How many times have I heard someone gushing over their own prose? It’s vomit inducing and leaves me self conscious for most of my day.
I’m not talking about jealousy of another writer’s work, no, I am talking about the real envy that comes when someone seems to enjoy writing. I always took a small measure of comfort in the belief that all writers are masochists.
Setting aside personal time, staring at the blank screen then counting the number of blinks the cursor makes before you type in the next vowel felt necessary.
Then, all of a sudden, I’m confronted with johnny types-a-lot whose sparkling grin,stretched ear to ear, becomes the ultimate slap to all my masochistic endeavors. This wasn’t a tormented soul that gets up every morning, resurrected, to hoist themselves on that black and white cross.
Confronting that early in life sort of gave me the writing jitters. I clammed up at the keyboard, wondering if my pursuits were flawed, or if I was working against something that was innate in others.
Could I be doing this all for the wrong reason? Was I addicted to an aesthetic, a lifestyle of the sagacious old writer in twill concentrated on each pen stroke?
I hate twill, however, I love to be “tormented.” I sought that tortured artist motif and used it as a crutch to avoid my responsibility as a writer. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I am unfettered from the struggle of writing, but at least I identified the thing that keeps me from producing. It is so easy to give in to the thrill of production and a day or nights work with actual atrocity. I could be alone in this, but if by some chance you feel this way, I’d advise taking a stronger look at the way you approach coming to the keyboard.
Can mitigating martyrdom help eak out a few more paragraphs? I have been approaching the whole thing in measures. I always want to get a certain number of words for each sitting. If I go over or under, then that is not a loss of my time. The real loss is when I sit on my hands and bemoan my own tortured time plugging away at my latest edition of “Zach, tortured auteur.” Now, I use a simple mantra, “find my time, find my place, find my mindset then write.
Welcome to January’s resolution time! Two weeks is enough time to reflect on 2018 and decide what you might want in 2019 right? That’s right, I’m talking writers’ goals! It’s that fun and dreaded time to commit to completing story X, writing Y amount of words a day, seeking and learning from critical feedback, improving weakness C in your writing, ect. What’s your writing resolution(s)?
It’s been a year since the North Alabama Writers’ Group posted in this blog, and I opened our first post with New Year’s Resolutions. It seems fitting that 365 days later, I offer a reminder that a writers’s group can help you reach those goals.
Why Join a Writers’ Group?
People join writing groups, classes, and programs for many reasons. I think the two primary reasons to join/meet is:
-Improve writing. We are looking for someone to suggest skills and styles we don‘t have. We may need proofreading. We are looking for others to help us past writer’s block. Or maybe we just need another person to tell us we’ve “jumped the shark” or lost reader’s interest.
-Motivate us to keep writing. A constant struggle whether a hobby or full-time is to keep writing and maintain commitment to the one project. We may love that work as we’ve loved nothing else in our lives, but it is difficult to keep working on it and striving for completion. Whether you struggle in the first draft or the second, there is a point where you think “I can‘t do this, no one will see what I’ve done as I do and that‘s the best gift I could give my creation”. A group either through feedback or encouragement helps us get through this struggle of sorrow and ambivalence. They help push us.
A third, perhaps lesser reason to join a writers’ group is to become part of a community. Writing is a lonely journey. It’s nice to get together and speak to others who have the same struggles and maybe the same thought process.
Are There Different Writers’ Groups?
Yes. Some exist to work together on group projects. Other’s give out weekly assignments, like a class, and they ask everyone to produce something from a related theme. Still others are more open and each writer pursues their own project, sharing as they are ready. In some writing groups, no one shares any work at all, they gather to commiserate over the process and perhaps hold brainstorm sessions for each other.
Can one writers’ group accommodate all these different goals?
Maybe? In the North Alabama Writers’ Group we struggle to balance differing expectations of our growing group. It’s hard because all writers go through periods of low creativity. Writers also have varying temperaments and accommodating everyone at one meeting can be a challenge.
To help with some conflicting desires, sometimes it’s good if a larger group breaks out into sub groups. We do this at meetings when those who would like to take part in our blitz round robin break off from other writers who would prefer to discuss their own ongoing works. We always allow time for those who want to read their recent works aloud to share, but we force no one to read out loud.
