Posts Tagged ‘Critique Groups’

For the record, I did NOT put that much cheese on mine. 🙂

This week I offer one quote from Charles Dickens in honor of his 200th birthday and because it tied so nicely into August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman Blogfest which I participated in.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers and are famous preservers of youthful looks.” -Charles Dickens

“The source of love is deep in us and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring that person joy.”Thich Nhat Hanh

“Be like the sun for grace and mercy. Be like the night to cover others’ faults. Be like running water for generosity. Be like death for rage and anger. Be like the Earth for modesty. Appear as you are. Be as you appear.” — Rumi

Gratitude List for the week ending February 11

  1. My application to the Highlights Foundation Poetry for All Workshop was accepted! So I’ll be heading to Honesdale in May.
  2. In the light of less than a half moon, the stars in Breckenridge are brilliant.
  3. Fresh snow for skiing!
  4. Homemade 3-way Cincinnati chili – YUM!
  5. Another Margareaders meeting, and everyone enjoyed the book I chose – One Thousand White Women.
  6. Julie B.  She knows why.
  7. Meeting with my in-person critique group. Go Boulder Picture Book Writers!
  8. Rocky laying at my feet under the desk while I work
  9. Watching Em have fun selling Girl Scout cookies – AND the fact that the sale is over! (We still have three boxes of Thin Mints left if anyone is interested)
  10. Reading easy readers with Jay. He never tires of it and is getting better and better.  Soon he will read on his own!

What are you grateful for this week? 


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This year, I’m signing up for the anti-resolution revolution.  It is so tempting to start listing all the things one wants to accomplish at the start of a New Year, but in my experience, the process (and thus the result) is flawed.

I believe the reason resolutions often don’t work is because they start from a place of lack, of negativity, of failure.  We think about all the things we weren’t happy with in the previous year and set out to “fix” them in the new one.  Lose weight = I weigh too much.  Save money = I spend too much.  Make more money = I don’t have enough money.  Spend more time with my kids = I’m not doing enough for my kids.  Write more often = I don’t write enough.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know I am all about self-improvement, especially improvement that puts us on a path to self-actualization.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals, and achieving them is even better.  However, the goals need to be set on a strong foundation.  So I figured, why not start with what I did accomplish this year and set goals from there.  Let’s first celebrate success and then determine how to carry that forward into the New Year, rather than berating ourselves for what did not get done.  Being zen about it, probably everything got done that was supposed to.

Here is my list of what I consider to be my major professional accomplishments this year

  • Completed two picture books.  Both are now on submission.
  • Was accepted into, and completed, the Rocky Mountain SCBWI mentorship program.
  • Drafted a third picture book which is at least halfway to submission-ready
  • Completed PiBoIdMo and ended up with 30+ picture book ideas
  • Sent 20+ queries over the course of the year
  • From those queries, sold one poem and got contracts to write three articles (coming in 2012)
  • Entered a picture book in the MeeGenius Children’s Author Challenge and made it to #16 out of 400+ entries
  • Learned a TON about online marketing and promotion from the contest.
  • Completed four months of group coaching to launch a new project.  I am now about halfway through drafting the business plan for that project (more news on that in 2012)
  • Formed a LLC to support my writing business and other projects I launch
  • Took a two-month course on blogging to build an author platform.  I have now gone from a high of 2000 hits per month on my blog to a high of nearly 6000 per month.
  • Guest posted on several blogs
  • Set up an in-person picture book critique group in Boulder
  • Attended a digital publishing conference and the Rocky Mountain SCBWI regional conference
  • Last, but not least, launched the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge to write 12 picture books in 12 months.  This is, obviously, one of my major goals for the coming year.

In addition to work accomplishments, three other achievements deserve mention.  One is that I ran a personal best in the Bolder Boulder 10K this year and felt great.  The race also happened to take place right after I turned 40, which felt even better.

Second, I planned, from start to finish, and then took a six-week trip to Italy with my family for the summer.  This trip was the fulfillment of a major dream and life-changing in every possible way.  Although my kids are still young, I think it will turn out to be life-changing for them to have had such an experience.

One of the things the trip to Italy inspired me to do is the third achievement I want to mention.  I wrote a Bucket List.  I saw how rewarding it was to realize even one dream, so I thought I would capture as many more as I could in the hopes of realizing them all.  I am trying not be afraid of dreaming big.  So perhaps a motto for 2012 is Dream Big or Go Home.

For your further contemplation, here are a few other posts with an alternate take on New Year’s Resolutions

Lynnette Burrows doesn’t let Mrs. Darkside win.

