Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Litopia and the Value of Critiques

Before I started writing Hattie’s Leila, I never had reason to give the word “critique” much thought; well it has been four months and I have gotten to know the word well. You could say it’s my ‘favorite word’ these days. I sent pieces of my story to a couple of family members, but only heard crickets in response… not very encouraging, but it is what it is, which is a different story altogether. Desperate for help, I thought it might be a good idea to find a writing group, a place to commiserate with other’s who are on the same journey.  After searching online I came across a group called Litopia.

When I first signed up, I immediately recognized its value. Members are comprised of new writers like me, seasoned authors, agents, and editors from all over the world. The advice and support I have found there has been inspiring as well as informative. Membership is graded, so when you first register you have access to a few of the message boards, but after a while you can request full membership status and submit a chapter to the all-powerful beings in charge. They will read it and either accept you as a Full Member or throw the pages back at you, telling you to try again.  The prize at the end of that tunnel, other than the warm fuzzy feeling of acceptance, is the chance to put your writing out there for critiques. Not everyone gets that warm fuzzy acceptance, some try several times before they succeed, and some never make it.

Well, I am proud to say I made it on my first try! I was taken aback by how emotional I felt the moment I read the email telling me I’d made the cut.  I cried and then walked around the house aimlessly for a day or two, with my head in the clouds. I suppose just the validation I felt knowing someone out there saw something in my writing made me feel the way I did, because truthfully, putting your work out there leaves you feeling vulnerable and at risk for rejection. For a writer, knowing someone is actually reading what you write is very important. There is nothing quite as depressing as when you send it to someone who never gives you even an indication they’ve looked at it, especially when they asked to see it in the first place... again, different story. Well. after the happy dust settled, I wasted no time submitting my first chapter—my hearts soul – for critique.  What I received both inspired and taught me.  I was lucky, for the reviews were positive. They liked my ‘voice’ and the story was good, however, the critiques also brought to light areas where perhaps I was leading the reader off in directions I hadn’t intended and places where backstory could be replaced with dialog; let’s not forget misplaced commas, those nasty little things I hate so much…  The result so far has been a completely different beginning to my story with fuller chapters and more dialog, as well as deeper character development. Oh, and don’t forget better comma placement—those damn commas!

Writing a book is a challenge to say the least, my characters are real in my head, they sometimes ramble, they sometimes do crazy and unexpected things leading my story on different roads than first imagined. Oh and timelines—do not get me started on timelines!  In the end, with my friends at Litopia, I know this story I am weaving will turn out better because of them; I am grateful every day to have such a talented group of comrades to walk with me on this journey.

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