The Pessimistic Moustache Game: Avoiding cliche description

 

 The idea and tools

I recently read The Hollow by Agatha Christie and one simple but unique description jumped out at me.

“He came in accompanied by Inspector Grange, who was a large, heavy built man with a down-drooping, pessimistic moustache.”

I love the idea of pessimistic facial hair and it really got me thinking. What other isms could be paired with body parts to make unique descriptions? I started a list of isms to join pessimism: optimism, skepticism, nihilism, liberalism, etc. I also wrote a list of often described body parts: cheeks, eyes, lips and so on.Once I exhausted my own ideas, I did a little hunting on line and found some useful sites for more ideas. For isms check out The Phrontistery. I printed out their amazing list of philosophical isms and their definitions. For a list of cliché body part descriptions head over to obsidian bookshelf.

The game

So how do you play The Pessimistic Moustache Game? To start, one player has a list of body parts or other physical descriptions (e.g. gait, scar, laugh, etc.) and the other player(s) has the list of isms. The person with the body part list chooses a body part and says it out loud. Then the other player(s) has to match it with an ism to use as a descriptor. The person who chooses the best ism for the body part gets to choose the next ism and the other player(s) matches it with a corresponding body part.

You can add another dimension to the game by printing out pictures of people to inspire the descriptions though that might limit the responses.

My experiences

To date, this game amuses me to no end. I find the exercise challenging and every match makes me laugh. Has it improved my writing? Have I found the perfect new way to create unique descriptions? Maybe not, but I’ve only played with one other person so far and the possibilities are endless. It sure does make me laugh.

Further development

A couple days ago, I was reading In the Beauty of the Lillies by John Updike and found another very interesting phrase.

“. . . its heavy sweet smell rose around him possessively . . .”

I hadn’t thought of a smell being possessive before. And if a smell can be possessive, why not someone’s fingernails, or lips? The list of isms could definitely be expanded to include other conceptual adjectives that one would not usually attribute to body parts.

Then there is also descriptions of sensations (like smell) and perceptions. The Pessimistic Moustache Game could include matching senses to isms. What is the smell of materialism? What is the texture of postmodern feminism?

I hope you enjoy playing Pessimistic Moustache and it gets the neurons churning while you laugh and laugh. Please send me your favorite matches in the comments, so all my readers can play along.

Happy Reading and Writing!

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Great News for Writers and Anyone Who Wants to Write!

No longer CohesiveSometimes things just go right. And when that happens, I get excited and want to share.

I got struck by the spring cleaning bug and in my sorting and tossing, I found a copy of Writer’s Digest that was part of the swag from an author meet I went to last year. Inside was an interesting article on planning your own writing retreat. I liked Steve Holt’s ideas, especially his daily schedule that broke up writing around meditation and exercise.

Believing that I can convince myself that I live in an ideal setting for a writing retreat, I started my retreat this morning and what did I see when I checked my email? Future Learn’s free eight-week fiction course started today. The timing couldn’t be better (except for the fact that I was so excited, I’ve already started week two).

The trouble I’m having in my writing has nothing to do with writer’s block. It is more about bringing new ideas to my table. I know what I want to accomplish with my novel, but an interesting story isn’t enough. Now, I have to make every page interesting, every sentence interesting, every word exactly what I want. And a lot of me wants to run. But I can’t. I have a deadline.

So, why would I take on a fiction class during my retreat? Because within just a few hours, I was inspired to write some interesting paragraphs I wouldn’t have written otherwise. The exercises were harder than I expected them to be. I over-thought them, but that was the thought I needed to write a section of a short story I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. And I invented three unique character sketches.

What does this have to do with finishing my novel? Each thing I wrote today helped me stretch my imagination and improve my observational skills. You can always build on a strong foundation, so I want everyone to give themselves the gift of free education. The course is self-paced and you don’t have to do it as an eight week course though I personally am going to try to make it last so I can keep the inspiration going over my Spring Retreat.

