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Day 28 Writer Mama Every-Day-In-May Book Giveaway: Becky Levine

I first heard of Becky Levine’s book from Jane Friedman when she was working at Writer’s Digest. I used to regularly ask Jane what books were coming out that I should be getting excited about. Becky’s was one she highly recommended. I liked the idea of Becky’s book so much that I invited a writing group to the Northwest Author Series to share about their process and we gave away a copy of Becky’s book and it was great fun. Please help me welcome, Becky Levine!

Becky Levine is the author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide (Writer’s Digest, 2010), a freelance editor, and a speaker, living in California’s Santa Cruz mountains. She has almost 20 years of experience with critique groups and knows both the challenges and benefits of making the critique process work. Becky also writes fiction and nonfiction for children and teens. You can read more about Becky at her blog & website, www.beckylevine.com.

Have you hesitated to join a critique group? Are you unsure whether you want to share your work with other writers, or nervous about giving feedback on someone else’s manuscript? The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide gives you the encouragement you need to join a group and provides you with tools to run that group smoothly. The book teaches how to set up a group, develop constructive critiques, and revise from feedback. With The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide, you can get past your worries and reap the benefits of a strong, supportive group.

1. How has writing (either just the act of writing or writing this book or both) impacted your self-confidence?

This book has been huge for me. I’ve written for years and have a decent sense of my own abilities, but turning out The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide was an incredible bit of validation, especially having Writer’s Digest want it. Plus, I’ve been thinking and talking about critique groups for years, and getting to put all those ideas down on paper and watch the words flow, reminded me that writing is something I love and that I have to do.

2. What are three words that describe your creative book-writing process?

Structure, Write, Revise.

3. What good has your book created in the world?

I’ve had people come up to me and thank me for writing this book. I’ve had authors tell me that they revamped their existing critique groups, based on the suggestions in the book, and that everybody in the group ended up with something that worked better for them. I think that many writers want to be in a critique group, want to share their manuscripts and their ideas, but they’re worried about having a bad experience, afraid to take that first step. I think (hope!) my book is helping people get started.

• • •

So much of writing success has to do with a willingness on each writer’s part to receive, sort, and process feedback and criticism.

Are you experienced at this? Can you separate yourself from each piece of writing and see each piece you write as a work-in-progress that stands on its own, even as you continue to work on it?

Answer in the comments in 50-200 words (no less and no more to qualify to win one of today’s books). Please read the complete rules at least once!

Thanks for participating in the Writer Mama Every-Day-In-May Book Giveaway!

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  • Renee May 28, 2011, 1:29 pm

    Revision is the hardest part of writing for me. I keep telling myself I’m going to join a writing/critique group, but I still haven’t done it. The idea of people I don’t know reading and dissecting my work really frightens me for some reason. My poor husband now has the job of going over my drafts and he’s actually a really good editor, even if I do sometimes get defensive. I need to cut him some slack. I’m sure he didn’t sign up for this when he married me! I have had a professional novelist/editor look at my work in progress, and while I disagreed with some of his suggestions, I have taken his feedback to heart and am continuing to plug along. I definitely could use this book!

  • Bet May 28, 2011, 2:31 pm

    I have no experience with a critique group and I have very mixed feelings about the idea. I feel very open to having my non-fiction writing critiqued; I really want to know what is working and what could be improved in an essay. But having my poetry taken apart is another matter! Poetry writing is a very personal and emotional experience for me and having someone say, “You might try using this word instead of that one,” would be hard for me to accept. But I have no doubt I could benefit from such a group, if for no other reason than it would help me to develop thicker skin.

  • Carol J. Alexander May 28, 2011, 3:37 pm

    Not a lot of experience here. I was
    the editor of my junior college’s literary magazine, but since then I have not
    had any real interaction with other writers. I live in a very rural area.
    Although there are some very popular writers in my area, they do not
    congregate. Finally, I was invited to a fledgling group and was ready to accept
    when a mom at my homeschool group approached me about starting a group for the
    writer mamas in our homeschool community. Now I’m kind of torn about what to
    do. Sure could use this book, either way.

  • Kate B May 28, 2011, 6:06 pm

    I have trouble with critique groups.  A part of it is in sharing my own work,
    asking for feedback.  It’s hard to hear
    honest critique on something you worked hard on.  On the other hand, it has taught me to hold
    my writing a little more loosely.  I’m
    learning to let my writing grow into itself. 
    The other difficulty I have is giving critique.  I am inexperienced as a writer, so I feel my
    input is less valuable.  Also, it is hard
    to give honest evaluation to a writer that is defensive.  How can you help the communication process so
    both honor and critique are received?

