Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Minding your C's and P's & a Little NaNoWriMo Chatter

Recently, I had one of the most productive and I'll be honest, one of the most kick myself in the ass already, conversations as writer with Mo and Terri. As much as they've helped me so much in the past, this conversation really hit home like no other for me and clicked.

Within quite a few a-ha moments during the talk there was a topic that I'd never wanted to approach before, having a real honest-to-goodness CP. See Mo and Terri have supported me, guided me and even helped me with a synopsis or two, but I've never ever considered sharing my work with them for actual feedback and critique  Again, to be honest I've totally shied away from the idea.

Why?

Well as much as I'm a HUGE believer in the idea that a real CP or CP group is a wonderful tool, nay even essential, for a writer I've always felt that I'm just not there yet.

How do I ask someone "I'm a beginner and light-years behind you in learning the writing tools and rules, but would you give me time out of your super busy world to be my one on one CP?"

Likewise, what do I have to offer them? I mean aren't they looking for someone who's light-years beyond them to give critiques?

So all of this came to a head during our recent conversations and it's lit a fire under me. I'm back to really rewriting my first WIP - really tearing it apart and reworking it so that I can actually send scenes for critique. So that I can actually take a big step forward in my writing - the step of allowing myself to be open to feedback. And I don't mean just the "Okay it's good." feedback you get from friends, I mean the brutally honest "You suck at dialogue and need to work on pacing." kind of feedback.

I've come to the epiphany that this is a step along the way to becoming a professional writer. Having a CP and being open to seeing your work from the eyes of other writers is a natural progression and again, I believe an essential one.

This isn't about letting others tell me what to change, and how they hate this or that. It's about having a critical eye tell me where it lags, what writing tools I need to develop more and so on. As a writer our goal should be to get better and better as a writer and I believe a CP or CP group will help do that.

So pirates, do you have a CP? Not just a group you share with or are accountable to, but a real exchange scenes, get critiques, be honest with each other about the writing type partner? If you do, is it helpful? If you don't, why not? Are you scared to death about the critique like I was? 

Lastly, who here is gearing up for NaNoWriMo? Do you have a story idea in mind that you have researched and ready to go on Nov. 1st? Will you use it to push your current WIP forward? 

Come on crew - let's talk, let's chat! :)

29 comments:

TerriOsburn said...

Let me preface this comment with a disclaimer. I in no way saying I'm as good as Nora Roberts.

The first time I saw LaNora do a Q&A at Nationals, someone asked if she had a CP. She pointed to her lovely and long time conference roommate and mentioned that if she sent a chapter of an MS to this friend, and the friend came back saying it's good but you need to tweak this and change that, Nora would reach through the phone and shove the MS down her throat.

This is how I feel. Control freak much?

In the rough draft stage, it's fun to share bits like we've been doing in emails, but I can't exchange pages or chapter on a regular basis while writing the rough draft. However, I know many who do and it works for them.

MsHellion said...

Yes and no. I can share clips with Terri, who I call my CP, but getting feedback-feedback you're referring to: No. She's not interested in it for herself, so it's not an exchange thing we can work out. And my other CPs keep leaving.

Now that I think on it. My CPs go to great lengths to get away from me. Huh. Maybe I'm not as great a writer as I thought. I think I'm done for the day--you'll find me at the bottom of a prozac bottle. Byeeee!

I'm still pushing my WIP, so in NaNo, I'll be finishing that. No new ideas. But I need to get it done!

And I would love to CP for you! Your book premise sounds awesome and I love your voice!

MsHellion said...

(Although I understand if you don't want me as a CP because you can see as I just realized, no one wants to be my CP. So it's cool.)

TerriOsburn said...

For me, Hellie is good for the brainstorming. She's more my plotting CP, if that makes any sense. I can say "I'm stuck here and I need this and that to happen." She starts asking questions and in no time I have my answer.

Mo is the same way for me. They keep me moving. I think Hellie used to be a sentence re-writer, but I believe she's broken that habit now. :) Take her on!

Sabrina Shields said...

LOL! I didn't write this post trolling for volunteers!

What I find interesting is that there is so much more to this than my newbie self thought. When I first came into this, I thought a CP was like the end all be all - the brainstormer, the keep me on track goal, the sharing snippets, and finally the critique.

