Tag Archives: writers group

Improving Every Day…

As much as query rejections get me down, my husband reminded me to step back and look at where I started in my writing ‘career’ a few years ago. And honestly- not to jam on my own piano like Sir Elton John or anything- but I’m freakin’ proud of myself.

A few years ago, I had no other friends or connections in the writing industry, my bookshelf was practically empty (except for college textbooks I wanted to hang on to- yeah, I was that sad!), and a half-completed story in an obscure file on my computer that I’d started in my teens.

Now I have 3 ½ completed manuscripts on my computer, a half a dozen short stories, 80 blog posts, a writer’s conference under my belt, three full bookshelves (and several drawers full of books), and a whole group of writer friends who UNDERSTAND ALL OF THIS and WHY IT’S SUCH A BIG DEAL!

But not only that, my writing has grown so much, just in the last 2 years alone. Trust me- any writer who is brave enough to go back and read what they wrote when they first started in this business will tell you how much they cringed. Some may have even crawled under the table afterwards. Or started a bonfire and roasted marshmallows over them.

I know a lot of this improvement is directly related to the awesome partners I have in my critique group. Some of it’s from reading other books (both in and out of the genre I write), but mostly my critique buddies. And I’m not talking about the kind of critique partners who tell me ‘good job. Keep going.’ I mean the ones who are honest. Who push me to do better. Call me out on the crap, the lazy descriptions, the evil adverbs, the passive sentences or the unrealistic characters or scenarios. And what’s more, put up with me.

When I email them chapters to read through, or vent about something, or ask stupid questions (contrary to belief, those exist), they’re still my friends afterwards and will still read my work. Likewise, they’re still my friend when I rip their chapters to shreds (because I’m trying to make their work better, too. I promise- I’m not out to be a witch just for grins.)

Cheers

So I raise my rum-and-coke to you, my friends. Thank you.

I’ll keep improving every day, with every manuscript that’s still stuck in my subconscious, it’ll get easier and easier to swallow rejection until that one moment where I get ‘the call.’

Then my thanks will be more than just a rum-and-coke toast, but an acknowledgements page.

And a signed copy. 🙂

Beta Reading Challenge

My writers group just started a new program called Beta Readers Round Table

Five of our members submitted their completed manuscripts to be reviewed by Beta Readers (myself included). Each Beta Reader critiques 2 manuscripts based on content (not line editing). Searching for plot holes, characterization errors, point of view switching, change of tenses, the bigger stuff (not grammar, punctuation, etc). And it’s a challenge.

This is what critique groups are for, in my opinion. Our meeting sessions normally focus on 10 pages at a time. The online critique sessions can be anywhere from a chapter to 5-6 chapters long. This is the first time we’re doing entire manuscripts in one swoop. And two manuscripts at that. This seems like a great opportunity to capture big plot holes and voice, flow, all the big stuff all writers want to know about their unfinished babies. A great opportunity, and a big responsibility.

When all of the beta readers are finished critiquing their ‘assignments,’ we’ll get together in a round table forum and go over everyone’s work. I’m sure this session will take well more than an hour, but it should be with gold-level content. Writers are supposed to walk away from the session feeling good about themselves and their stories. And feel like they’ve carried away a massive ruby or emerald in their pocket of exceptional critiques.

How many opportunities do these manuscripts get before a writer submits them to an agent or editor?

I’ve just finished the first of two, and I’m really impressed with the stories our members create. Truly original and completely new perspectives. But at the same time I’m also hesitant to be too critical. I’m not published, yet. I don’t have an agent, and no experience in what editors look for in submissions. But I’m an avid reader. I know what I like to see. I know the difference between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ and I’m much more entertained by ‘showing.’ I love the emotion in stories. So those are the kinds of things I look for in manuscripts. When I give critiques, I try to give ideas on how to make something better (not just, ‘I don’t like this scene. Not realistic.”) I give a suggestion on how to make it more realistic, or better for the reader.

Don’t close a door for someone without giving a them a window they can open.

I hope the other Beta Readers do the same for my manuscript.

