Friday, January 28, 2011

The Writers Intensive - An Inside Look, part three - The Afternoon Critique

My afternoon critique table was led by Mary Kole, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Mary has an amazing blog on writing,, and approached the critique more as a "workshop."

writer #1 shared a contemporary YA, and Mary started us off with leading our discussion of her pages in two parts, first what was working, and then focusing on where there was opportunity for growth. (Isn't that a great way to put "constructive criticism?") Throughout, Mary shared great tips, like aiming to be more specific with our character details!

writer #2 shared a young MG, and the discussion bloomed as we realized that both writers had started with the main character in school... but then quickly flashed back to somewhere else. It led to a great conversation about where to start a story.

writer #3 shared his MG pages, and the table unanimously praised the character's great voice. Mary helped us all see that what that story needed was to be grounded in the present action of the plot starting - and the writer had that realization of what he had to do next.

writer #4 shared a MG historical, based on a true story, and explained that she was feeling limited by what actually happened versus what would make a better fiction book. Mary's advice was to "have it be your story - the spirit but not the letter" Or, my take on it, inspired by.

writer #5 shared the first 500 words of her YA, and we all realized she had also started her main character in a school setting, when maybe there was a better place and way to start her story.

writer #6 shared her YA novel pages, and told us that she'd shared the prologue to her book this morning, and had decided to not share it with Mary and us - and just jump to chapter one and share that. So she read us 500 words from chapter one, and then in the discussion we discussed prologues (Mary's not a big fan of them.)

I was writer #7, and again I shared the first 500 words of my MG. I was honored with kind words about my writing and the manuscript's voice, and in the ensuing discussion I was able to ask Mary and the table's opinions about their take on the opening paragraphs, as compared to this morning's critique group. That was cool - having 15 fresh pairs of eyes on my first pages!

Mary liked how one of the authors had brought in more of the senses, laughing that sight was the most common sense described, with sound and touch afterwards, and taste and smell sharing last place. She urged us to avail ourselves of more of those senses.

We had some extra time due to an empty writer slot (I feel bad for the author who due to the snowy weather wasn't able to make it!) and Mary opened the table up to a 12 minute Q&A, where we talked about publishing across age categories, how children's literature is unique in that it's about characters immediately going through things as they happen (rather than being older and flashing back on their teen years), and Mary's best recommendation for a book on revision: Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

When Aaron called our time being up, the room applauded their agents and editors, but no table as enthusiastically as ours.

The Debrief:

One writer shared that starting with positive feedback first really worked for her. And that having everyone's ideas bounce off other people was so useful.

Another felt that Mary was so great and professional, that the format was informal and yet gave her so much. "She's so polite, but she tells you as it is."

We heard "She killed my prologue and it's not coming back to life... but maybe it will be my epilogue!" (When I checked with Mary later about epilogues versus prologues and whether she was a fan of the former, she said, "they serve different purposes. One is just lazy beginning writing, the other is lazy end writing. Um... Okay, maybe not an epilogue!)

Mary was praised for being sincere and for making it feel collaborative. "Everyone's opinion has some value, and that was acknowledged."

And perhaps most encouraging, about Mary's feedback on their writing,
"I feel like if I do what she told me my book will be better."

And for myself, I really enjoyed learning from Mary's critiques and watching her masterful command of these 12 minute critique workshops!

Ultimately, about the whole experience of participating in the Writers Intensive, I love what Lin Oliver said this morning,

"What you're doing here is part of the process of publication. It's not about Yes, No, Good, Bad. It's about the feedback on the work you have yet to do..."

Because even if your manuscript IS the gold that an editor or agent discovers today, there will be more revisions to come, because that's the journey - to make our books as good as they can be, and then get them out into the world.

It's a journey. And the writing intensive is an amazing turbo-boost of insight to move our writer journeys forward!

I feel very fortunate to have taken part in the writers intensive today and want to thank my two critique groups and, of course, Michelle Poploff and Mary Kole!

Being brave enough to share your pages is laudable - everyone here was showing their dedication towards furthering their career and becoming a better writer, and that's something to celebrate!



  1. Lovely recap! Oh I am so glad I found this blog.

    Thanks so much for sharing,

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. Dito to Angela's comment! Thank you for all of this, I'm enjoying every word!

  3. This is great. Thank you for allowing me to attend vicariously through you. : )