• Who We Are

  • Schedule

    Mondays ~
    Tuesdays ~ Snarky
    Wednesdays ~ Dreamer
    Thursdays ~ Naughty
    Fridays ~ Dreary
    Saturdays ~
    Sundays ~

    Whenever ~ Smokey, Mighty, Eerie and Wicked

  • Snarky’s Tweets

  • Kinetic’s Tweets

  • Dreamer’s Tweets

  • Wicked’s Tweets

  • Eerie’s Tweets

  • Mighty’s Tweets

Critique Groups

critique group

A critique group can be defined as a lot of things, but to me, it’s simply a group of people who get together to go over their writing. If you are a writer and you aren’t in one, I highly recommend either joining one or creating one. I spent years writing on my own, working my hardest to reach my goal of becoming a published author. Yet, it wasn’t until I joined a critique group that I not only grew a lot as a writer, but had the confidence and knowledge to become a published author.

But what makes a successful critique group?

  • The most important thing is that all the members have personalities that work well together. If everyone can’t get along, they can’t work together.
  • Trust is equally important. If you don’t trust the members of the group, it’s hard to accept and give critiques. The whole experience leaves you pretty vulnerable, which means you need people there you know want the best for you.
  • Depending on your groups goals, the members should always be thinking, “what can we do to improve their story so it can be published?” If the members are just trying to tear apart your work, the group isn’t helpful for anyone.
  • Keep the group small. More than ten members would make it very difficult to have time to read and review people’s work (well). I actually think five or so members is plenty.
  • Meet regularly. Every two weeks seems to work well for me, but each group will have different needs.
  • Submit each meeting. The only way you’ll see a lot of growth is if you have regular feedback. Each meeting you’ll try to apply the comments from the last meeting so that your problems change and minimize. This really helps your growth as an author.

I asked my fellow critique group member and friend Aeon Igni her thoughts about the benefits of a critique group, and I think her response was brilliant:

“If you’ve ever read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, you know that much of business success comes from individuals grouping together to accomplish greater tasks than any one person could accomplish alone. A good writing group gives an author this power. With several minds focusing on their process, product, and career rather than their single mind, it is almost assured that the end product will be exponentially greater than what the author could create without this feedback.

Critique groups share information, techniques, tips and tools of the trade, as well as powerful brainstorming sessions and constructive criticism. We can see the power of critique partners and critique groups among published authors today – many authors I follow reference each other on social media and post pictures of themselves dining out or taking cruises together. 

For me personally, it is comforting to know that I don’t have to go it alone – that there are others to turn to when I am struggling or need advice. Even a simple text with an article to read or asking how my writing is coming along can be powerful motivation to keep moving forward. I expect that I will always be part of a critique group, and I can’t imagine a writing life without one.”

So if you aren’t in a critique group yet, find one or created one. It may be the single most important thing you do as a writer.

I Really Liked It, But…

I joined the Dwarves just over a year ago and they were my first experience with a critique group. Luckily they seemed to like me and have kept me around even though I moved across the country. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first met up with the group but I was pleasantly surprised overall. The first meeting I went to I was given the option as to whether or not I would like to give critiques to the other members. I thought it was a test, so I did them.

I am still not sure to this day whether it was an actual test, but my critiques failed miserably. First of all I had never met these people and I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I believe that I started every criticism with “I really liked it, but…” I recall feeling rather flustered when Snarky snorted around the fifth time I said this. Luckily Snarky has grown on me and I no longer hold it against her (or do I? All those murder plots we sit around and talk about? Bet you never knew you were on my list Snarky! Bwahahahaha!). Seriously though, I deserved the snort.

Now I am at a point where I can tell my group, hey guess what ya’ll I didn’t really like all of it. Mind you this was a year ago and if you asked me whose I really liked and didn’t,  I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that, just like when you’re reading books, you’re not going to like everything you read to critique. Now comes the hard part: do you not like it because it’s not your genre of choice? Do you not like it because you’re not a fan of first person?  Do you not like it because if you read another book about demons/vampires/Aunt Flo/Steve/zombies/BDSM you’re going to scream?

All of these are valid feelings to have about a book but then you have to ask yourself if it’s relevant. I myself don’t read a ton of Science Fiction. So if I’m critiquing SciFi I have to question if the reason it’s not clicking for me is because it needs work or if it’s because it doesn’t have the same flow as an Urban Fantasy (of which I read a lot). If there are more holes in the plot then a colander then my input is valuable. If I dislike something because it’s not my bag it’s not helpful to the writer.

Another thing I brought up is not liking something because of the choice of POV. Not enjoying a certain POV is fine, but again unless the POV makes it impossible to get into, it’s a style choice. The one I would argue not to use is first person present tense. I write in first person past tense, and I have never met a reader who enjoyed present tense. It’s jarring. Not to sound too PC but if that’s your style choice you can tell me to shove it where the sun don’t shine and I will accept that as your choice.

