Showing posts with label Novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Novel. Show all posts

Friday, April 29, 2011

Writer's Groups and Critique Workshops: What's in it for the Critiquer?

Aside from the obvious, "Because I get MY story critiqued," what exactly do the writers giving critique get out of a critique session?

While eating Mexican food at The Farmers Market other day pre-interviewing a potential writing workshop leader, we were talking about our approaches to our workshops and she said to me, "Well, that's the point of the writing workshop, to get to the point where you don't need it anymore and can self-critique." While I don't entirely agree with that statement, that is partly where where the value lies for the writers who are giving critique to another writer.


In the workshop (or writers group or critique group or whatever you name it) setting, when you are listening to other writers review someone's writing and point out a piece's strengths and weaknesses, you are not just sitting there biding time until it's your turn. You may not realize it, but you are learning how to improve your own writing.

For newer writers, this process is invaluable when it comes to understanding how to cohesively construct a story (structure and continuity). If it is a group like our writers groups, where all genres are welcome, reading a wide variety of genres and skill levels and listening to the feedback helps you to understand what is good and why it is good and what isn't working and why it isn't working so you can go home and apply what you've learned to your own stories or poetry. You learn why character and theme are the most important story elements, regardless of genre. You start to see how much the use of subtext adds to a description or a character, or how important it is that each scene move the story forward in some way. You begin to see the difference between a plot-driven story and a character-driven story. You will notice how another writer constructs beautiful, poetic prose, or you will notice when the writing is so ornate that it actually distracts from the story or feels out-of-sync with the character.

If you are a screenwriter, you learn how to enter and exit a scene efficiently, how to write for a totally visual medium, and how story structure works for a screenplay, which is a completely different and a mostly formulaic process and can be quite different than writing a novel or short story or even a memoir.

For more experienced writers, you gain exposure to new and interesting voices, unique prose, new story ideas. You find new ways to approach your new or existing stories. Your critique of the others' stories teaches them how to critique your stories. In a way, you are training someone to critique your stories the way you want to be critiqued. You may learn how to critique poetry even if you are an essayist. You might learn how to critique a novel if you are a screenwriter, which will come in handy when you try your hand at a novel, and you will one day. You also get the great pleasure of mentoring another writer.

The list is nearly infinite. The more you critique, the more you learn, the better writer you become, the better critiquer you become, the better the other writers become, the better the other writers become helpful critiquers. You elevate each other. Your learning process becomes their learning process.


It doesn't matter how experienced writers are, they are frequently handing their work to someone they trust to look it over. Not all artists do this. I'm pretty sure that painters don't send first draft paintings around for critique, so does that mean that we as writer/artists should be able to judge for ourselves when our 'art' is finished? If you've read in your genre and are an experienced writer, you have to have faith that you will know when your story is its best possible version. Unlike painters, we can't just walk out of the room then walk back in with a fresh pair of eyes. We have to set it down for days, if not weeks, then we have to go back and read it all over again, pretending we're reading it for the first time, which takes a while if you've just written a novel or book-length memoir. We create entire beings and all their complexities (character), their world (description, genre), their life situations (crisis / situation) and their reactions to those situations (conflict) and attempt to transfer that epic inside our heads and put it into a readers' head exactly how we have envisioned it. It is our job to get that reader to see what we see, experience what our character experiences and sometimes that requires a fresh pair of eyes, yours or someone else's who can speak your literary language.

Evaluating our own writing is sometimes like being a therapist and evaluating yourself. It's usually better to get another person's perspective, because we're often too close to look at ourselves objectively. Writers, regardless of experience level, are sometimes too close to their own work to check for inconsistencies or to know when a reader might be pulled out of the piece while wondering how the main character seemed to magically teleport from one scene to another, or when a character is doing something 'out of character'. Some writers can pull off this kind of self-critique, but most can't.

You have sole creative control over your writing. You will know what critique advice to take and what not to take. Here's a hint: if you cringe a little when you hear it, it's probably something you need to reevaluate and your ego knows it, hence the cringing. Just give the feedback some time to marinate and soften your ego's automatic reaction.