Now, I've found that there are different people and groups for many of these things.

It's very interesting to discover that.

Sin said...

I'm doing NaNo. My playlist for Uri and Cin is ready and I'm working on my outline now. I'll be in the land of Q for the first 4 days of NaNo but I'm fully prepare to take my notebook and hand write pages until I get back to the states.

I think I'm probably the only one who holds onto my writing with an iron fist and rarely shares any of it. I feel awkward and strange letting people read the crap I get down on a doc. Which is why I've realized I can be a CP or be in a CP group. I like to read others stuff but in the back of my mind I worry if I mention something or point out something, the person who wrote it will be offended, choke me to death and never speak to me again. So it's best that I work on my own with my head down.

Sabrina Shields said...

Hellie - I'll drop you an email. :)

I feel so incredibly lucky to have many people who've reached out to me saying they would like to partner, but I've never taken anyone up on it before because it scared me shitless.

I want to get into this rewrite more, and then it's on!

Sabrina Shields said...

Sin - I've been holding on with an iron fist too. Too worried that I'm not advanced enough to show anyone my stuff.

As for critiquing - I usually ask up front what someone wants feedback on how "honest" they want the feedback to be. Then I tailor my remarks to what that person needs for themselves and their writing.

I really cannot wait to join my local RWA chapter. I promised myself to hit a goal I've set first and I keep being almost there but not quite. I'm determined to get there soon and start 2013 with writing as a top priority.

Sabrina Shields said...

As for NaNo - I plan to work on the rewriting of my first WIP. So it's not totally a words goal for me this time, but a butt in chair, work on it everyday kind of challenge.

I'll also be traveling on Thanksgiving week so I'm hoping to be at a point to take print outs to edit since I'm not sure I'll want to take the laptop.

P. Kirby said...

FWIW - "You suck at dialogue and need to work on pacing." -- isn't my idea of what I want from a CP. Why? Because it put the writer on the defensive and really tells them nothing about what they are doing wrong.

What I want is this: "In the second scene, the dialogue is very stilted and overly wordy. [excerpt of text]. You might want an approach that looks like this: [short rewrite]. Try to use more contractions and keep in mind that real people aren't necessarily grammatically correct. They often use sentence fragments, as well."

See the diff?

Anyway, I had a CP, but don't anymore, which kind of sucks. The only thing about CPs is that it really helps to find someone who loves your writing and vice versa. Not so you can get mindless ego-boosting. Instead, because if your partner loves your writing, they will enjoy helping you improve it; it puts them in your corner. So it's not so much about comparable skill level, and more about compatibility, writing-wise.

Sabrina Shields said...

Anyone else using Nov. for either NaNo or another challenge?

Sabrina Shields said...

Thanks Pat! Yes, I totally agree with you - I was just taking the example critique to it's base core as an example. :)

I hadn't thought about the benefits of finding someone who likes your writing in those terms. Great tip!

Marnee Bailey said...

I agree with Pat here.... So it's not so much about comparable skill level, and more about compatibility, writing-wise.

It's not about whether the person is published or agented or even finished more than you, I think it's about are the way they're working and the way you're working compatible right now. I've worked with people over the years and different things have worked for them/me at different times. Sometimes stuff goes on in our real lives and things change with our needs. I think it's about finding situations that work for both of you and then working to make each other better.

:)

Go you, though! It's a big step to put yourself out there. Way to go!

MsHellion said...

I want to hand P.Kirby a bullet proof vest for offering the line about "a rewriting suggestion" and tell her to duck. (I agree with her, mind, I love that stuff myself, but we're in the minority on this boat.) Tread carefully, P! *LOL*

Otherwise, yes, I totally agree about finding a CP who gets what you're doing because then they are in your corner and wanting to help you improve, come out with the best book.