The last example I used is probably the hardest to tell someone. Clichés! Dum, dum, dum! (dramatic music). When a person is writing commercial fiction it is hard not to fall into a cliché because we are often writing to a formula. I myself could read a million books about demons/vampires/Aunt Flo/zombies/BDSM as long as there is a good twist to the story. The dwarves are a very talented group but there are times when we all need to be reminded to spice it up.   

Personally I think that joining the critique group has helped me tremendously not only as a writer but also as a reader/critic. It is easier to find flaws in your own work when you are able to see it in others. The key to getting the most you can out of a critique group is to put your big girl (or boy) britches on and be willing to listen and implement. If you are unwilling to do so or if the people in your group are unwilling to do so it’s probably not a good fit. That is not to say that you should take every piece of advice, you are the creator of your own world and you have total control over said world. What it is saying is that nobody has the perfect manuscript, and if you’re unwilling to offer or receive productive feedback a critique group would be pointless. So remember don’t feel the need to sugarcoat everything. People want honest opinions, that is not to say being a total dick is appropriate either because I’m sure your mama raised you better than that.

 

Disclaimer: Dwarves, despite the fact that many of us write about zombies, vampires, demons, etc. I was not passive aggressively calling anyone out so when my spies tell me what ya’ll talk about at the next meeting it better not be me. Okay, I know the rules, if I’m not there I’m fair game, but it shouldn’t be about oh “that bitch hates zombie books,” because we all know that isn’t the case. 

Hellos and Goodbyes…

It’s been awhile since we’ve visited the Swamp and her inhabitants. Today I thought you might like to take a peek into our little farewell get together for Mighty, who shall remain with us via the technology gods until her return, and meet our newest member…

Wicked: *shoving Might’s duffle on to the back of the lopsided jackass*  Why the hell are you going to the Windy City? Between the Werewolf Monks and Eerie’s Free Range Zombies, I would’ve thought we had enough drama for you.

Mighty:*stashing her Staff of Bull Shark Repellent*  You know how it is, money’s a little tight and those Bull Sharks aren’t going to leave the lake any time soon. I’m just going to make sure they don’t pass beyond where they’re allowed.

Snarky: *lazily curling and uncurling her whip*  I can whip them into shape.

Mighty: *look of indulgent disdain*  Your whip is not going to reach.

*Overhead Mischievous calls out*:  Hey Mighty, you ready to lose a few fingers and toes?  The temps over there will keep you in deep freeze.  *He cackles at his lame attempt at humor*

Mighty: *rolling her eyes across the road. Picks them up and puts them back in*:  That bird would be great fried.

Wicked: *grinning in agreement, even as the Prankster Duo comment on Mighty’s gory trick*  Yeah, but I think Eerie might take exception to our meal plans.

Eerie: *taking his Free Range Zombies for a walk with chains and a pointy stick*  What meal plans? The Werewolf Monks have been promising me a new vintage, I could pester them for it.

*A cloud of smoke drifts over* Smokey: “Just took down a mastodon over by Swamp Thing’s place. It’s been smoking nicely for the last few days. I’ll have my Spicy Bit bring it over. We don’t want you heading off without a full belly, Mighty.

Quirky: *practicing knots with some newly purchased ropes*  The Muses headed out a few hours ago, so we could probably hang over at Filet Your Own Deli without worrying about another knock down drag out argument over the use of details or lack thereof.

Dreamer *arms full of colorful blooms and Angel Boy fluttering around her ankles*  What about your cabin, Mighty? Do you need someone to pop in and keep an eye on things for you?

Mighty: *the smirk we all know and love but have learned to be wary of appears* Nah, I forgot to mention I found someone to cabin sit while I’m gone.  That way it’ll still be standing, Zombie Free, when I get back.

Dreamer *beatific smile appears* It’s so nice to have new blood in the community.  So much to play with…*a small blush*  I mean, perhaps they’ll have new playmates for Angel Boy.  *Turns to Wicked and Snarky*  No offense girls, but I believe your progeny may be perhaps a bit too adventurous for mine right now.

Wicked & Snarky exchange high fives.  

Wicked: None taken…

Snarky:  So this new peep.  What’s the deal? Who are they? Where are they from? Most importantly, can they pass the Swamp Entry Exam?

*A loud pop and a blue telephone booth appears and settles in the road. Red Dwarf steps out

Red: Good eve, all, I thought I’d pop in before tea to bid Mighty adieu.  

*A small blond races from behind Red and joins forces with the Prankster Duo, where upon a discussion of how Yoda took down Darth in this year’s Star Wars March Madness*

Red: Did I hear something about an entrance exam? I thought we’d straightened that out months ago.  Besides, I don’t see any dead bodies lying around. Everyone’s here–Snarky, Wicked, Smokey, Quirky, Eerie, Dreamer, Mighty, myself…doesn’t that put us one over?

Eerie *capturing a wondering single hand and wrestling it back in line*  Even though you’re over the Pond and Mighty will soon be in the Land of Winds and You-betchas, we’ve decided to allow one more individual into the group.