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

 

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

Episode Three: She Only Smells What She Wants to Smell

When we last joined Moxie, she thought she had witnessed a jewel heist, but when the dust settled nothing appeared to be missing . . .

During the rest of the parade Moxie felt accosted by stench. Every few feet brought a wave of yet another foreign smell. A hint of honey or beeswax lofted over the sawdust and dirt, but was overpowered by baskets of over-ripe tomatoes as they passed the fool in the stocks. Then they passed the food booths wafting of all kinds of edibles crisping in boiling oil. Moxie could feel a coating of thick burnt fat forming in her nostrils. As they rounded the bend near the lower theater she smelled damp moss, or was it mold and fungus? And finally, the stinging she recognized from this morning as the smell of horse dung marked their arrival to the jousting field.

At this point the parade disbanded, the majority of participants preparing for their next show at one of the theaters or the town square. Some went to work a shift at a booth. Moxie followed her fellow minstrels to the castle to play background music for the joust. The King and Queen with their court continued their regal show gliding up the front steps to their thrones.

Moxie slipped through the back of the castle and took her seat. It felt good to sit. The thin, black slippers from the costumer let every sharp pebble leave a mark on her foot. She would need to find some real shoes as soon as she got a break. She removed her music from the joust music envelope and quickly looked over all of the pieces. She felt a pang in her gut when she saw a bunch of sharps and flats, but quickly recognized a simple D-minor B pattern. Once she felt sure of the music, she looked up and saw the crowd.

There were people everywhere. It looked like a tsunami of moving colors had hit the front gate and poured down the hill. Moxie was shocked. She couldn’t believe this many people would want to spend the day re-enacting the Middle Ages. From all the people in t-shirts and jeans, she realized they were actually people watching other people re-enact the Middle Ages. She couldn’t decide which was stranger.

The jousters’ introductions caught her attention. There were four knights in shining armor. Each had a squire who introduced him to the King and Queen and to the crowd. A knight on a horse with a light colored blanket had been challenged by a dark knight on a horse with a dark colored blanket. A straight forward battle of good vs. evil, but one light colored knight seemed to have lost his script and was picking a fight with the King.

When Sir Ivan was introduced to the King, he rode his horse to the very edge of the building holding his sword to the King’s nose. The Queen’s cheeks blushed. She looked prepared to leap from her perch.

“The King abuses his power,” shouted Sir Ivan. “He takes what is not of his kingdom. He does not respect the boundaries of the land and does not repay his debts.”

The King quickly stood and moved closer to the Queen. “I believe you have become overzealous in the spirit of battle. It is not I who have brought you challenge,” he said looking to the Queen for support.

“Yes, dear knight. Save thy blood lust for the joust,” she said.

“I cannot hold my tongue any longer, my lady. The King is a tyrant and his moments for this earth are at an end.” The knight lunged forward but his horse and the building kept his blade far from the King who now stood behind his throne.

The crowd gasped and rose to its feet. Moxie was enthralled. That was some incredible acting. She really believed that knight wanted to kill the King and that the King and Queen were afraid. She would never have expected this caliber of talent at a renaissance fair. This place must pay serious bank to get that kind of talent. That reminded her that Pearl had never told her what she was getting paid. In the future, she would have to ask Pearl more questions before taking a gig.

Moxie felt a kick in her calf. Nettles said, “One, Two, Three, Four.” And the first song of the joust began.

Image of jousting on horsepack

photo from prweb.com

The first joust went as expected. Moxie couldn’t watch very closely because she had to follow her music, but it looked like the good knight was hurt, but then he rallied and won. No surprise there. The second joust, however, the joust between Sir Ivan and The Black Knight, Sir Shadivan, took a strange turn. In the middle of the second run at each other, Sir Ivan took a right turn and went straight for the King. The King lunged out of the way a second before the jousting lance pushed his throne over and put a hole in the back wall.

Megan screamed to Moxie’s left. The floor shifted like an earthquake under Moxie’s chair and she worried that the building was coming down.

