Posted in Blog

Farewell for Now

Oh dear! On Wednesday my darling children will again be learning at home. For me this is something of a mixed blessing – on the one hand they’re disappointed that they won’t be at school with their friends and teachers, and I’m sorry that my writing and creating time will be curtailed. But on the other hand, at least when they’re home I know that they are absolutely safe and sound.

In regards to my writing in general, and this blog in particular, it’s time for me to take an indefinite break. I was hopeful when the kids went back to school a few weeks ago things were beginning to return to normal and I’d be able to devote more time to Pieces of String. Clearly, in my part of the world anyway, that’s not the case. Eventually things will settle down, but right now I need to devote the time to my family.

So, there may be the occasional Two Sentence Tuesday but, in the short term, know that there won’t be any new posts. I haven’t dropped off the map, I’m just taking a break. Don’t give up on me. And above all, don’t give up on your own writing endeavours. More than ever, the world needs writers and creators.

Talks soon. Take Care. Stay Safe.

Love, Wendy

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Critique Group Dos and Don’ts

I waited way to long to dip my toes into the world of critique groups. When I did, I joined an online crit group but it’s format just didn’t suit me and it was quite a few years before I tried again, this time joining a Facebook group where members would ask each other for critiques. This worked better, it was great for getting a range of feedback, but you couldn’t guarantee getting the same crit partner every time. I was really beginning to wonder, is it worth the hassle?

Then, at a conference last year, I met an author who’s YA novel had been published and she said that without her crit group she doubted she ever would have got published. That was the push I needed to have another go crit groups and I joined two through SCBWI. I couldn’t recommend being a member of a critique group enough, strongly encourage you to join one, and I have some suggestions to make your foray into crit groups a success.

Crit group dos and don’ts
  1. Do give honest feedback

If you don’t give your honest opinion how can the other people in your group improve? Writers join crit groups to improve their craft, not get a pat on the back and be told how awesome they are (that’s what blogs are for 😉 ). Of course, this is easier when your honest opinion is positive, when it’s not it can be hard to speak your mind. A good tip is to keep your criticism constructive – stuff they can actually work on – and try to find three positives for every negative.

2. Don’t be mean

Being honest is not code for being a nasty-pastie. It’s never OK to use insulting language or put downs and it’s never OK to disparage someone’s race, gender, sex or sexuality. There are plenty of ways to let someone know they need to work on something without being a dick. It’s the difference between,’you’ve got quite a few typos – you might want to fix them up in a later draft’ and ‘did you go to primary school? Your spelling sucks’.

3. Do be open to criticism

Letting other people read and comment on your work can be really difficult. You’re putting a little bit of your soul on show and it can be hard not to take things personally. But, if you really want to improve in your craft, you need to be open to constructive criticism. If a comment really stings, take a breather, go for a walk, give it a few days or even weeks to process. You’ll probably find that you end up agreeing with what your crit partner has said, and then your work can only get better.

4. Don’t shoot the messenger

No one likes being asked for advice, only to have it thrown back in their face. They like it even less when the person they’re advising is rude or defensive. Remember, your crit partners are trying to help you. Everyone leads busy lives, no one has time to give you criticism just to make your feel bad. If you don’t agree with something someone has said about your work just thank them for their opinion, and move on.

5. Do commit to the group

Everyone’s life is busy. Barring exceptional circumstances (illness, death in the family, holiday, etc), if you’re part of a crit group then you need to show up and do the work every time. They’ve gone to the trouble of reading and critiquing your work, you should treat them with the same respect. It’s like any other team you’re a part of – it doesn’t work unless everyone is pulling their weight. If an exceptional circumstance does crop up, let the group know and step back for a bit. If you just can give it the time and effort it needs, then do everyone a favour and step out of the group. Basically, know when to quit.

6. Don’t write a thesis on their work

There’s a balance between too little feedback and too much. Too much feedback is overwhelming. It’s useful for everyone to agree right from the start what level of feedback is expected, whether feedback will be limited to the story itself or include things like spelling and punctuation, and how much feedback is necessary. Track changes is obviously a great tool and allows you to be really specific with your feedback, but in many case a few paragraphs at the end of the work can be all you need to give.

I hope these tips help you enjoy your crit group and get a lot out of it.