Hayley Lavik is not going to change anything next year.

Prudence MacLeod is going to read books by live authors.

Emma Burcart is going to be kind – to herself.

Jennifer Lewis Oliver has never made a New Year’s Resolution.

Myndi Shafer does have a short list of resolutions, which she made in the Nick of Time.

What is your stance on New Year’s Resolutions?  Good thing, bad thing or in-between?

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I have now officially made it farther through the program than I have on my previous two attempts, so that’s an achievement already!

Week 3 Theme: “Recovering a Sense of Power.”  This week deals with being open to opportunities and accepting gifts that come in the form of synchronicity.  By committing to our creative power, doors will open.  We need to walk through them.  We also need to avoid self-sabotage and the sometimes savage criticism of others – especially with our early work.  Cameron spends a lot of time discussing the difference between constructive and useless criticism.  We need to be very self-protective of our inner artists and avoid the second kind like the plague.  It made me thankful, again, for my very constructive critique partners!

Morning Pages: Yes! They now feel natural to me, although I must admit I was tempted to hit the snooze button this morning…

Artist Date:  After first seeing it with my cousin over the weekend, I went by myself for a second viewing of the movie Breaking Dawn.  Go ahead and laugh.  I’ll wait…

Finished?  Great.  Yes, I will admit I loved the Twilight series.  You laughing can’t possibly be more embarrassing than a 40 year-old woman showing up at the theater alone to watch a movie about hunky teenage vampires, believe me.  I think that’s the first time I’ve ever gone to a movie alone period.  At first it felt uncomfortable, but then I enjoyed it.  I never get to see movies otherwise, so I might start going more often now that I have the artist date as an excuse. 🙂

And yes, I am well aware of the debate surrounding the quality of the writing in the books.  True, it is not Pulitzer Prize winning prose.  Stephenie Meyer has taken that fact straight to the bank.  The movies have been pretty cheesy so far too.

But what Meyer (and now the movies) did do was create one of the greatest pieces of escapist fiction that’s come along in ages.  What girl doesn’t love an epic star-crossed love story where the hero is a sparkly Adonis with great hair and superpowers?  Were it not for the second half of Breaking Dawn – both the book and the movie – it would be a perfect fairy tale.  SPOILER ALERT: Because I’m here to tell you, I don’t care how much you love somebody, it’s no woman’s fantasy to get pregnant on her honeymoon and end up having her half-human/half-vampire baby break her bones in utero and then need to have said baby chewed out of the womb.  Ew.

In short, it was fun, and that’s at least part of what an Artist Date is supposed to be about right?

Any “Aha” Moments?  I felt inexplicably sad and anxious at various times during the week.  Cameron says that’s to be expected as you get “deeper” into your creative recovery.  I’m still not sure what is behind those feelings for me though.  I just lived with them rather than chasing them down.  I also suppose that was another reason why escaping into Breaking Dawn felt like a welcome break.

A few favorite quotes from the Week 3 chapter:

“I have learned, as a rule of thumb, never to ask whether you can do something.  Say, instead, that you are doing it.  Then fasten your seat belt.  The most remarkable things follow.”

“As artists, we cannot control all the criticism will well receive… We can learn not to deny and stuff our feelings when we have been artistically savaged.”

“We must learn that when our art reveals a secret of the human soul, those watching it may try to shame us for making it.”

“Do it.  Creativity is the only cure for criticism.”

Criticism can indeed be harmful. I have one piece I wrote that got ripped to shreds in a public forum (although thankfully I wasn’t identified as the author).  That piece was very close to my heart, and I was shattered by the criticism.  This happened almost two years ago, and I have not shared that piece with one other person since then – or done anything else with it.  This week’s work is opening me to the idea that I’ve made it worse by accepting and believing the remarks rather than resolving to move forward.  Have you ever had such an experience?

Week 2 Check-In

Week 1 Check-In

The Artist’s Way

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Author Christine Fonseca had the idea to take each Tuesday in November and express thanks to different folks in the writing community.  Christine’s book, Emotional Intensity in Gifted Children, debuted a couple of weeks ago to rave reviews in the gifted & talented community.  The book and her blog are definitely worth checking out.

First up for receiving thanks is critique partners — those brave warriors that plow through the weeds of our first and second (and 100th) drafts to help us sort out what we really want to say from what we actually have on the page.

I am very fortunate to have found such an amazing group of writers in my critique group, especially since it was truly luck of the draw.  I joined an online group without knowing much about any of the women in the group except that they wrote picture books.  Well, that was my lucky day!  They are all immensely talented, generous with their time, encouraging but honest, and always provide ideas that make my work better.  They are also all bloggers, and their blogs are most definitely worth checking out.  So without further adieu, please give a round of applause to my fabulous CPs!