It’s challenging. Seeing a potentially brilliant story with vibrant and genuine characters in its most raw form- I want to help the writer make it better. I don’t want to ruin it with my suggestions that may not be the best ideas. Its challenging trying to help someone. But if it’s the right idea, I’m proud to say I helped make their story better.

Can’t Wait to Plot

So, I’ve only gone through the first round of revisions on my manuscript and have sent it out to my critique group. And I’m not stopping there.

I’ve already started plotting and creating the character sketches for the next book that’s twirling around in my head.

Some could call me a glutton for punishment, since I have at least 2 more rounds of revisions on this thing. But I’d rather get these ideas on paper than let them continue to torment me in my head. I’ve had this story idea for a little over a year, but didn’t have enough of a concrete plan to bash it out on paper.

But this time around, I’m paying more attention to the character development than before. Because in this particular story, their personalities are going to be a lot more center-stage. So for the first time in my life, I’m focusing on the characters first, and not the plot.

Even searching several screenshots of people online (Yahoo Images) to see if I can find anyone that closely resembles the image I have in my brain of my characters. I can’t draw for crap, so literally sketching them isn’t gonna work. I’m much more visual.

But I can sketch the rest of them on paper. Their goals, motivations, conflicts (GMC to any of you writers out there). What makes them tick, sing, cringe, and I can find all their buttons (and push them relentlessly!)

A writer friend of mine gave me what she uses for Character ‘Interviews,’ where she gets to know them more by playing the role of a therapist while her MC’s sit on a couch and dish out their lives and inner most thoughts. Creative!

If you peruse around on the web, you’ll find a whole bunch of different resources to help you create your characters. Character Development, character sketches, character questions… type in anything for ‘character’ and you’ll find umpteen-million.

The one I’ve used before I found here.

But clearly that’s not the only thing I’m going to use to know every inch and cranny of my characters for this iota of an idea. But you need to start somewhere.

Critique Groups are Supposed to Help, Not Hurt

I recently read another author’s blog that made me think about critique groups.

First of all, I love my writers group. And I’m not just saying that because I’m the President. My writers group and the fabulous other writers who’ve critiqued my work have been one of the best assets of my entire experience.

But the author’s blog I read claimed that her writers group ‘critiqued the voice out of her novel.’ I can only imagine session after session of sitting with her critique members and them offering suggestions of how to improve her language, grammar, and characterization efforts backfired. So when she finally read the ‘revised’ version of her manuscript, she couldn’t even recognize it as her own. Maybe it felt flat to her because she didn’t recognize her words. But her voice was gone.

How frustrating!

But then I thought about it further. She had the right to refuse those suggestions. They were just there to help, not to be vicious and purposely make her spicy work become vanilla. Why didn’t she speak up for her own writing? Why did she cave?

Perhaps she thought the other members were more experienced than she. Therefore, her opinions (while mattered) weren’t as crucial as the others.

Perhaps she believed her fellow writers were experts in the genre she wrote. Or if not experts, at least liked the genre and had read a lot of books to be knowledgeable of it.

Very possible. Even plausible.

But bottom line, its her writing. At some point in every writer’s career, they will receive critiques and ‘friendly suggestions’ from friends, other writers, editors, and agents that may not be in the best interest of the story.  I’ve had several. But I at least recognize it’s meant to help. Everyone’s critique is his or her own opinion. It’s up to the writer to determine what they’re comfortable with accepting. To determine how open minded they want to be. To find out what kind of suggestions they are getting and how credible the sources are.

I know that’s a tremendous hodge-podge of what-ifs, and can scare the crap out of any aspiring author. It still scares me from time to time.

I think it all comes down to 3 things.

First, the writers group you belong to. What kind of people are involved? Are you comfortable reading in front of them and sharing your thoughts? Are they supportive, open, and constructive? Do you feel comfortable not accepting a crit?

Second, how open-minded are you? Meaning, do you defend every tiny detail of your manuscript when someone tries to make a suggestion on a character, setting, or plot line? Or do you cave at every suggestion without getting second opinions or really thinking it through?

Lastly, and most importantly, you gotta love to keep writing. Even after all the crits, suggestions, revisions, rewrites, and gut wrenching rejections from agents or editors (if you’ve submitted), you have to love the story. The characters. Everything about it. Because if you don’t, there’s no way anyone else will. You are your story’s greatest fan and biggest cheerleader. If you don’t love it, go back and ask yourself why. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your own voice.

