The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

In 1989, author Stephen Covey came out with his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I’m a sucker for self-improvement books and found Covey’s book inspiring and practical. At the risk of insulting the late Stephen Covey, I’ll dare to suggest seven habits of highly effective fiction writers.

The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_PeopleCovey presented his seven habits in a logical order, with a nice, organic structure. His phrased his habits—aimed at helping people live better lives—as brief directives, but took about a chapter to explain each one. They included such things as “Be proactive,” “Begin with the end in mind,” and others.

In a similar manner, my suggested habits have a rough order to them, but are not as neatly structured as Covey’s. My habits do not parallel Covey’s, but they do consist of brief directive statements which require some explanation. Here they are:

  1. Listen to your inner storyteller. First and most important, you’re a writer because you have story to tell, because you can’t imagine not writing. Keep that inner spark always burning; it will sustain you through the difficult times.
  2. Form the discipline of writing. Sometimes your inner storyteller doesn’t yell loud enough, and the rest of life’s obligations close in. If you’re to be a writer, you still need to write, write, write. There is no substitute for time spent with butt in chair and fingers on keyboard.
  3. Get help with the craft. Seek all kinds of help. Study English again. Develop your vocabulary. Read about writing. Read the classics. Attend writing classes and conferences. Join a critique group.
  4. Follow your muse. As you write more, you’ll think of characters, plots, and settings during odd, idle moments when you’re not writing. That’s your unconscious, creative voice—your muse—talking. Pay attention. Though she may lead you to unimagined and uncomfortable places, she might help you develop your unique writing voice.
  5. Submit your best. Don’t rely on editors to see the genius of your story through all the spelling, grammatical, and plot errors. Do a thorough job of self-editing, thinking critically, viewing your manuscript as a reader and English teacher might. Submit only when you can honestly say it’s your best product and you’re proud of it.
  6. Be a professional. Present yourself to the world as if you’re already a successful author. Establish an author website. Don’t get so angry at editors, reviewers, blog commenters, or readers that you descend into flame wars, emotional outbursts, or other unprofessional conduct.
  7. Actively seek improvement. This may sound like number 3 above, but that earlier habit is about the initial learning of fiction writing; this one is about continual development, honing, and advancement of your craft. It means to cycle through all the habits as you go, improving known weak areas, always working to ensure your next story is better than all the previous ones.

Long-time followers of my blog will recall my post proposing 15 writing virtues. The seven habits I’m advocating today are another approach. It’s easier to remember 7 things than 15 anyway, right? There are many paths to self-improvement, and you’re free to find your own. For now, it’s back to growing and improving for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 7, 2014Permalink

The Seed and Twist Revisited

I’ve mentioned a couple of times before (here and here) my method of coming up with story ideas.  I call it the seed and twist.  The seed is some humdrum, everyday thing.  The twist is where you look at the seed in a new way, give it some novel alteration.

By way of illustration, I’ll discuss the seed and twist for each of the stories I’ve had published to date.  Don’t think of it as a glimpse into how my mind works; you don’t want to know.  Think of it as a jumping off point for coming up with your own story ideas.  Sometimes my seed ideas aren’t very everyday things.

