The time comes with every manuscript when you need to share it with someone else before publishing it. That someone could be your spouse, best friend, writing group, beta reader, a pitch with an editor or agent, or a first chapter contest judge. There will be times when one of these critique partners makes a suggestion that doesn't sit well with you. You'll be left with a bucket of insecurity, wondering whether to make changes based on the suggestions or to keep the manuscript as-is. It can be especially crippling when the person commenting is close to you, like a family member, or someone you perceive as having authority in the writing profession, like an editor or already-published author.
Receiving critiques is difficult. No one enjoys hearing they have more work to do, especially after doing something that took a lot of work. But we all have something to learn and improve on, whether it's our first manuscript or our fifteenth, whether we are published or not.
We don't improve when we ignore everything our critique partners tell us. They can be incredibly valuable, teaching us more than we could ever learn otherwise. Even unhelpful comments can teach us things like who isn't our niche reader, or if a part of the story is not quite right (even if their wrong about why). Get multiple critique partners (or, better yet, a writing group), and take their comments with a fat grain of salt.
This article will discuss what makes a critique “wrong” or unhelpful, what to do when you realize a critique isn't right for you, how to respond to a critique partner who frequently gives unhelpful feedback, and how know when to follow a critique.
Last week Bree talked about how plotting can help organize your thoughts into something you can run with, something that won’t leave you stuck with writer’s block as often as writing by the seat of your pants. I definitely think that’s true, but as a plotter I still get stuck an awful lot. I get stuck so often that when I went to LTUE last month and saw a class called “Obsessive Outlining” taught by M. A. Nichols in the program, I jumped at the chance to see what I could learn there.
I’m so glad I went.
Maybe it’s just because I’m an obsessive person when it comes to finding the right way to do things, but this class made so much sense to me! Before, I would plot as much as I thought I could, coming up with a basic outline and saying what had to happen where. I tried hard to get my thoughts in order before I started writing, but it never got me very far. I would write a story out to the end, wonder what was wrong, finally identify the problems, rewrite, make new problems, and start all over again, keeping only a little of what I had from the previous draft. So many words down the drain! But since Nichols started using this process, she says she’s had to cut out fewer and fewer words from her manuscripts, which sounds like a dream come true.
Laundry is pretty much the bane of every mother's existence. Doesn't seem to matter how many kids you have, clothes multiply like rabbits and pretty soon you're buried. The trick for laundry, I've found, is two-fold: minimize how many clothes you and your kids have (so you can't go much longer than a week without washing), and have a process or routine for getting it done.
You didn't come here for laundry tips, though. You came for writing tips! Lucky for you, laundry and writing have something in common: both are more efficient and a lot less painful when you get more organized! And one way to get more organized with your writing is to try plotting.
I used to be a hardcore pantser. A pantser is a writer that follows the whimsy of their muse to finish a story. Instead of planning everything out, they barrel (or wander) ahead, writing “by the seat of their pants.” Hence the term, “pantser.”
Pantsing was fun. I thought it was the best way to write, waiting for the muse to strike and writing in a fit of passion and emotion. I only wrote when conditions were perfect. When I scheduled writing time for myself, I often found my muse elusive and blamed the infamous condition known as writer's block for my lack of words.
Later, when I revised, I couldn't really tell the difference between times when I'd written full of passion and times when I had forced the words. Progress was slow. My plot meandered. My characters seemed unmotivated and disjointed. I became convinced there had to be a more efficient way to write without sacrificing quality or enjoyment, but I wasn't sure where to look.
Enter plotting. Plotters create an outline before they start writing. This often includes character arcs, the plot, world building, setting, etc. They name characters and do as much research as possible before diving in.
My realization of the magic of plotting was gradual. I heard about plotting at writing conferences I attended, but thought it would suck the joy from writing, so I avoided it as much as I could. Until I decided to use NaNoWriMo to write the sequel to Woven and realized I needed to try something different to succeed in writing 50,000+ words in a month.
As a homeschooling mom with five kids under seven and two businesses, my writing time is limited. I fight for most of the time I get. Those minutes are precious. I can't afford to spend them writing a sentence, thinking what I want to have happen next, and writing the next sentence, or being subject to my unreliable muse from day to day. I love it when a passage flies out of my fingers, but writing nirvana is rare. I needed to try something different: I needed a plan.