All that being said, I feel very lucky. I’ve found a writers group I’m comfortable with.  They’ve made fabulous suggestions for me that I’ve loved and have only made my writing stronger. But I also don’t feel threatened when I don’t take one of their suggestions. If you don’t have the same feeling about your ‘helpers,’ find new ones. Stand up for your voice.

 

Cartwheels over Finished Rough Draft

Cartwheels, electric slide, general happy dance inspired by Steve Carrell, once again.

I finished my rough draft on Friday this week. While my husband and son went to sleep early, I pounded at the keyboard for another 3 hours to finish it. I had to keep up the roll I was on earlier in the week and it paid off. (I wish literally, but for now just figuratively). Don’t ask me how long it took me to complete the first draft. It’s embarrassing. But that doesn’t matter. What counts is that I finished it.

I’m under no illusions that this is ready to submit. Far from it. I have an ungodly amount of revisions to complete that I kept track of during the first crash course, and obviously I have to pass it through my writers group, trusty critique partner Kim, and a few others. Then revise. Then do it all over again. Then revise. And all over again once more. Then maybe… maybe,  I’ll be ready to submit to agencies again in January. That’s my goal, anyway.

And hopefully avoid the pesky slushpile. 

 

 

 

So for now, as the weekend winds down and I gear up for my writers meeting later today, I shall do the happy dance.

Commence Celebrate music…

“Ce-le-brate good times, come on! Duh, nuh-nuh-nuh, nuh, nuh-nuh-nuh, Weehoo!”

Doesn’t that just make you smile?

Thinking Ahead… Revisions

Post-it notes

Image via Wikipedia

Alright, now that I’ve done a quasi-happy dance that I’m 3/4 done with my WIP, I know once I’m finished with the first draft I have to start revisions. MAJOR revisions. I’ve received feedback from friends in my writers group and a few online critique sites, and I’ve kept track of those suggestions in a separate file. But I haven’t incorporated them into my WIP yet, because I knew those had to be a part of the revision. If I sidetracked myself to work on the revision, I knew I’d never get the whole first draft completed. (Trust me, I’ve done that before and my first manuscript took YEARS to finish just the ‘first’ draft).

So, I’m keeping the ‘known fixes’ tracked on another file. The vast majority of the suggestions I’ve received I believe are good and I’ll implement them. There may be a few small suggestions that don’t fit (in my opinion), and I’ll wade through those as I go.

But I think its important that items for revision in any WIP be tracked on a different file, whether it be a notebook, computer file, physical file, or even sticky notes (that could be quite a mess, particularly with a 2.5 year old roaming the house that loves to tear up paper). If you think of something while you’re writing, or a friend makes a suggestion about Chapter 3 when you’re on Chapter 22, and you’re too tempted to go back and fix it right then, you’ll do that over and over again and the first draft will take three times longer to finish.

I actually have my revision items separated into categories. I have a characterization section, plot section, emotion section, even a dialogue portion. And when I come across something that I need to change, I note it in the proper section. Something quick, so it won’t take away my time from the first draft. (Example: Ch2, Parag4- Stacey needs to have more sense of smell.)

Occasionally, I’ll have a scene come into my head that I absolutely HAVE to write in full, even though I don’t know where it goes. A quick scene of 4 or 5 paragraphs of an argument or other pivotal moment, and I’ll shove that into my “Revision” file as well.

All of the revisions above are the bigger things, not the smaller stuff of grammar, punctuation, and word order. That in-line detail needs to be done once those major items are implemented. Otherwise, I’ll just go back and do it all over again. (Which is a given anyway- revisions take several more ‘drafts.’) A lot of times, I’ll get caught up in those in-line grammar fixes and miss the bigger issues like a major plot flaw, or the feel of a conversation isn’t right, or yet again my MC has bi-polar issues.

But I think revisions (the main parts of it) tends to be the most fun, at least for me. Even though it can be tedious, I like to take the step back and look at things from a different angle. Many times, scenes will progress completely different from the first pass. It’s always interesting to see how those scenes will morph into an alternate reality. Almost like those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books!