  • Lisa May 28, 2011, 6:32 pm

    A writer friend recently told me I needed the support of a writing group (and went so far as to send me information about local groups!), so I’ve been experimenting.  I have found writing classes invaluable, but pricey, and wasn’t sure what to expect from a crtique group.  The first few meetings I didn’t say anything, afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I have yet to bring in my own writing.  But, I am excited to do so.  In general, the feedback I’ve heard the group give others is solid.  The writers are inspired to create their best work and gentle but honest in how they read their fellow writers’ works. 

  • Becky Levine May 28, 2011, 6:37 pm

    Renee, having our work read can be really hard. Don’t forget that, if you do venture out with a group, you can share some of these worries and also specify what kind of critique you’d like to get, so you give yourself time to get a bit more comfortable with it all.

  • Becky Levine May 28, 2011, 6:38 pm

    Bet, I know what you’re saying about poetry–it can be tricky. But I know a lot of writers who feel that way about their fiction prose and find that–if they let themselves take it slowly, they end up–if not HAPPY with critiques, at least seeing how those critiques are helpful. Good luck!

  • Becky Levine May 28, 2011, 6:41 pm

    Carol, I would talk to each group and see which–in terms of experience and goals–feels like the best fit for you. Or you might try both out, but let people know you’ll make a final decision down the road. Good luck with this all. 🙂

  • Becky Levine May 28, 2011, 6:43 pm

    Kate, I love the image of holding your writing more loosely. I think this is good for all of us to remember! And then don’t undervalue your critiques. You may be new(er) to this than some other critiquers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop your skills and get really strong. And, yes, it’s hard to critique someone who’s defensive–your part can be to keep the content of your critique truly helpful & constructive and maybe play a bit with how you’re saying it. But–as long as you’re being respectful–the writer also needs to come to their own terms with accepting critiques. Maybe be a little patient with them and see how they grow, too? 🙂

  • Becky Levine May 28, 2011, 6:46 pm


    It sounds to me like you’ve found a wonderful group–so glad. I would start tiptoeing out there with your critiques–it sounds like the other members know how to critique both helpfully & supportively, and I’m guessing you’ll fit right in!

  • Ann Goldberg May 28, 2011, 7:39 pm

    One of  the best things I ever did for my witing career was to hitch up with an online  writing buddy. We have never met, we found each other on an online forum we both belong to.
    Our styles are very different but that’s good as we complement each other. I sometimes tell her that she’s really overdone it on the description front and she’s always pointing out to me where I should show and not just tell and we frequently catch each other assuming that our readers know things which they can’t as we haven’t told them.

  • Becky Levine May 28, 2011, 7:43 pm

    Ann, congrats on having such a great critique partner. I’ve talked to lots of writers who have made critiquing work beautifully online.

  • Diane J. May 28, 2011, 8:05 pm

    So excited for this giveaway chance. This is an awesome book! I bought it, lent it to a writer gal and haven’t seen it since, ACK!

    I’m not sure I’m experienced, but I try. I’m half and half on accepting that each piece is a work in progress. Sometimes I agree with my writer’s group and other times, I’m biting my tongue. When I bite my tongue I have to go home, set the piece aside, sleep on it for a day or two and then I feel better revisiting the advice I received. Sometimes, after sleeping on it, I find the group is right and sometimes I feel like I’m still uncomfortable with the advice…those times, I know to just go with my original idea. The group is usually right, but every once in a blue moon, I understand the direction of my piece a smidge better.

    After all that, I still feel every piece is a work in progress, even after it’s been published.

  • Tania Dakka May 28, 2011, 10:18 pm

    I haven’t had experience with it…yet.  Part of me really, really wants to try a group, but, perhaps, another part is afraid of it.  I suppose once the skin has thickened that it is easier to separate yourself from the pieces you are working on.  Critique groups are not around to shoot each other down, but to help build each other up.  With that in mind, I suppose that I might be able to see my piece separately from myself…but would be difficult in the beginning.  However, it would be a necessary step if I am looking to improve myself.

  • Liz Sheffield May 28, 2011, 10:46 pm

    This sounds like a fabulous book! As I get older, I am better about sorting out critiques — I don’t have to take everything in, but hearing other perspectives helps my work. My area of opportunity is in giving criticism. It feels difficult, so I think having a system or resource such as Becky’s book would help me get through that difficult. We can all benefit from hearing and sharing writing perspectives.

  • Kristeen Elizabeth Moore May 28, 2011, 11:16 pm

    I took a wonderful creative writing course in college that focused a great deal on group critiques. It helped me look at my writing in a whole different light. At the time, I really only wrote for fun and wasn’t sure if I would make a career out of it. Now that I am a writer, I am hesitant about joining a group. I found a local group months ago with writers of all different ages and backgrounds. It is a weekly event that even works with my schedule. Isn’t in strange that now that I am a professional writer, I fear the criticism? I think there is a difference in critiquing the work we do for fun and the works we do for a living. I do think it would be good to have someone else hear my work now and then; it is almost like a test group of a potential market.

