Critiquing Terrible Writing

One of the drawbacks of signing up as a designated critic for a writing service is that sometimes, and only sometimes, I see writing so terrible that I just don’t know what to say. The honest thing to advise would be, “wow, go back to high school,” but I obviously can’t do that.PAPER

The trick is to be diplomatic, sure, but I also want to be genuinely helpful to the writer if I can be. It’s easier to help good writers that might have a few missing elements, like an unclear setting, bad tone, a confusing POV. For the bad writer, the one that doesn’t know the difference between its and it’s, there, their, and they’re, it’s so much harder to navigate. Do I redline every grammar mistake and ruin their dreams?

There’s only so many times I can soften the blow by bracketing my corrections with phrases like, “this is just my opinion” or “this struck me as odd but maybe that’s just me.” Sometimes I’ve really seen no other option but to say things like, “you need to look at the rules for commas; here are several places where you make the same mistake.”

Some people just can’t wrap their head around expository writing, which is essential for speculative fiction. I can’t count how many times I’ve suggested, “show, don’t tell” after reading a story where I’m told exactly what to think and feel by the author, which inevitably means I end their tale experiencing absolutely nothing.

I think editing projects are essential to becoming a better writer, so I’m happy to continue doing this as long as I can. I also think I could never be a professional editor, because I have a feeling I’m not good at being entirely diplomatic when I see egregious mistakes.

New Writing and Editing Projects!

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May is off to a good start: Futura Magazine, Medium’s Science Fiction short story collection, put up my Sci-Fi/ Horror short, “Arrogant Damned” . It’s about a murderer so know what you’re getting into before you leap! One of my beta readers for the story messaged me after reading the opening and said, “hang on I need to finish breakfast first.”

He was probably kidding.  😉

In other news I joined the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) and I’m now involved with NESFA Press. I’m currently working on a 240 pg editing project for them, which is very cool since it enables me to get a peek into the publishing process and work on something by a well-known SF author. I’ll be sure to share the work once it’s done and up for sale (and I can speak more freely to the specifics!)

Excelsior!

When your Hobby becomes a Job is it Ruined?

So if you get published, suddenly, the hobby you indulged in while away from life and work becomes a job. Does the magic stick?

Reading an article by Jaye Wells is an eye opener:

Turns out, I started out right. I found a hobby that was rewarding and fun. It was when I became a pro that I got off track. See, what I figured out is that everyone needs a hobby. We each need something that doesn’t have ego or income tied to it. When my hobby became my job, I lost that safe space where I could create without fear.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Story Organization

This was a cool gem I found on Reddit:

Mary Robinette Kowal gives a rundown of how she turns an idea into a story idea! I’m always interested in seeing how each author does this. I’m going to go through her steps to see if it helps me. Starting out as a writer means learning all the rules and then internalizing them to make them your own.

One of the things that is hardest to learn is that you need to trust your own instincts — not as a writer, but as a reader. Basically that moment when you think, “I would love to read a story about…” is a moment when your brain is offering you inspiration for a story you could write. Even niggling side thoughts like, “it would be cooler if” can be the seed of the story.

The seed isn’t the problem, it’s developing it into a story idea that’s the tricky bit. Here’s an exercise to try.

  1. Write down a gee whiz idea.
  2. Where would this gee whiz idea happen? That’s your general scenic location.
  3. Write down characters who would be there.
  4. From that list, which ones do you want to spend time with?
  5. What does each have at stake?
  6. Pick the one who has most at stake ie the most to lose. That’s your main POV character.
  7. What do they want? Brainstorm for 3-5 minutes and, then bold the idea that excites you.
  8. Why can’t they have it? Brainstorm, then bold the idea that excites you.
  9. What is their plan? Brainstorm, then bold the idea that excites you.
  10. Write 1- 3 sentences summing up your decisions.
  11. Identify what kind of MICE conflict it is.
    • A. Trying to escape – milieu
    • B. Questions –idea
    • C. Crisis of faith/self-doubt – character
    • D. Things happen! – event
  12. Where does that mean the story needs to begin? Or, what MICE Quotient frame goes around it gets.

So that gives you a basic story beginning, but something that is only a single thread is often dull.

Now we need a second plot thread. Typically, if you pick the same MICE Quotient element, it winds up being just a conflict in the main plot, not a second thread in its own right.

  • 1. Try to find a different MICE element to introduce.
    • A. Milieu – What problems exist with your MC’s environment?
    • B. Idea – What questions does your MC have?
    • C. Character – What challenges your MC’s self definition?
    • D. Event – What disrupts your MC’s status quo?
  • 2. From the list, try to pick something that is not the same kind of MICE thread as your primary conflict. This will be your secondary conflict.
  • 3. Write 2-3 sentences summarizing your decision.
  • 4. Weave that into your previous set of decisions and that gives you a very basic frame for a story.

There are other tricks and this is definitely not the only way to go from idea to story, but it’s an exercise that can help you sort things out while you are learning to develop your instincts.

 

Writing, Raising Kids, Working, and Sanity

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Albert Anker

Brigid Kemmerer has a great piece up at Writer’s Digest that told me everything I needed to hear.

I started writing this article by staring at the screen for five minutes, trying to think of a good comparison for my life, so I could be witty and demonstrate my writing chops. But you know what? I’m too tired, because my 17-month-old was up in the middle of the night, suddenly terrified of his baby monitor.

And you know what else? You don’t need me to tell you how busy I am. If you’re a mother or a father, you’re busy too. We’re all busy.