Writers: What is your process for revisions? What do you during the first draft when something comes to you that needs to be changed? What do you like more: first drafts or revisions?

Back to writing. Keep writing forward!

Happy Dance Milestone in WIP

Writing

I have to share my happy dance moment today. My WIP (work-in-progress) that I’ve been working on for almost a year (ouch, hurts to admit its taken that long) is 65,000 words right now (200 pgs), and is about 3/4 of the way done.

Woo hoo!

It’s a contemporary romance (with a hint of suspense) about a springboard diver who has an accident, ends up in coma for 3 months, and when she wakes up, discovers that her life plans are taken. Stolen, really, by her rival: her NCAA title, her dream job, and the man she’s had a secret crush on for years. As she recovers and tries to pick up the pieces of her drastically altered life, she fights between finding (or settling) on different dreams, or trying to fight for the ones she had before.

I won’t give away the ending (because what kind of writer/aspiring author would I be if I did), but was the injury an accident, or sabotage?

(And by the way, I used to a springboard diver, so I’m qualified to write about that sport. They say, “Write what you know.”)

I shared this piece of accomplishment with my writer’s group buddies (Greater Fort Worth Writers) because I knew they’d understand this accomplishment and how much I’ve struggled with it. I’ve had weeks and weeks of writers block scattered throughout the last year, and had to go back and revamp several aspects of this manuscript as I discovered major flaws. (Which my writers group helped me find.) They’ve supported me, pushed me, motivated me, and *cracked the whip* to get my brain in gear to finish this thing.

I’m still not finished. But I’m much closer. There have been times of utter pain and disappointment with myself. Alas, I’m my harshest critic, but there are plenty of even harsher critics in the publishing industry that would give me a run for my brutal words (incase you newbies weren’t aware). And this is only the first draft. First drafts are always ugly, many times don’t even end up looking anywhere close to the final product. But many authors I read say that their first drafts are always the most difficult, most time-consuming, and most painful. Which I’m extremely glad to hear.

Because if there’s worse pain than this kind of mental agony, I might have to find another passion. (Nah, writing is too much fun, even during the painful parts).

And in case you’re wondering from my previous post about my main character having bi-polar due to battling themes, no I haven’t fixed that yet. I need to finish the first draft before I go back and fix her behavior. That will be part of the first revision.

But I did my happy-dance this morning (looked very much like Evan Baxter’s happy dance in Evan Almighty. Yes, I watched that movie and I love Steve Carrell).

I think everyone could use a little happy-dance in their lives, so I’m spreading the love.

Now, DANCE! *commence “Celebrate” music*

“Ce-le-brate good times, come on! Duh, nuh-nuh-nuh, nuh, nuh-nuh-nuh, Weehoo!”

Now, back to writing.

Keep writing forward, everyone!

Returning the Favor

Since I’ve been under a random version of writer’s block for the last few weeks, I’ve been practicing my critiquing skills for others. I figured it was a good way to pull myself out of my void of creativity by helping others with their WIP’s. Returning the favor.

Get away to write

My local writer’s group has a few chapters posted from members here and there, so I go there first to give my advice (as a reader) on ways to improve what they have. If you’re local to the Dallas/Ft Worth area, please come join us! Greater Ft Worth Writers

But recently over the last 2 weeks, I’ve become addicted to two different sites as well that was created specifically for that purpose. To get feedback on your work and help others with theirs.

BookCountry.com

Scribophile.com

BookCountry.com I was actually a betafish for the launch of the site and helping them fix bugs, create new features, and of course participate in the community (created by Penguin publishers). It’s recently been opened to the public and I highly suggest checking it out if you’re interested. It’s specifically for adult genre writing (i.e. no children’s books, Young Adult or Middle Grade). But they have romance, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, all that good stuff. You can follow individual writers, their works, or just follow certain discussion threads on a whole slew of topics. The really cool thing is that not only writers and authors are perusing the site, but also agents and editors too. It’s a great way to get visibility.

Scribophile.com is a whole other enticement. I found Scribophile from another author blog I followed who raved about the advice and support she received from Scribophile and the readers who critiqued her work. So I gave it a shot. LOVE IT!!

