THE ART OF A CRITIQUE
Revised from Nancy’s Page article November 2010
Nancy Thatcher Cerny
Life is filled with many events that can freeze a person with fear. Your own creative work being critiqued is one. Critiquing someone else’s writing is another. Either is comparable to a walk through the woods, knowing there is a bear in there somewhere, and hoping it doesn’t want to eat you alive. Palms sweat and stomachs churn, yet, to succeed as writers, critical information, instruction and insight is essential to honing writing skills and forwarding writings from keyboard to publication.
Pam Webb, in her theWriter magazine article says, “Manuscript consults at writers conferences can make needed repairs, polish the work, force better pitches – and let you know it’s time to kill off a lead character.” It helps to remember the writing is being critiqued, not the writer personally. So, after suffering the pain of stings and amputation, with the help of a capable critique professional, a writer can leave educated, empowered and elated. It is like the clay pot that becomes Dresden china porcelain only after it has been kiln fired.
Published writers solicit critiques. It is not uncommon for a writer to feel defensive and want to explain oneself. Yet, the critique can become the positive turning point in a writer’s career. Those who have had positive experiences advise writers to listen and take note of everything – and let them sink in for a few days.
Critiques are time limited, so be prepared. Have your manuscript in its most ‘finished’ state after revisions and proofing prior to a critique appointment. Be sure to have met any requirements. Determine in advance whether your purpose is to ‘showcase’ examples of your writing strength or to review a problem area in which you are requesting help. Bring extra copies, additional page or chapters as the person/s critiquing might be willing to review them later. Be sure to listen without explanation or excuse. All critiques are subjective. Only the writer is responsible for his or her manuscript.
Melanie Faith, author of “The Art of the Critique” offers five tips for writing group members giving feedback to fellow writers’ works. She says feedback can be frustrating and exhilarating and warns that you will have to return the favor by critiquing the work of other writer-group members so that critique guidelines are vital to both author and critiquer.
Writing groups/critique sessions may differ. Some welcome the entire group population to read, comment and scribble notes all over the critique pages – as each submission has no more than ten minutes for review by the group. Smaller groups (four to eight) meet for the purpose of critiquing one another’s work in a more intense fashion – usually as a book or in-depth piece is ready for a ‘last’ review before publication. These groups may meet several hours once or twice each week solely for the purpose of critiquing.
There are critiquers/readers sensitive to the ‘flow’ and pace of a story while others recognize effective character development, behavior, historical/geographical background, plot or story line while some may focus on words, grammar and punctuation. Here are Faith’s five tips:
Centainly one can review another’s writing based only on personal reference, preference and experience. Reading and writing norms have changed over the years but one standard remains: Writers must present information in terms that are interesting, enjoyable and informative – or there will be no readers. Best wishes to all!
Seeds of Hope 09Nov11/24Jan13 ntc \
WRITE READING FOR WRITERS
by Nancy Thatcher Cerny
The first rule of writing is to read, read and read some more. Certainly there is plenty written, demanding our attention every minute of each day from the list of ingredients on a cereal box to the school closings ‘crawl’ on the television. If you are a ‘writer’ looking to be an ‘author,’ you will want to know about latest trends, opportunities and information available.
Two publications top my list of reading: The Writer of Madavor Media in Quincy MA (whose motto since 1887 is helpful, interesting and instructive) and Writers Digest of F + W Media, Inc in Cincinnati, OH. Both magazines are available at bookstores and public libraries. Each issue alerts writers to the latest trends, expectations and successes of writers whether in poetry or prose, whatever genre, for newspaper, magazine, stage, blogs or books.
Time is well spent with these magazines whether you are new to the craft or a published pro. Certainly writers, even those with a secure niche in one genre, do migrate, successfully, to another. Author Tom Brokaw comes to mind as he was a journalist before publication of his book The Greatest Generation. It is not uncommon for short story writers, poets and columnists to publish collections of their works into a book. Playwriting is a unique, or so it seems, with a specialized written format and route to publication. Writers seem to test their skills in contests. I know one man who has tested his skills by writing in every contest genre – and taking many, diverse prizes, too.
I Blog. That’s about as far as I care to extend my writing - unlike blogger Julie Powell. Although I could be up for the fanfare and fame if my blogs are worthy, Julie is the only blogger I’ve heard of who went from this lowly writing format to a published book and to a feature film Julie-Julia with Meryl Streep playing Julia Child. I say, “Hurray for Julie.”
