7 Tips for Finding a Critique Group

So, you’re writing. Your fingers are flying over your keyboard. The words are flowing. And you want to grow as a writer, really work on your craft, learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, and find a core group of supportive writers. Now what?

You need a critique group! You want writing friends invested in your stories, who want to ready your pages, dive into the worlds you’re creating, share their thoughts and advice and constructive criticism, and be there for you on this difficult road to publication and beyond. But how do you find these magical people? Do you scribble, “Will write and critique for thrilling conversation about plot lines and character development!” on cardboard and sit near Walmart hoping the right people find you?

Well, there might be some better ways.

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#1: Trial and Error.

You know that saying, “You have to kiss a lot of toads to find your prince.” Well, the same theory can also apply to finding a critique group. Sometimes you have to try out quite a few groups before you find the one that fits.

“To get in with my first one I was matched up by a fellow author and we added a few others from there. I eventually did leave that one since we were no longer a good fit for each other. I was invited into my current writing group during a book launch I was featured in. We meet through google hangouts and it’s been really great so far.” –Judy Corry

“I met my first group at a writing conference. We happened to sit at the same table for lunch. We were super eclectic, but all near the beginning stages. Our first mtg there were 9 or so, but in the end it whittled down to a solid 5 of us. We disbanded a few years ago due to scheduling, but I am forever grateful to that group.

I’m now no longer with a group, but have a circle of writers I exchange with that I could not live without. They are solid, vary in style, and I couldn’t be the writer I am without them.” –Natalee Clark Cookpe

#2: Tell friends you’re looking.

Don’t be shy. When people ask what you’re up to, tell them you’re writing and that you’re trying to find a critique group. You never know if they’re doing the same thing! Or maybe they have a friend in the same boat.

 “A friend and I were in charge of planning a Boy Scout sleep over. I asked her what she did for work. When she told me she had done some writing, I told her about my writing. Then I suggested we start a writing group. There’s now three of us and we’ve been meeting since 2002.” –Linda Rose Zajac

“I know this amazing group of women . . . Really, it started bc I asked Tasha Seegmiller if she wrote, or wanted to, and we started meeting. I asked Joy and Elaine the same thing. That was 6+ years ago.” –Rosalyn Eves

#3: Get the word out on-line.

Post on Instagram and Facebook that you’re searching for a group. Tweet about it. Find other writers in Facebook writing groups like Storymakers.

“I entered a contest and posted a blanket ‘want to meet up and refine entries together?’ Tweet with contest hashtag. We’ve been together over 2 years now. Half agented and half not—several have book deals, releases, etc. we’re growing up together in the writing world and it’s one of my favorite friend sources too.” –Aften Brook Syzmanski

“About 15 years ago, I posted a request on the SCBWI boards looking for writers who were interested in a weekly critique group for writers of fantasy and science fiction for kids and teens. That’s how FantasyWeavers was born.

I moderated for about nine years and then handed the reins over to another member who had been there from the start. The start was rocky, but we used the rules from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft (respect what the writer is trying to accomplish, respect that critiquers are only trying to help you accomplish it) and ousted a couple of troublemakers. Things ran smoothly after that, although we did have to add an additional rule: no new members could be added without a unanimous decision to do so based on a letter of introduction and a writing sample.

It was and is an amazing group. I only left to focus more on indie publishing. I love every single one of the FantasyWeavers. They are amazing, each and every one of them.” –Shevi Arnold

“A gal in my community made a post on Facebook right after I started my first book. We met face to face and then I recruited a writer neighbor and then another who invited her sister. Pretty soon we had a solid group of 6 writers. We lost and added a couple over the last 5 years but 4 of us remain the same. The greatest thing we’ve learned is that your personalities need to work well together. We still meet every two weeks and we do Skype meetings when everyone can’t be there.” –Robin M. King

#4: Reach out.

Do you know of old friends who used to write? Try contacting them and seeing if they’re still in the game. Maybe they’re in the same boat as you!

“I went to college with some of the ladies that are now in my writing group. We reconnected after we had all graduated. They already had a group going, then lost a member. They wanted someone else to be in their group. So one of the ladies asked me if I was writing. I said yes, but wasn’t being consistent about it. She asked if I wanted to join their group. I said yes.

Since joining that group, I’ve developed a habit of writing. We were all struggling with ideas so we starting finding fun prompts for a while. My current WIP is from one of those prompts. I’m now 65K words in and I wouldn’t be there without this group.

One of the ladies moved away, but now when we get together she Skypes or FaceTimes us. We really like our group, so we don’t want to let distance break us up. Luckily, technology lets us do that.” – Heather Sundblom Gonzalez

This brings me to…

#5: Be willing to try something other than an in-person group.

