Everyone talks about self care and self love, but let’s talk about you and me. Recently, I signed up for a workshop. I get work back from the workshop and it was a critique and then, they wanted money for me to attend the workshop.
Now I know my shit was tight. My work was finely tuned. I’ve made all the changes and I filed it under the “done” folder. As I’m reading this letter, ripping my work apart, I’m thinking, “Well, I’ve had critiques from several other people and they didn’t have this problem.”
I’m a Pisces. I’m paranoid as hell and I get offended easily.
So, I’m wavering and thinking. I’m also about to go finish schoolwork with my kid and make lunch. But hey…I’m thinking that I’m reading a story and I thinkthat the author uses the word “said” too much. Everyone said. Then, she said. No adverbs or descriptions of how they said what they did. Just said. I don’t think anyone said anything to this author during the editing process. Or maybe they said to tone it down on the adverbs. You know what, just change it all to said. I mean the rest of the book is good. (YA is always a hard read because at some point the protagonist commits a series of wtf’s and you wanna put the book down, but you need to finish.)
What’s the point of all this. Man, I gotta stop taking shit personal. If Person A reads it and says it’s perfect. Person B said to add a few details blah blah. Person C says this and that. You go over three or drafts done and finally they all agree. Yay! Then, anyone else that reads it has an opinion as well. At this point, I can only take so much.
Self care and why you matter starts here…do I change this story for the 890th time or let it go. I’m open to critique, mind you. I know a person is trying to make it so they understand it. If I change it for you, I’d have to change it for every reader. And I don’t have the time to do that. In other words, I’m gonna pass on your word.
Am I cocky? Nah. It’s like so many people write the great American novel and never get published. Some people are afraid to get their work out there. I’ve had stuff published and am working on a novel. I’m not afraid of getting my stuff out there. But unless this helps me to clarify something or improve the story, nah, son. This is like my 890th pass on this one work. I ain’t got time.
Basically, know when to say no. Know when your ideas and your truth matters. Know when to say, “Thanks, I’ll take it into consideration.” You matter. Take care of you.
I made it through another Nanowrimo. What they need is a category for people who start one project and end up working on something else. I did that.
I started writing my super planned out novel but I wasn’t feeling it. I felt like I was overdoing everything. I went with a side project I’d been thinking about for awhile and destroyed! It started out small and blossomed to about 35K words. I need to check, but I’m touching on novella status.
Nevertheless, I need a break. Hence The Chambers Brothers quote…the time has come today. (Which is a loooong song. I remember my dad joking that midway through the song it sounds like someone gags.)
Well, today my glands are swollen and I am home. I am excited and dreading the new year. I need a fresh start. And after the bizarre day at work yesterday, I need a break. (It was like a cloud was over us and the sky kept dropping out more and more bizarre things and challenges. We should all get a day off for that. But, as the holidays near, shit is going to get crazy.)
I talked to a cool friend of mine. She invited me axe throwing, which was cool. It was the “DW Stress Relieving Sessions” (DW-Disgruntled Woman) I’ll try to add a few pics before my next big adventure begins…
And that’s it for me. I’ve gotta get knee deep into something I’ll share next month. It’s also gonna be really big and I’ll be kicking off 2020 with some awesome news!
(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.)
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.
Don’t impose your IRON WILL over everyone
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.
Find a few lines you like and leave a note in the margin. It makes a writer feel good.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
My sister told me to write the story I want to read.
Whenever I’m stuck or simply not feeling it. I always hear those words in the back of my head. Even after spending hours on Pinterest looking at other Writer’s Boards or reading old stories I’ve started and never finished, it all comes down to one thing: movies.
I am a movie buff. I can tell you that Dumplings is a movie I wish I wrote. I think that DC has the better animated canon than Marvel but I appreciate them both. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is way better than Fullmetal Alchemist. I know all the words to Aliens. A movie I thing everyone should see is, A Day Without a Mexican. I prefer independent movies like Series 7: The Contenders, The Babadook, Stake Land over bloated movies like “Insert Any Movie Remake”, The Dark Tower Or Fury Road (how do you call a movie Mad Max and the main character has less than 10 lines, let alone 10 words). These are my choices and I have zero apologies.
As I washed dishes today, I was reminded of why I write. I watched a movie and let me just go over a few things I’ve seen in the last few days:
Black Male Doctor that takes multi ethnic intern under his wing because he’s secretly rooting for her. Oh yes, he’s mean but that’s because he cares.
Black Girl that Saves the Day-movie protagonist lost her memory and despite being all of two years old, little black girl has perfect memories and talks about them like she was older at the time (and she was only two, I mean, hell-now, she’s eight!) and saves the day. She helps the protagonist remember who she was, despite protagonist getting the shit knocked out of her for over 90 minutes. I’ve never seen an eight year old child look at pictures of themselves as a baby and remember everything that was said around her, about her and by her. Sheesh.
Sexy AsianSex Worker that solves murders but can only do so showing you her full naked bush and smeared make up. She works in a sex club (she is a sexy asian exoctical worker, right?) and she runs with her robe open, titties flailing. Rrrrighttt.
Gay Friend that touches the protagonist’s white shoulder and says, “You should believe in you.” All becomes right with the world and they hug.
Racially Ambiguous Girl that’s not quite black but not quite white but dates white boyfriend and dumps him to find herself. She ends up dating black and everyone laughs and is happy. Fade to black.
Any Spicy Latina starring in the role of chola, gang banger, sexy bitch or whatever Latino stereotype you can think of. But she always got them eyebrows and is muy picante. Maybe her sister is the bad ass in the gang.
Magical Black Best Girl Friend-She stands by while white friend gets herself together with Magical Black Friend’s advice. Magical Black Best Girl Friend does not have any friends and waits up late at night for white friend to come home from wherever she was and hangs on her every word. She offers more advice and they hug. White friend gets it together and moves on. Hugs Magical Black Best Girl Friend/Sista Friend and drives off into the sunset. Also see Magical Negro.
Culturally Awake/Woke White Person with dreads and black partner. They are so woke that you want to question your own wokeness. But wait! They are super cool and bohemian. They dance on the downbeat and cook some mean collard greens. They also have dreads but it’s cool because they so damned woke. They can get down with any crowd, including that gang banging group of Latinos that just need some love. They also speak whatever language is necessary to save their ass. So, let them offer the hombres some love.
There is also White Guy With Heart of Gold that Helps Ethnic Groups or People in Trouble and Non-threatening Black Guys.
I could go on, but remember, this was only the last few days.
I write because I like to have a black female protagonist that owns shit. She owns the scene, she kicks ass and everything else. Not only that but maybe she’s mixed (Black and Mexican, Black And Japanese). She may be based on someone I dated or knew. Actual real life people I know and include in my stories in very sly ways.
Don’t give me that shit about, “Well, you’ve got ‘XYZ Vampire Killer’ or the fact that so many Black writers are expanding genres. I get it. But this is about me. This is also about other girls like me that hated not seeing themselves or people like them reflected in stories.
This is the part where I’m supposed to say some shit like, “Well, fuck the fame as long as one person…” Um, no. I want the checks cut to me, I want my shit made into movies and I want to be that famous recluse that people see and thank with a head nod. (I will be with my kid in public and she doesn’t talk much but we are working on it.)
I write what I want to read. I write what I want and I stand by it.