Happy Wednesday, everyone!
Today I’m happy to introduce our new regional Critique Coordinator … Shelley Koon! She’s joining us in the cyber cafe chair for Coffee & Conversation so everyone can get to know the gal who has rolled her sleeves up and is excited about helping to form some great critique groups!
She offers some great advice for critique members and we also have advice from other regional members as well. So let’s begin!
First off, Shelley, what’s your favorite coffeehouse beverage?
Just coffee (I know I’m so wild and crazy!). But it has to be a really good medium roast coffee with lots of cream and sugar.
And your favorite snack?
Hummus and pita chips. OK pretty much hummus on anything – heck I’ve been known to just use a spoon…
Love hummus. Love it, love it, love it. Okay, Shelley, why don’t you tell us about yourself? We want all the nitty-gritty.
My name’s Shelley Koon and I’m working with Sue to get critique groups going in the MD/DE/WV region. A quick bit about me: I recently moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area and am currently living in Lincoln, DE. I’m a young adult writer working on a light sci-fi/dystopic novel (really, who isn’t these days :P). I’ve been writing since I was – well – old enough to put words together to form sentences! A member of SCBWI for almost two years now, I have a lot of passion around critique groups and have founded and run two groups in the SF Bay Area. I can’t even begin to list the reasons why critique groups are so important (and awesome!) to all levels of writers – we’d be here all day and I’d run out of disk space…
When I first started looking for a critique group (and before I even knew about SCBWI) I had the good luck of running across a posting from SF Bay Area author, Gloria Lenhart, who was in the process of forming a writer’s group at a local library. I partnered up with her and assisted in building the writer’s community in Lafayette CA. We started as a group of multi-genre writers critiquing one another’s work and are now a community of writers that boasts five critique groups of varying genres. I still take part in the Lafayette groups remotely and am currently working on a website with Gloria that will serve as both a writer’s resource and a place for writers without a current online presence to establish one. It’s a total labor of love and I’m so excited to be a part of such an amazing writer’s group in the SF Bay Area and having the opportunity to set up a similar program here on the east coast!
Wow, that’s fantastic! You’re perfect for the job. Now, what was your favorite book as a child?
As a small child, Where the Wild Things Are (so much so I have Max and the Wild Things in the midst of the wild rumpus tattooed on my shoulder blade,) but the book that influenced me as a writer was That Was Then This is Now by SE Hinton. I read That Was Then This is Now when I was 13 and felt an immediate connection to it. The kids in the story were making hard decisions and choices about drugs and sex, subjects that I was just beginning to be exposed to but weren’t being discussed in school or family settings. The characters felt real and made me feel less like a freak because I could relate to them. It was that book that made me realize it was OK to write about the side of life that’s not so pretty and that not every story needed or even benefited by having a happy ending.
A tattoo, hmm? You know I have to see it now, right? 😉 When did you decide to be a writer?
I can’t remember a time I didn’t write. I have an incredibly active imagination – overactive some might say. One only needs to look at my art to confirm the existence of the creatures that stomp around in my head! My grandma Ingold was a huge supporter of us grandkids and our art and nurtured our creativity every chance she got. Her kitchen table was always full of pens, pencils, paper, paints, crayons, clay – you name it – if you could create with it, she had it out and ready!
One spring a cardinal built a nest in the honeysuckle bush outside my grandma’s living room window. I was 5(ish) at the time and was fascinated by the coming and going of this bird. I was sitting on grandma’s lap one afternoon watching the cardinal fly in and out to feed the little ones and when grandma asked me to tell her a story about the bird’s adventures. When she left the nest where did she go? What did she see? I honestly can’t remember the story I made up but I do remember how much my grandma enjoyed it and I was so excited it made her happy. From that point on the storytelling became a game between the two of us – grandma would point at a picture or object and I would make up fantastical stories to tell her. My grandma gave me the gift to be free with my imagination and let it take me to magical places – she was awesome!
Oh my gosh, that’s such a beautiful story! Okay, how has being a part of a critique group benefited your writing journey?
It’s funny – I know how important critique groups are but had never really thought much about how much my writing has changed because of my participation in them until I moved to the east coast and started a new group. The writers in my new group are reading chapters that have already been critiqued through my previous groups (an all genre group and an MG/YA group) and have all commented on the “advanced level” (for lack of a better way to say it) that I write at. I have to keep reminding them that my first drafts are not great and even my second, third and forth drafts still need work. What the new group is seeing is the polished work that is the direct result of the feedback I have received from previous critique groups and it’s really fun to see that pay-off!
What advice would you give a new writer on fostering strong relationships with their writing group?
