Never Give Up

We hear it a lot: Persevere. Keep going. Push past the frustration. Overcome writer’s block. Do all these things and eventually you’ll finish your book, you’ll see it published, you can be proud you never gave up.

Every now and then we get an example of an author who persevered. We’re gifted with knowing an author who didn’t stop, no matter the obstacles and regardless of how much time it took to get it right. Continue reading “Never Give Up”

The Value of Writing Groups

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Last December I posted about two different types of writing groups. That brief overview was related to a couple of columns I wrote for a private writing group’s newsletter. Even then, I didn’t feel as though I’d said all I wanted to on the subject.

Result?

An expanded how-to guide, with suggestions for getting a group started, identifying your group, and setting some rules, for starters. I included some prompts and other tips, all based on years of experience as a member of both creative groups and critique groups.

Now you can get that 8-page guide FREE. Just click here.

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Oh… and in the critique group section I include an idea for making those groups even better — something I’ve never seen in practice before.

What do you think makes a great writing group? What have your experience been? Do you agree with the ideas in the guide? Let us know what you think!

Write Right Where You Are

Because my husband and I are always moving, trading one “hometown” for another around the continent, we frequently pick up local newspapers to see what’s happening while we’re in the neighborhood. On a recent visit to the Grand Canyon we bought the Grand Canyon News, and it delivered a juicy bit of information about an upcoming arts and crafts fair.

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Being an avid reader (I should do another post on reading signs in laundromats around the country), I start with the headlines then comb every page — all the way through the classifieds.

This time it paid off (again): Continue reading “Write Right Where You Are”

Is a Writing Group a Waste of Your Time?

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Quick answer: they can be. Or not. Depends.

Don’t you love answers like those?!?

But seriously. Much does depend on what the group’s purpose and who’s attending it.

Purpose

Though types of writing groups vary, two primary categories are critique groups and creative groups.

Critique Groups

There’s no one way to organize such groups, but the members should all have one thing in common: improving their writing, which means being willing to hear honest (though polite) feedback on their writing. Some groups include a variety of writing types while others are specific to fiction or articles or poetry. It’s up to the group, but important to have enough experience among the members to avoid ending up with the blind leading the blind. If only one poet meets in a group of magazine article writers, that poet isn’t likely to get helpful critique.

Creative Groups

More free-flowing, these groups focus on getting together to flex their writing muscles, without necessarily having the goal of publishing, and without criticism. In the latter case, this type of group is 180-degrees from a critique group. Often patterned after Natalie Goldberg’s guideline of ten-minute segments of free writing, the group can use a variety of prompts, focus on any type (or all types) of writing, and include the option of reading what’s writting to the rest of the group. The important things here are to keep things positive: no critique, no judgment, no gossiping outside the group about what was written so everyone can feel free to write whatever pops into their heads.

Which is Better?

Each group has its benefits. Accustomed to many years of critique groups, I was a little out of my element in a creative group at first. I wondered if my Wednesday mornings might have been better spent “doing my own writing” rather than meeting with the group. What I discovered was the group’s insistence on taking a prompt and following it wherever it led opened up my writing heart to possibilities in ways it hadn’t in many years. While drafting my recent novel, “Pea Body,” I found myself “riffing” (as musicians might say) — heading down paths I probably wouldn’t have followed before being part of the creative group. I would have censored my ideas before they even had a chance to express themselves. As a result, writing the book was much more fluid than any other book has been for me, and much more enjoyable. The creative group demonstrated to me how easy it was to trust my writing instincts, and how well it could pay off when I did.

Critique groups have also benefited me, but in more predictable ways: I found more boo-boos, got harder on myself when I was tempted to give my plot or characters the easy way out.

But there’s an underlying advantage to critique groups that many people miss. More on that next time!

Found Prompts

Prompts are everywhere. We just have to be able to spot them and know how to use them. Take receipts, for instance.

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Ever pick up a random receipt someone left in a shopping cart or tossed away and give it a close look? You should.

What did this stranger buy? What time of day or night was it? Did they pay cash or charge it?

For a writing group prompt, I collected receipts from all sorts of places — grocery and department stores, bookstores, gas stations…. then handed them out randomly to members of the writing group, set the timer for ten minutes and bam! Away we went, writing whateverthe receipts brought to mind. And the results were — as usual with this group — amazing.

You don’t need a writing group to do this — just gather receipts when you find them in good condition (ignore the ones in parking lots that have been trampled over… nobody wants cooties…!), stuff them in a pocket for writing time, then pull one out to get your creativity flowing.

Stuck in a current project? Wondering what move a character should make next? Use that receipt as a way to get your brain moving in another direction: What if the character goes someplace where they’d get this receipt?

*What did they purchase? Why?
*Is this part of a normal routine? If so, did they vary the routine? Why?
*Was it a good idea for them to do this? Why or why not?
*Did they make any other stops? What were they? why did they make those stops?
*Did they bump into anybody at this place or somewhere along the way? If so, did that person influence what they bought? In what way? Why?

Can you see how this can lead you in a lot of directions?

Well? What are you waiting for! Go find a receipt! Okay… here are a couple to get you started….

