Monday, March 31, 2008

Back To It

I'm coming down from the mountain top--literally--and am getting back to my writing life.

First things first: blogging. (Thanks to Scoti for covering my back while I took a breather.)

I have an editorial meeting today to brainstorm the next four issues of Connections, the magazine I edit. While I was vacationing, I received a request from an editor to rewrite an article. And, yes, even on my get-away-from-writing time, I wrote just a little bit, and I want to get that piece submitted.

Does it feel good to get back at it?

To be honest, yes and no.

I am writer. Most of the time, I like to write. I even like to rewrite. But I find myself still peering down this stretch of the writing road trying to figure out which way it is curving. I didn't have any "Aha!" moments during my brief time away.

I've decided to be okay with the uncertainty of the road ahead. I'll take the next steps one at a time and see where I end up.

I'm wondering: What do you do when you're not sure which way the writing road lies for you? Do you look for a sign? Do you stand in the middle of the road until you know exactly what you're going to do next? Or do you continue some amount of forward motion, despite not knowing exactly where you're going?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Why Check Original Sources for Context?

As editor of a professional journal, I received an article regarding women in leadership. One expert quoted Josephus who stated, “Women are inferior to men.” To check the accuracy and context of this quote, I found four reliable sources that supported the expert’s opinion. Since the original source was Josephus, I accessed the online source containing the full text for all of Josephus’ books.

In the find box under edit, I entered the key words “women,” “inferior” and “man.” No luck. Then I typed “woman” and “inferior” in the find box. Again, I searched every book written by Josephus. In Flavius Josephus Against Apion, Book II, Josephus wrote, “says the Scripture, ‘A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.’”

The context of this verse specifically related to marriage—not leadership. To prove their points, the expert and four other sources edited Josephus’ quote to say what they wanted it to say. Neither the context nor the quote was correct. And Josephus was also wrong. Scripture does not say, "A woman is inferior to her husband in all things."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Writers on Writing

"I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn't I would die."—Isaac Asimov

I'm fascinated by other writer's observations. I hope their quotes make you laugh, think about why you write, and motivate you to pursue your writing passion.

"A writer can make a fortune in America, but he can't make a living."—James Michener

"As a confirmed melancholic, I can testify that the best and maybe only antidote for melancholia is action. However, like most melancholics, I suffer also from sloth."—Edward Abbey

"It is not the writer's task to answer questions but to question answers."—Edward Abbey

"The writer is not a pastry chef, a cosmetician, or an entertainer. He is a man bound by contract to his sense of duty and to his conscience."—Anton Chekhov

"A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs; jolted by every pebble in the road."—Henry Ward Beecher

"If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster."—Isaac Asimov

"Life is not an easy matter.... You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness."—Leon Trotsky

"A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight."—Robertson Davies

"I don't get ideas; ideas get me."—Robertson Davies

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Research: Think Outside the Box

"The way to do research is to attack the facts at the point of greatest astonishment." — Celia Green

I love researching. However, projects I intensely dislike are those “parental projects” assigned by teachers to children who cannot complete them without a parent’s help. In second grade my son, Kristoffer, was assigned one of those dreaded “parental projects”—a transportation report.

As a single parent, it was just one more ball to add to all the balls I was trying to keep in the air. To add to my frustration, my son chose a sports car unfamiliar to me—Lamborghini—the Diablo.

I figured out it was an Italian car. Seven-year-old Kristoffer prepared the questions that I faxed to Italy to the President of Lamborghini—after figuring out how to dial 011 plus the number. Lamborghini replied and informed us that Lee Iacocca now owned Lamborghini.

I called Iacocca’s office and was given his fax number. I faxed Kristoffer’s questions to Iacocca. A Vice President replied via Federal-Express. Not only did he answer all Kristoffer’s questions, but he included some pictures that were collector’s items to include in the report.