An announcer came over a loud speaker saying, “There you have it, folks. Wasn’t that an exciting joust? Please exit the grounds in an orderly fashion. The next joust is at 3:30. Enjoy the fair.”

“Wow,” Moxie said. “You guys really know how to put on a show. That was my kind of joust. I’ve only seen motorcycle jousting which is, of course, way cooler. But that was better than expected.”

Megan and Ryan had disappeared. Nettles laughed nervously.

“So what now?” Moxie asked.

“It be the time of the midday repast. Returnest of an hour and a half. Then we will wander the grounds playing until the second joust. Again, I wonder if thou hast read thy prepared materials.”

Moxie ignored everything but that they had a break. “Perfect. Where can I get some shoes?” Moxie held out one of her feet to display the pathetic slipper.

“The cobbler’s booth is next to my jeweler’s booth. I’m headed that way. Prithy walk with me.”

“Sounds good.”

The cobbler wanted to measure Moxie’s foot and make her custom, leather knee-high boots, but that would take a week and $600 and she needed shoes now. Her smallish feet were just the right fit for a sample pair the cobbler had on hand. They were an unattractive pea-green short boot, but they felt like hugs for her feet. Moxie hated dropping $100 for shoes she would never wear outside of this place, but she was desperate and the cobbler had a monopoly.

While Moxie waited for the cobbler to run her credit card, she smelled the sweet smell of honey and overheard Nettles, on the other side of the tent flap, talking to someone in hushed tones.

A girl’s voice said, “Went off without a hitch. No one will ever know.”

“Are you sure? She didn’t see you?” Nettles replied.

“So what if she did? Nothing’s missing.”

“Right. So when’s the exchange?”

“Don’t you worry your little head. I have everything under control.”

“Yeah like last time?” Nettles hissed. “I think I’ll take the lead this time.”

“Sure, Nettles. Whatever you want. But I think this guy could be trouble.”

“Yeah, I think he made that clear to everyone.”

“Fine. You asked for it. He said directly after second joust.”

“So where’d you stash it?”

“Where I stash everything.”

“Guess that’s convenient enough.”

 

What is Nettles up to? Are the re-enactors just great actors or is the King in real trouble? Tune in next week for another hair-raising, action-packed misadventure full of twists, turns, anachronisms and . . . skunks?

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode One

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe serial banner

Episode One

She Only Hears What She Wants to Hear

 

Moxie Sharpe felt increasingly uncomfortable as a young costumer pushed and prodded her breasts into the highest possible cleavage while tightening laces through each layer of metal holes. Pearl had messed up before, but this time was the worst.

“Take a deep breath.” The girl grabbed her reigns and yanked.

“You know I’m going to slap you once I figure out what the hell is going on,” said Moxie.

“Now I do,” she said. “Usually, this is why women pay for this costume. I’m just doing my job. Enjoy the faire, me lady.” She curtsied.

Moxie saw herself in the mirror. Damn, that girl knew how to make cleavage. “Sorry,” she said as the girl strangled her with a large necklace and handed her a claim check.

“You can keep the costume, but we have your clothes and we know where you live,” she said.

The script did not move the costumed.

The dresser whispered, “I know who you are. You are Moxie Sharpe. Would you sign my hands? Like, ‘These touched Moxie Sharpe’. Here’s a marker. I won’t tell. I mean, I will, I won’t be able to help it if you sign my hands.”

This costume rental comp didn’t make up for anything. After signing the girl’s hands, Moxie left the building cursing Pearl, human beings in general, life on any planet, the universe, and skirts. She was not costumed for the show she was prepared for and she did not walk into the world she knew. She especially did not walk into Scandrum–The largest rally for all motorcycle enthusiasts, not to be confused with Scandium the largest medieval larping excursion.