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Using Prompts

Usually prompts are used to generate a new piece of writing — often through a timed, free-writing exercise. For example, you set a timer for ten minutes and write whatever pops into your head using the prompt. Fiction, real-life memory, poem, country music lyrics, recipe… whatever rings your bell.

In the writing group, we have a lot of laughs — and our share of serious moments — when we go around the circle and read what we wrote (anyone can opt out of reading if they wish, and the two rules of the group are that we’re always positive and whatever is said or read in the group stays in the group).

On your own, you can just keep a writing journal of what you’ve generated, going back through it for odd character descriptions, to remember things for a memoir, whatever you want.

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Using Prompts When Your Current Work Needs Help

You can also use a writing prompt when you’re stuck in something you’re working on. Let’s say you’re writing a novel and you need a new secondary character and a bit of side-bar action to keep your readers a bit distracted while you drop them a clue in your murder mystery… but you’re stumped about what to do.

Pick a prompt that includes the elements you need — character profile, setting, conflict, etc. — then set your timer, write freely (forgetting about your current longer work for the moment), and see what happens. You might not find a magical answer, but give it a bit of time, try again with another prompt later, and see what possibilities you might open up.

Here’s One to Get You Started!

  1. Write the name of each of your characters on a separate index card (to save paper, you can use 1/2 or 1/4 of an index card… you won’t need much writing space on them).
  2. On another batch of index cards, write nouns at random, one noun per card (orange, submarine, kitten, elm, Paris, sofa, hamburger… you get the picture). Write as many as you can think of. Don’t edit your ideas. If you’re having trouble, get someone to start naming things for you.
  3. On yet more index cards, write every color you can think of, one on each card.
  4. Finally, write “memory,” “dream,” “wish,” “fear,” “discovery,” “denial” on each of six more cards (once you see where this is going, you’ll probably want to add your own).
  5. Shuffle each batch of cards.
  6. Select one card from each batch. Select another card from the noun stack.
  7. Write the scene: this character is experiencing this memory or discovery or fear or wish (whatever that card was) — and it includes the color you selected and the two nouns.

Keep writing. Don’t edit yourself. Don’t tell yourself what you’re doing will have no place in your book (how could you know that now?).

Maybe you won’t use what you just wrote, but maybe it will get your mind working anyway, even if it’s on another track completely. But, then, that’s what a prompt is all about isn’t it?

It’s Never Too Late to Start

Awhile back someone posted his concern on a writer’s forum that he was starting too late. I’ve heard it now and again from older writers: they’re in their sixties or seventies, and they’re worried that they shouldn’t even give it a try, this novel writing thing. If that’s your particular worry, then I have some inspiration for you.

Mary Alice Hawley Gernert of Colorado Springs, Colorado, recently published her first novel, The Mayor’s Daughter.

I read the notice of her self-publishing ventures in my Denison University alumni magazine and was thrilled to see it. Mrs. Gernert graduated from Denison in 1939.

You read correctly. 1939. This 94 year-old inspiration is currently at work on her next novel.

Don’t tell me you’re too old to start writing! Just pick up your pen, fire up your computer, and start.

And after you get your day’s limit of words/pages done, take a look at The Mayor’s Daughter, here.

Finding Time to Write

“I can’t wait until I’m done with high school so I can spend more time writing,” confessed several of the young writers I worked with some years ago in Ohio. They had been selected to participate in a week-long writing intensive at a state university. They were creative, avid writing nerds thrilled to have time with peers and adults alike who actually appreciated and encouraged their desire to write.

Every time I heard this, I immediately wondered whether I should break their bubble with the truth: they will never have time to write. That they probably have more control over their time to write in high school than just about any other time in their lives. That they will go on to college, where they’ll probably fill any non-academic time with work to pay tuition and much-needed social time. After that, more school or a job… or two jobs… juggling doing what it takes to pay the bills with staying connected with family and friends.

If they marry, they’ll have even more demands on their time… and having kids?!? Well… climbing Mount Everest might seem easier than finding time to write. (See Suzannah Windsor Freeman’s book “The Busy Mom’s Guide to Writing,” being released soon, for help on this front.)

Me? Thanks to my beloved husband, I was able to quit my job well before retirement age. We’re on the road as full-time RVers — living and traveling in our RV. As we planned what we’d pack and our first trip on the open highway, we looked forward to a future of fishing for him and writing for me.

What could keep us from that?!?

Well, life gets in the way. We might be on the road, but we still have to get the oil changed, make meals, do laundry, buy groceries. And since we’re in different cities and states all the time, that means it can take longer to run simple errands because we’re constantly figuring out which stores carry the brands we like.

Not that I’m complaining! Here’s my point: you’ll never be handed time to write. You will always have to carve out that sliver of the morning, afternoon or night to get that short story finished, that poem poured over, that novel nudged into the next chapter.

Even professional, bestselling authors have to block out time to focus on their work. They have all the business of writing they have to juggle.

So don’t keep waiting for the time to suddenly be right. It won’t be.

Sharpen your knife and carve out that slice of your day for you and your work. Hang a note on the doorknob or around your neck that says, “Please don’t disturb. Writer At Work.”

Otherwise you’ll never get to that short story. The novel will never get started. The poem will never find its internal song. You will never be the writer your dream of being if you don’t write.

It’s up to you.