Quirky:  We did? When?

Wicked: It was during the brawl over at the Kilted Ferret pub when we had to hold off that damn Molly and her two henchboys from Eerie’s Three Misfiteers.  

Quirky: *flying fingers and rope pause before continuing their dizzy dance*  Oh yeah.  So, who is the new person?

Mighty: *tossing another package on top of the lopsided jackass* I’d introduce you all, but she’s been here the whole time, so I ‘ll let her do the honors.

*All seven dwarves start checking out their surroundings*

Eerie: Short? Tall? Gnome? Troll? What exactly are we looking for here? And a name would be good.

*Mighty smiles and continues to finish her packing*

*From behind him a shadow separates and forms into a petite, lithe form*  Names are not to be given lightly, small man.

Eerie: *huffs up to his full three foot one inch height* Who you calling small?

Wicked: *arms folded so knives are in easy reach* Nice move there, I need to introduce you to Raine.

Snarky: *lets her whip snap, crackle and pop*  And you would be…

*Shadow girl drops a very elegant bow* I am called Ninja Dwarf.

Quirky: *looking intrigues*  Wow! Totally cool, we get our very own ninja!

Defenders of Creativity

Here in the swamp there is one day every month that I look forward to with baited breath and giddy excitement–the first Saturday, that joyous day when I make the trek through our stomping grounds over to Smokey’s place where delicious and enticing aromas waft like catnip through the air.  This time I left not only the Prankster Duo and the hellhound behind, but even my knight-in-slightly-muddy armor stayed at home.  He was muttering something about playoff tournaments and had pulled out his old high school jousting thingy. The Evil 7 were meeting for our monthly eat-n-gab and I was anxious to fling a few ideas off of them.

As I made my way through the swamp even the Zombies had a small pep to their normal shuffle-drag so it was more along the lines of shuffle-drag-hop.  Mischievous was tormenting our newest arrival-Mr. C. Rock Adail.  There were bets circulating on how long before Mr. C. Rock-AnAss lasted before someone decided Mrs. Swamp Thing needed a new pair of boots. I was down for a month, but we’ll see…

As I basked in the inspiring atmosphere of the other dwarves, it hit me why these other six individuals are so important to me as a writer.  I thought I’d share these pearls with you all…

1.  They are the only ones I know who can understand that the voices in my head do not equate to a psychotic break, but are in actuality–character development.

2.  Just because I think I have developed a perfectly awesome plot outline for book 3 and should be lauded for my brilliance, they will be the ones to shake their heads with varying degrees of pity and indulgence as they slash my ego down to size with, “Awww sweetie, this is great.. but it’s not book three, this is book four.”  Only they could walk away unscathed from pointing out my mistakes.

3.   They push me to stretch my limits to a breaking point and sometimes even get me to reset those limits somewhere completely new.  Who else could would understand my fear of writing a character who’s not tempered into a lethal weapon by a torturous past?  I’m sure Freud would have a field day with me, but only the other Evil 6 get why the thought of writing a character with a happy past makes my skin clammy and cold while my stomach twists into a Gordian knot.

4.  They’re safe.  Strange concept for a motley group like us, but oh so true.  With them, it doesn’t matter how twisted, dark, wildly inappropriate, weirdly humorous, or silly the concepts are, I can share them and know they aren’t wondering when I’ll hit their house in the middle of the night in a white mask or show up in a white jacket with buckles in the back.  Every writer needs somewhere to bounce all sorts of things around, just to see where they’ll hit or what ideas they’ll spark.  With my group, I have the freedom to do that without worrying if they’ll think differently of me because of it.  They already know I’m warped, so no use in hiding it.

5.  Without them I wouldn’t be working on a book 3, book 4 or even considering 5-8.  We may  have all moved into the Swamp at different times, from different spots in our meandering journeys, but they become my cheering squad, my cattle-prods, my stinging whip of determination and my life saving rope of sanity in the very perilous world of writing.  They’re the ones who can make sure your characters are being true to themselves and their world, your plots may twist and turn but smooth out in the end, and you don’t ever stop writing.

6.  They understand the importance of taking time to dream.  Each of us have had to learn how to snatch our precious dreaming time from the clutches of the real world.  Every writer needs those precious minutes every day.  Time to flesh out those voices in our head, add topography to those worlds we’re creating, and finagle a few twists and turns in those pesky plot lines.  Others may snark at taking time to dream when reality is an oppressive monster, but we understand just how vital and necessary the skill is to our artists souls.  And we guard it zealously with no apologies.

The first Saturday of the month may provide me with lots of adult conversations that seem to be lacking in every day life, but it’s also my time outside of time. It’s a chance to share laughter, ideas, and insights with individuals who are my friends and defenders.  I take huge comfort in the fact that together we become formidable defenders who protect the tiny pieces of our souls that we set into story and lay on paper and place before the intimidating eye of the world.

Wicked

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