I was an arrogant writer when Savvy Stories came out. Still am. You have to have an ego to put out a book and expect strangers to spend money on it – and enjoy it and not return it and not laugh at you and not…
You get the idea.
I laughed when I was first told to try a critique group.
A bunch of scared talentless hacks all sitting on a corner cowering while they endlessly rewrite their pseudo novels and tell each other how awesome they are? No thanks.
But the guy who recommended it to me, a real pompous ass type (or so I thought) said
the people there could help me by letting me help them.
Wait, what? Help me by… Yeah. Okay. That’s right.
(More on critiquing your own work HERE)
See, when you point out mistakes that others are making, it almost forces you to be a tougher judge on yourself. Okay, I was fine with that. I had a few published books at the time and
I thought I knew what I was doing.
And I did.
I’m a pretty good storyteller
with very little training. As in, none, really. Thing is, I could be better. I knew that, but I didn’t know how to get there. But I was certain the a bunch of goofballs in a critique group wouldn’t be the answer.
But I checked it out, since I’d just read that the lady who wrote “50 Shades Of Gray” had used a critique group to help her work the story into a novel, and obviously it did well. Ironic that it’s seen as a pretty poorly written novel, but I didn’t know that then. All I knew was: bestselling author admits a critique group helped her book become successful. I wanted that sort of help. So I was open to the idea when the pompous ass guy suggested it.
I asked him for a recommendation of a group, and he gave me one.
Since it was free, I decided to join and see what would happen.
I put one of my short stories up – one that I knew was good – and sat back and waited.
People liked it. I knew they would.
They said it was funny. It was.
They caught a few typos. Oops. Well, that happens.
Then they mentioned a few things that separate good writing from great writing. Stuff that, while small, makes a difference over the course of a novel.
Yes, there were sniveling writer wannabes there, and evil troll types, but there were serious writers, too. It was pretty easy to tell which was which.
I submitted more stories, and found myself enjoying the process. The book I was working on went into the group and became a much better story. Who knew? I didn’t see that coming.
One day I started a new book and submitted a chapter to the group. A critique partner I particularly respect and admire, who had one indie book out and another awaiting publication with a traditional publisher, made a comment when she read the first chapter:
Wow, you’ve improved a lot in your writing.
Well… who doesn’t want to hear that? I’d already put out a bestseller, remember.
As people read your submissions, they bring to it their perspective, and by gaining that input from several sources (or a dozen) you open your eyes to what the masses – the book buying public – want. Not just what you want to say, but also how they want to receive it. That’s huge.
A book that you write will appeal to you, but after it goes through a critique group, the story you love will still be 99% your words and your message, but it will have some built in feedback as to what a broader audience than you thinks, and when it comes time to sell that book, it will sell better.
That’s a good reason to do it, right there.
You’ll meet lots of people you won’t respect or who have arbitrary rules, or who can’t string together a compelling story, but you’ll also meet writers you love reading, who are trying like hell to get published, or who are published – and who will help you improve your writing.
And usually, it’s free. How awesome is that?
Oh, and you’ll get to read some cool books before they become cool books, but while they’re still cool books.
And you’ll create a group of writer/author friends. You may help shape a story that becomes a book, and have a lasting personal friendship with its author.
And you’ll help some new, talented people get their book out.
Robert, you sound a little stressed.
Relax. You have talent, and it’s a good short story! It had an interesting twist, and people will love reading it, whether that’s in a blog or as a freebie giveaway to get them over to your novel. I just put out my 14th book a few days ago and I’ve helped others put out theirs. When you’re ready, I’ll help you, too.
Now, about this novel…
Who wouldn’t want that kind of support and encouragement?
First, you should subscribe to my blog, not because it’s awesome but because I often take critiques and redo them there as “lessons,” and there’s one or two about getting your big voluminous tome out of your head and off the notepad and into a computer so it can become the novel it wants to be.
Read one of them HERE
Then, baby steps. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t worry that you’re “behind schedule,” by using a critique group, because it’ll be a better product when it’s finished, and that’s where a critique group makes the difference: when you write something, and get it finished, you may think it is ready for the world – and maybe it is. But why not let some critique partners have a look and offer their input? Maybe some chapters would be better rearranged. Maybe it just needs some smoothing and some polish. Then, why not send it to a few “beta readers” who can just read it like a regular person would, and can offer their feedback? And what will happen is, that beautiful story will grow from a child into an adult very quickly. From a decent amateur story to something that reads as professional. It will read smoother, better, and more engaging. Little errors that readers would notice – won’t be there, and instead they’ll just enjoy a terrific story.
But ya gotta get it written, and even if it’s written, if you put it into a critique group with typos and punctuation errors, crits will spend all their energy on telling you where you need a comma. Now, if you need that help, then put it up right away. If you can fix that yourself, do it and let the crits focus on the story. But even if you want crits to catch spelling and grammar errors, just say that in the notes, and let them do it, then make the changes and put it up again as version 2.
A year from now, or in six months, or whatever, you’ll have a beautiful book to release out onto the world.
The year is going to pass whether you start or not; wouldn’t you rather have your novel published by then? And if short stories are dying to escape from your pen, let them. There’s room enough in the world for both. Put them on a blog at WordPress (which is free) and the world will have lots of samples of your writing, and you can build a fan base. Then when you novel is ready, take 20 of your best short stories and publish them as a book of short stories. Fans will love to read that while they’re waiting for the next (his working title) book. And you’ll have two published books instead of just one – which is more than most writers ever do.
Get to it!
That’s my advice to you, too. Get to it! A critique group, that is. And to better writing.
What are some of the ways YOU have discovered that help your writing?
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious romantic comedy Poggibonsi: An Italian Misadventure.