  • Becky Levine May 29, 2011, 12:33 am

    Diane, I’m so glad you liked the book! And I love that you let the critique sit before making any big decisions–very smart. 🙂

  • Becky Levine May 29, 2011, 12:34 am

    Tania, it does get easier–especially if you find a strong group. And, for me, anyway, it’s been a huge part of improving my craft.

  • Becky Levine May 29, 2011, 12:35 am

    Liz, yes, sometimes giving the critique is harder than getting one! But I do think we get better with practice. 🙂

  • Becky Levine May 29, 2011, 12:36 am

    Kristeen–I first got into this critiquing thing in college, too. It was the first time I’d even been in a room of other writers & it felt like magic. 🙂 I think you’ve hit a good point–if we want readers for our polished books, it can be really helpful to have early readers to help us get there!

  • Laura Ackerman May 29, 2011, 1:48 am

    I am used to having my writing critiqued, especially after writing a 120 page thesis that was edited line by line by 3 professors for months!  But that was a while ago.  Now I am writing again and I just finished an article for the local newspaper.  My friend said she would look it over for me.  Great.  My first reaction was panic.  What if she didn’t like it?  What if she suggested I change it?  I liked it.  I thought it was good just the way it was.  Wait, calm down – she will only make it better.  Yes.  And it was true – she gave me good, solid, sensible feedback that I could understand and agree with.  My husband also found a few typos and grammatical errors.  Don’t want any of those!  I look forward to more feedback.  I want my work to be readable and quality and the more eyes, the better.

  • Lara Krupicka May 29, 2011, 2:24 am

    I’ve been in a critique group for almost 2 years now. We formed after a local writing conference and started off mostly winging it. It’s taken some time, but I’ve learned the value that each member brings to their critiques – what each of their strengths are. And almost comment and advice they offer makes my work better. I feel like I”m still learning how to give the best feedback and that is just as valuable receiving input.
    My group is golden – almost every article they’ve critiqued for me has been published.

    All that said, I think we could all use Becky’s book to keep learning and growing together. I can’t wait to read it, Becky!

  • Mary Jo May 29, 2011, 3:39 am

    Funny, this question is so very relevant for me tonight. In
    an effort to clear my file drawers and stacks of notebooks, I purged hundreds
    of pages of half-written notes, quotes and  research on dead and dying stories, but then –
    In the stack of dusty cast-offs, was my (incomplete) NaNo novel from 2009. I
    flipped through the first few pages and couldn’t believe I wrote this! It was
    really, really good. The characters were vivid, the dialogue sarcastic, the
    themes subtle. I do remember writing it and struggling to get to the next
    scene. Here, it was actually worth pursuing. Other the other hand, I have many
    examples of articles, essays and short stories that should stay buried. So,
    yes, I do think, given enough space and time, I can review my work with an
    unbiased eye. I hope I can do that for the peers I critique, as well. (151)

  • Mar Junge May 29, 2011, 8:39 am

    The novel writing classes I’ve taken all included an in-class critique from other students and teachers. Some comments were written feedback. Others were discussed in the group. All were extremely valuable. A professional writer must be able to separate herself from her work product. It isn’t always easy because we put a little bit or ourselves in everything we write. But we must be willing to kill our darlings if it makes a stronger story. Not every critique is totally on target so it’s important to keep the vision intact. But each provides us with valuable information from a different point of view that must be considered.

  • Becky Levine May 29, 2011, 2:37 pm

    Laura, Yay for solid, sensible feedback. Sounds like you have a great reader there!

  • Becky Levine May 29, 2011, 2:38 pm

    Lara, yes, the critiquing we do of others work teaches us as much, I think, as the critiques we receive–because we have to push ourselves to understand AND explain what is and isn’t working, plus WHY. 🙂 Congrats on having such a great group.

  • Becky Levine May 29, 2011, 2:39 pm

    Mary Jo, I’m guessing you WILL be able to do that for your critique partners. And I have to say–sarcastic dialogue is some of my favorite. Maybe it’s time to take that NaNo novel through a critique group? 🙂

  • Becky Levine May 29, 2011, 2:40 pm

    Mar, You hit on a good point. Not every critique is exactly right, and we do have to keep our own project vision in mind. But sometimes a suggestion that doesn’t exactly work for us still sparks a new idea that takes our writing in an important, different direction.

  • Liz Sheffield May 29, 2011, 4:09 pm

    I agree — practice and self-confidence in our own writing :).

  • Anonymous May 29, 2011, 4:15 pm

    I’d also be careful, Carol, that your group-building efforts don’t pull away from your family time and already successful writing rhythms. It’s a delicate balance, as you know. 🙂