  • Target Practice
    • Seed:  a prison
    • Twist:  It’s a prison of the future, underwater, and prisoners are made to drive weaponless mini-subs to serve as targets for the country’s submariners.
  • Alexander’s Odyssey
    • Seed:  the legend that Alexander the Great descended in a diving bell
    • Twist:  How would the sea-god Poseidon react?
  • The Sea-Wagon of Yantai
    • Seed:  some obscure references I found that someone had made a submarine in China around 200 BC
    • Twist:  make it a tale pitting war against peace
  • Blood in the River
    • Seed: your standard vampire
    • Twist:  This is an Amazonian vampire-fish known as a candiru, that shape-shifts between human and fish forms.
  • The Finality
    • Seed:  the disaster to come in the year 2012 foretold by the Mayan calendar
    • Twist:  The disaster is the universal end of time itself.
  • The Vessel
    • Seed:  a ship and its crew returning home
    • Twist:  It’s a ship from Atlantis, and their home has sunk beneath the seas.
  • The Steam Elephant
    • Seed: the huge, mechanical elephant from a Jules Verne story set in India.
    • Twist:  Take the same characters, with a newly built steam elephant, and set them in African in 1879, in time for the Anglo-Zulu War.
  • The Wind-Sphere Ship
    • Seed:  the little steam toy invented by Heron (also spelled Hero) in 1st century Alexandria
    • Twist:  What would happen if he’d used steam to power a ship?
  • Within Victorian Mists
    • Seed:  a steampunk romance
    • Twist:  Lasers and holograms get invented early, in the late 1800s.
  • Seasteadia
    • Seed:  a story of young love between opposites
    • Twist:  The story is set against the backdrop of the world’s first permanent sea colony, or seastead.
  • A Sea-Fairy Tale
    • Seed:  a man learning that the world must have some fantasy in it
    • Twist:  He learns this from an oceanid, a mythological sea fairy.
  • Leonardo’s Lion
    • Seed:  the life-size clockwork lion built by Leonardo da Vinci in 1515
    • Twist:  It’s about fifty years later and the lion is found by a small boy who finds a secret hidden inside the lion.
  • Against All Gods
    • Seed:  a journey to visit all seven wonders of the ancient world
    • Twist:  The gods of Greek mythology are angry with a pair of mortal lovers and will stop at nothing to ruin their love for each other.
  • A Steampunk Carol
    • Seed:  Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
    • Twist:  The story is played out using the characters of “Within Victorian Mists.”
  • The Six Hundred Dollar Man
    • Seed:  the 1970s TV show, “The Six Million Dollar Man”
    • Twist:  It’s set in steampunk times.
  • A Tale More True
    • Seed:  the notion of man travelling to the moon
    • Twist:  The story is set in a time even before steam power, when the most powerful man-made source of energy was the metal clockwork spring.

It’s one way of coming up with story ideas.  So far, it’s worked for—

                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe

October 27, 2013Permalink

Cure: Writer’s Block

Earlier I blogged about writer’s block, but focused on symptoms and causes.  Today, let’s talk about getting over it.

Writers blockAs before, I’ll limit the discussion to minor writer’s block (minWB), the short-term state of being stuck while in the middle of a writing project.  I’ll blog about Major Writer’s Block (MajWB) another time.

My many fans—both of them, actually, including my Dad—will recall that I stated there are several types of minWB, which I divided as follows:

  • Story-related problems
  • Writing-related problems, but not about the story
  • Personal, but non-writing, problems

I also stated that if you pinpoint which problem you have, that suggests a cure. For story-related problems such as plot, character, setting, or others, here are a few things you can try:  (1) set the story aside awhile and let your subconscious (your muse) work on the problem, (2) try sketching a mind-map of the problem and creatively come up with multiple solutions, then select the best, or (3) ask your critique group or beta reader for help.

The craft-related problems all boil down to matters of attitude leading to negative mental associations, leading to stress.  Since one type of craft-related problem is the pressure of the audience seeming too close, I have to point out what some might consider a contradiction in the advice I, Poseidon’s Scribe, have given out.  In this blog entry I suggested, if you’re feeling the ‘presence’ of the reader too intensely, just forget about that audience and write freely for yourself.

However, just two weeks ago I urged you to keep the reader in mind, always.

Which advice is right—ignore the reader or be ever mindful of the reader?

(Aside:  witness the clever way I get out of this paradox.)

I was right both times.  In general, it is always wise to acknowledge that you’re writing to be read by others.  Therefore, you should write with precision, avoiding ambiguity, so as to be understood.  But if the fear of being criticized or disliked is paralyzing you into inaction, if the anticipation of bad reviews leaves you trembling before your keyboard, then forget about those readers for a while.  Ignore them during your early drafts and focus on getting your story done.

Then in the later drafts, I suggest you visualize yourself as a sort of super-editor, far more critical of your own work than any reader could be, and yet able to fix every problem you find.  In this way, you minimize your fear of the reader and substitute confidence in yourself.

That ‘visualization’ method may work for many of the minWB craft-related problems, by imagining a near-future version of yourself having already overcome the problem and working steadily on the story.  Visualize yourself being in the flow, and once again gripped by the same enthusiasm you had when you first conceived the story idea.  In this way you can change the mental linkages you’ve developed and re-associate writing with fun, success, and confidence rather than stress, fatigue, and inadequacy.

As to the last category of minWB, that of personal problems such as illness, depression, relationship difficulties, or financial woes, you need to confront those problems head-on first.  Until you have a plan for solving them, and start to execute that plan, it will be tough to concentrate on writing.

Do these suggested cures work for you?  Do you know of others I should have recommended?  Unblock yourself and leave a comment for—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

September 21, 2013Permalink

The Software Shakespeare Used

Wow!  There are a lot of writing software packages available!