I've had writers who've written for television, writers who've sold multiple screenplays, and writers who've had multiple stories and poems published ask me to review a new story. This isn't from a lack of confidence or experience, it's from wisdom. Wise not because they chose me, but because they are seeking several different perspectives, and have the wisdom to know that sometimes even the creator doesn't have all the answers. This is the value of a writing workshop or writers group. Several different third-party reader perspectives, readers who can talk your literary language and help you improve, and by asking them for feedback, you are helping them become better writers as well.

The critique workshop, especially in a professionally moderated environment with someone who is an experienced leader and experienced in giving positive and constructive feedback is an incredible learning opportunity. It may not be a writing class or a lecture environment, but you will be more learned for the experience.

If you'd like to participate in one of our creative writing and critique workshops, check out our schedule. We run our groups throughout Los Angeles, including Hermosa Beach (scheduled), El Segundo (new workshop coming soon), Miracle Mile / Koreatown (scheduled), West LA (scheduled), and Glendale / Glassell Park. Santa Clarita critique workshop coming soon!

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

West Los Angeles Writing and Critique Workshop starts Thursday!

Our West Los Angeles Writing and Critique Workshop begins on Thursday! has been running writers groups and creative writing workshops throughout the greater Los Angeles area since 2003. We hire moderators to run these groups who have years of experience giving writers feedback on their novels, screenplays, essays, children's books, short fiction stories, memoirs and even on poetry. Our moderators are chosen because they have experience working directly with creative writers and they understand how to give supportive cross-genre feedback that will leave you excited by the possibilities of your story and hungry to go home and rewrite your project, if it needs rewriting.

We also create new stories / writing in our groups through improvisational writing exercises given as writing prompts by our group moderators that are hand-picked by that moderator based on the needs of individual writers in the group to help elevate your prose, theme, dialogue, character development and much more. Because of this, no two groups are the same, which is why we have so many people who repeat group after group (plus returning writers get the returning member discount!). Our rules for the critique process have been developed over years of working in this group setting in order to keep the critique process constructive and positive.

Critique is not only good for the person receiving critique. It also benefits the critiquer. Listening to our moderators and other members give feedback on various writing styles, stories, and genres, helps those listening elevate their level of critique and their ability to critique their own stories as they write them. While our groups are not writing classes per se, and we have no lecture portion of the evening, a great deal of experiential learning, often customized for the individual group, takes place during our workshops. Even if a writer never brings in a story for feedback, they grow from a craft perspective just by listening and participating in the process.

Please visit or email for information or questions about our writers groups.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Literary Stuff To Do in LA

New American Writing: Caryl Phillips

wed sep 29, 7:00PM | HAMMER readings

Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts, West Indies, and raised in England. His novel Dancing in the Dark won the 2006 PEN/ Beyond Margins Award, and an earlier novel, A Distant Shore, won the 2004 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. His other awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His most recent book is In the Falling Snow. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and currently lives in New York.


Stanley F. Chyet Poetry Reading


Sunday, October 17, 2:00 p.m.

$5 General; Free to Skirball Members

Advance reservations recommended: Available on site at the Skirball, online at, or by phone at (877) SCC-4TIX or (877) 722-4849

Hear prize-winning translator and poet Peter Cole as he reads from and discusses his acclaimed anthology, The Dream of the Poem, which won the National Jewish Book Award and the American Publisher Association’s award for the Book of the Year for 2007. Rich with humor and grace, Cole’s work recreates the world of medieval Spain, where Jewish artistic and intellectual communities flourished under Islamic rule. A book signing follows the program.

“[This] astonishing achievement is fully revealed for the first time in English.... [Peter Cole’s] versions are masterly.” —Eric Ormsby, The New York Times Book Review


slake magazine



Moments of surprise, whimsy and unconventional truth burst from the pages of Slake: Los Angeles… the worldviews reach outside traditional journalism. —Los Angeles Times

Slake: Los Angeles
is a new LA-centric quarterly that examines all things curious, fictional, poetic, political, and philosophical. Edited by former LA Weekly editors Laurie Ochoa and Joe Donnelly, Slake features work by local writers, artists, and photographers. The evening will celebrate Slake’s second issue with readings by House of Leaves authorMark Z. Danielewski, writer/comedian/actress Lauren Weedman (Date Night, Hung, The Daily Show), Ochoa,Donnelly, and other contributors to the publication. Organized by Benjamin Weissman.