Next, I called Lamborghini of Beverly Hills to set up an interview with the manager. In our 1978 beat-up Volvo named “Old Betsy,” I drove Kristoffer to Beverly Hills. Kristoffer interviewed the manager who also gave him a tour that ended with Kristoffer purchasing pictures and a "Lamborghini Parking Only" sign.

Kristoffer wrote his report and made his poster. “WE” got an A-, which disappointed me. In my opinion, the teacher missed the importance of what Kristoffer learned about creative research and the writing process.

Research is an experience, not just about reading and writing neatly written words on the page. No matter the project, think outside the box and make it fun.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Looking for the Next Rest Stop

"Rest when you're weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work." ~ Ralph Marston

I find myself looking for a rest stop along the writing road. I have things I need to do--articles to write, things to edit. And yet, I keep looking to the side of the road, wondering when I can pull off and rest.
I need a break.
Rather than doing that--deliberately taking a break--I've written and edited half-heartedly. My writing has been haphazard at best and my editing has been anemic.
Sometimes the best thing a writer can do is not write. Sometimes it is best to admit your heart is empty and it is time to replenish, renew, refresh.
Slogging through physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion is a waste of time.
So I'm taking my advice and pulling over for a rest stop. Giving myself permission to not write for a few days.
Instead, I'll focus on resting and renewing and replenishing.
And after that, I'll be ready to write again.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Creating a PowerPoint: The ABC's

“If anything can go wrong, it will.”—Murphy's Law

Want to use PowerPoint when you speak? Keep in mind that any mechanical device has the potential to go haywire—distracting you and your audience. Avoid planning your talk around your PowerPoint presentation. When creating your PowerPoint, use the following tips to add value to your speech.

Anecdotes/Acronyms: Don’t overload your audience with data dump—facts, bullets or information. Tell engaging, relevant stories to support each point. List and spell out all acronyms on the last slide.

Bullets: Use no more than four or five bullets per slide.

Contrast: Use high contrast text and graphics. The more contrast between the background and type, the more your words pop, for example dark or black lettering stands out against a light background. Cool colors work best for backgrounds. Warm colors are best for text.

Design: Avoid clutter. Leave white space around text and graphics.

Editing: Check grammar and spelling.

Font: The room and size of the audience may vary. Legibility is important. Use Arial, Gill Sans, Universal, or Times New Roman. Use 32-50 points for title slides, 24-32 points for the title, 20-32 points for the heading and bulleted lists, and 18-point for the text. No one past the first few rows can read type smaller than 18 points. Avoid capitalizing words, it reduces readability and comprehension.

Graphs/Graphics: Complex graphs or graphics are difficult to see in the back row. Divide information over several slides. Limit pie charts to 4-6 slices. Limit vertical bar charts to 4-8 contrasting bars. Limit horizontal bar charts to four bars.

Handout: Create a takeaway handout providing detailed facts, graphs and acronyms. For note compulsive takers, print out your PowerPoint presentation.

Italicized Fonts: Don’t use. They are hard to read.

Join: Connect the PowerPoint with your talk. However, make sure your talk can stand alone without the PowerPoint.

Kiss: Keep it simple stupid does not mean stupid. Nothing is as easy as it looks. Constructing a well-presented talk and PowerPoint requires planning and work.

Lines: Limit text to six lines or less.

Metaphors: Use a powerful word picture that your audience will remember.

Needs: What are your audience’s felt needs? What three points do you want your audience to remember? Keep main points logical, simple and clear.

Organization: Begin with a summary slide stating your three main points.

Pictures: Use pictures to illustrate your point. The best slides have no text. Include high-resolution stock photos or your own digital pictures to help the audience emotionally connect to your story. Don’t use cartoonish clip art.

Quotations: Keep quotes short.

Red Type: Never use it. Red type is illegible when projected.

Simplicity: Eliminate every nonessential phrase, word or element.