It is a fact that renaissance fairs, if well costumed, are all about great boobs and cleavage, so the pawing was not what upset Moxie. Moxie was upset because she was at a renaissance fair. When Pauline Pearl, Moxie’s mentor and seriously overworked agent, said Moxie was going to play Scandrum, Moxie jumped at the chance. She had dreamed about being the headliner at Scandrum since she was tall enough to compete in the bike-o-lympics. Her dad had taken her to the annual rally every year when she was little and she continued to go even after he split. She believed one day she would run into him and he would explain why he left without saying good-bye. She thought he would congratulate her the first time she won the bike-o-lympics, or maybe the fifth time. Now, up on the huge stage, he would have to see her. And how could he not be proud? Sure, she was only a stand in—The bass player for Sex With Helmets had crashed his Harley through the wall of the Wild Boar Saloon just three days before the largest gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts in the country. It had been all over the news—but it didn’t matter how she got there. It was the big show.

Moxie would have known something was wrong if she had looked at the music when it was sent over, but she knew Sex With Helmet’s set list. The bass player liked to bang away on open strings which made stepping in a breeze. This was important since he was also accident prone. Before this latest crash, she had stepped in when he had drunkenly stumbled into a bull and then again when he accidentally took a dangerous cocktail of controlled substances and tried out his new gliding suit. His foray into urban skydiving chipped some bricks in a downtown building and his front tooth. Luckily, the band name was a reference to the fact that he always wore a helmet. He never took it off.

Moxie also might have known something was wrong if she had been asked to provide her own instrument, or organize her accommodations, but Pearl had taken care of absolutely everything for Moxie since her first band hit the charts when she was sixteen. Moxie finally noticed something was wrong when Pearl sent a car without a trailer for her bike. Pearl explained that the misunderstanding wasn’t completely her fault when Moxie finally got her on the phone.

“I never said you were playing Scandrum. I got you the gig at Scandium before Sex With Helmets called about their unfortunate accident. I was having trouble finding you anything and then this job fell in our lap. The lute player for The—”

“Did you say lute?”

“Yes, the lute player for The Midsummer Minstrels had mysteriously vanished the Tuesday before opening weekend. They were desperate for an emergency replacement. And you seemed so excited when I called. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by how happy you were.”

“Pearl, I don’t play the lute. Why would you take that gig. Can’t we back out and get Scandrum. I want Scandrum.”

“No. They already went with Shayla. Besides, you always tell me you can play anything with strings. A lute has strings, right? I’m really asking. A lute’s kinda like a mandolin, right?”

“Yes, Pearl. But that doesn’t make this any better.”

“You’ll be fine. Plus, that lute player might show up and you can come home. You get paid either way. It’s a cushy gig. And you love camping.”

“Camping?”

“Yes, a big fancy tent set up on pallets in the woods. It will be magical. You might even meet a wood nymph. Who knows? There could be mini-dragons.”

“You are nuts Pearl. You know that? Fine, but I’ll need a couple rehearsals.”

“The fair opens tomorrow early.” She hung up.

Pearl was known to get confused sometimes. And shiny things like motorcycles and knights in shining armor can be incredibly distracting. But Moxie had to admit she might have heard what she wanted to hear.

Moxie couldn’t get a full breath without the bodice biting into her ribs. Despite her discomfort and devastating disappointment, Moxie was surprised to feel a little excited. She wasn’t sure if she was lightheaded from lack of oxygen or if it was the bright sunlight slanting through the thick green trees combined with the dust kicked up as she walked the sawdust covered path, but she felt a little dizzy in a good way. She passed the wenches setting up their food booths along the center path and the fool setting up his slack rope at the small theater as she continued down the hill to the joust field.

The moment she reached the bottom of the hill, her nose stung and her eyes watered, her senses overcome by sweaty horse and man. She covered her nose and mouth and ran around the jousting field to the faux castle at the far side. At the back of the plywood building she gasped for air and was rewarded with the fresh scent of pine.

“Good morrow, me lady,” said a man holding the door open and beckoning her inside.

I guess my character will be mute, thought Moxie, because I am not going to talk like that.