We have multiple online spaces. Google document sharing happens between writers looking for more structured commentary. This blog is a space for general writing conversations and topics we may not always explore in the face-to-face meetings. Our Facebook group allows for link sharing in a less formal format.
That’s great, but this post should tell me how a Writers’ Group helps me reach my goals!
A good writers group wants to support each of their writers goals and ambitions whether it’s a hobby or it’s something the person is seeking to pursue professionally. While balancing different levels of expectation and production is difficult, it’s important you take the time to get to know the people in a group and see if what they are offering will help you in your process.
Do you leave filled with creative energy and the desire to write? Does the group’s feedback present new avenues for you in your story or future re-writes? Are you able to co-author works with your group or perform a writing exercise at your meeting that helps get your process started? Does the group link you out to other writers, editors and publishers and can you grow through networking and differing perspectives?
I can‘t promise that all writers’ groups will help a writer. And I won’t promise that the North Alabama Writers’ Group is a good fit for everyone, but I would encourage all writers to find a group/person that supports and drives them forward. You may have to create the content in solitude, but you don’t have to travel through the whole journey alone.
Rick Polad shared What’s in a Name? It inspired me to create my version. And since we both admit we’re crap at creating names (well he struggles, I admit I’m crap at it), I figured I’d steal his title to keep with the theme…because I don’t want to waste time creating another title not because I couldn’t.
It’s content that matters right? Except if your title or name sucks, no one will ever get past it and into all the good stuff, which can leave writers stuck. Even people good with names, can feel stymied by the pressure applied to first impressions. Bland titles that don’t search well in Google or Amazon.
I have a few thoughts. First don’t use character names that start with the same letter in a single story. I know Polad speaks about using Rose and Rosie as two different character names in the same work. I’m thrilled it worked out for him. As someone with dyslexia it wouldn’t work out for me as either an author or a reader. Those two names read the same on a casual glance. Figuring out the characters are separate and keeping them separate would slow my reading down to a snail’s pace. I might need to make notes. So don’t make your characters’ names so similar please.
I go one further and try never to use names that start with the same letter. People skim, they don’t read anymore. I don’t want to confuse anyone kind enough to read my work with names that tangle different characters together into one person.
I also suggest using one name for a character. I’ve read a lot of books where halfway through characters develop nicknames that are either shorten versions of their full name (i.e. the author tired of writing the full thing out) or the character develops a random pet names. It’s annoying to keep track a bunch of different names. Use one name even if it’s not the real name have everyone call him Snake or whatever. There is ONE seriesofbooks where the author used nicknames to her advantage. In it she has the main character name those around her after their predominate traits. It works because it helps us get to know her main character and because the main character’s insistency on these nicknames ends up forcing other characters to adopt them. The nickname that uses the character’s defining trait becomes how everyone addresses the guy formerly known as Bob.
I’d like to tell you not to make the name ridiculous, but I use outrageous names all the time. What I will say is that it’s a balancing act to make names unusual and other names more standard. Consider when a name might be too on the nose or when one person has a unique name in a sea of bland.
And Now Helpful Resources: First is Behind the Name If you’ve got a theme, this site will fill your queue with potential names. You can search through meanings, country origins, and genders when hunting for names. All of this can be a sly nod to a reader or something meant only to tickle the author. My second favorite site is the Fake Name Generator. Ashley, in writers’ group, gave me this site and now I’m sharing the love. Identity genorator offers “believable” if you are looking for that living in the real world vibe. Fill in the specifics you have and let the site give you the rest. It’s an interesting creators’ tool.
*Edit 11/7/18 I just found Reedsy has a interesting detailed name generator that offers names for Villains, heroes, mentors, and side kicks. Or names specific to fantasy races, or names bases off of certain languages. I still prefer Behind the Name, but Reedsy’s resource has too much possibility to exclude.*
Next I recommend a writers’ group or series of peers. Ashley gave me a name for one of my characters and she let me know another’s name isn’t “too on the nose”. Having outside feedback is key to getting into a potential readers’ mindset.
Last, when all else fails, I bang the keys of my computer and see what rises from the gibberish. I like grabbing scifi names this way. Talk to me. Do you have trouble creating names for people and places? Do you have tips, tricks, or favorite sites to help? Any other thoughts on what not to do when naming a place or person?