The Cold Hard Truth

In a recent post, I wrote about critiquing others’ works and getting feedback on my own work. In the last few days, I’ve been talking online with fellow querying writers, writers whose works I critiqued years ago, writers in my critique group, and writers whose work I continue to critique.

And all of this has really brought one cold hard truth to light.

I…am not a sugar-coater.

Like, for real.

I am not an easy-to-please reader. It’s not that I don’t want to love the things I’m reading. Truly, I want to.

But I also want to help make those things better, whether they’re novels, novellas, single chapters, poetry, or short stories. And if something I can say, a random thought in my head, can influence how a writer views their story’s structure, a character’s motivation, or the relatability of character arcs, then wouldn’t I be remiss not to share that thought?

And so, I have made many a writer friend cry.

But it’s not all bad.

I’m also the first to cheer on my friends and tell them when they’re on the right track. And I’m quick to remind them that my opinions aren’t “industry standard” and ultimately…THEY MEAN NOTHING!

Yes, that’s right. I just said it. My thoughts mean nothing. (Don’t tell my husband.)

Just yesterday, I had to say these very words to one of my newer critique partners who was exposed to my straight-shooting critique methods for the first time and left our session discouraged. Which means…I’ve failed as a critique partner. My goal is always to lift others up, not to cut them down.

Sometimes, just sometimes, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. I’d do well to remember it.

I promise I try to be sweet while dosing my brand of medicine. It just doesn’t always work out the way I plan and not everyone gets my kind of humor. Future critique partners beware.

On a side note, a fellow writer I beta-read for four years ago is an agented author and the manuscript I critiqued is headed to print shortly, available later this year. He reached out today to ask how I wanted my name printed in the acknowledgments section. And if that’s not the highest praise ever, I don’t know what is.

The Benefits of Friendship

I head one of the local SCBWI critique groups in my county for Young Adult and Middle Grade authors and, friends, I must confess I feel a little guilty. Sometimes, this group seems like the L. Ryan Storms writing self-improvement hour. I get SO. MUCH. from my dear friends and our talks about what elements make a piece work or why a certain chapter maybe doesn’t work.

Is it difficult? It can be. It was definitely more difficult in the beginning when I realized I’d never shared my work in person before. (Also, I’m an introvert. Did I ever mention that? Once or twice maybe?) But as time went on, my nervousness disappeared and I began to look forward to the feedback offered to me by these kindred spirits who shared my love of stories and all things story-related.

Our group is fairly easygoing when it comes to the rules, but the general idea is:

Share your work if you have something to share. Give useful, critical feedback on others’ work (no breaking spirits allowed). And brainstorm together when it comes to what we like about a piece, who the audience is, where we think the storyline should go, or how the author can make it better.

I have been so very lucky to know such talented, thoughtful individuals who are willing to read a chapter of my work each month and tell me all the things I need to hear. The good things. The not-so-good things. Because without them, I’d be lost when it comes to catching my crutch words and phrases, my overused actions, my annoying, sarcastic main character (who is a bit of a bitch, tbh), her tendency to overreact from time to time, and the annoying boy love interest who, honestly, isn’t mad enough at the world around him when he should be.

I digress. Without my dear SCBWI group, I’d be lost. I interact with at least a few “lost” writers on Twitter every week, those who aren’t sure if their material works, who feel like they’re embarking on this crazy journey alone, who cry and threaten to never write again, who fear they’ll never be as good as, as talented as, as successful as… (insert famous author name here).

My biggest advice to them is:

Find your people.

There’s so much more to explore in the craft when you do it together. There’s so much more to learn, to unravel, to dissect and put back together when you have a posse. Find your posse. Find your people. When you do, the possibilities open wide.

But Storms, how do I find my people?

Good question. For me, the answer was partially on Twitter, where I interacted with strangers who became friends over the course of both time and multiple in-person meetups and conferences. And the answer was also to join a professional organization like SCBWI to interact with others who were writing in the same age categories. I attended a meet-up or two, met a few members, volunteered to start my own critique group because none of the times/days of the other groups worked for me, and met even more amazing writers at all stages of the game.

Some were traditionally published, some independently published, some agented, some querying, some just beginning to test the waters by admitting publicly (gasp!) that they write. And therein lies the beauty of the writing community. I’ve never met a community so open – so willing – to help others along the way.

The answer is not necessarily to join SCBWI. (Though I would argue that this move is infinitely beneficial in ways too numerous to count. If you write for children or young adults, join SCBWI. Do it.) There are dozens of other professional writing organizations out there. The key is to find what works for you and jump in, whether you think you’re ready or not.

Keep learning, keep growing, keep reaching out to writers you know and writers you don’t. Read works by published authors. Beta-read manuscripts for unpublished authors. Offer valuable feedback, and get feedback on your work. Writing is a lonely craft, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely life. Friends are everywhere. Just hit that ‘Follow’ button.*

Look at all those amazing writers (and readers)!

*Okay, for real, only follow writers you want to interact with. Don’t follow creepers. Don’t follow horrible people. Don’t follow people who look like they will DM you ‘hi pretty lady.’ Don’t follow bots. Don’t follow everyone for the sake of numbers. Find your people. Now go!