By writing software, I’m not talking about word processors like Corel Write, Microsoft Word, TextMaker, WordPerfect, etc.  I mean software designed to help you write fiction stories, software packages like Liquid Story Binder, Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, Master Storyteller, MyNovel, Power Structure, Power Writer, Scrivener, StoryBlue, Storybook, StoryCraft, StoryWeaver, WriteItNow, Writer’s Café, Writer’s DreamKit, WriteMonkey, and yWriter5.  I’m sure I’ve left out some…sorry.

writing softwareWould you like a nice analytical comparison of all those writing software packages to help you choose the best one for you?  Again, sorry, wrong blog post.  I don’t have the money or time to buy, test, and rate software packages, (though that would be interesting).

When I thought of the idea for this blog post topic many months ago, I had intentions of test-driving at least two or three and giving you a comparison of those, at least.  Alas, that didn’t happen.

However, I did try out yWriter5, so I can comment on that one.  I also was given a disk with Writer’s DreamKit, but it reacted badly with my computer for some reason, and after restoring things I haven’t been brave enough to try it again.  I don’t blame the Writer’s DreamKit software; I was able to explore around in it and get a feel for it, but I had problems when I restarted my computer the next time.

yWriter5 is free!  It allows you to organize your novel by scenes, then chapters.  It keeps readily available all the information about your characters, scene locations, and significant ‘items’ (objects) in your story.   It has a storyboard feature; it includes a word usage feature to see if you’re over-using certain words; and it keeps track of your daily word count in a log.  There are many more features, too.

I used yWriter5 for one of my short stories.  For a short story, yWriter has far more features than I needed.  It was a good way to organize notes, characters, etc.  Since I do much of my writing while away from a computer using an ancient method involving a ‘pen’ and a ‘pad of paper,’ I was pleased with yWriter’s ability to print reports that could include my characters, scenes, items, and notes.  I think yWriter would be quite useful for a complex novel.

In my brief exposure to Writer’s DreamKit, I found that the software asks you an enormous number of questions before you can get going.  If you have good ideas for your story in your head and the patience to answer the questions, I’m sure the software would prove useful.

My overall point here is to set expectations.  Do not purchase or use writing software with the idea that it will make you a published author.  By itself, the software won’t improve your writing.  It won’t think for you; it won’t come up with engaging characters, clever plot twists, or vivid settings.  It will not write the story for you.  Those are the hardest parts of writing fiction, and no software will do those things…yet.

What these software packages will (or can) do is help organize thoughts, keep information readily available to minimize searching for it, measure your progress (word count), and do the sort of low level, background stuff that you wish some assistant would take care of.

No, Shakespeare didn’t use writing software, just the ‘wetware’ within his skull.  I’m not even sure he would have recommended any of the packages currently available if he’d had a chance to try them.  But neither you nor I are Shakespeare.  If you need help with organizing or desire an easy way to sort out scenes, characters, and chapters, then feel free to use software for that.  I’d love to read and respond to your comments about this post.  Now available in version 3.55, I’m—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

Ordering a (Writer’s) Retreat

Planning a writer’s retreat, are you?  Already looking forward to that free weekend, or even a full week, away from the stress of work, away from the chores of home?  A few days away from everything, with time to devote purely to writing.

writing retreatSo much time!  Why, you’ll be able to finish up that novel.  You might even knock off a short story or three.  Do some new characters sketches for the novel’s sequel, and lay out the plot line.  Polish up some query letters.

By now you’ve spotted the signs of a ‘lower your expectations’ lecture.  But it’s easy, when you only have spare minutes or a rare uninterrupted hour during your normal life, to imagine how much more you could get done with a whole day or more at your disposal.

Did you ever stop and think that those odd spare minutes are the right amount of writing time for you?  Is it possible that more time would not result in more writing?  Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time allotted to it.”  One corollary of that law is, “The amount of time available to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.”  Or, as a coworker of mine phrases it, “If you put off a task until the last minute, it will only take a minute.”

In theory, it’s true that you should get more writing done if you have more time, such as during your upcoming retreat.  Understand, I’m not opposed to writer’s retreats, just unrealistic expectations for them.  Definitely go on the retreat.  Before you do, compile a list of things to get done, a long list.  Go ahead and make big plans, set stretch goals.  But don’t kick yourself too hard if you fall short.

After all, you’ve trained yourself (in effect) to write in short bursts, and you’ve acclimated to that mode now.  During your retreat, you may find yourself needing a break after just an hour of writing.  Your mind will wander.   You’ll find excuses to do other things.  That is the pattern you’ve set, the habit you’ve made.

