Tag Archives: writing

Yes, Writer, You Do Bear Some Responsibility for Getting a Good Critique From Your Group


critique-help-imageI had written a half page summary of a novel that is almost finished. It stated the concept and the theme, the major characters and the key plot points. Over lunch at a Taco Villa, I handed it to my friend and critique partner, Janda Raker.  After she read it, she made the comment that if the group had seen it before I started reading to them, perhaps they could have done a better job of critiquing. Hmmm.

There is a lot written about the responsibilities of critique groups—be constructive, don’t get sidetracked on gossip, don’t get sidetracked on grammar, don’t get in arguments. The main reason for reading each other’s work is to help the writer make it better.

Janda’s comment got me thinking about the responsibility the writer bears for getting the most from the group. For helping the group do its job. Let’s look for a minute at the big picture. A novel must contain characters who grow, a plot with a sticky problem that is structured correctly, and a setting that evokes a picture in the readers’ minds. If the group doesn’t know where the author is headed, it can easily get bogged down on details within a scene—word choices, the hero’s granny walking through a closed door, the dog morphing from a collie to a setter. I don’t mean to imply that those things aren’t important, but the possibility exists for hammering a point to death, when, if it is taken within the context of the whole story, needs to go anyway. That’s why you skip the grammar for now, by the way. Your manuscript does need a close edit, but save it until you’ve got the rest of the issues addressed.critique

For me, this means that the next time I go to a critique group with a new project, I will first present them with a summary, or an outline—some representation of the guts of what I am about to write. That, of course, means I must quit writing by the seat of my pants and actually know all those things they need to know before I start writing. Having done the seat-of-the-pants thing, I realize it is possible to get to the end that way, but man, does it ever require a lot of revision. So, this is the bottom line for me. Put in the work of structuring, thinking through the whole plot, identifying the character arc before starting to write and get better quality help from your group, or do that work as you go—again and again.

One more suggestion for the writer. If you know what you have written isn’t good, don’t waste the group’s time. When you don’t need them to tell you how to fix it, don’t make them do it.

How do you help your critique group with your work?

Vicki Schoen

Follow my blog at vickischoen.com

Advertisements

Comments Off on Yes, Writer, You Do Bear Some Responsibility for Getting a Good Critique From Your Group

Filed under Critique Groups

Keep it Simple


Keep it SimpleWhen writing anything—essays, articles, blogs, short stories, novels—clarity is key. Word counts are important. Explanations should be concise, but what can one do to keep the writing tight when presenting complicated information?

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

When I’m writing something historical or technical, I do hours of research. I look at lots of pictures. Most importantly, I talk about it. I like to repeat what I’ve read and seen to others—friends or family who know nothing about my subject. If they understand it right away, I know I’m ready to write. If they look at me like I’m speaking Klingon, I know that I have more research to do.Albert Einstein

Some of the best, and simplest, rules for writing can be found in George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” He presents a set of guidelines for tight writing that every author can use.

My favorites include, “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” and “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

I struggle with word-whittling every time I write. Sometimes it’s for lack of understanding, and sometimes it’s because I just adore a particular word. I love the sound or the look or the feel. But like the darling of any good story, the word must be cut to keep the action going. As soon as a reader puts down your book to find a definition or explanation, you run the risk they will never return.

Long, flowery words look pretty on the page, but if they trip your reader, let them go. Find a thesaurus if necessary. Find a short word. Keep it precise and readable. In today’s busy world, audiences prefer quick reads that deliver value. When it comes to wordsmithing, less really is more.

What helps you keep it simple?

by Kimberly Black

Comments Off on Keep it Simple

Filed under basics, rewriting, Writing, writing advise

Getting it Right


Writing and ResearchWriting.  What a challenge. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, facts are part of your writing.  If your work is not accurate, someone will catch your mistake and you will hear about it!  For the nonfiction writer truth and accuracy must be adhered to.  Since readers may not be able to discern the difference, the nonfiction writer assumes this responsibility – and the accompanying accountability.

Many writers refer to and utilize historical facts, experts, interviews and research.  You must be aware of copyright issues, of individuals that claim expertise but are not experts, plagiarism, and the authenticity of memoir writing.The Everything Guide

The Everything Guide to Writing Nonfiction by Richard D. Bank covers many of these issues and can be useful not only to the non-fiction writer, but any writer needing to address these concerns.  If you do your own research then look to The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb and Joseph Williams, or The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Research Methods by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. (definitely written with me in mind.)

