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The Importance of a Critique Group

Anyone who wants to become a serious writer really needs to consider joining a critique group.

In my early years of writing, I heard it and read it over and over again. You need to be a part of a critique group. I fought the idea for years, telling myself that I didn’t need it. A critique group is great for other writers, but I’m fine on my own. I work better by  yself and I don’t need feedback from others. I worked like this for a long time.

About 5 years ago, I took a writing course at Conestog College in Kitchener, Ontario. One of the first things the instructor did was have us give a summary of the novel we were working on to the entire class. Gulp. I was terrified. I didn’t want to tell this group of  complete strangers what I was writing. What if it sounded stupid to them? I hated every moment of it, but I got through it. The next thing she did was split us into critique groups based on the genre of novel we were writing. Gulp again. This wasn’t what I signed up for. I just wanted to learn what I needed to learn to become a better writer.

As it turns out, a critique group was the very thing I needed to become a better writer. The real truth is that I’d always shied away
from the idea of joining a critique group because I was quite self conscious about sharing my writing with anyone.  I wasn’t happy about the idea that this was required for the course, but it ended up being one of the best things that came out it. It was through that writing course that I met Leanne and Sherry, who are to this day two of my dearest friends and writing buddies.

When the course finished, the three of us continued our group. Others have come and gone over the years. Another writer, Kelly, joined us a couple years back as well, and she has been a valuable addition to the group. We each have different strengths and by sharing our work and editing for one another we continuously learn and become better writers. We each have enormous respect for the writing and the opinions of the others. It’s great to have people of similar interest to share our disappointments and successes, and to help keep us motivated and inspired. This group and the people in it are probably the biggest reason that I am still writing today.

If you are a writer and think you don’t need a critique group, consider these benefits:

  • Having regularly scheduled meetings keeps you motivated to write – you are accountable to someone other than yourself
  • You are surrounding yourself with people who have similar goals and dreams
  • You will be part of a support group who will encourage you and cheer you on when you might be ready to quit and are wondering why you still bother at all
  • You will learn from the other writers and in the process become a better writer yourself
  • You will be able to offer help to other writers who will benefit from your point-of-view and strengths
  • It will help you develop the thick skin you need to continue pursuing your writing dream – the harsh reality is that writing is a tough business and it’s easy to get hurt feelings or have your dreams crushed when that rejection comes in
  • You just might make some lifelong friends in the process.

These are just a few things off the top of my head. I’m sure if I thought about it long enough, I’d come up with a bunch more.

(Thanks Leanne, Sherry and Kelly for your friendship and support. I don’t know where I’d be today without you guys.)

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Humble Beginnings

When I was in grade 4, my teacher assigned a project/contest where would be paired off to write a story with another student. At that time, I felt more comfortable writing the story alone, and was allowed to do so. I was very surprised when I learned that I had been selected as the winner. The prize: a chocolate bar! As much as I love chocolate, having my story chosen as the winner in the contest was a far greater prize. I was thrilled, and just a little bit proud.

The following year, I wrote my first ‘published’ book. Okay, so it wasn’t officially published, but it felt close enough to me at the time. I had written and illustrated a little Christmas book about a mouse. The school librarian was gracious enough to put it on the library shelves. I think it may have even been checked out a couple of times (go figure).

The point? I believe that writing has always been in my blood. Clearly, from a young age I enjoyed the idea of writing and it has never left me. In fact it has grown stronger over time. It’s something I feel deeply compelled to do, and even if I never earn another penny from my writing, I know it will be something I’ll do for the rest of my life, if only for my own entertainment and enjoyment. (Though it would be cool if I brought some enjoyment to others too.)

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Closet Writer

What type of writer am I?

If someone were to ask me this question, I imagine the quickest and most obvious answer that might spring to my mind is that I am a writer of Young Adult fiction. But, while that describes the type of writing I do, it doesn’t really answer the question of the type of writer I am.

There are many ways I could respond to this. I am a sporadic writer. I am a frustrated writer. I am a struggling writer. I am at times a committed writer and at other times a very non-committed writer. But I think most of all I would have to call myself a closet writer. Now obviously, this doesn’t mean I literally do my writing while sitting in a closet. But over the years I have done most of my writing in ‘secret’.

I have been writing in one form or another for almost all my life, but until more recently only a few people actually knew I wrote. Why? Because there was a part of me that didn’t want anyone to know. I am the kind of person who can be guilty of worrying too much about what others think. What if people thought it was a silly dream to want to write a book? What if they didn’t believe in my ability to do it? What if I let someone read my writing and they thought it was total crap? It was easier to just keep it to myself.

So, it might make you wonder why bother at all then? I mean, isn’t the point of writing so that some day you will be published and people can read your book? Most people who take the time to complete an entire novel do so with the hope of some day seeing their work in print. I’m no different. I want to see the results of my efforts, but at the same time I’m often terrified of the thoughts that someone might actually read what I have written.

I have recently published four Young Adult novels, which are available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The problem is almost nobody knows about them because I have felt too weird about promoting the fact to people I know. It kind of makes you wonder why I would bother doing all the work of writing, editing, formatting and publishing a book that only a handful of people might ever read (aside from the fact that I feel deeply compelled to write and would probably continue to do so just for the sheer enjoyment I get from it, even if I knew I would be the only person on the planet to ever read it).

The answer: I am, and always have been, a terrible self-promoter. I can be very self-conscious, I don’t typically like to be the center of attention and I embarrass very easily. I have always felt weird about people I know reading my books, and possibly not liking them.

I know that not everyone who reads my books will love them, and that’s something I have to learn to accept and be okay with. Regardless of anyone else’s opinions, I know that I have done something I enjoy, I have done my best and I have accomplished a goal I have set out for myself. While my writing may not be perfect, I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.

Today I am taking a brave step forward and telling the world that for better or for worse, (the good, the bad, and the ugly) I AM A WRITER, and I won’t be doing it from the closet any more.

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