Are you part of a critique group? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Do you think it’s been worthwhile?

Posted in Blog

For the Love of Learning

I’m excited. This week I’m starting an online workshop with Writers Victoria – Writing Children’s Stories with Jane Godwin. Jane is a prolific Australian author and I’m looking forward to getting her, and the other participants, opinion on my work (and, I’ll admit, a little nervous).

Getting feedback is always a little bit confronting. Writing is so a often a solitary pursuit, but eventually you get to a place where you have to share your work with others. I’m a big believer that art, all art whether it’s in the written work, or visual or performance, is only meaningful when an audience can interact with it.

Sometimes, your audience might not interact with it in the way that you hope. Even so, if you want to grow in any artistic medium, you have to be open to that.

I’d love to know, how do you handle feedback of your work? And, how are you at giving it to others?

Posted in Blog

So, How Are You Really?

No, really. Coz I’ve got to say, I’m on edge. I am scanning the news for information, hanging on the words of politicians and medical specialists and generally wondering, “Do I have this?”

Since March the message I’ve been giving my kids is, “Remember the three Cs – calm, cautious, common sense.” Buuuuuuut, sometimes is hard to stay calm, not spiral into full blown paranoia and not to start hoarding toilet paper and spaghetti sauce. And I think I’m probably not alone.

So, not for the first time and probably not for the last time I’m going to say…

Posted in Blog

Why I Support Publishers Who Support Authors From Marginalised Communities

If you’ve reached a stage in your writing career where you submitting your work to publishers you’ve probably noticed that many of them say they welcome or encourage submissions by authors from marginalised communities. Usually it’s only a sentence at the end of the submission instructions. It’s an important sentence.

I am a straight, white, cis woman. While I have experienced racial prejudice I don’t know what it’s like to be judged by the colour of my skin, to not have dolls that look like me, to only see my people represented by stereotypes or in tokenism. I have never had to explain my sexuality to anyone. I’ve never had to argue that my feelings and experiences of my body are real, and that my genitals do not match the person I feel like inside. I’ve never had people from outside of my community take my experiences and, no matter how well intentioned, use them as their own and profit from them.

Publishing is a competitive world. Honestly, getting published is a struggle. But in my mind, letting authors from marginalised groups know that their stories, their experiences and their unique points of view, are not only welcome, they’re desired, is a good thing for everybody. It’s wonderful for readers but it’s also good for writers regardless of their background because it means the playing field is becoming more even, that we are getting closer to equity of opportunity. That if you are a good writer, with a compelling story to tell, regardless of your race or religion or gender or sexuality, there are people out there who want to bring your stories to the world.

And that’s the world I want my children to grow up in.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Mentor Texts

You’ve probably heard the advice that if you want to be a writer, you should also be a reader and I couldn’t agree more, partly because it gives me an excuse to read and call it ‘work’ and partly because reading, and reading widely both in and out of the genre you write, makes you a better writer. Mentor texts are a step beyond reading though.

A mentor text is a book you read (or film you watch) in order to see working examples of the craft of writing. This is when you get out your highlighters and pens and actively search for the hidden techniques and structures that make a story work, and that you don’t notice (hopefully) when you’re caught up in the thrill of reading for enjoyment.

So, how do you use a mentor text?

First of all decide what aspect of craft you want to focus on. Let’s say you want to improve how you sprinkle backstory into your work, that’s what you’re going to focus on when you read through your mentor text. Now get out your pencils and highlighters.

I know that there are people out there who won’t so much as dog-ear a page of a book, for you sticky notes are your friends. For everyone else, you’re going to write in the margins and underline those areas of interest. Every time the author incorporates backstory into the story, you’re going to mark it up and use a post-it note to mark the page (or, you know, turn the corner if it doesn’t horrify you to do so).

By the end of the book you will have a series of examples of how to effectively (or not so effectively) incorporate backstory into a story.

You can use this strategy for any writing technique you’re struggling with (I particularly find it useful studying chapter transitions), across any length of text and in any genre. And you can use the same mentor text over and over again. Don’t limit yourself to work you love either. Studying texts that don’t work can be just as enlightening as studying texts that do.

Had you heard of mentor texts before? Do you use them and how? I’d love to hear your thoughts.