“I used to meet in person with a group, but my life was such that it stopped working out. Now I have a few close writing friends and we read and critique for each other (long distance, via online because we live far away). Our support of each other is unmatched. So sometimes in person groups work, but sometimes online is just as effective.” –Wendy Jessen

#6: Go to writing workshops and conferences.

“Found my people at a Saturday workshop. We were a motley assortment of fantasy writers with none of us writing the same thing, but we hit it off. The feedback they gave me was the perfect measure of criticism and support. Because that’s what makes a good group: we critique with every intention of seeing each other succeed.” –Jessica Springer Guernsey

“We sat next to each other at Authorpalooza at Barnes and Noble. Heather Ostler Pead asked Me and Shannen Crane Camp if we would be interested. She knew Mikki Kells from school. We met at The Chocolate kind of terrified of each other (well, I was). I remember reading their first pages, and heaving a sigh of relief because the talent was clearly evident. Since then, we’ve become support systems for each other through deaths, births, illnesses, breakdowns, freakouts, and even triumphs. I love these girls to the moon. On the days I want to give up on the dream, they are my cheerleaders. Sometimes we dress up, which makes me happy. In 4 years, we’ve produced 4.5 human babies and around 10 book babies. Only one of the book babies is mine, but I never would have managed to write it without them 🙂” –Lisa Rumsey Harris

“We were in the same class at WIFYR. After the conference, we critiqued each other’s first pages and queries for submission to the visiting agent, and one thing led to another… 😂” –Ilima Willing Todd

“I had a friend and we both sort of secretly giggled about wanting to be writers SOMEDAY. Then Rosalyn told me to come to Storymakers, so I brought the friend, and we left determined to be writers for reals.

Then my friend pulled in another aspiring writer, her SIL, and someone else found us online at Storymakers tribe. And then we added a few more people through ANWA.

And now we’re a really tight group, with both local people and distance people. I LOVE it.

I love having an online circle, and it’s also great to have a local in-person group. It’s a creative sisterhood and it adds so much to my life!” –Rebecca Sachiko Burton

#7: Take a leap and start your own!

“Our writing group started five years ago when my husband and I said to each other, “Hey, let’s form a writing group!” We reached out to a couple of local friends, and Darren whipped out a scrap of paper with an email address of someone he met briefly at Storymakers the year before who was looking for a group. It was kind of magical how it all came together and what a great match everyone was. The couple of people we’ve added in the past couple of years have also been a really good fit. It’s kind of a dream group.” –LaChelle Hansen

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blackanewhiterin Erin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

3 Ways to Add More Humor to Your Writing

 

“A joke is like building a mousetrap from scratch. You have to work pretty hard to make the thing snap when it is supposed to snap.” –Kurt Vonnegut

 

Looking for ways to add more humor to your writing? Here are three ideas!

 

humor

 

#1: Use Funny Words

Fiddledeedee

Hornswoggle

Spelunker

Lackadaisical

Persnickety

Some words are simply funny. Why? Well, they just are!

Adding more humor to your writing might be as simple as hitching up your pantaloons and yanking a bevy of wonky words from your noggin.

But if you’re you’re feeling bumfuzzled, gobsmacked, bamboozled or just plain discombobulated, don’t make a big brouhaha about it. Instead, skedaddle on over to these lists of funny words and you’ll be writing more hilarious sentences in a jiffy…

Writer’s Digest List of Funny Words
Alphadictionary’s List of 100 Funniest Words
Inherently Funny’s List of Funny Words

 

#2: Be Specific

What’s funnier?

I saw an animal chasing my neighbor.

OR

I looked out my window and spewed chunks of Crunchy Corn Bran out of my nose. Mr. Dobber, my ornery neighbor with a penchant for wearing shorts, suspenders and black socks was running faster than a fat turkey on Thanksgiving, which isn’t very fast actually. But by the way Mr. Dobber was lifting his knees to his chest as he raced through our geraniums, it was obvious he was giving it all he had. And I would, too, if a large hairy llama with a dribbling slobbery tongue was chasing me.

To write good humor you need to avoid generalizations.

Use specific words.
Create specific scenes.
Design specific characters.
Be specific!

“You describe a thing in a way that is totally different from-even the opposite of-the way people expect you to describe it. Also, if possible, you use the term ‘weasel fart.’” –Dave Barry

 

#3: Use Callbacks

Callbacks are one of my favorite devices for writing humor.

A callback is when you mention something seemingly insignificant. And then later on in the story or standup routine, you refer to this bit again in a funny way.