When all is said and done, successful writers keep need to keep their finger on the pulse of current changes and events in writing. I wholeheartedly recommend these two publications to add flavor and value to your writing.
Nancy yTe \
Nancy Thatcher Cerny
So, you’re a writer. Then you’re going to need a coffeehouse. The world’s greatest and most noted writers, politicians, philosophers, authors and businessmen frequented these establishments as they were essential meeting places for contacts, information, gossip, assistance and support. Writers enjoy monthly coffeehouse meetings right here in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
English coffeehouses have been centers of creative literary life for over one hundred years. Imagine stopping in and meeting Samuel Pepys, Daniel Defoe, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift or Sir Isaac Newton. Yes, they gathered together at coffeehouses with fellows of common interest for camaraderie, inspiration and fellowship.
Almost from their inception, London coffeehouses attracted specialized clientele, serving men of a particular occupation, interest, group or activity. Meeting places were established in proximity to their specific industry. Money men at Lloyd’s of London found a coffeehouse where underwriters of insurance could meet to do business. Other establishments attracted lawyers, politicians, businessmen, booksellers, authors, theologians or men of fashion. For thirty years, John Dryden, at Will’s Coffeehouse in London, served as an inspiration to poets and writers of prose where the most famous men of letters sat together and sipped coffee. There was serious discussion of literature and, it is said, the patrons of Will’s enjoyed jest, libels and lampoons.
A coffeehouse is an establishment which serves prepared coffee. It may share the characteristics of a bar or restaurant and, from a cultural standpoint, welcomes social interaction. It provides a place for people to congregate, converse and pass their time in small groups.
15th century coffeehouses were meeting places in Middle Eastern countries where men assembled to drink coffee and listen to music, read books and play backgammon. In the 17th century, coffeehouses were popular throughout Europe. Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House opened in 1654 and is in existence today. The first Paris coffeehouse was a major locus of French Enlightenment; Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot frequented it. It is arguably the birthplace of the Encyclopedie.
Charles II tried to suppress the London coffeehouses as “places where the disaffected meet and spread scandalous reports…” whereupon the public flocked to them in even greater numbers. They were social levelers, open to all men, and as a result, associated with equality and republicanism.
Coffee shops in the United States arose from the espresso-centered restaurants in New York and San Francisco. In the 1960s they began to serve as a venue where folk music performers could vent political discontent; Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Twenty years later, they were more associated as much with drugs as with coffee. The next coffeehouse counter-culture arrived with Bible studies and anti-drug organizations.
When the mainstream model of coffeehouses added walk-up and drive-thru service, their meeting place value diminished. Once again, Neighborhood café’s, diners and restaurants are reemerging as coffeehouses, welcoming groups of people to stop in and stay awhile.
For some writers, meeting other wordsmiths at a coffeehouse was a new idea. It is thanks to the suggestion and arrangements by one of our local authors for writers in the Mountain Home area enjoy a ‘coffeehouse’ meeting. This coffeehouse type setting was recently the training camp for the famous J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books. She may not be dropping in for brunch but we expect the same great writing results from our local attendees as we congregate at 10am in the Betty Boop Room of Mel’s Diner on the last Tuesday of each month. Come join us!
Seeds of Hope, Nov 2008 – revised Feb 2012 by Nancy yTe \
January 2012TOP THIS OBSCENITY! PLEASE!
Nancy Thatcher Cerny
There are a lot of ‘bad’ or obscene words currently in popular use. I am frustrated and offended with politicians interject ‘listen’ or ‘look’ in their speeches, and I am disgusted with people who say seen for saw and use I or me incorrectly. The worst offender is ‘cool.’ If we are to get rid of words offensive to accepted standards of decency, let us begin with ‘cool.’
As a reader, writer and communicator, I am appalled at the frequency with which ‘cool,’ this useless, misused and overused word, is spoken. It came to use as raunchy back-street slang. I’ll never know why it became commonplace. So, I am flabbergasted when intelligent and educated people flagrantly use it. It is no longer just the ignorant, uneducated and unfortunate saying ‘cool’ to mean anything, everything and, consequently, nothing at all, but persons from whom we have come to expect a higher standard of expressing themselves. I am reminded of Andy Rooney’s explanation of “obscenity… dumb people do it because they can’t think of what they want to say and they’re frustrated. A lot of smart people do it to pretend they aren’t very smart – want to be one of the boys.” Cool has become an obscene word. It’s time to call it what it is and be done with it!
