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.
2. I race through Submittable. It’s a sloppy hunt, but I do my best to include EVERYTHING out in the world that meets my criteria
3. I order all the open calls by due date for an easy calendar style view, next I provide a word count so writers can best decide if they can create something that length in the time allotted. Then I the story’s theme, if there is a response timeline, I add that, and I close with the pay.
4. I only include publications that include $.01 word pay out or a royalty pay out.
5. I stick open calls I believe will interest my writers’ group. Poetry, venues looking for the writers to represent a subgroup other than white male (though I do sometimes include women, queer, disabled calls as we have group members who qualify), some genre requests, and erotica calls are omitted.
That’s it. Over this year, it became an organized system I’m proud of, but it does take a long time to find the information and copy it all into the blog. Hours across days go into what looks like a very simple post. I hope it helps people and while you’re here go look at my December Round Up to see if anything appeals.
Enough about me, I want to hear from you.
Are there other elements or organizations I should include? Do you like how I organize the calls and the information necessary to submit? How do you decide who to submit to? Do you submit to publications that pay less than $.01 a word and if so tell me a little about why/what you believe you gain.
This post speaks to my personal writing process for “Halloween Spirit” and as such is contains spoilers for that work. For a deeper understanding of the elements included or explained in this post please read my flash fiction (it’s short and free ^_^).
Zach Standfield challenged me to write a piece of flash fiction in August. One of the ideas I had was to create an elaborate detailed summoning rite that brought about the end of the world. The short work would focus on my strengths: lyric description and magic set in a modern world. It would avoid my weakness for action scenes and it side steps issues I have about over explaining or creating a finite conclusion.
I wrote two flash works for Zach (neither of which he’s seen) and they both took a grim turn resulting in the brutal murder of the female main character from outside forces she surrenders to. Waaaaay too close a metaphor for the suicidal tendencies slipping into my own head because I’m not handling stress well at work. For the record, I’m not contemplating a plan to end my life, it would be stupid to take a permanent solution for a fleeting problem. But the stress from ongoing conflicts at work is leading me to think “it would be much easier if I wasn’t around” and that was coming through too literally in my writing.
I shelved the third flash idea since I didn’t want it to morph into a 30 something female woman sacrificing herself on the boardroom floor, using the energy of her death to open a hell dimension that forces the people who mistreated her their to suffer for eternity.
Then, I had an idea for our blog. Each of us should write a Halloween themed flash for our blog. Awesome idea, except I suck at short stories and had no idea what I would write.
I thought maybe I’d lean into my fae angle and do a “Wild Hunt” style thing, but “The Most Dangerous Game” already exists. Plus, the idea took over 1,000 words to explore. If I wanted to do something new/interesting, it would take more than 1,000 words.
Next I thought “what’s my thing in the writers’ group?” My literary device is some kind of magic. This reminded me of the summoning story I‘d planned for Zach’s challenge. The problem: no Halloween tie in. So I changed the summons and instead of focusing on a cinematic summoning ritual, I focused on the holiday and hidden darkness that lingers in the fall. I played on the “Wicca” God and Goddess creation myth where the Goddess Births the God, they become lovers, and he dies on Samhain, to be birthed out again in the following Yule. I tossed in two cult classic “Wicker Man” (1973) references to hearken the reader back to a certain time and tone.
For birds gathering, I chose crows over ravens primarily to reference the figure “The Crow” (1994) and foreshadow the death elements. Also, crow mythology pegs the creatures as watchful, resourceful and often tricksters… all elements I wanted to elicit in my story. I thought about using Ravens in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, but those birds are larger, live in only specific regions, and mythologically relate back to winter.
I wrote the first 600 words in one afternoon and would have finished, but I had to stop and go to work. I reread/edited what I had so far and finished the first draft four days later. Ran everything through ProWritingAid and posted to Google Docs for the Writers’ Group to Critique. I read it out loud one last time and added it to our queue for publication.
While the creation process was painless, I’m torn on whether I like the final product. There are great single lines and ideas, but the word limit combined with the time constraint kept me from digging in to find a perfect moment. I usually only consider works done after months of review and reflection, so I figure in six months time, I’ll know what would make this story engaging.
