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Frustration–and a Cry for Help

This blog has long been where I pour out my heart and soul. Sure, I don’t talk much about my life outside of writing, but writing is really the core of who I am and how I live. I write every day, or as close to it as possible. I’ve wanted to be a professional writer since I was eight years old, and I’ve never stopped pushing for that dream. Instead, I’ve fit the rest of my life around my writing, trying desperately to keep it from conquering my writing time, with varying amounts of success.

Through this blog, I’ve seen lots of success. I have over three hundred and fifty subscribers, which seems like a small number compared to, say, the millions of subscribers Firepole Marketing has, but is a pretty big number for me. It’s an even bigger number when you consider how crowded the blogosphere is, and that every writer has a blog–and that I’m not famous for other work. This blog has also been the thing that set me apart from other applicants and gotten me all the writing jobs I’ve ever had, and best of all it’s been a lot of fun.

It’s also been very frustrating. Maintaining a regular posting schedule is incredibly difficult during the school year. I’ve had to cut back on the amount I post per week to focus on other things. I’ve even started taking whole weeks at a time away from the blog to work on my other projects. Since I don’t make any money directly from the blog, often it also feels like a waste of time.

Perhaps the hardest part is getting people involved in the discussion. Many of you have joined in the conversation on different posts, but I still haven’t figured out the magical formula to create a healthy, thriving discussion. I’ve had mixed success with everything I’ve tried. When I posted these three questions, I had an overwhelming response, yet when I posted more questions in last week’s Friday Forum, nobody responded. It’s impossible to tell whether that was because of the long weekend, the questions themselves or perhaps something else about the post itself.

I guess what I’m saying is I’d like a little help, guys. This blog is only partially about sharing my own journey as a writer. It’s also about helping you guys become better writers and creating a community where we help each other. It’s also about sharing the love between writers and helping others promote their work. It’s also about sharing great books with you so you’ll never run out of good things to read. Really, it’s mostly about you.

Without your response and participation in this community, I’m shooting in the dark. I’m writing what I think, what I hope you guys will like, because you haven’t told me what you’d actually like to read. I’ve debated starting a newsletter, but because you guys are so quiet, I’m not sure what you’d subscribe to, so I haven’t–I don’t want to put weeks of effort into something nobody will like. And without your help to spread the word about Dianna’s Writing Den, this community will never grow.

So please, share your thoughts about what I do here. You can say whatever you want, as long as it’s genuine criticism and not internet flaming. Tell me what you like about Dianna’s Writing Den, but especially tell me what you don’t like. Frankly, negative feedback is almost more useful–after all, how else would I figure out what not to do?

Next week being the last week of May, I’ve decided that I will only run one post next week on Friday. I’ve decided not to take the whole week off, but I do need a bit of a breather. Please bear with me.

If you haven’t put in your two cents yet, now is the chance. Help me make Dianna’s Writing Den by giving your feedback–even if all you do is tell me why you never comment.

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Getting Feedback

Feedback is crucial to any serious writer’s progress. It’s nice to have someone read your work and tell you it’s awesome, but that’s not really why feedback is important. In fact, if somebody’s looking at your first draft and telling you it’s awesome, odds are they’re just trying to flatter you.

The reason why feedback is so important to a writer’s progress is because we’re often too close to our writing to see what’s wrong with it. We love those pretty sentences that just don’t belong. We’re so deeply in love with our world that we forget our readers don’t know anything about it. We already know the story, so we tend to skim instead of slowing down to find the spelling mistakes. A second pair of eyes helps us catch those mistakes.

The people who give feedback are generally known as critique partners or beta readers. They usually work on a friendly exchange basis–they read something of yours, you read something of theirs. The best critiquer is another writer with different strengths than yours. For example, my newest critique partner is someone who has never completed a novel, but who’s written lots of short fiction. This is mutually beneficial because she can help me tighten my short stories and I can help her stay motivated through longer projects.

There are lots of places where you can find feedback on the web. Most writing communities have a section designed for giving and receiving feedback. Not all of them are active or helpful, but there are some gems. There are also websites with a structured critique function, where you earn points or credits by critiquing others’ works and then use those credits to put your own work up for critique. One that I’ve found very helpful is Critique Circle. With their queue system, you often have to wait three or four weeks before your story goes up for critique, but I’ve gotten many useful critiques and read some amazing stories on critique circle.

Some critique groups are run by email loops. These include the Internet Writing Workshop, which has several lists for different kinds of writing, and Critters. I’ve used both Critters and the Novels-L list of the Inernet Writing Workshop. Critters is pretty demanding and I found it too hectic to keep up with. Novels-L sends me a lot of email, but they don’t expect me to critique very many of the chapters that pass through my inbox.

Critique groups can be wonderful things, but sometimes you want a long term partner. It’s nice to develop a relationship with another writer, to have someone to bounce ideas off of and someone who will always read your work. These relationships can be hard to find, and I’ve started many only to have them fizzle away into nothing. Most writing forums have a board dedicated to finding beta readers, but it can be difficult. It’s quite likely that you’ll go through several critique partners before you find somebody you can work with in the long term.

I found my latest critique partner using a site called Ladies Who Critique. The site opened last year and it’s helped many people find their critique partners. So far the critique partner I found on Ladies Who Critique is a great match. It’s a really interesting website designed specifically to match up writers with the critique partners they need. I don’t know of any other sites like Ladies Who Critique, but if you find one, I’d love to know about it.

Next week I’m going to talk about etiquette when giving and receiving critiques.

Do you have a critique partner?