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Wiscon panel notes: Your Electric Critics

http://wiscon.piglet.org/program/detail?idItems=223

Your Electric Critics
Track: The Craft and Business of Writing
Description: Writers groups and slush piles are two of the basics for new authors. Traditionally, writers met with a group of other local aspiring authors and critiqued each others work. Then they would send off their newly polished babies to a publisher, where they would be smothered in the slush pile. With the web, there are some interesting new wrinkles in this formula. Online critique groups like Critters make it easy to find other writers, and sites like Baen's Bar and Authonomy promise to make the slush pile a visible, living thing. How useful are they? Can you really get published using them? And what the best ways to make them work for you?
Moderator: Jack McDevitt
Panelists: Laurel Amberdine, Carol F. Emshwiller, Gary Kloster

Jack McDevitt and Carol Emshwiller are seasoned professional writers; Laurel Amberdine and Gary Kloster are newer at it.

The following notes organize what I thought were the highlights of the panel into various topics.

What does good critiquing look like?

Carol: Good critiquing makes you want to write more. Friends may not be the best critics because they may try to build you up.

Laurel: Not all the critiquing I received from online groups was useful. The critic needs to understand what you were trying to accomplish. When critiquing, give the benefit of the doubt; assume the writer knows what they are trying to do.

In a good crit group there will be some agreement among the critiques even if the critics haven't seen each others' comments.

A first reader who has the same taste as you and who says what they really think is priceless. So don't act pissed off if they give negative feedback.

Good critiquing tells you what works and what doesn't work.

Pros and cons of online writers groups vs. in-person
Benefits of online writers group:
Many pro level writers readily available; good critiques
Good if you live in less populated area

Benefits of in-person writers group:
Socializing
Deadlines make it more likely you'll finish something

Other advice:
Critiquing is essential for all fiction writers.

If criticisms disagree, take what you like and leave the rest. You can also analyze a critique just like you can analyze a story.

Even if you disagree with a particular critique or suggestion, it might still indicate that there's a problem in the story. Maybe the problem is somewhere else in the story or maybe another solution would fix it.

The style of critiquing can be culturally dependent.

Eventually you have to stop rewriting and submit your story.

Audience comment: On Critters one can get a lot of critiques and many are useful. There is a a month-long lag between the time you submit and the time you receive your critiques; the lag is shorter if you submit more critiques.

Jack: Writers don't "tell a story," they "create an experience." Editors don't buy writing that fails to maintain the illusion of that experience. Fledgling writers tend to write too much (I think he meant "too many words").

The list:
There was also a handout listing various interactive slush piles and online writers workshops. I have mislaid it. I only remember that Baen's Bar was one of the slush piles (more information here: http://www.baensuniverse.com/subguide.html) and that Gary and Laurel had positive experiences with the following online writers workshops: http://www.critters.org, which is paid for by donations, and http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com, which is $50/year with a free one-month trial membership.

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