In one of my works in progress I have a rotten character who is a man-hungry woman with caked on make-up. In one scene, my main character sees a couple of big guys heavily strapped with knives, daggers and swords. Later on, the woman fawns all over them, admiring their muscles and such.

The next line in the story is, “Now Jasper understood why the men needed so many weapons.”

 

What techniques do you like to use to add humor to your writing?

 


 

blackanewhiterinErin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

 

Find Your Writing Fuel

Years ago, I was in a writing workshop led by my dear friend, Mette Ivie Harrison. She was discussing how many books she wrote before she sold one. I can’t remember the number. It was something like twenty. And then she spoke about something I never forget. Mette talked about how she consumes so many stories, so many idea, so many books. She’s always reading, sucking up all that inspiration like fuel. And she thinks all those ideas and plots and characters get churned around in her head, all mixed up and smooshed together and she spits them back out into a new form, her stories.

fuel

Neil Gaiman said, “Read. Read anything. Read the things they say are good for you, and the things they claim are junk. You’ll find what you need to find. Just read.”

“If you want to be a writer,” said Stephen King, “you must do two things above all others: read a lot, and write a lot.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, this idea that we as writers need to read. We need this fuel to create our own stories. Wow! An excuse to buy more books and spend loads of time curled up in my pajamas reading? I love that this need to read is part of our job!

I also love that writing fuel can be found in so many other places.

“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows,. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work, (and theft) will be authentic.”

My brilliant friend, Elaine Vickers, is so good at this. Last year, as my parents were taking Elaine and I to the Las Vegas airport my mom was sharing stories about growing up in Star Valley, Wyoming.

While waiting for the plane, Elaine mentioned how much she loved one of the stories and how she thought it would be a great moment in a story. Oh! I hadn’t even thought of that. But since then, when people have told stories, I’ve thought more about this, about the possibility of using these small moments of inspiration in my stories.

So, yes, we need to read, read, READ! We need to suck up and consume all the stories and ideas we can. But don’t stop there. Be open to finding writing fuel everywhere you can. Go to art shows, travel, let your interests guide you to new and exciting ideas. And find your writing fuel!

 


blackanewhiterin

Erin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

 

Say What: The Importance of Internal Dialogue

 

“One night, as I lay in bed, my stomach rumbling something fierce, I tried to think of an idea, anything to bring in a little extra cash, I was no scholar, so a career in tutoring the younger kids was probably out. And as for babysitting, who would ever hire Dangerous Dale Sweet’s daughter?” Faith Harkey, Genuine Sweet

 

dialogue

 

Internal dialogue is voice.

 

That golden nugget right there is one of the best things I heard at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers this year. I was lucky enough to be in the group led by the amazing and talented and gorgeous and funny Janette Rallison. And I loved her lecture on internal dialogue and this idea that your inner character’s thoughts is what voice is. I’d never heard it explained like that before. But yes! Of course it is.

 

 

“Nothing creates a buzz like an Executive Deluxe day planner. Not that I have much experience with buzzes, especially of the chemical variety, but my brother did double-dose me on NyQuil once when I was eleven. That thirty or so minutes of faint inebriation had nothing on this feeling. Pure, organized bliss.” Lindsey Leavitt, Sean Griswold’s Head

 

Internal dialogue reveals what makes our characters unique. It shows us what’s important to them, what they notice first, what bothers them, what they’re afraid of, what’s hilarious to them, what they’re looking forward to, what they want. It can reveal the character means the opposite of what they’re saying and disclose parts of them, the dark or painful thoughts, the bits and pieces they keep hidden away from the people around them.

 

“I woke up on the worst day of my entire life fully expecting it to be the best day of my entire life. Sometimes life is funny that way. And when I say funny, I don’t mean funny as in, “Ha-ha, that’s a good joke, thanks for sharing.” I mean funny as in someone coming to your birthday party, punching you in the stomach, and then stealing your new puppy.” Marion Jensen, Almost Super

 

Internal dialogue can also increase tension in a story. If your character tells everyone around her one thing, but her inner thoughts reveal another story, we become more invested in this character.

 

Sobbing Girl’s eyes widen in recognition. “Aren’t you in my PE class? Didn’t you, like, one time have this horrible rash on your legs? From hay or something?”

“It was actually this organic fertilizer my dad was trying,” I explain, trying to pretend we’re having a perfectly normal teenage girl conversation. “Turns out I’m allergic to worm castings. But I’m not actually allergic to worms. Go figure.”

The girls stare at each other a second and crack up. “Wow!” Sobbing Girls says. “That’s the most insane thing anyone has ever said to me! You are totally weird.”