Interested in reading more from Jessica Donegan? Check out the NEWG bliz round robin exercise here with Jessica’s ending available here
Looking at the path from spoken story, to recorded story, to printing press, and now to online and print formats, I can see that technology historically is huge for the aspiring writer. It seems that as technology and communication improve, the different ways it can help writers also exponentially increases. I’m awed and overwhelmed with the different tools at our disposal. To help sort the varying tools, I’m creating a series that explores different services mean to help an aspiring writer. This week we have tools meant to increase daily word count or to encourage a daily writing practice.
750 Words is my favorite of these sites. The purpose is to write 750 words or three pages every day. Once you’ve created an account, it will provide a space to enter text and you just type. When complete, send in your work and 750 will analyze the writing to see whether you were happy or relaxed based on keywords. The site will break down when you paused and when you were in a hot streak. For those who like to compete, you get points and a score board if you keep to the daily 750 word assignment. Best of all, all your writing is private. First thirty days are free and it’s only $5/mo afterward.
Write or Die is an software that puts pressure on the writer to produce text in a set amount of time or…consequences. The most disturbing thing the software does: it deletes words if you pause for more than a few seconds. Write or Die will either help you up your word count or obliterate every letter on the page. It costs $20 and I’ve often toyed with whether it might be worth the price tag to place my feet to the iron. I’m afraid I don’t have the stomach for the software.
Word Counter does a lot more than count your words! If you create a free account, you can create goals to work towards and the site will track progress for you. The site is linked to Grammarly, so spelling and grammar can be altered through them. Beyond that, Word Counter offers stats similar to those available on Hemingway App. It provides a reading level, how long it would take to read or speak, and it also offers a “word density” that may suggest whether you need to crack open a thesaurus. For strict editing, I prefer ProWritingAid, but if I was looking for a hybrid motivational tool and editor, Word Count seems like a capable option. It’s free to use.
Rescue Time, the wonderful Christopher Palmer mentioned this site to me, and I think it’s great for the aspiring writer. The light version lets you set goals and tracks how much time you spend on the web and where. It let’s you know how much time in front of the screen you’re wasting not writing!
What do you think? Do you use any of these softwares? Do you know of any other sites or apps that encourage word count or daily writing? What do you use to track your writing metrics?
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?
Do you listen to music when you write or is the room dead silent? Do you use a special mix with specific songs or do you pick a genre and then let Spotify or pandora pick the playlist? Do you prefer songs with lyrics or are you into pure instrumentals? Can you write only with music or only in silence?
For starters, my music service of choice is Pandora. Ever since the service came out, I loved its evocative name and the way the service introduces me to new music has always intrigued me. Countless hours in college fiddling with the radio settings and “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” different songs, forged a lifetime bond with this service. I keep some channels so fine tuned that some songs I like don’t play on one station, only the other. All this personalization is perfect for writing because I can pinpoint what kind of emotion and tempo I want while I write.
As a general starting place, I listen to pop/dance music when I write. The fast beats encourage the words to flow fast and constant. Most pop/dance is repetitive and uncreative (sorry), which helps me get to a state of mind without coloring my prose. Unless as you read this you’re thinking “oh no no no, don’t phunk with my heart,” Black Eyed Peas make consistent appearances on this channel. The best part of my dance music motif is that when I get stuck on a certain scene, I can stop writing and start an impromptu dance party! Nothing drives progress like an endorphin hit.
That said, I have a short story I inspired by one specific song. To write it, I looped the one song the during the whole writing process—hours of the same song, and I still find that song mysterious and inspiring. Something about its slow start that transforms to frantic drums and ends abruptly –
For reference, while I like pop/dance just fine but they aren’t my go to genre. Except Lady Gaga whose amazing, my music preferences just for enjoyment include hard rock, metal, alt rock, grunge, and folk. Angry and loud or pensive and angst (but never Emo they feels are manufactured). I like songs I can channel feelings through and release. Problem with this kind of music is that sometimes it makes me feel too much. The writing becomes too personal or I’m too busy wallowing in an emotion to refocus on what I meant to do. I might occasionally listen to a folk or rock station briefly so I can capture that bit of that depth my writing, but I don’t want to live there. Writing or reading a story that’s all brooding anger and open wounds sounds terrible and exhausting for everyone involved.
Do your music preferences match what you listen too? If you use a writers’ playlist, what does it reveal about you as a person or as a writer? Follow up thought: do you longer works have playlist? What about your characters? My favorite creation, Roxi, has a playlist and I wonder how many other authors’ creations take on a life of own through music.