I suggest you make use of that habit.  Here’s a way to use it to your advantage during your retreat.  Consider making a list of many different writing tasks you want to do.  The more different from each other, the better.  Then, while you’re at your retreat site, spend a half hour on the first task.  Bring a timer or alarm to inform you when the time’s up.  After that half hour, take a five minute break, during which you stand up, walk around, stretch, etc.  Then tackle the second task on your list for a half hour and so on.

Since you’ve accustomed yourself to working in short bursts, make the retreat a long, repeating series of short bursts.  You may find that method works for you.

One more thing about retreats.  In the weeks leading up to the planned date of the retreat, I urge you not to put off things.  Don’t say, “I’ll do that writing task during my retreat.”  If you find yourself doing that, you might follow it up by asking why you’re putting off the task.  Why not do it now?

In fact, what’s so special about a retreat anyway?  Why not consider every minute spent writing as a sort of mini-retreat right in your own home?

You might feel differently about writer’s retreats.  If so, please leave a comment and let me have it, metaphorically.  In the meantime, off to a mini-retreat in his own home goes—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

Does Blogging Help Your Writing?

If you’re thinking of starting up a blog as a way to improve the quality of your fiction writing, I’m here to tell you—blogging will have just as much effect on your golf swing.

Hamlet blogMy answer is different if you write non-fiction.  Well-written blogs are like essays, with the same structure and purpose.  The skills needed are the same.

For fiction writers, there’s very little in common between your stories and your blog posts.  The talents you develop doing one won’t translate well to the other.

It’s even possible for blogging to worsen your fiction writing.  Certainly it’s cutting into your productivity, at least.  Each precious minute spent blogging is sixty seconds lost and unavailable for writing fiction.

Also, let’s say you become an expert in all the aspects of blogging, able to craft persuasive, short essays with well-researched facts, finely structured arguments, and logical conclusions.  It’s possible for that ‘lecturing voice’ to worm its way into your fiction, and you don’t want that.

Am I telling you, the beginning fiction writer, not to blog?  No, I’m just helping you set expectations; blogging won’t make your fiction better.  But there are several valid reasons for fiction authors to blog:

  • It helps enforce schedule discipline, and to associate deadlines with writing.  This is only true if you post to your blog on a regular basis.  Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, getting to ‘The End’ is important.
  • It’s a form of self-education.  When I come across an idea for a future blog entry, I add it to my list, (which is quite long now).  When I look to see what topic is scheduled for any particular week, I find it generally involves a bit of research.  So while blogging about the craft of writing, I’m coming across knowledge I can use.
  • The best reason for a fiction writer like you to blog, though, is to build your platform, increase your web presence, and connect with readers.

Blog if you want to, but don’t go into it thinking it’ll make your fiction better.  For those of you who disagree, that’s what the comment feature is for.  Please comment and let your views be known to the world and to—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe 

15 Writing Virtues

Many people believe you aren’t just stuck with the way you are now, that you can better yourself by persistent act of will.  I’m one of them, but let me just focus on self-help as it applies to the writing of fiction.

Benjamin_Franklin_1767Benjamin Franklin was an early example of someone who developed a program of self-improvement.  His method was to list thirteen virtues along with a brief description, then he would set about to focus on one virtue per week.  Franklin actually kept a log of this, giving himself a black mark on days he fell short.  Presumably, by focusing on one virtue at a time, it did not mean he was abandoning the others during that week.

Examples of his virtues include:

1. Temperance.  Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

4. Resolution.  Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

In the spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s list of virtues, I’ll offer some virtues of writing fiction.  I’ve grouped them into ‘process’ virtues dealing with how you write, and ‘product’ virtues dealing with aspects of the manuscript itself.

The Poseidon’s Scribe 15 Virtues of Fiction Writing

Process Virtues

1.  ProductivityFill hours with writing, not researching or time-wasting activity.

2.  Focus.  Turn off your inner editor during the first draft.

3.  Humility.  Seek other trusted people to critique your work; be receptive.

4.  Excellence.  Only submit work you’re proud of.

5.  DoggednessBe persistent in submitting to markets; be unshaken by rejections.

Product Virtues.

6.  Relevance.  Ensure your work passes the ‘So What?’ test.

7.  AppealHook readers from the first paragraph.

8.  Engagement.  Put your characters in conflict with something or someone; make the story about conflict resolution.

9.  Empathy.  Create vivid, engaging characters.

10.  Action.  Weave logical, interesting plots with appropriate causes and effects.

11.  Placement.  Provide clear but unobtrusive descriptions of the story setting, without overshadowing character or plot.

