Workshops, Critique Groups, and What Works for You

OK, my writers’ group doesn’t look exactly like this… Dance of Apollo with the Nine Muses by Baldassarre Peruzzi
If you are a writer and are planning to attend Austin’s own ArmadilloCon Convention, this is your heads up that the deadline to submit work and sign up for their excellent Writers’ Workshop is fast approaching. Get your 5,000 word diamond in the rough together and submitted by June 15, 2014!  I have participated in this workshop the past few years and found it to be both inspiring and useful: well worth the price of admission (which, by the way, also gets you into the con).

For those of us who don’t have the time or the funds to go for the big name workshops like Clarion or Odyssey, know that many local consrun writers’ workshops that will give you a chance to read and critique other people’s work and get a critique of your own project.

I’ve blogged about the usefulness of critique before. For me, it is invaluable to get someone else’s eyes on my work at some stage in the process. Also, since I enjoy the chance to socialize with other writers, my regular in-person critique group keeps my daily writing routine from feeling too cloistered. 

I also use the Online Writing Workshop. OWW charges an annual subscription fee, which, I feel, inspires a greater level of commitment and participation. And, in the end, better crits. The site is well run, and I’ve made connections with writers from all over the world trading crits there.

Over the past couple years I’ve built an informal schedule for regularly critiquing and getting my own work critiqued. This has helped me grow as a writer in several ways:

  1. Informal deadlines – Slugtribe meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. I try to bring something in every 4 to 6 weeks. If a piece takes longer to get to a critique-able stage, I can just move that deadline out another two weeks. Still, having a meeting to go to gives me something to shoot for when I’m planning my daily writing.
  2. Regular face-to-face critiquing – Learning to articulate what is and is not working in a piece of writing has taught me more about writing than anything else. Having to think on the fly (at Slugtribe we read the work at the meeting) and put my ideas into words hones a different kind of assessment skill. Hearing what other people in the room think of the same piece of writing is also illuminating!
  3. Regular written critiques – With the online option, I can read a story over twice, make notes in the margins, and then put my thoughts into written form in a more coherent way. I try to put something up online every couple months, too. If, after a Slugtribe critique, I’ve made major changes to a story, I’ll submit the revised version to OWW to get fresh eyes on it. Other times, I’ll submit something new for a critique on the first or third week of the month.
  4. Making connections with other writers – I’ve met lots of other writers in all stages of development. We commiserate about the writing life, and trade tips and techniques about anything from punctuation to how to fit our writing in around kids and significant others.

Wherever you live, check out the resources around you. There may already be a critique group meeting at your local library.  If so, sit in on a few sessions and see if their style suits you. If it doesn’t you can always start your own group. There are also several other online options Lit Reactor is another subscription based site for writers. Critters critique group is free and can be a good place to start (though I found the critiques there varied pretty wildly as far as quality).

The important thing is to find the groups and people and schedule that works for you. You’re looking for a support system that inspires you to write and finish more material. 
In person or online, remember that it’s you who’s auditioning the group, not the other way around. While there is no perfect group (as they are all made up of humans after all), find or create a network that supports you and keeps you moving forward.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly

Write 1 Sub 1 Update

Woman Writing by Pablo Picasso

I’ve settled into my year of Write 1 Sub 1. I have changed my badge from the weekly to the monthly badge. Having three months of work and observation under my belt, I’ve adjusted my goals from writing four stories and submitting two every month, to writing two stories and subbing two. Really, I should call it the W2S2 challenge. 

Two stories a month still doubles my output from last year, so originally setting a goal of a story a week was probably a bit pie in the sky. On one hand, reaching for the stars pushed me to start cranking out more raw writing than I ever had before, but I now have a backlog of material that needs editing and critiquing so that it can go out the door. Adjusting this goal for the long haul feels rewarding because I can now consider myself a two-story-a-month writer.

Another reason for the adjustment is that my stories are getting longer (or maybe it’s just that my first drafts are getting bigger and sloppier). I am lagging on the submissions side, as I continue to work out my best practices for managing the multiple revisions for each piece that are an important part of my writing process (in fact I think I like revising more than drafting, since as Hemingway so famously said, “the first draft of anything is shit.” And, you know, sometimes it’s not so fun to wade through all of that). I am still working on a process that will keep my revisions moving through the pipeline while still allowing me to generate new material. 

So far this year my output seems to be working out to one flash story and and one long piece each month. I am going to take next week to focus on revision and submissions. 

1. The Mausel Dog – short story (3,900 words) finished and in submission.
2. That Guy – poem – finished, posted and in submission to poetry venues (that take reprints).

1. Izzy Crow – Novelette (currently 13,000 words) in revision, critique next.
2. Naturally – Flash (1,000 words), critiqued* and ready for final revision/submission.

*I posted Naturally at Online Writers Workshop and it is currently an Editor’s Pick for a pro critique. You can see Leah Bobet’s critique in the April newsletter.

1. Kin – Flash (1,000 words) in revision, critique next.
2. Time is a Place Called Night (currently about 10,000 words) resting/waiting for revision and critique.

1. The Internet of things – Flash (1,000 words) in revision.
2. The Ruby Gorget – on deck, i.e. research and outlining is finished, probably another novelette.