Christie Wright Wild

Alison Stevens

Valerie Larson-Howard

Juliette Wilk

Megan K. Bickel

Thank you all for the community and friendship in addition to the critiques.  I am honored to belong to a group of such talented writers.

Whatever you do for a living, everyone needs people who push them to reach their full potential — parents, teachers, professors, colleagues, friends.  Who pushes you to do your best work?

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My brother was a boxer as a kid.  One of the first things his coaches taught him was how to take punch.  If you’re going to take one in the gut, you have to harden your belly to reduce the impact.  It might still hurt, but probably not enough to bring you to your knees.  Hopefully you can work through the pain to make your next move and stay in the fight.

Critiques are like that.  As writers, getting feedback on our work can be like taking that punch – it hurts sometimes.  But if we’re not willing to take it, we can’t even enter the ring.  Nobody – and I do mean nobody – is so gifted a writer that s/he can birth a masterpiece with no input from others.  Yet, many writers are so in love with and so protective of their “babies” that they can’t even hear feedback, much less incorporate it into their work.

At the Big Sur in the Rockies workshop, author Alane Ferguson said it best.  Sometimes she comes across writers who are so unwilling to consider revisions “it’s as if they think they are channeling God’s words.”  To which she said she always wants to respond, “Honey, God is not that bad of a writer.”

Because critiques are so critical to the writing process, we spent most of our time at the workshop in small critique groups, each led by a professional author, editor or agent.  The experience was invaluable because the only way we can see our words as others see them is to share those words.  We need to hear from people whose very selves are not stitched to the paper with those words.  All of the faculty at Big Sur stressed that the best way to improve your writing is to: 1) write; 2) get feedback; 3) revise; and, 4) repeat the whole process multiple times.  They urged us all to be more flexible with our words.  Add some, cut some, change some.  They are not set on a stone tablet.

So, how can we “get over ourselves” enough to use the golden nuggets of feedback we get from critique groups?  Here are the top things I took away from the Big Sur workshop, both in the comments from the faculty and from my own experience in the critique groups.

  1. Mind your defensiveness.  Watching others in the critique groups, I noticed that when someone got very defensive, it was usually over an issue that was very important to the direction of the work, and one that almost all of the other critiquers agreed upon.  That person would then sometimes spend the rest of their valuable critique time defending her choices (words).  It made me wonder if I did that too.  Upon reflection, I realized I did.  So take note: the points that make you feel the most defensive are probably also the ones you most need to hear.  Force yourself to shut up and listen, or you’ll miss the good stuff.  Nobody is holding a gun to your head forcing you to make changes, but upon reflection you might find some serious kernels of truth to the suggestions you receive.  When you start thinking, “They just don’t ‘get’ it,” or “So and so doesn’t recognize my genius,” or “S/he doesn’t know what s/he’s talking about,” that is precisely when you need to stop talking and start taking better notes.  You’ll decide later after you have more distance whether the feedback makes sense, but if you tune out or talk over it, you’ll miss a huge opportunity to evaluate your work.
  2. Pretend everything is true.  Nancy Mercado, editor at Roaring Brook Press, said she had one author that used to get riled up every time he received her edits.  They always spent lots of time wrestling over them.  Then one day he called her and said, “For two weeks, I decided to pretend everything you said was true.”  He revised the manuscript according to her suggestions and found that the vast majority of them made his work better.  I’ve tried this myself, and in the process I discovered another benefit.  Because I only “pretended” the comments were true, it gave me the emotional distance I needed to give them a fair chance.  That distance gave me the ability to evaluate whether they genuinely worked for my manuscript or not.
  3. Give it time.  Everyone on faculty warned us against racing home to make revisions based on feedback received over the weekend.  You need a bit of a “waiting period” while your brain comes to grips with the suggestions.  Waiting gives you that all-important distance you need to decide what is true for your work.

Writers can be tender, sensitive souls.  Squeezing our hearts onto the page makes us a bit touchy when it comes to taking even the most constructive of criticism.  Yet, we can also be egomaniacs.  Let’s face it: one of the thrills of writing is the omnipotence that comes with pulling the puppet strings on our characters’ lives and worlds.  Taking feedback doesn’t take that power away.  If anything, it strengthens that power.  Even if we decide not to use the feedback, the simple act of considering it will make our work stronger and more true because it gets us closer to what we really want to say.

Believe me, because I know how to take a punch.  My brother was 4 years older than me, and he had to practice on somebody. 🙂

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