12.  Meaning.  Ensure your story’s theme explores eternal human truths.

13.  Style. Seek your own voice, then follow it.

14.  Communication.  Ensure your characters’ dialogue is appropriate and advances the plot.  (Mentioned here, here, and here.)

15.  Skill.  Salt your tales with symbolism and appropriate metaphors.

Your list would likely be different.  One way to go about it is to examine critiques of your fiction you receive from members of your critique group, from editors, etc.  Are there repeated criticisms?  Turn them around and express them as a positive affirmation or goal, not as a negative to avoid.  Those goals represent things to work on, and would be on your own list of virtues.

George Carlin fans would likely point out to me that there’s no such thing as self-help.  People who get their list of virtues from their critique group, or from this blog post, aren’t exactly engaged in self-help, since they got help from others.  Moreover, if beginning writers truly helped themselves get better, then they didn’t need help.  Witty gags aside, it can be a comfort to a struggling writer that there exist methods for improvement, but all I offer is a framework for starting; the writer must shoulder the burden of actually doing the work to improve her writing.

I’d love to hear if you’ve found my list useful, or if you’ve developed your own list, or even if you’ve embarked on a completely different method of improving your writing.  Let me know in your comments to this blog entry.  For now, back to improving his writing goes—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

Motivational Objects

Often just the sight of some object can motivate writers to put butt to chair and fingers to keyboard, even when they feel like doing something else.  Do you have such an object?

jv pic 011I do.  A couple of decades ago, I put this framed picture of Jules Verne directly above the computer in my den.  The text states, “Keep writing, Steve!” – Jules Verne.  I’m not sure what prompted me to do that, and the whole thing may seem silly, but there’s just something about it…

After all, musicians have long placed a bust of Beethoven atop their piano, and from that perch he gazes sternly as if passing judgment on the pianist’s skill.  I have suggested that some enterprising person could make and sell small figurines of some of the muses as inspiration for their various creative talents.  If offered inexpensively, such figurines might sell well.

But let me get back to my picture of Jules.  It seems ridiculous, but the notion that my literary idol might communicate to me from the grave, urging me to keep writing, is something I find encouraging.  It’s as if he’s allowing me to tap into his dedication and maybe a sliver of his talent.  JV is assuring me that if I keep at it, I’ll improve.  Moreover, when I’m not writing, I feel guilty for letting him down.

Half of you are now wondering if you’re reading the blog entry of a lunatic.  The other half is questioning whether this really worked for me, and I’ll respond to that second half.  When I first hung the picture on the wall many years ago, I think it worked well to instill the daily habit of writing.  I’d be playing some computer game, would glance up and realize Jules Verne himself had commanded me to write.  So I’d click out of the game and write.

In other words, yes, that very personalized object did serve to motivate me.  These days, with the daily habit of writing well formed, and with several of my stories published, I’m not sure I need the framed picture any more.  But Verne still stares from my wall, and will do so until I can write no more; I can’t imagine taking it down.

I’d welcome your comments on this idea.  Would a motivational object work for you?  Do you already have one?   I suppose I’d even take comments about my sanity from the half of you with strong feelings on that subject.  In the meantime, I’ll resume work on my next story; after all, Jules Verne himself has given an order to—

                                                                   Poseidon’s Scribe

A File Full of Ideas

If you’re a writer, do you keep an “Ideas File?”  You might have a different name for it, but I’m speaking of a single place where you store ideas for future stories.

The philosopher Socrates opposed writing anything down, whether it was a good story idea or not.  He had his reasons, but it occurs to me the world would never have heard of Socrates if his student Plato hadn’t written down much of what the great philosopher said.  Similarly, you could trust your memory to retain all the story ideas that occur to you.  Or you could type them or write them by hand and store them for later retrieval.  It seems obvious that, as writers, we’re not adherents to Socrates’ school of thought in this regard.

Ideas FileIt doesn’t matter what form your Ideas File takes, whether it’s an electronic file, a paper one, or a list on a white board.  The important attributes are that it’s available to you for storage of new ideas and for later retrieval.

The ideas you store there will likely be based on flashes of insight you get when your mind is otherwise idle; when you’re commuting, or cleaning the house, or taking a shower.  These idea sparks can also occur based on reading books, magazines, or newspapers; or from listening to radio or audiobooks; or from watching a movie or TV show.  Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games trilogy, said she got the idea for the series’ first novel from the juxtaposition of two TV shows while flipping channels.

