Since I’ve started to write in earnest I’ve started to read differently. While great books still draw me into their nebulous depths those books that are on the borderline of good have me asking a lot more questions. Why isn’t this as great? What could they have done to make this better? Can I apply this to my writing? These are all useful questions for improving my writing, but they do distract from the story at hand.
I’ve tried to channel my analytical mind by filling out a book review while I’m reading. Sometimes getting the idea on paper is all I need to let the problem go, and enjoy the story more.
The questions are simple:
What are the themes of the story, and are they working?
What are three things I liked?
What are three things I disliked?
I think the key is limiting both the liked and disliked to three things. When I write a review for a great book it’s hard to limit the things I liked, and often I can’t even think of three things that I disliked. Yet when reviewing a bad book it’s important to know that there are still things that I can learn from it (by filling out the things I liked section), and that just a few key changes would drastically improve the writing.
Since I’ve started to use this questions to review others novels I’ve started to subconsciously apply them to my works when editing as well. They mindset that even if it seems bad there are still good parts to my writing helps my writing confidence. Knowing that just a few changes can improving my writing makes the editing seem more manageable.
Do you notice different things when reading now that you’re a writer?
I am a member of one writing group and one critique group.
Apparently, this is a little weird, but at my writing group we write. The goal is to get together, encourage each other, work through writing problems together, and write together. We accomplish this by sprinting; we do 20 minutes of writing, and then 20 minutes of talking, in a cycle the whole time we are together.
My critique group is particularly active during on months and particularly ignored during off months. All of the members participate in NaNoWriMo and the associated Camps. Three of the four members also participate in JuNoWriMo. An unofficial offshoot of NaNoWriMo that happens in June. During the month NaNo or Camp is happening we take a break while the members write like crazy. Once the month is over we start back up with our agreed upon submission of ~5k words per week from each member.
As someone who is working towards a full-time professional writing career both of these groups are important. The writing group was a great group to start with, getting to know others in the area who enjoy writing as much as I do and GET the same problems that I talk about. My significant other listens when I talk about my latest writer's block or character motivation problem, but he doesn't write, and can only understand so much. The emotional support of the writers group is amazing, and useful, and real.
The critique group is great for turn around and developing a critical eye. Having a weekly deadline to edit 5k words has been one of the best things I have ever done to improve my writing turn around. Reviewing three pieces of ~5k each week has done wonders for realizing what I can do to improve my own writing. Then there's the actual feedback I receive on my pieces which have been amazing at bringing the pieces up another three levels.
One of the best things I can recommend for a growing writer is finding and participating in both a writing and critique group. They can help bring any writer to the next level.