You see, Woven took me 3.5 years to write, edit, and publish. I had no outline until close to the end when things got really confusing and I had a deadline to finish by. I had an outline for maybe a third of the book. The book prior to that took me seven years, and I never had an outline.
I started the sequel to Woven during NaNoWriMo 2017. The two months prior I outlined the entire book. The first draft of Bound was finished by January 2018. Only three months! I revised, edited, and released Bound by September. Less than one year.
I'm currently writing a paranormal/urban fantasy trilogy, preparing to rapid release the entire trilogy later this year. I wrote the first book in two and a half months. Then I had a baby and got derailed, understandably. Still, the second book is halfway done. I'm well on my way to taking less than a year to finish THREE entire books. I had a full outline for the first book, a partial outline for the second, and I'm still working out the third. Writing the first book took far less time and went so much easier than writing the second has been, but I've learned my lesson and finally finished plotting the second book.
I was the kindergartener who read voraciously right out of the gate.
I was the 5th grader getting plastic trophies for finishing the year’s reading program, usually several thousand words above the goal.
I was the teenager getting grounded for reading too much instead of calling a friend or going outside.
I am the mother who, once latched onto a fascinating new book, doesn't do anything else until I've finished it. Don't worry, my kids still get fed! The dishes...well, they can wait, right?
I am a bookworm. I actually come from a family of bookworms. My husband is one, too. Unfortunately, the love of reading isn't exactly genetic, so making sure our kids love reading has been a goal of mine since our oldest was in the womb.
He's six, homeschooling at a kindergarten level and reading at a second-grade level. His next oldest sibling is hot on his heels. My kids love books more than candy and toys. They spend a significant amount of time each day reading, aside from bedtime stories. A new book is irresistible to them, and it isn't long before they have it basically memorized.
I don't say this to brag about my children the way parents are inclined to do (okay, maybe a little), but rather to say that we're well on our way to breeding the next generation of book lovers in our family. I wanted to provide a brief list of things that seem to be working so far to make our children into bookworms, so that you can instill a love of reading into yours, too!
While I wasn't one of those new parents that read to my firstborn in the womb, we did start reading to him as soon as he began to sit up. We read from the same two or three books every night, delighting in his obvious thrill at our animal noises and silly sounds.
With reading a part of our first baby's nightly routine, it's been easy to create a habit that has lasted his entire life so far, and now his three sisters (and in-the-womb brother) all enjoy story time before bed. We also “leveled up” with our oldest and started reading chapter books with him after his sisters are in bed. Nothing gives me a greater thrill than sharing my most favorite childhood stories with my son, and discovering new ones together, too!
Give Unrestricted Access to Books
We keep a multitude of books on a shelf just the right size for little hands. There are many benefits to this that I believe far outweigh the cons. First, kids internalize that books are a green-light item. They're allowed to read them, look at them, even play with them. It's easier to say no to grown-up books that we want to keep nice when they have several shelves of their own books that we can redirect them to. We select quality books and keep them rotating through the shelves so they always seem fresh and new (and so mom and dad can get a break from reading that one really long or annoying one, am I right?). We've utilized generous grandparents, thrift stores, and libraries to keep our collection exciting and refreshed. (Although, I'll admit that we rarely check out library books… the potential for damage and the cost of replacement is too high in my house with four sticky, chaotic, enthusiastic readers!)
I know you're tired after chasing them all day, running errands, and keeping them alive. But when your toddler runs up with their favorite book, or your older child stops you every other sentence to ask a question or make an observation, try your best to turn down the cranky dial and make it magical for them. We're imperfect people, but we can find ways to bring joy into reading. Maybe it's an extra ridiculous voice or face, maybe we add inflection and alter our tone, maybe we introduce our children to audiobooks, movies, or musicals based on the books we read. We read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my oldest last summer and he loved it, so when the local Jr. High announced their production of the musical, we bought tickets and made sure he got to go. My energetic six-year-old sat through the entire thing, riveted. He loved pointing out all the differences he noticed between the book and the show. I'm looking forward to sharing one of the film adaptations with him, too.
A very critical point to make here is that we never force reading on our kids. d. It's one reason we home school. A child can sometimes be forced into reading too soon because of school requirements. It’s one of the quickest ways to kill the joy of reading, making it something a child might not discover until adulthood, which is a tremendous shame. I think some of the danger is mitigated by reading in the home before school begins. Help your young reader find books about things they love to keep the spark lit, even if reading becomes hard for them. My son loves sharks and sciency things like tornadoes and weird fungus. A book like that will keep him occupied for DAYS. So does his now-tattered copy of Calvin and Hobbes comics. I try not to be too picky, as long as he's reading!
Monkey See, Monkey Do
If you don't read, why would your child? They are the world's best mimics, and if you never make time for any sort of reading beyond Facebook scrolling, I can assure you that most children won’t see that reading has any sort of value. Let them see you do it, and tell them about what you’ve read recently. In today’s age of technology you have no excuses. Audiobooks make “reading” during your commute or while doing dishes or laundry possible. Even many e-readers come with read-aloud options. Ebooks make reading on the train or in the car an option for some. Those that get carsick can slip a Kindle in our purse and read in the waiting room or in the school pickup line.
I love paperbacks and hardcovers, but let’s be real: kids trash them, they pick them up and walk off with them, they lose your spot no matter what sort of bookmark you use, and they can be plain inconvenient. My personal library is filled with my very favorite books in print format, but for reading in general I have grown to love my Kindle. Since I often read to my kids from it for home school, they know when I’m holding it that I’m reading.
If you are reading this article and you don’t love reading try reading something you’ve never tried reading before. Pick up a new genre, a new author, an audiobook, try it again. You might find something you didn’t expect to love and become a bookworm yourself.
Reading ought to be something your kid loves. I believe nothing will prepare a child more for success in the future than a deep love of reading. I look forward to seeing the light catch in my children's eyes and to help form their love of reading even more.
Are you raising bookworms? How have you taught your kids to love reading?
Mothers are some of the most powerful people on the planet. They carry children within their own bodies for nine months and bring them into the world. They receive children they didn’t conceive into their homes and hearts with just as much love. They sacrifice. They teach by word and example, greatly influencing those in their care.
But mothers don’t often take a significant role in fiction. They sit on the sidelines, cheering on their children, and that’s only if they’re present in the first place. It’s as though society believes that once one becomes a parent they can no longer have adventures of their own, and no end goal to achieve. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Beyond Instinct is a collection of five short stories that show how mothers still have lessons to learn and stories to tell.
Each of the authors in the anthology included aspects they have seen in mothers in their own lives, or have experienced themselves. Read their responses below!
Psychology is a powerful tool to use in fiction. Even if your characters aren’t human, giving them human traits and struggles will allow your readers to connect with them on a much deeper level. In this blog post I’ll discuss the value of using psychology in your writing, the best way to go about researching, and most importantly, what NOT to do when including mental illness in fiction.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert. I hold no degrees, wrote no thesis, and have limited life experience with many of the topics I mention here. I have done what any good writer does when confronted with the need to include something in a story that they aren’t familiar with: research.
My interest in using psychology in fiction started when I wrote my first published novel, Woven. Without giving you too many spoilers, one of the characters has a magically-induced form of Dissociative Identity Disorder, known more commonly (but incorrectly) as Multiple Personality Disorder. People with this disorder show dramatic shifts in personality and identity, and every aspect of their being is affected: temperament, dialect, memory, physical ability, intellectual knowledge, and even gender.
Psychologists now believe that DID largely occurs in individuals that were abused as children, and the mind literally splinters, or dissociates, in order to keep from being damaged by living out the memory of the trauma. Re-integration of the personalities allows for the divided individual to acknowledge each split inside them and become one, if they choose, or at very least live more harmoniously. That’s DID in a nutshell. There are a lot of stigmas associated with the illness, plenty of ways to incorrectly portray it, and fortunately for me, plenty of real-life stories to sift through as I wrote this character in my book.
I even found out while writing Woven that a family member was diagnosed with this mental illness. She’s also a writer, and she agreed to read Woven once it was finished. To paraphrase her words, there were parts of the story that were so real they were difficult to read because she identified with the character so completely. In other words, I nailed it. She loved my book, and her response validated all the research and effort I had put into compiling it.
So what does knowing my experience do for you? Let’s start with talking about what adding or deepening the influence of human psychology can do for your story and those that read it.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.