The entries in your file can be basic story ideas, plot layouts, character descriptions, images of settings, even just metaphors or clever turns of phrase.  The file can contain a combination of all of these.  The file can be organized or not; order doesn’t matter until the file gets quite large.

Your attitude toward your Ideas File is important too.  Don’t worry if the number of entries grows and grows and you never seem to be using any of the file’s ideas in your stories.  Don’t berate yourself if you look back over early ideas and they appear stupid or juvenile.  It should give you a good feeling to peruse the file from time to time, especially when you’re stuck for an idea.  That’s what it’s for.

Let’s look at things from the point of view of these ideas, the thoughts you’re putting into the file.  They each start life in your mind.  At that moment you’re enthused about them; they take on a sure-fire, best-seller glow in your mind.  You write or type the idea and put it in your folder, only because you are in the middle of another project and can’t flesh this idea into a story right now.

The idea then sits there in your file for a while, maybe years, along with other ideas.  It waits there for you to come across it again.  When you do, the idea might look worse than it did before, or the same or even better.  Sometimes the idea appears to lack something, but combining it with another idea lifts it to greatness.  Sometimes a poor idea sparks an unrelated good one, for reasons you may never understand.

As for my own Ideas File…well, there’s little point in telling you anything specific about it.  I’ve kept it for decades now and its entries span the spectrum from idiotic to pretty good.  If I described my file or its entries, I’m afraid it might cause you to construct your file in some way that doesn’t fit you.

If you’d leave a comment, I’d love to hear about whether you think such an Ideas File would be useful to you.  If you already have one, has it helped you?  While I await the deluge of comments, I’ll thumb through the files of—

                                                               Poseidon’s Scribe

Suffering the Slings and Arrows

Think you can take criticism well?  How about when people you trust denigrate something you worked very hard on, and are proud of?  Aye, there’s the rub, don’t you think?

Taking CriticismI’ve often discussed critique groups and how much I value them (here, here, and here), but today I thought I’d help you prepare for receiving criticism at your critique group meeting.  Believe me, the first few meetings will be tough when they’re poking holes in your story.  At such times, it’s difficult to remember that group members are (1) being honest, (2) criticizing your work, not you, (3) on your side and want you to succeed, and (4) telling you what readers and editors would think.

Are you supposed to just sit there and take it?  In a word, yes.  The very best thing you can do is be silent and listen.  I don’t mean pretend to listen while thinking of what you’ll say next.  I mean really listen.  Get outside yourself, beyond your ego, and see your work through the critique group members’ eyes.  Suspend your doubts about their intelligence and assume, at least for the moment, that they might just be right.

You’ll feel a powerful temptation to explain why you wrote something the way you did, to help these deluded group members comprehend the brilliance of your prose which they somehow missed.  You’ll even want to defend your story against these attacks, and possibly argue with these formerly intelligent friends who’ve suddenly caught an ignorance virus.

After all, who are they to tell you your story’s hook is boring; your protagonist lacks depth; your plot doesn’t make sense; your setting is like a room with plain, white walls; and the story’s central conflict could have been resolved by a first grader in seconds?  Worse, the passages they’ve recommended cutting are your favorite parts.

No, it won’t be easy to sit there and take it.  But the old adage ‘you can’t learn with your mouth open’ is true.  So you need to develop a thick skin, grow up to adulthood, and listen.  And when you’ve suffered their slings and arrows (without taking arms against that sea of troubles), then what?  Then, my friend, you will thank these critique group members.  Yes, you will express sincere gratitude for the help they’ve provided.

At what point, exactly, did they provide help, you ask?  How can I call it help when your manuscript lies twitching and bleeding on the floor, unloved by all but you?  Here are just some of the ways your group members assisted you:

Free of charge, they’ve given you—

  • a fresh perspective from which to see your work, without the rose-glasses filter of your biases;
  • information you can use to decide whether to change your manuscript, since changes are still your decision, but now these decisions will be based on facts, not guesses, about how readers will likely react;
  • an improved ability to endure criticism.  More negative criticism will come later, from editors and from readers.  But those later critiques won’t upset you, thanks to the way your critique group prepared you.

Here’s an excellent blog entry by Joanna Penn on the subject of taking criticism, and she offers even more thoughts.

So, has this blog entry made you a bit “nobler in the mind?” As always, please leave me a comment with your thoughts.  My next critique group meeting is coming up soon.  My fellow group members will know then whether “practice what you preach” is advice well followed by—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe