My writing group is kind of awesome, I won’t lie.
Saucy Ink was borne out of the ashes of the now-defunct Saucy Wenches Podcast. Initially, it was mostly just a group of people who wrote stuff. A few critique posts and a NaNoWriMo review session sparked the idea of doing a short story collection.
Short Story Collection
I love that we’re creating short story collections. They’re fun, challenging, time-consuming, and honestly some some of the most valuable time I’ve spent learning to hone my writing skills.
I see no reason why other writing groups couldn’t do it as well. =]
- Agree on a theme. Thus far, we’ve done “unicorns” and we’re working on “dragons”.
- Agree on rules. For us, that’s between 2 and 10 thousand words, and must tell a complete story (no vignettes or portions of a larger work).
- Set Deadlines. We typically allow 6 weeks to write the first draft, 1 week for critique, 2 weeks to incorporate critiques into a polished draft, then six weeks to incorporate edits into a final version.
- Critiquing is on one story at a time and although every writer doesn’t have to critique every story, it is highly encouraged to critique as many as you can, as thoroughly as you can. No one is exempt from this. Anemic critting is likely to get your story booted from the collection. (more on critiquing below, as it’s the most interesting part of this).
- Once the story is pulled from critique, the writer incorporates the critiques into (what ought to be) a stronger polished draft.
- Polished draft is submitted to our fearless editor, Steve Hall (<3!). Typically, this is a word document formatted to his specifications.
- Editor provides a final editorial pass and a formal stylesheet, and returns the annotated word document to the author.
- Author accepts/denies/fixes anything in the editorial pass, then returns the now-final document to the editor for inclusion in the volume.
- Editor provides back cover blurb and pre-story blurbs.
- Editor submits a pdf of the finished story to the author, so the author can approve of the formatting.
- Cover artist designs the cover art.
- Editor creates the ebook and print versions and puts them up for sale on Amazon. (At this point, there should be no question as to why the editor gets the meager sales money from the volume. Steve does a TON of extra work that nobody else has to do.)
As you can see, saying “Yay, let’s all write a story about unicorns!” is the easy bit.
The absolute, unquestionable, best and most damaging aspect of the whole process is critiquing.
The mechanics of how we critique are pretty straightforward.
- Author posts story in (multiple) google docs, linking the next section at the bottom of the previous one. We get so many comments that putting the whole story into a single doc is a bad idea. Docs slows down, tries to crash the browser, and is generally a nasty, unpleasant place to be. We’ve found about 3k words per doc to be a decent rule of thumb, but your mileage may vary.
- Permissions on the doc are set to allow comments by anyone with the link, and the link is handed out. (We’ve got a nice spreadsheet created by Sir Editor to help us keep things straight).
- Critiquers go through the document, highlighting and commenting on anything from weak underlying story structure (“But if this is true, then why would the bad guy be able to do this other thing?”) to character issues (“wooden, emotionless” “Why did X character do this? I don’t think I understand his motivation.”) to sentence structure (“You’ve used the word ‘pooka’ three times in the last two sentences. Find a new word.” and “I may start charging you money for every comma you use. Make smaller sentences!”). Also, there’s a goodly number of “this is great!” and “I just love this imagery!” or even a simple “<3!” — we’re all writers, and we need to be able to see the good things we did as well as the bad.
Here’s a silly little document that Steve, Bre, and I cooked up as an example of critiques using google docs. Or google drive now, I suppose. Whatever those kids are calling it these days.
Behind the scenes, though? That’s where the magic happens, because every writer puts up their draft secretly hoping that everyone will universally love it.
No matter how jaded or experienced you get, it’s always disappointing and disheartening to have a dozen people wander through your draft and poke holes in the bright tissue paper wrapping you’ve slaved over.
Almost certainly, every writer is going to come out of this wondering why they ever thought they could string sentences together.
That moment? That dark, despairing place where everything seems like a waste of time? That’s when the real magic happens, because that’s when the writer squares their shoulders, lifts their chin, and decides to KEEP GOING ANYWAY.
That’s when the rough drafts turn into polished drafts.
That’s where the writer learns their strengths and weaknesses. Where they learn how to construct not just proper sentences, but GOOD ones. Where they see the problems with how they approached writing this story, and start coming up with ways to make the NEXT story even better.
This is where a writer becomes an author.
The critiquing stage takes the longest to complete, is the most difficult for both critiquers and writers, and is absolutely the most important piece of the pie. I’m sure every author from the Unicorns collection would agree.
* As a side note, Saucy Ink is always open to new members, but we communicate primarily through forums and we are looking for like-minded individuals.
- We do NOT want people who simply want eyeballs to read their work and tell them how wonderful they are.
- We DO want people who actively seek improvement in their writing — including having skins thick enough to handle thorough critiquing
- We DO want people willing to put forth the sweat and effort to help the other members improve as well. There are no one-way streets in our critiques.
In other words, this is a give-and-take environment. I’ve met otherwise perfectly lovely people who aren’t one whit interested in anyone else’s writing. They just want people to spend time to help THEM out.
That’s not how we roll.
Most of our members write fantasy or speculative fiction.
Also, our current short story collection is NOT open to additional writers. We’re full up AND too far along in the process.
We’re not looking for people who are only interested in the fact that we make books. Anyone can make books these days. We’re building writers, here, and that’s a trickier business.
*slides soapbox away*