“You must be Sir Gerald’s replacement. He’s been amiss these four days. Your lute awaits. Follow me.” He beckoned and Moxie followed.

The Midsummer Minstrels’ main job, he explained, was to entertain the king and queen during the joust, once mid-morning and once in the afternoon. They were also part of the parade in the morning and evening. Moxie was sure she would be fine during the jousts because she could read the music, but during the parades she would really be winging it.

Moxie should have known she couldn’t be mute, not even for a minute, she was too curious. “What do you think happened to Sir Gerald?” she asked.

“I assuredly do not know. Though his eye doth wandereth upon the wenches.”

“Hey, man. Can you cut the crap. The show hasn’t started.”

Moxie’s companion looked shocked. “One should express oneself in language of the day every moment one is upon the grounds.”

“Wow. My bad,” said Moxie. She sat down and picked up the lute.

The instrument was badly out of tune. The first tuning peg felt gritty and sticky. She slowly let go and looked at her fingers then held them up. “Is this blood?” she said.

What happened to the lute player? Is there something sinister lurking in the forest? Can Moxie play the lute? Tune in next week for another pulse-pounding episode of daring misadventure.

Gator McBumpypants in Dee Dee Makes Three First Draft Thanks To A Thousand Words A Day

Dee Dee the Duck with her new friendsThough I did not write another 1,000 words since I reported yesterday, I did write 570 words to finish up the first draft of my third picture book in the Gator McBumpypants and friends series: Gator McBumpypants in Dee Dee Makes Three. That brings the weekend total to 2,014! By my math, I made it to the goal of 1,000 words a day (though I still have to write 1,000 today, but that’s for tomorrow’s blog). I’m very excited about this book, not only because it’s fun to take pictures of stuffed animals in the wild and tell their stories, but because Dee Dee is the first of my characters that I designed and created myself. Spoiler alert! I plan to make a box turtle next.

For the rest of my 5,000 words this week I will be working on two projects:

One is a middle grade novel that I plan as a series. It’s about a nine year old girl who realizes she can interact with spirits to help them with their unfinished business. However, she doesn’t want anyone, especially her classmates, to know, so she creates a business getting rid of household noises.

The other project is a series of short stories about a lake spirit. The story I’m trying to finish is called “Creation of the Lake Spirit” and is about half done. I hope to finish this week.

As part of the Novel Recommit challenge, I said I would post my word count each day, so I will keep you posted. I have a couple of more instructional yet-to-be-finished blog posts saved in my drafts to dust off for you throughout the week and hopefully some very fun pictures of Gator McBumpypants and his new friend Dee Dee as the week progresses.

Happy Writing!

Exploring: Kindle Free Downloads – Lots of free books, why not?

Mt. Rainier reflected in Lake TappsSince I’ve been pushing my free kindle download all week, I decided to go explore the free kindle download offerings. I was pleasantly surprised.I now have an eclectic library on my Kindle Cloud Reader. I found children’s picture books. I found books on social media marketing. I found cookbooks. I found an exercise motivation book (which I needed). I found books on speed reading (so I can read all these books really quickly) and of course Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise. Last day, folks. Don’t miss your chance to download it for free!

So with all these fabulous free kindle offerings out there, why aren’t people’s libraries exploding? I have to admit, the kindle cloud reader and library weren’t exactly straight forward to use at first.

When you download a kindle book, it opens in kindle cloud reader while you’re at amazon.com, but when you go back to amazon.com, your kindle cloud reader isn’t on the menu. It is at https://read.amazon.com/. Also, when you search free kindle ebooks in the amazon.com search box, you don’t get the nice selection of kindle ebooks. I finally found them here.

Have fun exploring all the fabulous free books!

Revision: Adding Videos to Your Blog

You can see why I put this under the revision topic, I’m revising my post of Gator McBumpypants’ first movie. Why didn’t I think of this yesterday? So, how did I do it? It was much easier than I thought.