For tidbits of historical facts look into The Timetables of History – A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events by Bernard Grun and  The Reader’s Companion to American History  edited by Eric Foner & John A. Garraty.

The Timetables of HistoryThese are just a few references on my bookshelf.  Do keep in mind however, that just because information is published, even in a scholarly work – and may even be on the New York Times bestseller list, this does not mean that everything is the truth. (Or, I got it off the Internet so it must be true!) Legends can and are perpetuated and digging for the truth can reveal some very interesting and revealing reasons for misinformation in original documents and memoirs.

So, writers beware – because these days readers are very aware.

What is your biggest challenge in getting it right in your own writing?

Donna Otto

 

Comments Off on Getting it Right

Filed under memoir, methods, organizing, research, writing advise

Some Writing Rules to Live By


Neil Gaiman Neil Gaiman

Mr. Gaiman is a novelist and screenwriter to name only two of his talents. Neil Gaiman’s work has received many awards internationally, including the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. His books and stories have also been honored with 4 Hugos, 2 Nebulas, 1 World Fantasy Award, 4 Bram Stoker Awards, 6 Locus Awards, 2 British Science Fiction Awards, 1 British Fantasy Award, 3 Geffens, 1 International Horror Guild Award and 2 Mythopoeic Awards.  His work is somewhat quirky and offbeat.  His children’s work is whimsical with a slight twist toward the stuff of childhood nightmares.

The following eight rules are his rules for writing.

1. Write.

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

7. Laugh at your own jokes.

8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

4 Comments

Filed under creativity, quotes, writers, Writing, writing advise

GETTING THE CREATIVE JUICES FLOWING


Typing Paper SkullRecently, I saw a great post on one of my favorite websites, Writer Unboxed, by Barbara O’Neal titled, The 20 Minute Win.  In the article, O’Neal describes how she manages to stay on task with her writing.  She focuses on her work each day as soon as she can possibly get to it by creating a 20-minute window to write. She got the idea from the late Ray Bradbury who said, “A writer should begin writing before he lets the world in.”

When O’Neal sits down for her 20-minute session, she sets the timer and writes whatever comes up.  Sometimes, it’s a blog.  Sometimes, it’s a scene that comes later in her book.  Sometimes, she even writes in a journal.  The point is, she writes uninterrupted for 20 minutes for the sole purpose of getting the juices flowing.Bottle of Creative Juices

This accomplishes two major things.  First, it warms up her writing muscles and gets her into her Writing Work Room.  Second, it reminds her how little time it takes to actually put words on a page if she will just show up to do it.

I decided to try it for myself.  The only modification I made was to shorten the sessions to 15 minutes.  I wrote the first piece in the allotted time. I started with this sentence: “Am I the only one who thinks the term baby bump is obnoxious and unflattering?”  When the timer sounded, I checked the word count.  Three hundred twenty-nine words.  About baby bumps.  I agree with Barbara.  It gets the writing juices flowing.  Can I sustain the pace of 1,316 words per hour all day – every day – when working on my latest novel?  Probably not, but that’s not the point.  The point is if I will just show up to write and get to it, I can actually produce words on the page.

What then shall I do with this newfound way to exercise my writing muscles and get the juices flowing?  Blog of course.  In the very near future, I will post these 15-minute writing exercises on my new blog.  After spending 15 minutes writing with no internal editing, I go back and spend a few minutes cleaning up the prose.  Then, since I’m in the writing groove, I find it easier to get to work on my latest project.   I have a short story with a February 1 deadline and then it’s back to revision hell with my first novel.   It’s a good thing I have writing to occupy my time.  Otherwise, I might end up watching reality TV.  Oh, wait, if I watch reality TV, I’ll have something to blog about!

Try Barbara O’Neal’s 20 Minute Win http://writerunboxed.com/2012/10/24/the-20-minute-win/ and see if it doesn’t get your creative juices flowing.