Yes, there are correct uses for the word cool. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, cool refers to something moderately cold, a feeling of coolness due to lowered temperature. It is something calm and controlled, dislike or disdain, bold or impudent. In slang, it means indifferent, aloof or excellent and the list goes on: less warm, slowed down, kept waiting, or composure. It is synonymous with collected, unruffled, nonchalant and detached. However, none of these definitions seem to fit the common usage of ‘cool’ as we hear it in today’s popular vocabulary.
Cool has become a nebulous word – rather like an amoeba having indefinite and changeable form. It can mean anything a speaker wants it to mean while the listener can only assume the speaker is saying something meaningful – sort of…. Won’t we all feel so much better reading and writing and communicating when we use meaningful and appropriate words to express real thoughts, good ideas and true feelings? Yes, indeed!!
Seeds of Hope 5Mar12 - Nancy yTe\
GOOGLING FROM A to Z ….
Nancy Thatcher Cerny
Computers make a writer’s life a ‘walk in the park’ and Google adds breath to life. Is there anyone left to write a book, a paragraph, article, letter, email or blog without at least one click on Google? A writer’s productivity has come to rely on quick access to accurate research information. By putting down just a word or two in Google’s subject box results in immediate gratification - unlike the old days when research required a suitable, large home library as well as public and university ‘stacks.’ Writers are relieved from straining brain cells with weeks, months and years of frustrating research now accomplished with a click on Google.
Whether researching ancient history, grammar, science, person or an item to purchase, anything you want or need to know is hiding somewhere in your computer. I question whether the rows and rows of reference books on writers’ book shelves will ever be needed again. Will bibliographies which once included headings for books, manuscripts, articles and periodicals need just Google or Wikipedia as a reference? To some extent, I’m guilty already….
To discover who you are and what you’ve been doing, just enter your own name in that Google box. Google just showed me 679,000 results in .27 seconds. Certainly I didn’t find anything new, interesting or spectacular by searching my own name but I now wonder how to delete old entries that serve no further purpose. Will they clutter up e-world storage forever? After all, to scan 679,000 entries to find one insignificant item may take hours – and you are right back to the frustration of print library research. However, if you scan someone or something of importance, look first to Wikipedia.
While Wikipedia is much maligned by some egg-heads, brainiacs, intelligencia and know-it-alls, it does offer a nice summary of persons, places or things. So far, my name cannot be located on Wikipedia, and that is good. Just for fun, enter your name in the Google box and see what you find. You may want to continue researching in public libraries, in dusty tomes with yellowed print pages or with your computer’s extensive libraries – and remember to be grateful for Wikipedia! However you get from A to Z, write, write, write!
Revised Feb 2012 from Seeds of Hope, May 2009 for Dec 2011 – nktc \
THE QUOTABLE GNOME
Nancy Thatcher Cerny
I had Sunday night dates with a gnome.
Journalists and commentators offered in-depth stories and current events Sunday nights on the CBS program 60 Minutes. More often than not, the most thought-provoking segment was the last few minutes when Andy Rooney, my quotable gnome, would describe something of mundane familiarity with his unique and unexpected interpretation – things like groceries, curling, bridges, cotton in pill bottles and English language. Looking a bit weather-beaten amongst his stacks of papers and books, he was persuasive without lecturing. Peering out from beneath big bushy white eyebrows, he voiced his view of things and people in serious, informative, amusing and thought provoking word images.
Andy Rooney said, “I’m going to work until I die.” – and so he did. His last television segment aired October 2, 2011. He died one month later.
Rooney left behind a lifetime of writings, stories, essays and quotable comments on as many subjects. He was a writer for The Stars & Stripes during WWII. He wrote an impressive list of books, including The Story of the Stars & Stripes; writing the screenplay after the film rights were sold to MGM. While it never became a movie, Andy made enough money to freelance for several years after the war.
He earned an impressive list of notable awards over the years. Andy knew Ernie Pyle and, years later, received the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award. He wrote and performed 1,097 essays for 60 Minutes - and he won an Emmy.
Privately, Andy was married 60-plus years and has four children. I couldn’t help but note he had just one sister - whose name was Nancy…. He refused to sign autographs ‘just because someone recognizes my face from television.’ Book signings were acceptable autograph times.
