.

When I got home, I tried to review what I learned and all the handouts. Which morphed into me passing out on the couch and watching the ID Network. Later, I crawled to bed and slept a dreamless sleep.

I’m a Fellow…check me out…

Emerging Writers Festival

Tracy Cross was awarded the Boston Accent Literary Journal Prize in 2016. Her work has appeared in several anthologies and magazines including, Summer Shorts, Big Book of Bootleg Horror and D’Evolution Z Horror Magazine. An active member of the Horror Writers Association and Ladies of Horror Fiction, the review committee thought she was “very imaginative and well thought out” in her application.

Don’t Sleep Your Local Library

Well, after a long break, I am back. I also wanted to talk about something people need in their lives-a library.

Don’t sleep your local branch. When people come in and tell me they haven’t been to a library, “Like ever” or “In like twenty plus years!” , I want to respond with, “You must be the smartest motherfucker in the world. Imagine not having to need a source for anything because you are the source!!” Alas, I enjoy my job, so I stay quiet and smile.

But, you really should check out your local branch. DC Public Libraries have so many events happening, it’s ridiculous. Last week, I showed “Shazam” at my library and there were people from Fairfax, Va that came. (It’s a hike.) I’ll be showing “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: Endgame” in the next month.

There aren’t only movies at the library but computers. I know several libraries have gotten new computers. They are so new that even Staff computers are old and out of date. Not that I’m complaining, but you, dear reader- should definitely hot foot it to your library for the computers alone. No, you can’t sit and watch movies all day, like they used to. Now, you can look at all your swanky resume styles in several ways, check out websites and all this other cool shit.

We also have a lot of cultural things happening. My branch has a lot of things from Central America and Mexico happening. I’m not even sure what the PC term is anymore. Anyway, we will be showing a lot of movies and having a slew of events for Hispanic Heritage Month. Give us half a reason to celebrate something and we will put together a program to do it.

Podcasts, job training, computer one on one workshops, help for the homeless, 1-on 1 Ayuda para la computadora (yeah, we do shit in Spanish too), bilingual story time (HELL-story time in English too!), Uno dos tres con Andres (kiddie program and lots of dancing), baby lap time, summer camps for kids-engineering challenges, STEM for toddlers, Saturday Morning Yoga, Career coaching and book clubs (Spanish and English)-these are just a handful of the programs libraries offer.

Not to mention all our online stuff as well-Kanaopy for movies (and all the free Great Courses videos you can stand), RB Digital (cancel your magazine subscription), Freegal (free music downloads) and finally books. So many books-audio books, reading books, large print books are all ONLINE!!

All it takes is maybe two minutes to get a card and use all this free stuff. But y’all out there playin. Okay then.

Because voodoo is awesome!

goofer dust good for what ails ya.

She will make a salt doll poppet with goofer dust to help her.

This is what I’ll be working on next-another short story but with voodoo and futuristic (oh, how am i gonna do that? insert devilish grin…I got a lot of shit on board)…aside from this book I’m writing about magic. I”m holding off on submissions until my mentorship is over. I’ve been getting some kick ass advice and I have a really great mentor.
I want to thank my friend John for looking over my short story with a guitarist because I only know what the internet gives me. And there are not that many articles out about what guitarists do etc.
Not to be cocky, but I’ve got a couple of winners. I feel it.
That’s all folks!