18.) How do you use music in your writing (if you do)? Do you associate certain songs with characters or scenes, and do certain albums/playlists/artists help you write (or prewrite stories in your head before you actually write them down)? Do you play certain songs just to piss certain characters off? (For instance, The Arrogant Worms's Gaelic Song for anyone with Celtish heritage?) Do they curse you out for this?
Yes, yes, yes, no, no.
In that order. *g*
19.) Did the poltergeist make the move, or stay behind at the apartment?
No sign of Claude here. The only broken stuff, so far I've broken myself....
20.) What's the square root of negative one?
21.) (twofer) I'm looking to improve the way I critique stories. Do you have any suggestions? I'm just starting out, and feel overwhelmed. (and) I'm wondering what your opinions are of peer critique, from the perspective of the one being critted. How helpful do you find critique of your work to be, both generally (in terms of learning strengths/weaknesses in one's overall writing) and specifically (as in, improving the individual piece)?
As to critiquing stories, remember that what you are doing, chiefly, is responding to a story as a reader. Notice where you are interested, where you get bored, what you wonder about, what strikes you as awkward or hollow or wrong or unlikely. Also notice what you like--a turn of phrase, a character detail, and bit of plot or description.
Write all those things down, and then offer them to the writer as data points. Don't insist that your interpretation is right, and your means of fixing what you see as a problem is the only way. (It's probably not, and what you see as a problem may be just your own personal preference getting in the way.) Stay aware that it's all subjective. Be generous with praise where you can, and honest in critique.
There's a well-known workshop list of vocabulary and common problems here. Here's a guide on how to critique effectively.
As for how helpful it is to be critiqued? Some. I find critiquing others, in general, more useful in terms of learning to write. Which is, after all, the overall goal. I think a lot of writers come to workshops with the idea of getting this particular piece into publishable shape (some will in fact bring the same story to workshop after workshop, polishing and repolishing. I don't think you learn anything that way, quite honestly. I think you learn by attempting new and more challenging work.), and I think that's a red herring, as life goals go.
I think that a good crit does a lot of things. It tries to support the story the writer wants to tell, rather than turning it into the story the critters wants to read. It can alert the writer to where problems are, and sometimes what they are, and sometimes suggest a solution.
Some editors are very good at fixing story problems, or specific kinds of story problems. Emma Bull, for example, has an amazing eye for the thing you can do to pop a sagging narrative structure into place, nice and tight, and make it look like it was always meant to be that way. She's like the plumber with the tiny little hammer who knows just where to tap. My own editorial knack seems to be patching plot holes and making apparent contradictions make sense. Beth Meacham, as I have just had occasion to be reminded, is really good at fixing tension problems--she helps make stories more interesting. However, often the suggested fixes are not very useful--however, spotting where a couple of people tripped over the same thing can tell the writer where the problem is, and that's useful.
Sarah Monette goes through my stories and tells me where I'm being obscure and opaque and too inductive for the room. I go through hers and vacuum up stray adjectives. (It's a lesser task, but worthy of my skill.) "Shoggoths in Bloom" is as good as it is because the rest of my Sycamore Hill class picked it to shreds over the course of one of the worst 90 minutes of my life. I owe an especial debt of gratitude to Christopher Rowe and Dale Bailey, who made specific comments that were amazingly helpful.
...I guess what I'm saying is, sometimes critique is incredibly useful, especially when you find sympatico crit partners. And sometimes it's not all that helpful, but you can still pick out some information from it.
So yes, it does help you improve an individual piece. But the act of revising and resubmitting an individual piece means that ou internalize new skills, which in turn leads to the next piece being stronger at the start.
Also be aware that most writers critique from the standpoint of the tools they are currently working hardest on developing. If my back brain is working on characterization, I'm going to be focused on the characterization in everybody else's work. Critting is a form of reading, and reading is a highly projective game. We learn a lot about people by what they see in our work, because they reveal themselves when they reveal their vision.
This is, by the way, also one of the great tricks of POV.
(I am amused that truepenny, who started this round of the question game, is getting all kinds of neat questions about her work, and I'm mostly getting how-to-write questions. *g* Which I do not mind at all! I just think it reveals a lot about who reads our respective blogs.)