Scribophile works off Karma points. You have to earn 5 Karma points in order to post a chapter of your work, and you earn those points by critiquing others’ work. The longer your critique, the more Karma points you earn. But they do it in a very creative way to help you earn even more. Some writers offer higher critique points if you post a review over a 200 words from their own Karma bank. So if you wanted, you could search for the options with additional Karma points. Also, if you only wanted to critique Fiction Thrillers, you could search through just those. Just interested in short stories or poetry? You can peruse those as well. They make it very easy to access other people’s work in any filter you want. They also have writer’s circles and forums. If you wanted to connect with other Romance Writers, or Thriller Writers from New York, they have circles for that. If you wanted to post your work and have it only visible to that circle, you can do that. If you wanted feedback on your work, but only on certain aspects (i.e. plot, voice, characterization) you can specify that.

It’s an excellent site to get the kind of feedback you’re looking for. I’ve learned quite a bit so far, and I’ve only been actively perusing it for a few weeks. I HIGHLY suggest looking at that site if you’re writing, or want to write. But you have to be willing to review other writers’ works to get something out of it. And you learn a lot that way, by seeing other people write: their strengths, their weaknesses, and even get ideas for your own.

I’m hoping this gets me out of my writer’s block, or funk, or whatever the heck this is.

Even Muses need to read for Inspiration

I’ve been enjoying it and wanted to spread the love. Have a great week, my friends, and keep writing forward!

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Read Your Ways

Husband Waiting Area

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

I read an interesting blog discussion the other day about romance writers who have their spouses read their work-in-progress. Their husbands’ or wives’ willingness to read the love scenes (some erotic) made me laugh out loud. I’m not laughing at them- I commend them for having (and using) that luxury. I wish I had that luxury. Because my husband doesn’t like to read. Not ‘doesn’t like to read my stuff”; but doesn’t like to read, period. At all.

Which made me think: is it ironic that I’m an aspiring romance author, writing up a creative storm every day (or most days), and the very man who inspires much of the love scenes I write doesn’t like to read? I quit my day job so I could write full-time (and take care of our son), and he helps me accomplish this by providing for our family so I can pursue my passion. But he doesn’t want to read my passion. (He’d rather leave it in the bedroom).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making any assumptions about my husband’s unwillingness to read my work. It’s not like I’ve never asked him just thinking he’d prefer not to. That was one blog responder’s story. She never asked because she didn’t think her spouse would be interested.

But I’ve asked my husband. Several times. “Just 1 paragraph, please?” He still refuses. But I can’t blame him. As much as he detests to read, I still laugh when I see him sitting in his office reading a text-book (he’s currently studying for his Masters degree). Which, when he told me he wanted his Masters, I laughed again because I knew how much he hated to read. And Masters is ALL READING. But I still support him 100% and get a kick out of watching him read his textbooks.

But I won’t rag on his unwillingness to read my work too much.  He still helps me come up with perfect zingers and one-liners that fit perfectly to my characters and dialogue. My husband is an expert at off-the-cuff comebacks.

And bottom line, I know he loves me. I know he supports me, and he works hard so I can write full-time. And I thank him every day for giving me this chance. So instead of reading my work to help me, he assists me by being my muse and inspiration for the stories I love to write.

What about you? Does your significant other read your work? Have you even thought to ask them?

Literary Creativity Spreads- Part 2

Summary http://www.epa.gov/win/winnews/images0...

Image via Wikipedia

Update from last week’s post on my website.  It’s published!!!

Please visit the site I’ve created for my most wonderful and deserving writers group.

http://greaterfortworthwriters.com

As always, it’s a work in progress, but so far it looks better than I anticipated.  GoDaddy‘s Website Builder isn’t as easy to navigate, but after 3 days of fiddling with it I got the hang of it.  There are still some features I wish I could incorporate that GoDaddy doesn’t provide, but I’ll see what I can find out from researching the web.

So, please visit the site, let me know what you think.  If you’re in the area and would like to join a fabulous writers group that provides fantastic critiques and support, join us! (Then you can see the coveted Members Only page!)

But either way, please let me know what you think of the site.