All writers need feedback so we can grow in the craft and learn from other writers. I joined my first critique group right after discovering American Christian Fiction Writers, a great international organization for Christian writers, which I highly recommend. The critique group provided a place to exchange work and give feedback while receiving the same. So many learning opportunities! Our original group met at the library. Later, we settled into a consistent gathering of four women, each bringing our own experiences and insights to the varied genres we critiqued for each other. We met at McDonald’s because they stayed open late, and we called ourselves the McCritters. Heh. We laughed and encouraged each other and dreamed and tried to help.
At times, we’d run into an issue with a manuscript and none of us could name the problem. We only knew something wasn’t right. Something was off. Within a couple of hours (our meetings went long!) one of the members would say, “I’ve got it. Here’s what missing.” She had tracked the issue to its root. Perhaps it was a characterization problem, or slow pacing. Perhaps it was inconsistency between the character’s values and choices, without acknowledgment on the page. Whatever it was, the answer resonated and we’d solved the mystery. That writer could later return to her computer and address the root.
Our crit partners helped us identify our weaknesses and break bad habits. We traveled to conferences and book signings together. We shared the writerly world. I highly recommend joining a critique group. You’ll find encouragement, and ideally you’ll learn a lot while you grow with your partners.
Identifying as a life-long student of writing craft also serves writers well. Readers will admire your growth as a writer, so don’t be afraid to let your storytelling skills evolve.
Reading voraciously in your chosen genre helps you learn while relaxing. If, while writing or receiving feedback you recognize a weakness, you can then concentrate on how your favorite author handles that element in her (or his) books. You might also check best sellers to see if the topic is well addressed and study what those authors did.
One strategy that has helped me immensely is to identify my limitations and search for a how-to nonfiction book and/or articles on that subject. Don’t be afraid to face those weaknesses head on. There are a slew of nonfiction books on nearly all elements of the writing craft.
Here are a few resources that have helped me:
Riveting Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. Key to writing fiction is understanding viewpoint and the current trends around POV. For example, omniscient point of view and what I call “collective POV” are rarely currently acceptable in most Christian fiction genres. I recommend Jill’s quick guide to my editing clients who struggle with staying in one character’s head at a time.
The Story Equation by Susan May Warren. This how-to helps with characterization on a deep level, starting with your MC’s (main character’s) identity and working out from there. When I craft a new novel, I begin with Susan’s book. As the founder of My Book Therapy (also called Learn How to Write a Novel), she offers a pile of other helpful guides. Check them out at My Book Therapy’s website.
Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell. This quick-read guide helps writers zero in on the mirror moment and write from there. Excellent resource!
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. A classic guide for fiction writers.
Any of Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s thesauri on characterization, occupation, locations, emotions, reactions, etc. All excellent resources.
American Christian Fiction Writers — If you’re a fellow Christian fiction author, I highly recommend joining American Christian Fiction Writers.
Seriously Write — For writing craft articles, devotionals, and stories of fellow authors’ journeys to publication, check out the long-lived blog, Seriously Write), which I founded in 2009. Though we aren’t currently updating the blog, you’re sure to find encouragement there. On the right side bar, there’s a Search Box where you can look up any topic or fellow Christian author you’d like.
Write on, friends!