Text: Not artistic? Use one number, one percentage or one memorable, key word that is ten characters or less. Make it large—as in HUGE text that takes up the entire slide.

Verify: Check your facts to make sure they are accurate. Include the source.

Wordiness: Use key words and phrases only. Limit words to six to eight words per line.

X: Cross out or delete extraneous or detailed information. Use key ideas on each slide. Be clear and concise. Too much text lessens legibility.

Yadda-Yadda: PowerPoint is not a teleprompter. Don’t read the PowerPoint slide word for word. Spend 45 seconds to 5 minutes per slide to reinforce your points. Plan your talk to correspond with—not repeat—the information on the slides.

Zombie Proofing: The mind only tolerates what the derrière can bear.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Just a Thought

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

A brief blog today.
A thought--a challenge of sorts.
And wish that you have a wonderful Easter celebrating with friends and family the hope and joy God has given us.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reject Rejection

"Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them." —Isaac Asimov

Ah, rejection.
How do you feel about it?
I can’t imagine Isaac Asimov receiving one rejection letter. He wrote or edited more than 500 books. Even great and prolific writers are rejected—often.

Overcome your fear of rejection: A rejection letter proves you are a writer. It never hurts to try. All a publisher can do is say, “No thank you.” But, what if they say, “Yes”?

Rejection War Story. Jasper Fforde, author The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, wrote four other unpublished novels prior to Eyre. He received 76 rejections before getting his first contract. He noted, “I thought, well, they obviously don’t know what they’re missing. I have a sort of arrogant, stubborn streak that keeps me going when people say no. I just carried on in my own sweet way. Which I think was a great help, because I realized I could just write whatever I wanted. There were no limits.”

Keep writing. “...the vital point to remember is that the swine who just sent your pearl of a story back with nothing but a coffee-stain and a printed rejection slip can be wrong. You cannot take it for granted that he is wrong, but you have an all-important margin of hope that might be enough to keep you going.” —Brian Stableford

Rejection War Story: Bestselling mystery novelist Jonathan Kellerman wrote eight or nine unpublished novels before selling his first book.

Hone your skills. If your writing does not meet the publisher’s writing standards or screams “amateur,” do something about it: Study. Read. Write. Edit.

Rejection War Story: Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejection letters before Gone with the Wind found a publisher.

Find another publisher. “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address. —Barbara Kingsolver

Rejection War Story: 250 publishers rejected Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, before he was published.

Never give up. Publication rarely comes easily or quickly. A rejection letter is not personal or a rejection of you. Many factors effect why your manuscript is not accepted for publication: an editor’s taste, a similar book on the publisher’s backlist, the publishing slots are full, it’s not a fit for the publisher’s writing guidelines, they’ve accepted another article on the same topic. Don’t get discouraged. Keep writing.

Rejection War Story: Thick-skinned writer William Saroyan received 7000 rejection letters before selling his first story.

Develop a thick skin: Expect rejection. It’s inevitable—a rite of passage. Every published writer has manuscripts or articles never published.

Remember: Every rejection letter is one step closer being published.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Talking About The Top Ten

As I read through the Top Ten Commandments for Critique Group Members, I wondered: How many of them have I broken?
I'm good at keeping #1: The author is the final editor regarding what stays, goes or changes--but that is not necessarily a good thing.
When I receive a critique and I'm not sure I want to make the changes, #1 is my trump card. I'm the author, I have final say about what stays, goes or changes.
But here's a true confession: There were several things my critique group suggested I change in my manuscript for my book on late-in-life motherhood, Baby Changes Everything: Embracing and Preparing for Motherhood after 35.
But I made sure the way I wrote the paragraphs stayed. No changes. Until the day before I sent my manuscript to the publisher. Then I realized I was emotionally attached to my writing--not that it was the best writing. It was just the way I wanted to write it. So I changed it.
I admit that I've broken #4 more often than I'd like to admit: Keep your defensive barriers down.
Writing is so personal that it's difficult not to take critique personally. And sometimes, when I've written and rewritten and rewritten and think my article is singing--only to find my critique group has found the sour note--well, I get defensive. If I stay defensive, I'll never improve as a writer and my article will stay off-key.
Reading #7 made me say "Ouch" too: Do not justify the use of a technique.
If I have to explain something to a member of my critique group, then that means some of my readers will wonder, "Huh?!" And I won't be sitting with them to explain why I used a certain technique so it makes sense to them.
If you're involved in a critique group, you might want to give a copy of the Critique Group Commandments to each member--or give them a link to Scoti's post. Use her Top Ten to help your group stay on track and function in a positive, healthy way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Ten Commandments for Critique Group Members

"Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”—Michael Crichton

Louise Brooks observed, “Writing is one percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination.” A good critique group helps your inspiration shine and eliminates what dulls it. It’s tempting to emotionally cling to words that detract or get mad. Create drama on paper, not within your critique group.

1. Graciously accept each critiquer’s honest feedback as constructive. You are not obligated to use all comments. Any feedback can be accepted or rejected. If you do not agree with suggested changes, do not use them. The author is the final editor regarding what stays, goes or changes.

2. If several members point out the same thing, give their comments serious consideration and incorporate their suggestions.

3. Respect each critiquer’s area of expertise and learn their feedback. After something in your writing is pointed out several times or repeatedly receives comments, double check and correct your writing before submitting it to the group.

4. Be teachable. Keep your defensive barriers down. Emotional attachment to your writing blinds you to its flaws.

5. If someone misinterprets or misunderstands your point, find out why. Do not defend or overly explain what you have written. If the words fail to convey or explain your message, brainstorm what you want to communicate. As you talk, sometimes you self-edit or the group identifies the core points.

6. If you disagree or feel hurt by another critiquer’s comments, do not argue or retaliate. A critique is not a debate. A critiquer’s comments are a cue that you are not communicating your intent to that person and possibly your readers. When you feel angry, write down your response to the feedback. Later, when you are feeling less emotional, review the validity of the critiquer’s comments.

7. Do not justify the use of a technique. Listen to how the words affect the critiquer.

8. If you do not understand a critiquer’s feedback, respectfully ask the critiquer to clarify the comment.

9. If you are not sure how to make changes based on the feedback, politely request suggestions from the critiquer or the group.

10. Give as much as you take from the members of your writer’s group.

Remember: There is no great writing, only great rewriting.—Justice Brandeis

Monday, March 17, 2008

Among (Writing) Friends

I'm just back from spending 3 days with other mom-writer/speakers. We were involved with the Hearts at Home Conference. Each of us presented two different workshops on both Friday and Saturday and then manned our Resource Tables.

I am now home, exhausted and only partially unpacked.

But it was good to be with other writers. To see the books that other women have written. To hear their passion. To see them prepare for their talks with a high-level of professionalism.

One thing missing from the conference?


We were all rooting for one another. There was not a feeling of You versus Me during any moment of the conference. Everyone offered suggestions to each other: how to improve a book table (Thank you, Trish and Terri!) We prayed for each other, we laughed together, we encouraged one another when Friday was a slow day in the Resource Room--and rejoiced when things picked up on Saturday.

Do you want to make progress along The Writing Road?

Then make friends. Competitors won't hug you when you're down. Competitors won't keep an eye on your book table while you make a bathroom run or go grab a bottle of water. Competitors won't send someone over to your book table saying, "I don't have what you're looking for, but she does."

But a friend will.

It's your choice: You can make the travels along The Writing Road a solitary journey--and a competitive one. Or you can enjoy the company of writing comrades you meet along the way.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Making Writing Dreams Come True

“You can’t say, I won’t write today because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then… you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.” —Dorothy C. Fontana

I didn’t feel like writing today. Why?