When I clicked on Add Media above my draft’s text box, like I usually do to add pictures, I looked around and in the column on the left I clicked on Insert from URL. In a new tab, I went to the Youtube page for Gator’s video and copied the URL. When I pasted it into the box, TADA!, the video is now playable on my blog. So fun.

Now that Gator McBumpypants and his friend Herman have a youtube page, they wanted to find some fun videos to share. First they subscribed to other children’s books about alligators. Hear are a couple fun book videos:

I tried to change the video sizes so they were about half as big in this post, but assigning height and width in the html didn’t work (I turned off mobile in theme settings as per instructions) Any one know how to change the video size?

This morning I had an idea for other content to add to Gator and Herman’s YouTube page: Alligator crafts! First I thought of origami, but to Herman’s happy surprise, the Pterodactyl origami video was WAY cooler.

The best video for alligator crafts (Gator forgives the artist for saying he drew a crocodile) so far was this one:

One thing I have yet to figure out is how to get the videos I’m following to come up in the right hand column of my video. Does anyone have any advice? I’ve made a favorite videos playlist, I’ve picked out kids book channels to follow, but none of these things are showing up when I play my video. If you’d like to see Gator McBumpypants and friends favorite videos playlist, it is a tab on their YouTube channel here. I’ll keep working on this and update when I figure it out.

While I was searching for fun Pterodactyl kids books, I happened upon this great video and learned something I think I don’t want to know– Pterodactyls Aren’t Dinosaurs!

Of course, I had to immediately do some research and if you wanna listen to Science then hears a link

However, if you wanna keep believin’ hears some info here

I’m not facing facts yet, and I’m not ready to share this with Gator and Herman, so sadly the great video did not get in their favorites, yet.

Another thought on revision– Learn from my mistake. Make sure to pay attention to current events before launching your marketing campaign. Planning my big push the same week as the Ferguson decision, could have been avoided if I was paying attention to current events. I had no idea this could be a factor, but it is what people are talking about and paying attention to (as they should). The story of a cute bumpy stuffed alligator is a bit out of place in that discussion, except for the theme of not being afraid of people different from you. Perhaps that could be part of the discussion with children. That said, when planning a marketing campaign, give yourself enough time to see what else is  happening during your time frame that could eclipse your efforts (again, as it should in my case).

Anyone have other video suggestions for Gator and Herman to add to their YouTube Favorites?

A Good Reads Give Away for Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise

Gator McBumpypants

Gator and Herman stop to smell the flowers.

Happy Monday! This is the second week of my new posting strategy and I want to thank all of my new followers and commenters for making this part of my writing life so much fun! I’m enjoying these targeted daily posts: They are not only fun to write, they inspire me.  So as a thank you (and a marketing strategy suggested by readers), I’m having my first Good Reads giveaway. Over the next month, you can sign up for a chance to receive one of two signed copies of Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise. The winners will receive their copies in time to give them as gifts! That is if you can bring yourself to possibly part with all that cuteness.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise by Maria Berg

Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise

by Maria Berg

Giveaway ends December 10, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Any other authors having giveaways you want to tell us about?

Do you have other promotion suggestions?

Agent Query Progress

A small break in the clouds.

A small break in the clouds

For once, I felt I was making some progress in my search to find agents to query. Then, the moment I was sure I had found someone and would get my first query letter out today, to my complete horror, her blog said she wasn’t accepting queries at this time. I clicked back to her agency page and there it was under her picture in red letters, not accepting queries. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had noticed that before I started researching her further. At least I hadn’t read a bunch of books she represented before finding out she wasn’t accepting queries, this time.

Today, unlike most days of my frustrating agent search, I have found someone who looks interesting. She’s interested in writer/illustrators for middle grade fiction, which excites me. A while back, I read that editors liked to use their own illustrator, so a writer was better off not sending illustrations with the story. However, after reading that this agent wants illustrations, I’m going to get to work on the drawings to go with my story, at least a couple, and send them in with my query. I’ve been wanting to draw my monsters anyway, and I’ll need them if traditional publishing routes don’t work out, so this day just got a whole lot more fun!