Gosh, I’m glad I could cheer her up.” Frances O’Roark Dowell, Ten Miles Past Normal

A character’s inner thoughts tell us what she thinks about her story.

 

“What would it be like, to be Lord Death’s consort? Not to rest in the world where the dead are, now and always without fear, but ever to cross from one world to another, always able to see the life that was left behind. Worse, to serve at his side in his office as the bearer of pain and tears and heartache. To see every day a man weep like a baby himself over his lost little one. To see a new widow stare at her living children with hollow eyes, her heart torn out of her. To stand at the bedside, invisible in the shadows, while great men rocked in their beds with pain. To be the bringer of plague. Ah, ’twas one thing to die, another to be Goodwife Death.” -Martine Leavitt, Keturah and Lord Death

 

So, what do we do? How do we get better at writing internal dialogue?

One way is to make sure we know what our own internal dialogue sounds like. Try writing it! Write what you’re thinking about right now. Write about something you want to do. Write about that new thing you bought. Write about a dramatic memory. Write it with your internal dialogue, like the way you would speak it. Set a timer for ten minutes or so and write!

Try writing this with someone else’s internal dialogue, say, your mom’s or your best friend’s or the strange neighbor down the street. How does their internal dialogue change it?

Now, write it with your main character’s unique inner thoughts. What is their inner voice like? How does it change their internal dialogue?

 

“The writer’s voice casts a spell. The right voice makes the work accessible; it gives us the tone and point of view that best illuminate the material and make it shine.” –Steven Pressfield

 

“Grace’s aching eased a little once she was off the bus and standing in front of the enormous arc of the Salt Lake City Library. Here was a building of straight lines and perfect curves, of peaceful spaces and friendly librarians’ faces. A building where being quiet wasn’t weird, it was following the rules. The library wouldn’t ever pack up and move across the country just because its dad got a job at a fancy university in Boston. Not that libraries had dads or jobs, of course, but that was the point. That’s why you could count on them.” Elaine Vickers, Like Magic

 


blackanewhiterin

 

Erin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

 

5 Tips for Real Connections at Writing Conferences

If you have the opportunity to attend a writing conference (highly recommended), here are a few tips to help you make real, lasting, and memorable connections with other writers.

1: Ask questions! Most writers love to talk about what they write, what they’re current project is about, their favorite books, and what they’re currently reading. I read about a guy who went to a wedding and didn’t know any of the other guests. At the end of the night, people were asked who their favorite guest was. And you know what? They said that guy! And do you know why? Because he asked people questions. All night long, he just asked others about themselves. And people loved him for it!

2: Listen! Don’t ask questions about what others are writing JUST so people will ask YOU about YOUR writing. Pay attention to people’s responses and then…ask more questions!

3: Be genuine! Be interested and friendly, but be yourself. Be interested in making new friends. If you’re only talking to people so you can network to further your career, that’s lame. And a lot of the time, it’s pretty darn obvious!

4: Smile! Sometimes simply having an open expression on your face or a smile can be enough to invite conversation and new friendship. Maybe your smile is just what someone needs to see in order to feel comfortable taking the seat next to you in a class.

5: Seize opportunities! Are you stuck in a long book signing line or find yourself waiting for the instructor to show up? Talk to the people around you! Maybe you end up at a table for lunch with people you don’t know. (Maybe you purposefully sit at a table of people you don’t know! Which is an excellent idea, by the way. ) Now, remember to ask questions, listen, be genuine, and SMILE!

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lightening

 

Erin Shakespear writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

 

The Night Owl to Early Bird Experiment

I’ve been struggling to find time to write.

I mean, it was hard before, but now that I’m a single mama, it has been almost impossible. I’ve been trying to take an online math class and be involved in my writing group and hug my kids and talk to them and play with them and feed them something other than Cheetos and be a good friend and run three times a week and go out on an occasional date (yep, that’s new) and, somehow, write.

I needed to do something. Something had to change so my writing could be a priority again. It’s not a want, but a need. I need to write. I need to finish this book. And then I need to start and finish another one and so on. But I was at a loss as to how to do it, until this thought wormed its way into my head, ”I could do it in the morning, before everyone gets up.”

This absurd idea has crossed my mind before, but I’ve always dismissed it. I am NOT a morning person. I don’t want to be up at a stupid early time, typing on my keyboard, bleary-eyed and miserable. I’m a night owl, dangit. I’ve always been a night owl. I want to stay up late reading or writing or puttering around my quiet house or chat with friends or, well, anything other than go to bed early. And then I want to sleep in as long asnight owl possible.

I didn’t want to change. And, yet, part of me did, the part of me that needed to write. So, I decided to try an experiment, to give the early bird lifestyle a go for one week.