ALL HAMMER PUBLIC PROGRAMS ARE FREE. Seating is on a first come, first served basis. Hammer members receive priority seating, subject to availability. Reservations not accepted, RSVPs not required.

Parking is available under the museum for $3 after 6:00pm.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Submit yourself to mythium

How can we not love a litmag that says: "Submit! ...seriously, we mean surrender to us. Right Now!"

Click on over to mythium and do as they command: Send them original, unpublished fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, or even novel and memoir excerpts.

Their reading period for the Spring 2010 issue began on October 1st.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

FC2 innovative fiction book contest

Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize, Sponsored by Fiction Collective Two (FC2) and American Book Review:


Type: Book Contest

Reading Fee: $25

Prize: The Prize includes $1,000 and publication by FC2, an imprint of the University of Alabama Press. In the unlikely event that no suitable manuscript is found among entries in a given year, FC2 reserves the right not to award a prize.

Deadline: Contest Open from August 15 - November 1.

Looking for: Collection of Short Stories, one or more novellas, or a novel.

Accepts: Submissions by mail only. Submit either TWO hardcopies of the manuscript, or ONE hardcopy and one Word file of the manuscript on a labeled CD.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Beautiful Vowels

Take a quick peek at this BBC News article about a new fiction book that manipulates the use of vowels. Entitled "Euonia", the only word in the english language that contains all five vowels, the author has divided the book into five sections, each section using only one vowel in every word. The article quotes from each of the books sections - it's quite a feat. The comments are fun to read, too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ellipsis Press is Looking for Novels that Look Normal. But Aren't.

According to their website:
Ellipsis Press is interested in novels that are structurally innovative.

We like: novels that look normal but aren’t (more than those that look weird but are actually quite normal); those that are successful at bypassing or evolving the seemingly necessary but often tired elements of character and/or plot; and those that respond in some way to the history of the novel as genre and form.

Writers who have studied the traditional elements of the novel and experimented with them to emotionally moving and/or extraordinary ends are invited to submit for publication.

Send your whole manuscripts as a .rtf attachment by email only to editors [at] ellipsispress [dot] com.

We are not interested in poetry, short story collections, or non-fiction at this time. Due to time constraints we can respond only to those submissions we wish to pursue. These responses will be made within four months time.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Agents Hate

Here is an informative article from Writer's Digest about what agents hate to read when reading the first chapter of your novel.

Writer’s Digest - What Agents Hate

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Premier Book Awards Deadline August 15th

The folks at Premier Book Awards asked us to remind you of their upcoming deadline. In their own words:
Your members may be interested in a reminder that the deadline for the 2008 Premier Book Awards in both fiction and non-fiction is fast approaching. Final entries must be postmarked by August 15, 2008.

With so many new titles published every year it is increasingly difficult for an individual book to stand out. Winning a contest is an opportunity for publicity-exposure for the author and the book. There is no better way to gain credibility and increased sales than to win an award for writing excellence.

Premier Book Awards were established to recognize meritorious works by writers who self-published or had their books published by a small press or independent book publisher. POD books are welcome. The contest is open to selected book length fiction and non-fiction titles with a 2007 or 2008 copyright, published in the English language and targeted for an adult audience in the North American market. There are $100 cash awards for the winners in each category, plus a $500 award each for the best fiction and best non-fiction of the year. Winners also receive a certificate suitable for framing and Premier Book Awards will issue a press release to announce the achievement. Check out the website for details:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Narrative Prize

Narrative Magazine is holding a fabulous writing competition. According to their site:
"The $4,000 Narrative Prize will be awarded annually for the best short story, novel excerpt, poem, or work of literary nonfiction published by a new or emerging writer in Narrative.

The deadline for entries for each year’s award is June 15.

The winner is announced each September, and the prize is awarded in October.

Notices of the award, citing the winner’s name and the title and genre of the winning piece, will be placed in prominent literary periodicals. Each winner will also be cited in an ongoing listing in Narrative. The prize will be given to the best work published each year in Narrative by a new or emerging writer, as judged by the magazine’s editors. In some years, the prize may be divided between winners, when more than one work merits the award.

All submissions are carefully considered for publication. To submit your work for the Narrative Prize, please see the submission form below or visit our Submission Guidelines page.

Submissions by new and emerging writers are eligible for the prize, and we accept submissions year-round. For further information, please read our Submission Guidelines."