I remember critique groups at local RWA chapters--and there were a handful who really tried to be constructive and objective as they gave comments about your book, but there was always at least one person in that group (yes, Wendy I'm talking about you) who always said, "I just want to be honest" and then proceeded to trash your book, your idea, your writing, and said, "If I ever saw your book in print, I'd set it on fire." And they let her STAY. There is something...disheartening about trying to write with what I considered to be a COMMITTEE. I think you should probably have a group of four tops and I think everyone should get the voice/idea of whatever is doing in order for it to work. (Even if you don't work in the same genre--you don't have to be bosom buddies in the same genre--just have maybe the same sense of humor...or sense of drama maybe.) Then it can be really fun to work together.

But having a large group also sucks your time in that you have to be willing to give feedback for three other people. All the time. I know finding ONE person might feel like a handicap and that you're just finding a "yes man" who doesn't tell you what's not working--but that's not the case. When it's not working, you know--and the other person is going to say it too. Even if they say it nicely, like, "Um, I like how you made your hero in the other book" which means, "I hate this hero but I'm sure you can fix him." One CP instead of a committee (RWA chapter critique group) is easier and more productive. Really.

MsHellion said...

Sometimes stuff goes on in our real lives and things change with our needs. I think it's about finding situations that work for both of you and then working to make each other better.

God, if that ain't the truth.

Marnee Bailey said...

I think, also, that you can have a few CPs but they don't have to all work with each other.

Remember, working as someone's CP isn't like taking a marriage vow. Granted, I know lots of people who have worked with the same person for years and years very closely and they're like a married couple. But it doesn't have to be like that. It can take any role that you both find beneficial. I think it's good to go in with the goal of helping and getting help. If it works out forever, great, and if it only works for a time, that can be great too. Gratitude for what they could give you and no hard feelings if it comes to an end.

It's a business relationship, ultimately. A close friendship might happen, but it isn't necessary.

Sabrina Shields said...

Oh yes Hellie and Marn - that quote is so true. It's another reason I've held back when people have offered to CP with me in the past. I'm insanely busy and I don't want them to have a "flighty" partner who can't deliver on a timely basis.

TerriOsburn said...

I think these comments really prove that the CP relationship is like any other. You have to date a while, get to know each other, be compatible. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you stay together and sometimes you work together for a short while.

Thankfully, there are no ugly divorce proceedings necessary. (Not that things can't get ugly, but let's not go there.)

TerriOsburn said...

I also want to note about the "at the same skill level" thing. Regardless of how long you've been writing, 99% of the time you've been a reader for years. You know, as a reader, what works and doesn't work for you. That is valuable information for any writer.

In your case, Scape, you've been reviewing for years. You're more than qualified to give anyone feedback.

Maureen said...

Ah, I'm not as control freak as Terrio, but I'm not a fan of letting an entire MS out to be read. I did it with Scape and she did good! But I'm more inclined to use readers for what they do best... Terrio is fab with helping me straighten out my fractured sense of time, and whether I've pulled or not made clear an emotional punch. But I wouldn't subject her to an entire MS, she'd punch me.

Pat is fabulous and I'd love to exchange MS with her. Why? Because I do think you need someone who can follow the convolutions of whatever genre mishmash you're writing. And Pat is about as twisty as I am... So, Pat...whenever you're ready.

Really, Pat helped me redo an opening that was snoozing...

My sis reads my stuff and is fab for basic story questions. I've taken stuff to my local RWA and asked specifically whether what I'm doing works. For example, I wrote a scene with a four year old (or was she six?) and it was my first, so I asked specifically for feedback on the dialogue/description of said little girl. Worked out great. I dirtied her dress up...

NaNoWrMo will not see me.

Anyway, I totally get the fear of a CP. Not so much for what I can't offer them, I always feel I have something to offer, specifics or not, but I'm highly resistant to being told I need to change this or that, or ... whatever.

And my feelings get hurt too easily. There, I said it. Truth.

P. Kirby said...

I want to hand P.Kirby a bullet proof vest for offering the line about "a rewriting suggestion" and tell her to duck. (I agree with her, mind, I love that stuff myself, but we're in the minority on this boat.) Tread carefully, P! *LOL*

I agree. First, when I do that, I preface it with, "here's how I'd do it." I rarely engage in rewrite suggestions (too time consuming). But sometimes, it's hella hard to try and explain when it's easier to show. Because my critique style is very diplomatic, I've never had anybody get their panties in a wad when I've offered a rewrite suggestion. Because I make it clear, it's a suggestion, not a "do it this way." Given that my style is very gentle, if they get tweaked over that, they're gonna melt down when they get their first review.