Though Rooney has been called Irish-American, he once said, “I’m proud of my Irish heritage, but I’m not Irish, I’m not even Irish-American. I am American. Period.” @ wikipedia.
On writing, Rooney said, “I don’t pick subjects as much as they pick me.”
On words, he said, “vegetarian – that’s an old Indian word meaning lousy hunter.”
On language, Andy said, “Obscenities… I think a lot of dumb people do it because they can’t think of what they want to say and they’re frustrated. A lot of smart people do it to pretend they aren’t very smart – want to be just one of the boys.”
I have a particular fascination for quotations and there’s a long list of Andy Rooney Quotes on http://www.brainquote.com. I enjoy bios, long or short, and wikipedia.org has a 6-page summary of his life.
Andy Rooney has always reminded me of a gnome. He was my favorite gnome. Andy wasn’t the most handsome lad in the lineup, the tallest, neatest nor smartest – yet, perhaps he was….
Seeds of Hope Nancy yTe 8Nov2011 \
BITS AND PIECES make a BEAUTIFUL MOSAIC
If you know me at all, you know my major purpose is to write biographies. I collect piles of the bits and pieces that make up an individual’s life then lay them out as an attractive mosaic of words. Sometimes the search is quick and easy. Other times it takes years of persistence and patience. Most important to my biographies is an ongoing motivation by writing in little spurts and splats of flash fiction, summaries, essays, short-short stories, topical writing assignments such as writing groups encourage, and Haiku.
Some of my stories are submitted to various contests for ‘testing the waters’ or for the sake of ego. Some stories are submitted for publication in anthologies. This year one of my essays will be included in a prestigious university publication. There is little or no financial compensation for contests, anthologies or prestigious publications. I’ll never get rich writing Haiku or essays – not even writing life stories of interesting historical characters. Nonetheless, I keep gathering up bits and pieces of human experiences and presenting them as colorful mosaics. The finished product is pure gold to me.
I have written an autobiography but, for better or for worse, I’ve lived on - and so it is incomplete. Has anyone actually completed an autobiography?
Writing personal experiences in memoirs, creative non-fiction and fiction is exciting. A memoir is a great deal of fun to write. I read somewhere that “A memoir is a journey in which you are the hero.” It is a three-act play. Small moments can be written as epic dramas. The ugly duckling can become the swan and Quasimodo can become the knight in shining armor. Some memoirs are written to glamorize and bring spotlight attention to oneself; sometimes they are designed to ‘get even’ or embarrass someone else. Whichever, a memoir is more opinion and fantasy than fact. Like a lump of clay, the writer shapes the story to whatever suits her fancy. Yes, it is such fun to be a writer!
Since October is the time for fantasy: Halloween, costumes, role-playing… I met a very successful western writer who said he did his best writing when he dressed for the part – and put on his Stetson hat. How about being an elegant lady, a homeless lad, a CEO of a hospital, a story-telling grandma or small town detective?
To summarize, a writer needs to know her major purpose in writing – but equally as important, needs to recognize and honor whatever it is that motivates her enthusiasm and creativity for writing – to be successful.
10/25/2011 Nancy yTe \
SEVEN SIMPLE STEPS TO WRITING SUCCESS
Nancy Thatcher Cerny
To climb the stairs from scribble to publication takes expectation, dedication, energy and determination. Successful authors employ these qualities to reach their destination. Here are seven steps they recommend:
1. Read every day. Read newspaper, magazines, advertisements, billboards and books. Read everything that is written in your niche. Question what you read and determine if your writing can fill a void or reveal a new perspective. Read, read, read.
2. Write every day. Write as though you have a daily column on current events, help, travel, weather, anything of interest to you… Or, write your opinion on a subject; a commentary or rebuttal to someone else’s writing. Keep lists, notes or notebooks on what you have read with references and quotes to support your writings. Do a ten minute warm-up exercise to get your creative juices flowing before tackling your serious writing project.
3. Don’t try for perfection. Your writing engine is likely to fly off the track if you slam on the brakes to edit or revise while you’re in a creative writing mode. Do edits and rewrites later, when the article or chapter is completed; when it is time to revise for publication – that’s when perfection puts your writing on the right track.
4. Be an authority. Whether as a pet owner or a Quantum Theory scientist, know more and write more about your field of expertise than others do. You may be knowledgeable in many genres but be an expert in your particular field of interest. Write about it in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essay and verse.