My ‘To-Do’ list stretches beyond my physical stamina and the number of hours in my day. Here’s a sampling:

* It’s cold. There’s six-plus inches of spring snow covering my driveway—which I have to shovel.
* Errands need to be run, once roads are passable.
* Two walls and a ceiling await sandpaper and paint.
* A roll of carpet anticipates being unrolled and secured in place. Am dreading cutting it to fit.
* The laundry has bred to overload. This doesn’t include yesterday’s clean garments yearning to be hung, folded and placed in fitting homes in drawers and closets.
* Cleaning house is on the top of the list. Gotta get ready for the weekend.

And on and on and on…

Eliminate Distractions
However, I have a commitment to write. To free myself to write, I am

* decluttering
* simplifying my lifestyle
* finishing home improvement projects
* setting boundaries with negative associations who drain emotional energy
* saying “No thank you” to commitments that steal from time to write
* saying, “Yes” to activities and relationships that encourage my writing.

Little by little, I’m conquering diversions that pull me away from writing.

How about you? What prevents you from writing? Gotta run…paint, sandpaper, carpet, and washes are calling.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

No Pain, No Gain

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little." —Anne Lamott

I enjoy Anne Lamott’s wit. Laughter is one way I’ve survived pain and stress, otherwise known as my life. Some say comedians are people who have suffered pain. And I can relate.

The Joy of Pain
The secret source of comedy is pain—not happiness. Three thousand years ago, Solomon penned these words, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” (Proverbs 17:22, NIV). Humor boosts pain tolerance, releases endorphins, increases blood flow, and lowers tension.

Live. Laugh. Write.
Transform personal pain into laughter. Writing and seeing the funny side of adversity are acts of courage.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Continuing the Conversation

"Life is 'trying things to see if they work.'" ~ Ray Bradbury, author

I'd like to add a twist to Bradbury's quote: The writing life is trying things to see if they work.

Trying things to see if they work. Sounds like writing and rewriting to me.

And writing and rewriting is a creative process.

You get an idea for an article. You throw some sentences on a page. The sentences become paragraphs. You go back and read what you wrote and think, "Not quite what I wanted ... hhhmmm ... Let's see ... I like that line and that line and hey! That's a great word picture! I'll move that up here and weave it all the way through. But what was I thinking when I wrote that?!?"

You rewrite some more. Repeat. Again and again.

You're being creative. One of the definitions of create is to produce through imaginative skill. All that playing with words, rearranging sentences, throwing out passive verbs for aggressive ones--that's creating!

If you can learn to relax and enjoy the creative process--all the better. It's like moving the pieces of a puzzle around, trying to figure out where each thought fits in the overall "picture" of your article. Imagine the satisfaction you'll feel when you're on the other end of the creative process--when you're article or book is finished.

Now that's one of the best parts of a writer's life!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Creativity Is a Pursuit

“Creativity is not something that happens to you. It’s something that you make happen.” —Shana Schutte

Shana Schutte, an author, editor, and speaker, spoke at Springs Writers last night on how to release your writing creativity. She provided many ways to defeat writers’ block which includes free writing and mind mapping. I highly recommend Shana as an excellent workshop and conference speaker. She addresses faith-based issues for women. Her website is www.runtogodministries.org

Creativity Killers
Shana also looked at the things in our lives that kill our writing creativity. How many of these do you experience?

* Not enough silence.
* Your inner critic—when the left side of the brain bosses the right side around.
* Not asking enough questions. Curiosity makes people write well.
* Stress, fatigue, hunger, worry.
* Skepticism. Am I a writer? If you write, you are a writer whether you are published or not.
* Time crunches. Too little time before a deadline.
* Environment. Where do you write best? In a noisy or quiet place?
* Procrastination
* People pleaser. People who rob you of your writing time.