When receiving feedback and this may sound brutal but it’s the truth, “Shut up and listen”. The members of your group(s) are also writers and they’ve taken time away from their own writing to help you improve yours. While you may not agree with all of the feedback you receive (nor should you), you need to respect the time and thoughtfulness that was put into it. In the same vein of “shut up and listen” – don’t discount advice at first glance. Think on it a couple of weeks – you might be surprised at how differently you accept feedback once some time has passed…
When giving feedback, be honest. I’m probably one of the most honest people you will meet and some may consider me brutal at times but here is my philosophy on feedback: If you’ve come to a critique group, I’m assuming you’re serious about querying your manuscript. If you’re showing -vs- telling, have point-of-view, issues, plot holes, are suspending belief far too many times for me as a reader to give you the benefit of the doubt or any number of other common writer issues, 99.9% of the time the answer from an agent is going to be “no” and you will never know why as they rarely take the time to tell you. The tragedy is, you may have a great story that could’ve been fixed if someone had been honest with you but you just blew your one shot with that agent because someone was trying to spare your feelings. I would rather take a chance at hurting someone’s feelings and assist them in identify issues in their manuscript than watch them struggle with rejection letter after rejection.
What’s the hardest part of being in a critique group, for you? What makes that part worthwhile?
Trying to explain “Show -vs- Tell” and “Point-of-View”. These are two of the most common writing issues seen in writers new to critique groups so I see it quite a bit! Both of these issues can be very confusing to those not familiar with them and there is definitely a learning curve but it’s so awesome when the “light bulb” moment happens (and seriously that is exactly what it’s like when it finally clicks) and you see the writers eyes light up. It’s like freeing someone from a cage that has kept them from reaching their potential. I’ve seen that light bulb moment literally transform writers right in front of me – wicked awesome!
Which do you prefer: Critiquing or being critiqued?
When I first started I would have said getting critiqued (all about me!) but in the two years I’ve been in my groups, I’ve found that I learn so much more from reading other writer’s work. Funny how we can catch the issues in the work of others but miss the same exact issues in our own!
You’ve been locked in a bank vault like the man from Twilight Zone, so you finally have time to read! Your glasses remain unharmed, (whew,) so what’s the first book you crack open?
Tolkien’s The Hobbit – I’ve been dying to reread it since the movie came out but have so many new books to read that I keep putting it off!
I finally read that last summer after being nagged by my kids for years. 🙂 Now, for one day, time travel is a reality and you have the opportunity to visit any famous deceased author you want. Who do you pick?
Tolkien wins again! What an imagination he had.
You magically find a $100 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it?
My luck I’d probably eat it and not even realize it… Oh OK, on the off-chance I would see it I would probably go buy books. Who am I kidding – I’d definitely go buy books…
What is your favorite quote?
I have a lot! But this is one of my faves about writing by Stephen King (whose book “On Writing” is a MUST have in the library of any writer in any genre):
“I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.”
It baffles me how often I hear writers say “I just don’t have time to read”. Really? Then you just don’t have time to be a writer either… You need to be reading A LOT in the genre you write in.
If you could sum up your best advice for new writers about to join their first critique group in only four words, what would they be?
“Shut Up and Listen” (ironic it was four words right?) Again – I say that lovingly – I really do!
We took it with love. 🙂 And thanks, Shelley, for both sharing your thoughts and for becoming our newest Critique Coordinator! I’m looking forward to meeting you in person.
And now, here’s some more great advice from regional members!
From Vonnie Winslow Crist:
Rule #1- You must say something good about a manuscript before making a single critical comment. 🙂
From Gail A. Sisolak:
In my critique groups, we didn’t say we didn’t “like” something. We always said, and explained, why something “didn’t work for me.” Depending on the size of the group, and the number of people giving critiques, each person was limited to 5 minutes for their comments. We used an egg timer. In another group, we had to type up our comments to give to the person being critiqued. It kept us on track, and meant the person being critiqued could focus on the critique, rather than trying to take notes. Since it was a f2f group, we started meetings on time.
Here’s a wonderful blog post regarding critiques by Valerie Ormond:
And from me:
Always be specific with your critique needs. If you’re looking for concept, overall plotting thoughts only instead of line-by-line edits, be sure to say so. Also, it’s good to set up structured guidelines regarding critique due dates, etc. And if your critique group isn’t benefitting you any more … for example, if you’re investing tons of time in other’s manuscript only to get a few editing corrections in return … then don’t be afraid to make decisions that is best for your career.
Thanks, Vonnie, Gail, and Valerie for the tips! Again, thanks, Shelly! We’re so happy to have you aboard!
Happy writing and drawing, everyone! 🙂