Posted in writing advice

Writing and Geometry

Oh, but they DO have a lot in common!

I was reading Ava Jae’s great post, “You Don’t Have to Get It Right the First Time” and decided it was time to post about the writing process after a long spell without mentioning it.

In her post, Ava lists the things you shouldn’t be thinking about while you’re drafting. The one thing you *should* be focusing on while drafting, she says, is “Getting the story written.” Period.

And she’s right. (Again. Ava Jae is always right…. if you read the ellenbooks roundup posts, she shows up quite a bit in the links, and there’s a reason for that. So go read her post, too.)

You should be running like a train when you’re drafting, and trains do nothing but stay on one track. If a train scootches even a little bit off that track — whammo — disaster.

So where does the geometry part come in?

Think of the writing process as an inverted triangle — the big heavy side balanced on the tip. When you draft, you’re doing the BIG STUFF. Getting the story into words. Putting the characters out there. Mixing things up. Charging with that train down the track.

When you get through to the end of the story, when you’ve mentally tapped “The End” on the final page, celebrate, then admit that you’re only a fraction of the way to finishing your novel.

You’ve got several more stages in the process to move through — revision, edit, proofreading, polishing. I won’t repeat here what’s been covered earlier (see Re-Draft? Revise?) but you should be seeing the pattern:


Notice how you’re moving from the big chunks down to smaller and smaller bits of the manuscript? Why move your commas around if you’re not sure your story is where it needs to be? You could end up chopping all that proofreading work you’ve done.

New novelists often ask how to be more efficient in their writing. “I spent hours and hours on a scene that I ended up cutting!”

If you HATE wasting time… consider practicing the inverted triangle method. It reduces the chance you’ll waste effort.

Of course, nothing is iron-clad, and the tinkerers among us won’t mind getting those commas in the right spots — even if we drop the entire page — but at least we know the risk we’re taking. Mess with the commas in an early stage of revision, and you just might be “wasting” your time (we’re never wasting our time… but that’s another post).

Where are you in the process? Charging like a freight train down one skinny track? Or are you further down the triangle?

Posted in networking, writing advice, writing motivation, writing prompts

Is a Writing Group a Waste of Your Time?


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.


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!

Posted in publishing, writing advice


You’d think something is cozy or not, but semi-cozy? Is that like a quilt that’s just a little too short? Or a cabin in the woods with just a few too many drafts? A fire in the hearth that burns a little too low?

I’m making my case for why my newest novel, Pea Body, is a semi-cozy mystery. “Cozies” — like any genre — have fairly specific conventions their writers are supposed to follow. Pea Body follows most of them, but not all, and fudges on a few. Of course I think that makes it a better novel than if I’d followed all the rules, or I would have toed the line.

For example, most cozies feature a single woman as its main character (MC). She generally has at least one a male love interest who’s connected to law enforcement in some way. This is not only to capture a bit of romantic intrigue, but to give the MC/amateur sleuth a sounding board for her theories and often an “in” with whatever investigation she’s found herself involved with.

Cozies eschew overt sex and four-letter words, so they tend to be the shy stepsisters of the more violent and gritty hard-boiled mysteries. You can tell by their covers — usually cartoons of women (or domestic pets) in a bright setting that only suggests something terrible is happening. They’re a light read.

I’ve read dozens of these books, mostly to learn the genre, and I still can’t swallow the idea that murder should be a light read.

So like any great cook, I added a few things to the cozy recipe, substituted others, and omitted the ingredients that just didn’t fit the new mix. That “cozy” taste is still there, but it’s been layered with some other flavored nuances.

Pea Body features a couple — Walt and Betty Rollin — who’ve been married many years, and have been living what’s called the “full-time RV lifestyle.” They sold their house and travel full-time in their RV.

Can you see how my premise defies the cozy convention at it’s most basic level? The series features a couple rather than a single woman, though the story is told first person from Betty’s point of view.

Another convention I couldn’t swallow was how often people in the same little cozy communities kill each other. Or get killed by some nasty outsider. Putting Walt and Betty on the road all the time means I’ll get to write about various places we’ve spent time. It’s also more credible that the same people keep running into bad circumstances — the more neighborhoods you visit, the more likely you’ll run into bad situations and awful people (trust me on this).

There are allusions to sex (Walt and Betty are happily married; why not?) and though an occasional four-letter word pops out, it’s usually from a secondary character. I see avoiding bad language as a wonderful opportunity for word play. Giving Betty and Walt substitutions for swearing makes writing their dialogue (spoken and interior) much more fun.

Does my grand experiment work? We’ll find out.

I just know a few things from this experience:

1. I learned what I was supposed to do before I chose an alternative. This way I consciously weighed the convention — and reader’s expectations — against the choices I faced.

2. I wrote the book true to the characters and to the readers I imagine would most enjoy reading about them.

3. I accepted — embraced, actually — that writing a “semi-cozy” meant I would be best served publishing my book myself rather than hunting down an agent who would (most likely) want me to change things to fit the convention.

4. I’m happy with what I wrote. In another year I might not feel this way, but for now… it’s all good.