How to Recognize a Great Idea
If it moves you, it will move someone else. Write, journal, type, scribble one worthy page a day and in six months you will have a book. So take your creativity and pursue it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Side Roads of the Writing Life

In three oh-so-short days, I leave for the Hearts at Home National Conference. While I'm there, I'll teach two workshops on both Friday and Saturday. One workshop is related to my book Baby Changes Everything: Embracing and Preparing for Motherhood after 35. The second workshop is about how moms can help their sons choose purity instead of pornography.

Writers are encouraged to have a platform. Speaking at this conference is part of my effort to build a platform as a writer/speaker. Right now I am focused less on writing and more on speaking. And I get caught up in side roads like:

1. Managing my book table:

  • How many books do I take?
  • How do I display my books and other items?
  • Do I want to use a cash box or a bank envelope or something else for my money?
  • What other items do I want to offer at my book table?
  • Printing up price lists

2. Preparing for my workshops:

  • Gathering ground support, i.e. a group of friends to pray for me
  • Polishing my talks
  • Preparing my handouts
  • Practice, practice, practice

3. Odds and Ends:

  • Selecting outfits
  • Packing
  • Getting my hair cut (It's a girl thing!)
  • Figuring out how to pay state tax for Illinois
  • Staying on top (sort of) life here at home before I disappear for four days

I never considered all these details part of the writing life--but they are if you are pursuing the life of a writer/speaker. I'm thankful that I've got friends along the writing road, like my writing comrades Trish Berg and Susie Larson who have answered my questions along the way.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Book Review: Taming Rafe by Susan May Warren

**Don't Miss Your Chance to Win a Steak Dinner With Rafe!**

I'd love to be flipping through my copy of Taming Rafe by Susan May Warren while I write this review. But I can't. First my 21 year-old daughter Katie Beth took the book off my desk and read it in a day and a half. Then she oh-so-nicely loaned it to a good friend. But, before she did that, Katie Beth stood in front of me, holding Taming Rafe in one hand, and stated, "This is a great book! I love this author. I can't wait to read her next book."

Even when I told her she had read book 2 in The Noble Legacy Series--having skipped over Reclaiming Nick--she was still enthusiastic about Susan's writing. Now she's waiting for my daughter-in-love to finish Reclaiming Nick so she can read book 1.

So what can you expect in Taming Rafe? Characters you fall in love with, a mystery or two, and people who have real-life relationships with God--with all the ups and downs that involves. Here's a glimpse at Taming Rafe's storyline:

In less than eight seconds, two-time world champion bull rider Rafe Noble lost his title, his career, his best friend—all on the dirt floor of a noisy rodeo arena. Now he has no choice but to head back to the Silver Buckle, but not before he accidentally destroys philanthropist Katherine Breckenridge’s NY Charity event. Now she’s in town, wanting his money – or his help. And the last thing this broken bull rider is going to do is give her his heart. But Nick’s little brother is going to learn just was it takes to tame the heart of a rebel…

Intrigued? Read the first chapter of Taming Rafe. But, be forewarned. You'll be hooked! You can purchase Susan's book by going here. You can also read an interview I had with Susan here.

Susan says she had fun writing Taming Rafe--and even let her inner cowgirl come out. She wants her readers to have fun too. Sign up for her blog tour contest "Win a steak dinner with Rafe" (an Omaha Steaks gift certificate and a copy of Taming Rafe!)

Visit the other stops on Rafe's blog tour:


March 8th


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Think the Best of Others

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV

When I was the editor of a large project, I hired editors and writers with natural ability, but no professional experience. My goal for them? By the end of the project that they would

* improve their skills.
* gain confidence about their giftings.
* add qualifications to their resumes to assure better jobs.

I enjoyed teaching and encouraging them. When they obtained better positions, I rejoiced and felt proud.