I don't think I'd ever do the in-person, critique group thing. In part, because you're bound to get someone like the Wendy described above. And, yeah, that's way too many manuscripts to read and evaluate.

Plus, I don't think well on my feet and in-person, I am likely to say something awful. (And more likely to get offended, especially if it feels like everyone is ganging up on me.)

P. Kirby said...

And, Ms. Maureen, I probably would like to run some of my WIP by you one of these days, if you don't mind.

Anyhow, I'm always happy to look at a few chapters for folks. Don't think I have the time commitment for a full at this point. But I'll read anything that isn't hard SF (soft SF, okay), or "inspirational" (read, religious).

MsHellion said...

Yeah, that was the other thing about the group. It did feel like a personal attack, and there were rules you could not "argue" about any of it. You were ONLY to listen. So you had to wait for Wendy to stop ranting, thank her, and go on. Oh, hell, no.

It's one thing to read comments like that, be pissed, put it aside, then come back later to dig out the stuff that could work--but it's another to work the way that group did. However, there have been some books published, I think out of that group, and they're authors I admire--so if they can survive and thrive, I have to hand it to them. *LOL*

Yes, it's easier to "do it" by example than explain for me too. To me it's a teaching/learning style--I learn better by example than you telling me how to do something, but clearly not everyone learns like I do...or is that interested in learning (or thinks they need to learn it.) And again, it boils to "Did they get what I am writing?" You can get a comment about a section and someone can offer a suggestion, and it's more about "you didn't get what I was doing" rather than "I did it wrong"--or maybe I did it wrong to convey what I was trying to do. (Okay, I've confused myself now.)

Maureen said...

At your beck and call, Pat!

I've been at the big meeting, where certain people have an aura of decisiveness about them and know the vocubulary of a professional writer down so well...their POV regarding a critique is like GOD'S word... And there's little ole me, arguing with what they said. Such fun!

But I'm a better overall cheerleader, so I'm the new president! Nyah, Nyah!

Maureen said...

I also think the more you write the more your filters work to weed out the unhelpful from the 'oh, yeah!'

In the beginning, you're more likely to hear everything and believe it all and then you just get more confused.

And ditto what Ter said about reading and learning more than you realize from the depth and breath of what you read. We all know more than we realize, we simply don't have the professional vocubulary to express it with authority at first. That comes with time... Or you blow all of that off and just go with what you know...even if you don't know how to say it in a critique.

P. Kirby said...

Yeah, that was the other thing about the group. It did feel like a personal attack, and there were rules you could not "argue" about any of it. You were ONLY to listen. So you had to wait for Wendy to stop ranting, thank her, and go on. Oh, hell, no.

Funny thing is, I get why the "no arguing" rule is in place. I'm pretty mellow about critiquing but my one mild peeve is this. Let's say I note that the protagonist feels overly passive (based on early chapters). Then the writer responds with, "Yes, I know Mary is kind of passive in the early chapters, but she gets much more feisty in the later chapters."

Sigh.

Then there was the one writer who felt he had to explain why he wrote the story as he did AND, knowing that, did I change my opinion of the writing?

Um, no. If you're story needs that much set-up, it isn't working.

Point. I imagine the rule is designed to stop writers from engaging in endless, pointless loops of “But, but...she’s supposed to be passive.” *whine* And force them to listen. But, in-person, it can feel like an assault.

MsHellion said...

Oh, agree, P, that's why the rule was there. Definitely. And I couldn't argue--if you hate my hero, you hate him--but do you have to go into rabid obnoxious detail of how you'd crucify him if you met him? The guy doesn't exist.

I should probably bring up Wendy at the next therapy session. Then again, I haven't belonged to that chapter in years...mainly because of Wendy.

MsHellion said...

I should also repeat that the rest of the members weren't like Wendy. They'd usually start out with your positives first and try to couch criticisms diplomatically.

JulieJustJulie said...

"So pirates, do you have a CP? Not just a group you share with or are accountable to?"

That depends on what CP means to you. Great blog BTW, really had me thinking about writing and sharing what I write.