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 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.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Workshops for Writers Aged 12 – 18

If you’ve been with me for a while it will be no surprise to you when I say that I’m passionate about education. There are very (very) few people in this world with the sort of talent that means they have nothing to learn. And, with the school holidays just around the corner for many young people in Australia, you have the perfect chance to focus on your passion for writing.

City Kids/In Person Workshops

There are writing workshops, courses and camps in various cities around Australia, planned with the school holidays in mind. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anything relevant/current for South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia or Queensland. You may want to check out the next section. Please note that I do have a Writers Victoria membership, but I’m not affiliated with these groups in any other way, nor have I used these courses.

Melbourne

Sydney

ACT

NT

Country Kids/Online Workshops

I grew up in the country and while there are many great things about being a country kid, having access to a range of opportunities (and the public transport to get you there) is not one of them. Here are a couple of courses/workshops that can be completed online, wherever you happen to be in the country (or world). Please note that I have worked with the author Dee White before, and found her to be an excellent mentor, but I am not affiliated with her or any other of these groups beyond that.

The Writing Workshop

Writing Classes for Kids and Adults

If you do decide to have a go at any of these courses I would love to hear your experience. The best way for any of us to get better as writers and authors is to keep writing and keep learning, and I hope that you give yourself the opportunity to do so.

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

What if You Don’t Agree with Your Teacher

If you’ve stuck with me for any time you know my views on the importance of education. Here I talk about the importance of picking the right course for you, here I discuss how education is not a luxury but a necessity and here I talk about the importance of finding someone who pushes you.

But, what if you are doing a course or making the most of you English class, but there’s something that your teacher/instructor has said that you don’t agree with? It’s easy to resolve a disagreement about cold, hard, facts – once a student pulled me up on the hierarchy of courts in Australia, so we Googled it – but what about method and the craft of writing?

Continue reading “What if You Don’t Agree with Your Teacher”