Over five years ago, I knew that if I was going to get serious about my writing that I needed accountability and encouragement. I formed a writing critique group for these reasons:

* to motivate each other to write
* to be a safe place to share our hearts
* to provide professional-quality critiques
* to encourage each other to hone writing skills
* to celebrate each other being published

What I did not expect were the painful ups and downs, such as:

* Personalities that do not mesh no matter how hard you try.
* Jealousy among members.
* Disrespectful, negative attitudes.
* Takers who do not give as much as they receive.
* Controlling individuals determined to hold the group hostage.
* Folks needing an emotional support group, not a writing critique group.
* Personal issues that gobble up valuable critiquing time.
* Hurt feelings by writers who want to join but the group is full.
* Demeaning gossip from people outside the group.

Each time our group faced a challenge, it forced the core members to refocus and refine, “What is our purpose as writers and for this group? Are the group dynamics pulling us away from accomplishing those goals?”

To me the first priority of a writing critique group is to think highly of each other. The spirit of a writing critique group will make or break a writing critique group: It determines whether it is a place where grace abounds and dreams come true.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Writers’ Insights on Writing

“Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil - but there is no way around them,” Isaac Asimov.

“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous,” Robert Benchley.

“Beware of self-indulgence. The romance surrounding the writing profession carries several myths: that one must suffer in order to be creative; that one must be cantankerous and objectionable in order to be bright; that ego is paramount over skill; that one can rise to a level from which one can tell the reader to go to hell. These myths, if believed, can ruin you. If you believe you can make a living as a writer, you already have enough ego,” David Brin

“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor,” Edgar Rice Burroughs

“My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying, “Anton Chekhov.

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it,” Colette.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Let's Talk Terms

What happens within a writers group? The interaction between writers involves feeback, critique and/constructive criticism, and encouragement.

In a writers group, you give and receive feedback. Feedback involves sharing observations and suggestions about each other's writing. The goal is to improve as writers.

The word "critic" comes from the Greek word kritikos, which means to discern. When you critique someone else's manuscript, you are evaluating it--looking at its structure, flow, content--and, if it is fiction, the character development and plot. You discuss both what works and what doesn't work--the good and the bad.

Constructive Criticism implies a compassionate attitude towards the person receiving the criticism. That bears repeating: Have a compassionate attitude towards the person who is receiving critique.

In constructive criticism, the goal is to uplift or encourage another writer as she improves her writing skills. When you're giving feedback, tell a writer what you like about her manuscript. Don't just pull out your red pen and make a manuscript bleed red. Take the time to say, "I love this word picture!" or "This is a great lead."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Trust and Respect: Songs for Writing Groups

"I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within."—Gustave Flaubert
Trust is vital for a healthy writer's critique group. Another key is respect, which means—
* to feel or show esteem for
* to honor
* to show consideration for: avoid violation of
* willingness to show consideration, appreciation.

Thinking the best of each other and each person’s critique is the only way a writer's group will thrive and your writing will improve. If a critical or negative spirit invades your group, it’s dead. Period.

Yet, “critique” means “to be able to analyze or judge in a detailed way.” I need my writers group to help draw out the sound within. I prefer to hear their feedback rather than receive a list of changes from an editor.

Receiving a Critique

What are your expectations and attitudes when you submit a manuscript? How you perceive pain or receive critiques determines your success as a writer.

Will it hurt? Yes.
When will it feel better? When you…
* accept the fact that pain is part of the process
* look forward to seeing red ink
* rewrite a better manuscript
* are published.

Receiving constructive feedback prepares you to interact professionally with the publishing world. When an editor asks for changes prior to publication, it will not be devastating—it is just business.

Do not apologize or feel embarrassed by your writing. Accept where your skill level lies and improve it. Even gifted writers must hone their writing skills. Successful writers look for ways to improve their communication and writing skills.

Remember: If you are in a professional critique group, you are there to receive feedback, to improve your writing skills and to polish your manuscript for publication.

Our group is productive because my critiquers sing their strengths into my manuscript, cancelling out my out-of-tune weaknesses. I appreciate how my fellow critiquer's contribute to my song. Their tune-ups make my writing sing.