Anyone have any tips on making the agent search easier?

Finding the Balance: Critique and Creativity

singing or bird watching
singing or bird watching

Balance critique with things you love to do.

In a way I’m lucky. I grew up in a hyper-critical environment and still chose to perform in public. However, criticism gets old and it sticks in the psyche more than praise, which, sadly, is part of human nature. To be a writer, especially in the world of anonymous online comments, we have to prepare for the worst of criticisms. I don’t have a television that works for anything but being a screen for a DVD player, but I have found, “celebrities read mean tweets” online and find it quite enlightening. I also enjoy “@ midnight” as a glimpse into critique that is hilarious.

So, how do we prepare ourselves, or at least find enough balance in our own lives to combat the constant negative responses that, for no apparent reason, go along with creative effort? We find our joy. What I mean is, balance the amount of time that you purposely spend critiquing your work and others’ with the same amount of time writing something that makes you happy, or, engaging with friends and not talking about writing, or bragging about your work if that makes you happy. An artist needs both feedback and free creation, or love becomes a job.

I am also very lucky because when I wanted a group of writers to work with, I found two great people who balance me out. Finding the right critique group is so important. Don’t let yourself get desperate to find collaborators, or think that more opinions are better. The right people are patient and understand that writing is an art, and a craft. It takes daily effort, but also time for thought. Art often comes upon a person and takes time to control. A good critique group needs people who are comfortable and trusting, but always want to push harder and learn something new. A good critique group is never complacent.

Critique, sadly is part of everything a human does. Why? Because for some reason, as entities on earth, we have the initiative to improve ourselves. There are plenty of theories and beliefs on this topic, but self-improvement is a consensus. Being part of a critique group prepares a writer in many ways for the world of criticisms to come after the work is done. Healthy critique is three fold: being open to critique, being willing to take critique, and giving useful critiques. None of this is easy, or innate. It takes time, patience, learning, trust and skill.

First – Being open to critique: This is not easy. It means you are willing to change. It means you are willing to hear that your work is not perfect, that it needs changing based on other people’s opinions. Sometimes, some of your work will never get to this step and you need to really ask yourself if you want to try something you wrote that you don’t really care about (like that exists) and see if you’re ready. If you get mean to the people in your critique group because they thought you could use a comma before “but”, you might not be ready.

Second –Willing to take critique: I have plenty of pages from my critique group that are full of copious notes, but until I am willing to change, I will repeat myself. I didn’t like learning that I had a “he, she, I” problem. That meant I wasn’t perfect and I had to research sentence structures and change! So I did, but it was not easy. I still have issues with “read it out loud, you’ll figure it out”, because other people think if I just read something out loud, I’ll figure out why my sentences are clunky, to them. They have yet to pick up on the fact that I speak that way. Eventually my voice will be its own clunky-graceful self, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to do the work. Every critique asked for should be taken seriously and that is the whole point of being willing to take critique. If you’re not willing to listen and try to see the other point of view, even (and especially) if you think you know better, then you are not ready for a critique group.

Third – Critiquing: This is the hardest. I was quite uncomfortable with critique as a practice when my group first started and that is a good place to start. In order to critique people who are working in the same manner that you are, who spend so much time and energy putting their words together to tell stories and trying in every way they can to get their voices heard, those are the people who need as much support as criticism. Honesty is the hardest medicine to administer, but honesty is expected and wanted.

So how do you give a good critique? The answer is it takes time. No matter what you do, find something you honestly like about the writing, and start with that. Then make sure any grammatical corrections you address are based on fact, not opinion. When addressing any content issues, make sure to acknowledge that the work is not your own and any changes you recommend are your opinion offered with the best of intentions.

With all of that in mind, get your favorite activities ready, because creating a balance is the other half of the work. And remember, reading is part of the work of a writer, so unless the book you’re reading makes you lose yourself in happiness and you aren’t dissecting every other sentence, it doesn’t count.