Saturday, 30 June 2007

Critique or Criticism?

Look up 'critique' and you'll see such words as evaluation and assessment. Look up 'criticism' and you'll see disparagement and disapproval.

As new writers, we eventually find it necessary to offer up our work for critique. This isn't the same thing as asking friends and family to read your book. Your family will love it no matter what. Your friends may like it. If they don't, they'll merely tell you they were too busy to read it. Maybe they were too busy. Maybe they couldn't choke it down because your writing wasn't up to par.

The truth is, you're not getting an honest critique of your work. If you jump the gun and start querying and sending partials willy-nilly into the publishing world, there's a good chance you'll be disappointed by the results. Rejections will likely pour in with the regularity of an electric bill. Maybe you'll give up, convinced that you suck. Or maybe you'll realize that there are people out there who can really help.

So, you join a writers' group or forum. You get tips on making your work better. You discover flaws like passive voice, showing not telling, info dump and wooden dialogue.

Maybe a critique is particularly harsh, and you instantly take it personally. Perhaps you lash back, telling everybody you know that the critiquer is mean. If that's the case, you have a lot to learn about the critiquing process. Resist the urge to diss the critiquer. Don't flounce off in a huff because your brilliant prose didn't blow the socks off everyone who read it. The people who think they're helping you are not necessarily professionals, and not all of them know how to assess another writer's work with an objective eye.

Take each comment, positive or negative, and store them in a safe place. Take some time to cool off and look at the comments again.

Some will be inconsequential, like: "I thought that joke was in poor taste and I don't think you should use it." So what if the reader didn't like the joke? A thousand others will. Disregard.

Some will sting: "Using excessive 'there was' is the sign of an amateur". Okay, that could have been worded differently, so take it in its intended context -- omit excessive 'there was'.

Some will be extremely unhelpful: "This sucks. You can't write." Or: "I didn't like the plot." Ignore these people and move on.

Most will be helpful, and eventually their advice will percolate into your psyche if the same tips are given again and again.

Above all, whether you agree or disagree, take the time to thank your critiquer.

I'm telling you this because my writers' group was recently attacked for rejecting a potential member based on her submission. She sent her complaint to a new blog that specializes in exposing unfair treatment in the writing world.

I love the people in my writers' group -- they all helped me hone my rudimentary writing skills until I was eventually published. Now they are helping me in my quest to obtain an agent. They are the sweetest, most generous and kind ladies I'd ever met online. Together, we help each other learn, we lean on each others' shoulders when tragedy strikes, and we laugh together on a regular basis. I don't regret joining the group, and I wish it could be open to the whole writing world, but it can't. They can't accept everyone, just like a dedicated couple can't adopt a whole orphanage.

Yes, there are watchdog and resource sites out there, with Absolute Write, Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors at the forefront. They carefully research any claims against agents, publishers and writers' groups, offering both sides of the story if available. A random blog has every right to complain about individuals in the industry, but it may backfire on the owner if they don't back up their claims with facts.

There are great critique groups out there, too. Run your first pages through Elektra's Crapometer and you'll get honest and helpful opinions. Give your query letter a shot at Evil Editor's blog and you'll laugh your ass off while he picks apart your pitch in a most hilarious fashion, followed by a revised letter that will likely be 300% better. Join in the office party at the Absolute Write water cooler and you'll get lost in a whirlwind of opinions, jokes, critiques, writing exercises and just plain fun (and a little flouncing, too).

Hopefully you'll also fit in some writing, too.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The Space Between Release Date

I received notification today that my romance novel THE SPACE BETWEEN is scheduled for release by The Wild Rose Press on Friday, July 6th, 2007. The print release will be October 5th, 2007.
Oh, happy day!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

When Writers Read as Writers

I used to read for pleasure -- voraciously, in fact. I'd grab whatever was on the shelf -- romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery -- and be satisfied with whatever I scarfed down. I even raided my kids' shelves and re-read all the YA they had.

Now, I have six books sitting on my end table, each partly read. For some reason, I can't get into any of them. I keep finding little nuances like passive voice, head-hopping, info dumping, dragging plots. I'm reading like a writer, and it's bugging me. I want to read purely for enjoyment, but I can't. It seems to require almost as much concentration as writing.

Mind you, in the last few months I have managed to read a few lovely novels that held my attention to the end. I was drawn into the story and forgot all about looking for those little Cardinal Writing Sins.

Why am I having such difficulty? Is it lack of spare time? Is it the fact that I'm at that magic spot between publishing one book and trying to find a home for the next one? Do I feel obliged to pick apart every book I read in order to improve my own craft, or to research genres to see where I fit in?

Summer is upon us. I gotta relax and just read, darn it.

Monday, 18 June 2007

4 a.m. Feeding of the Mind

I got up to visit the little girls' room at 4am this morning, and when I went back to bed, my mind started churning. I saw a scene from my WIP The Weeping Woman in my head, and played it over and over in my head.

A half hour later, I figured I'd better write this stuff down or I'd forget it the next day. So I stumbled through the dark bedroom, tried not to trip over the dog in the hallway, and groped my way to the living room. I fired up my little laptop (boy, those things are bright when you're half asleep) and added the particulars to my outline for later reference.

I seem to have these little inspirational moments at the most awkward times -- while driving the car, while trying to fall asleep, or while at the mall waiting for my daughter to decide on a pair of jeans. The notebook works sometimes, but not all the time. Especially while I'm driving!

When does your muse hit you over the head? When you least expect it?

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Broken Hearts

Must we suffer from broken hearts when we write about them? When our heroine experiences her darkest moment -- when she feels as if her whole world is teetering on the edge of disaster, do we writers have to feel the same angst?

I dunno -- I just can't manage to feel as desperate as my characters. All I can think of is the happy ending far in their future. My optimistic tendencies shine through and I urge them on... "You go, girl, he'll be waiting for you in the end. Go ahead, cry. Go home, feel your heart being torn from your breast. He'll phone/write/show up at the airport. Better yet, you'll find the cojones to go get him yourself."

My biggest hope is that my positive nature will NOT shine through as I attempt to bring my readers to tears. Those tears must be real, whether tears of misery or happiness.

The Canadian Writers' Collective is an eclectic group of writers who have contributed to some of Canada's finer literary publications. Witty, insightful and kind, their posts entertain me and make me feel a part of the writing community. Last weekend, they invited me to be a guest blogger. The post I contributed is here.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Who's Afraid of Happy Endings?

Well, I'm certainly not! My brother in law Peter Elliott took part in this upbeat documentary about the trials and tribulations of romance novelists by these two talented ladies.

I watched it on Bravo! the first time, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again. It features interviews with bestselling and up-and-coming romance novelists, as well as editors and agents in The Big Apple.

Who's Afraid of Happy Endings is scheduled to air on Bravo! on Sunday, June 10th at 6pm Eastern. It's airing only in Canada this time, but I'll be sure to give everyone a heads up when it airs in the States or beyond.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Sure I have time to paint!

I've been getting some questions regarding the paintings on my blog. Yes, I do take commissions -- mostly pet portraits. I've been known to paint the occasional house or sailboat, too. You can throw any animal at me - cats, dogs, horses, birds, even your favourite ferret. If you're interested, shoot me an email.