Step One: I needed a plan. I thought about our days and schedules and decided to go to bed at 10 p.m., get up at 6 a.m., and write for two hours.

Step Two: I told my kids about my big plan. I talked to them about how I felt, my struggles to find time to write, and how important it is to me. Then I chatted with them about the need for them to go to bed on time and not wait to ask for my help with things right at bed time. They were shocked at the idea of their mom actually choosing to get up early, but they were also excited and supportive.

Step Three: Actually going to bed early! This was hard. I had to stop myself from reading one more page, doing one more chore, or writing one more email. I took care of things earlier in the evening, things I normally would have saved to do after my kids were in bed. I made sure to get my kids to bed on time. And then I forced myself into bed and set my alarm for stupid early.

Step Four: Get out of bed! Blerg. This was hard, too. I had to drag myself out of my warm sheets and shuffle to my studio. Some mornings it was harder than others and I let myself sleep in a bit longer. But then I forgave myself and I resolved to do better the next day.

Step Five: WRITE! The house was quiet and dark and my brain, once it got over the shock of being awake, was sharper than at night. I wrote more and better than I do in the same amount of time at night. It loved putting the writing right at the beginning of my day, making it important, instead of sleeping later and then hoping I’d find some cracks in my day to squeeze some writing time into.

In conclusion, the night owl to early bird was a complete success! Now, maybe getting up early isn’t feasible for you, or it’s simply not the best way for you to find more writing time. But maybe there’s a different time, a different way, to find more writing time that you’ve previously dismissed as not possible. Maybe you’ll have to make some changes and sacrifices. And maybe it’s time for you to do an experiment of your own.

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Erin Shakespelighteningar writes silly pictures books and middle grade fantasy full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.

13 Tips for Writing Picture Books

Years ago, I judged a local writing contest and had the opportunity to read a large stack of picture book manuscripts. I loved it!

As I read, I saw many of the same problems again and again. (AND I realized my manuscripts had some of the same problems.)

So, I came up with this list of tips for the contestants (and myself!):

 

picture books

 

  1. Keep the writing tight. Make sure every word needs to be there. Words not propelling the story forward must be deleted!
  2. Introduce the problem fast, within a few lines, and preferably in the first line.
  3. Give the main character a problem, a BIG problem, something which makes the readers root for them. And make the main character solve it themselves. They need to grow.
  4. Create a story that works with illustrations, that can’t be told without the illustrations. The pictures need to tell part of the story. There’s a big difference between a magazine story and a picture book story. A magazine story describes everything. A picture book shouldn’t. And the words of the picture book, when read without the pictures, should inspire pictures in the mind of the reader.
  5. Make sure your story is actually a picture book, a picture book for children and not something else masquerading as a picture books, such as a story for adults, young adults, middle school kids, or chapter book readers.
  6. Make the problem relevant to your target audience.
  7. The main character needs to be a child or a child-like character.
  8. A great picture book ending is a bit like the punchline to a joke. Make sure it’s satisfying and snappy. Don’t let it drag, but don’t let it end too fast either.
  9. Find a new voice and a new way to tell your story. Make it quirky, unusual, or unique.
  10. Dialogue can make a story more engaging to read aloud. Some stories work without it, but most of my favorite books to read to my kiddos have dialogue. Any excuse to talk in silly voices is always a good thing.
  11. Write a story that, first, entertains, not teaches a message. Yes, many picture books have a message, but the fun story must always come first.
  12. Read, read, read! Read new picture books being published. Be familiar with what modern children and modern publishers are interested in and what kind of stories they like, not what you want them to like. Read picture books to kids. Notice what delights them. Notice what makes them laugh. Notice what keeps their attention. And notice what they want you to read to them again and again and again.
  13. A great resource for learning to write for children is Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen. She’s brilliant at teaching how to use words to create pictures in the minds of your audience.

Some of the Shakespear’s favorite picture books:

Image result for billy twitters and his blue whale problem    Image result for tap the magic tree Image result for pssst by adam rex   Image result for The end picture book  Image result for a visitor for bear   Image result for lullaby with brave cowboy Image result for not a box      Image result for strictly no elephants     Image result for big bigger biggest book   Image result for the doghouse book  Image result for duck on a bike Image result for this is a moose book   Image result for bark, george   Image result for please, mr. panda  Image result for owl babies   Image result for boy and bot   Image result for my friend rabbit book  Image result for i'll wait mr. panda

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Erin Shakespear writes silly perinictures books and middle grade fantasy novels full of quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures. After all, they say, “Write what you know.” And with six kids, her days are full of…quirky creatures, magic, and strange adventures.