If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve seen some posts about Becky Levine’s book The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Becky as the editor for her book. It’s a book that I would recommend to any writer who is trying to get a book ready for publication. A critique group with honest and objective partners is one of the best assets you can find as a writer. The feedback and suggestions you’ll receive will help you improve your work by leaps and bounds, and offer you support as you seek publication.
Becky’s book gives you everything you need to find (or start) a writing critique group, and also the tools you need to read effectively, to craft critiques of your partner’s work, and to incorporate the feedback you receive into your own work.
Here’s a quick interview with Becky:
When did you discover that you wanted to be a writer?
When I was growing up, we moved when I was nine years old, and I always date things around the “old house” and the “new house.” I don’t remember writing anything in the old house, but it was a huge part of my life in the new house. I think the actual moment when I decided this was what I wanted to do “when I grew up,” was when I was reading a wonderful series of teen mysteries by Phyllis A. Whitney (http://www.phyllisawhitney.com/). I can remember holding one of those books and making the decision that I would be a writer. Ms. Whitney had published several writing books, and I asked for them all for various birthday and Christmas presents.
What was the first thing you wrote?
The first thing I remember writing was a short story about George Washington, that pretty much accused him of lying about that cherry tree and then confessing, but not until he realized he was going to get busted anyway. That may have been one of the stories I actually sent to Redbook and Cosmopolitan magazines. Needless to say, they did not publish me.
How much time per day do you spend writing?
My time these days is pretty scattered. On a good day, I can sit and write for a solid couple of hours and feel good about what I’m getting on the page. But I think it’s more important that writers try to get a chunk of writing time in each day, even if it’s only 20 or 30 minutes, rather than waiting for the day they have a big open slot on the calendar. The more often we come back to a project, the more fresh it is in our brain. If we skip a few days, then too much of our “writing” time is used up by catching up with the work we did in the last session, with bringing the story or other project back into our writing minds.
Do you have any writing rituals that get you in “the zone” (and if so, what are they)?
I don’t have any real rituals–I’m actually a bit jealous of those writers who do. It’s pretty much a requirement that I have a cup of tea on my desk, if I want to write. And I read somewhere that if you pick a piece of music, a specific CD, to write to every day, that your brain gets trained to respond to that familiarity and get moving in the right direction. When I remember to do this, it seems to work. So far the best music I’ve found to write to is Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s album Metapedia. (http://www.mcgarrigles.com/). It’s kind of folksy, and a lot of it is in French, so I don’t find myself singing along and losing the writing connection.
What are the last 5 books you read?
Well, I read at least 3 or 4 books a week, and once they’re back on the shelf, I don’t remember which came first. So I’ll just pick five of the most recent that I loved.
- Fire, by Kristin Cashore
- Zen and the Art of Faking It, by Jordan Sonnenblick
- A Time for Gathering: The Second Migration 1820-1880, by Hasia R. Diner
- Winter and Night, by S .J. Rozan
- Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, by Firoozeh Dumas
Your book champions the benefits of critique groups—can you share a success story from your own critique group?
In the Q&A on Writer’s Digest page for THE WRITING & CRITIQUE GROUP SURVIVAL GUIDE(http://www.writersdigest.com/article/critique-survival-guide-interview), I talked about Terri Thayer’s (http://www.territhayer.com) success with her two mystery series. Everybody in my critique group, though, has finished a book or more, done deep revisions, and submitted those projects to agents and editor. We’ve all gotten to the point where agents are requesting our full manuscripts and sending us complimentary notes along with the rejections, encouraging us to submit more writing to them in the future. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that we’ve been critiquing together for several years and are all moving so strongly forward on the path toward publication. We may not all be there yet, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we will be.