5. Go public. If readers don’t have access to you and your writing, you are invisible. Go public. Meet people. Show your face and your words. Be a contender. Enter contests and submit your work for publication wherever possible. Remember, Julie Powell began with a blog about cooking Julia Child’s recipes and ended up rich and famous. Expose yourself and your writings. Anthologies, self-publishing and e-book publications have made some writers millionaires!
6. Keep your files in Order. Make all of your writings retrievable – even your scribbles. List those submitted for contests, publication or included on your website/blog; when, where and to whom and response. Scribbles and unedited ideas can become the gems, when retrieved, revised and resubmitted, earning rewards and remuneration.
7. Move with the flow. Keep moving forward. If you don’t have a website and/or blog, get one! Join writer’s organizations. Submit your work in contests and get published - anywhere. Advertise your successes on your website, in your platform and with professional organizations. Being an expert in your genre, niche or field, now is the time to make yourself available as a public speaker.
WRITE, Write, write. DO IT, Do It, do it.
7 steps gleaned from hundreds of books
and magazine articles on writing.- Nancy yTe \
NANCY’S PAGE –
STOP THE WORLD … I’M GETTING OFF …
Nancy Thatcher Cerny
The Writer’s Digest magazine arrived today. Yes. That means I’ll have to stop the world and get off while I absorb it from cover to cover. I am armed with reading glasses, Post-it notes and highlighters. My perusal may not take too long as I’m not especially interested in meeting agents right now (featured topic) but WD hides other gems of information and inspiration throughout its pages. (Everyone needs to collect gems.)
I sit at my computer at least two hours each day tapping out letters, articles, short stories and Blogs - in addition to one hour of responding to emails. To write creatively, thoughtfully, usefully or with inspiration, I find it necessary to be prepared by reading double or triple that amount of time. (I probably learned that useful formula from a writer’s magazine or conference.)
OK. I stopped my world to absorb WD mojo and learned something new: A workshop with agents, editors, publishers and booksellers is called a “Fan Conference.” I also found new ‘how to’ suggestions for blogging, trademarks and mini memoirs. Did you know using serial commas is a ‘style choice?’ It seems The Chicago Manual of Style says you should use them but the Associated Press Stylebook rules omit them. ( Now there’s a writer’s gem of current information!)
If you maintain a list of writing cues for articles, blog, stories or warm-ups, you’ll find a month’s supply in most writers’ magazines. Some list cues. There’s the 25-word ‘challenge’ with an opening sentence using a particular word or a more challenging short story contest with a specific topic or opening sentence. (Or find a new slant on an old idea for an article or essay.)
Every page of a writer’s magazine contains nuggets of knowledge, conferences, information and guidelines to write, write, write. Why not collect your share of the inspiration, education and encouragement so generously presented in writers’ magazines – they’re free for the reading at your library. Just Stop the World and Get Off to fill up your jewel chest.
Nancy yTe \
Nancy Thatcher Cerny – July 2011
NOW HEAR THIS: Today is Thursday, July 21, 2011. Thanks to Cherie Neal, “Nancy’s Page” is returning to the NEW website: Twin LakesWriters.org
The TwinLakesWriters.org website crashed with forty-two entries by yours truly; beginning as President’s Page in July 2007 and ending January 2011 as Nancy’s Page. Finding a topic of interest to writers, researching then designing an information essay was a highlight in my writing tasks.
As you probably know, my primary scribble is biographies based on my family’s history. I dig up the bones of long dead relatives and reconstruct them for public viewing – like showing them off in Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
Biographies can take years of research and organization before publication. Writing shorter pieces, essays, reviews or articles were, for me, a regular a form of writing in short spurts with spontaneous feedback, as they had a consistent theme and production schedule. Writing Haiku (the only form of poetry I can understand or attempt to write) is Instant Gratification.
In the interim, without the TLW website, I began blogging a family history magazine and a NancyPtahDaa: sharing “brief snippets of thoughts, ideas and inspirations – the Seeds of Hope to inspire and encourage others to accomplish their goals while finding the simple treasures in daily living we are truly grateful for.”
... I have no idea what I will be writing about for our beautiful, new website. So, we, you and I, may be surprised by the words that show up on my page, but I expect to have a really good time - I hope you have a good time, too.
* yTe *