But just so you have a frame of reference, here’s my life:

  • Four kids ranging in age from 1 to 18.
  • A wonderful husband who likes to set eyes on me every once in a while.
  • An active writing career, with five full length novels published since 2012 (and more to come!)
  • A full time job (40 hours per week) in the financial services industry.
  • A caffeine addiction. Seriously. Someone pass the coffee.

If you’re an aspiring or published author in the same boat (or even if you’re just a parent who loves reading checklists), I’d like to share some of what works in the Kemmerer house to keep everything running smoothly.

Read the rest here.

Honestly, it put the wind back in my sails. I’m in a constant writing-editing-revising circle, shortlisted here, rejected there. My third baby is due in May, and I’m juggling that, two toddlers under five, a job, and a few night classes.

After reading Kemmere’s column I took some time to finally finish revising a story at a coffee shop for two hours. And all was ok again.

 

Need Beta Readers? Join Critters. Do It.

hemingway_writing_pubDomain

Hemingway, being a boss

I sometimes have panic-attacks about my writing: What if I really just suck and will never make it since I can’t go to fancy workshops like Clarion? I don’t have the time or the money, so am I sunk?  What if I’m just some delusional Millennial that thinks pure gumption will get me published?

Well, maybe those things are true, but what can happen is that previously unknown authors can score agents, or self-publish (with a great marketing plan) and make it. I think that the way to do this is to become a critical reader so that I, in turn, can become a good writer. I’ve written about getting beta readers before, but that can be a haphazard process if you’re just trolling forums and trying to get people to read your stuff via email. I do that for sure, but it’s probably better to submit your work to a secure, private group dedicated to critiquing writers.

Well, that’s what Critters is. I can’t believe it took me this long to join, but it’s been a great experience. I know the common objection to joining groups like this is, “Well, what if I end up just reading bad stuff?” I’ll argue that reading bad work is actually good for a budding writer. Can you articulate why it’s bad? Do you know enough about plot, characterization, POV, theme, setting, and structure to give a good and incisive review of someone else’s work?

That’s something that goes beyond good grammar and usage.

I’ll share a testimony from Matt Dovey here. This was sent out to all Critters members in an email with updates:

Matt Dovey, who sold his (Critter’d) short story, “This is the  Sound of the End of the World” to Flash Fiction Online. {A space opera in 992 words! It should be up in March, which will make it my first publication, just ahead of WotF32. The revisions requested by the editor were both things critters had brought up and I’d decided against, so let this be a lesson: listen to your critters, people!}

Dovey dropped some advice in a forum I was reading about how great Critters was for him as a writer, so I’m grateful he did that. Community, support, and a chance to get so good you get published? Sign up. You know you want to!

Disappointed

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I know rejection is part of writing, and most days it doesn’t bother me much. Getting shortlisted is pretty flattering, albeit tantalizing, so when a story I had really high hopes for was rejected this weekend after being held for three months, I was disappointed.

I’m not depressed, or wallowing in self-loathing, or really anything serious. I just feel like I should be able to say out loud: Darn, thought I had it. I’m a little bummed.

So, back to it.

picture credit: Jonathan J Bohndus 

The Best Rejection Letters EVER

rejectedCome now, we all know the secret to good writing is ignoring your novel manuscripts and blogging about writing instead (data backs this up; don’t test me.)

When you get a form letter form an editor, you’re hosed. Walk away and have more drinks than you might have been inclined to have initially.

When they take the time to write something like, “this really didn’t hold my interest,” go bite a wood plank in half and vow to send them passive aggressive letters when you make it big.

Recently, I have been getting nicer rejections. One said, “This is great story and you build a wonderful mood. We can’t use it in this issue, but we want to see more from you!”

INDEED? Well, I will crack you open, then. Half of getting a short story published is figuring out what the editor really wants, like figuring out a puzzle.

My latest rejection read: “We very much enjoyed this story, especially the setting, but it lacks ‘x’ element and that is what we want in our anthology. We wish you all the best.”

HOT DAMN.

I like you, mister editor. I will send you kittens.

No More Nonfiction Writing For Me

 

This guy is my biggest fan

This guy is my biggest fan

Getting published and read by a large audience for the first time can be exhilarating. It can also show you what kind of author you don’t want to be.

Let’s say you write nonfiction and it’s about a serious topic that you have researched and can contribute to. And you put a lot of work into in and it gets out there and suddenly thousands of people share it and your inbox and social media explode in a cacophony of condemnation and praise alike.

It’s amazing what people will read into your work even though you thought you were being clear; it just goes to show you that people don’t want to read most things and take them at their own merit, they want to force all opinions into their own acceptable narrative.

I LOVE YOUR OPINION YOU ARE JUST LIKE ME SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER AND JOIN MY CLUB.

Um, see you later Captain Howdy.

YOU ARE TERRIBLE AND YOU MUST HATE ME SO SCREW YOU.

Hi, nice to meet you.

That’s not even the worst part. The worst part is seeing the reactions of writers and bloggers and people you respect highly misinterpret your motives.

That sucks.

 

I imagine that Thomas Moore loved writing Utopia:  it was a way for him to explore what he thought by showing people what certain political structures looked like. He didn’t keep his head in the end but I don’t think it was because of that particular work.

I like writing. I’d like to do it professionally, but I’ve decided to actively pursue fiction. That means freelancing for a while, and maybe never getting anything published, but I’m good at getting rejections.

Here I come, world.