Matt Sherley

Comments Off on GETTING THE CREATIVE JUICES FLOWING

Filed under basics, blogs, books, creativity, exercises, methods, novels, organizing, short stories, Writing, writing advise

A New Tool for Internet Research


As a writer, I’m always looking for ideas that help keep me organized, especially if they don’t involve an excess of paper. I like my research readily available, but I hate to have to carry a huge notebook around with me, with reams of paper wasted because I wanted to print out one paragraph, and ended up with everything on the website.

My new answer is Pinterest.com. Yes, I got hooked a few months ago on the site, and have since “pinned” all sorts of crafts and recipes that I will never try. But then I had this great realization. It’s basically a site that holds hundreds of bookmarks organized in categories with visual cues. Hmm… I can use something like that.

I tried it. First, I created a board with my novel’s title. Then I searched for pictures of people who I “cast” as characters for my novel, and I pinned them. Now if I can’t remember what color eyes my antagonist has, I just pull up his photo, and voila!

My novel takes place in Paris, in several well-known parts of the city, as well as the less-recognizable areas. A few websites pinned, and I have detailed descriptions of bridges, hotels, shops and museums.

I can pin websites for my characters’ weapons, props, vehicles, clothes, gadgets, and languages. If I need to recall something, I just click on the picture and jump to the site with that information. I love it.

If you don’t want your research pins to become public, just create a “secret board” which is a new feature offered by Pinterest.

The only really important thing to remember with the site is that you must exercise self-control. If you want to look up something, you cannot allow yourself to browse through your friends’ newest finds. If you need to see a map of Barcelona, Spain, you can’t let yourself get caught in the newest crock-pot chicken recipe. This is to help keep you organized, thus saving time—not wasting it.

Currently, I have research boards for two novels on Pinterest, and at the end of this month will start another. This new tool has saved me hundreds of pages of paper, several cartridges of ink, and hours of searching for information. It might help you, too!

Do you use Pinterest?  How has it helped you with your writing?

By Kim Black

Comments Off on A New Tool for Internet Research

Filed under characters, description, organizing, research, Writing, writing advise

Practice, Practice, Practice


How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

When I first started writing I went to plenty of classes and conferences, hungry for every bit of knowledge that the pros had to offer.  I took copious notes, recorded the lectures as often as I could, and saved every handout I ever got.  In the end, that was all I had, notes, recordings and stacks of handouts.  My own writing had not improved.

I’ve since learned that no matter how much money you spend on conferences, books, classes and so on; there is only one true road to better writing–practice, practice, practice.

Just like the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall.  Practice is the key.  Read every book you want on the art and craft of writing.  Continue to go to conferences.  Attend lectures as often as you can, but the bottom line is write every day.

Here are a few suggestions to keep you writing every day even if your time is limited:

1.  Start a journal.  It’s not the same as a diary, you don’t have to write every detail of your day.  Use it to write insights and observations as they occur to you, story and character ideas, and settings.  Use the journal to pose the “What if” questions.

2.  Write a letter.  What kind of letter?  Any kind.  Write a letter to the editor on something you are passionate about.  Write a letter to a friend you haven’t written to in a long time.  Write a letter to a deceased loved one.  The type of letter you write is not as important as the writing itself.

3.  Find writing exercises.  There are many places on the internet where you can find these.  Some may seem silly, but as you experiment you will find that they inspire you.

4.  Contribute to a newsletter or start a newsletter, even if it’s just for your family.

5.  Try your hand at flash fiction.  And try the shortest form of flash fiction you can.  A story in six words or 100 words or less.  Make sure your story has a beginning, middle and end.  This teaches you to write tight.

6.  If you have a smart phone, search for writers apps for story starters and inspirations.

The more you write the more you learn to use an economy of words to express emotion, set a scene, or describe a character.  After a while, you’ll find that you are writing faster and better.

Take the challenge and see what happens.  You will be surprised.  Even the best writer will see improvement in their work.  A side benefit  is the confidence that comes with writing every day.  At your disposal you will find myriads of ideas you never thought you had to draw on when you come to the bane of every writer–the dreaded writer’s block.  It won’t happen, or at least not as often.  There will always be new ideas–new “What ifs”  to inspire you.

So, how do you get to be a better writer?  Practice, practice, practice.

What works best for you?

Suzanne Bogue

Comments Off on Practice, Practice, Practice

Filed under Writing