It’s a simple question, but one I’ve found a lot of writers have never asked themselves.
I write because I have stories and I want to tell them. Compulsion pulls me through where a reasonable person may surrender. There are days where I think “even if no one ever sees this, I need to complete it.” That’s an internal part of writing, when an idea gets too big to hold in my head and needs to come out to the page. There are stories of mine I’ll never seek to publish. I “had” to write them, but that doesn’t mean they are good or meant for public consumption. Two, even though they are fiction, just mean personal things I don’t want to share. Others are artistic dabbles that I either think aren’t good or may be acceptable but not noteworthy enough to go through the work trying to publish.
I write because I enjoy reading but it’s rare I find an engaging story. Arrogance at it’s finest, to think I can be more unique and captivating that those already published. What I want is so niche it’s probably not worth creating. If I’m looking for a gritty urban fantasy with relatable characters, attainable goals, and both good and negative parts of magic and myth running the world, there must be other people looking for that. Urban fantasy readers can’t all be there for the romance and laughs. Some of them must be like me looking for the substance. American Gods exists and was a huge hit. There are so many other directions a work like that could go that I want to see.
I write as a way for reaching out to others. As someone shy, nervous, and concerned about other’s feelings and perspectives, there is no better way to broach difficult topics than through fiction. It’s a lot harder to feel attacked by an idea expressed in an imaginary world than an idea that will affect people now. Stories create space for people to say “that’s an interesting idea, could it work here?” or “I wonder if issue X is relevant now and what that looks like?”
I write because it distracts me when my anxiety is high. To a lesser extent: I write when I’m depressed because I need something beautiful or I write when the world spins out of control because writing is all in my hands. Most writers I know have an element of this. They are pensive, depressed, anxious, socially awkward and writing mitigates that for them.
I write because it’s one of the few skills I have that makes me proud and leaves me feeling accomplished. I write because I have something to say and I’m always exploring new ways to express my points.
And now you, the reader, know me better. Tell me something about yourself. Are you a writer? What do you write? If it’s fiction in nature, why write it? If you’re a reader, what do you read and why read it?
I am the self-appointed editor of our group round robins. Anyone who’s read our work knows I am LEAST qualified of the four of us. ProWritingAid is the great equalizer, or at least I have to tell myself it is.
As the editor I have self-imposed rules.
1. Don’t change the core of other’s sections. Whatever they wrote is what they intended and I have to work with that, not hack and slash around to change inherent meaning. Too much change makes it “my story” instead of “our story” which runs contrary to the round robin’s goals.
2. Seamless flow from one writer to the other is the goal, but I can’t change all the phrasing to be “Jessica” (or anyone else’s) style to achieve this. It’s not right to erase someone else’s voice on a joint work to showcase another’s.
This worked well in our first round robin. I used ProWritingAid first to correct grammar, style, to catch and rework repetitive phrasing, and to delete adverbs. The major change I made was plot continuity driven. One writer misread another’s part of the story. Where Anges finds a dead body that writer interpreted it as Anges being the dead body. I had to change content. I adjusted three lines.
Fast forward to our second round robin project. We used Reedsy to find a prompt. The gist was: “Your grandmother makes pancakes for you every morning. Your grandmother dies, but there are still pancakes the next morning.”
This prompt was a different challenge from the last. The first story blooms from three words/themes. Using a specific scenario, encouraged more partnership instead of competition to “take over” the story. This second round robin was smoother and required a lot less finessing to make it seem like one person had written the work.
If reworking it was simple why isn’t it posted here?
The “problem”: I hate my part of the story. Not all. I’m happy with the first three almost four paragraphs, but it goes downhill fast. My ambitions to churn the most words and be the first to “finish” a round robin in fifteen minutes left me with a rambling sticky mess. I do not want to publish such a poor expression of my writing. Everything I think is weakest in my form is on display.
What might be worse, my closing section only drives towards a handful of endings. I broadcasted the only natural conclusion, and that’s driving me to play with the less obvious choices to thumb my nose at myself (because I hate authority so much I’ll rebel against myself when I become the authority and isn’t that an unattractive personality quirk).
Help! Do I publish and unfinished story as it stands? Do I scrap this work as hopeless? Do I make my changes because if I cut the last two paragraphs I could write three kinds of separate endings on my own? Are more drastic changes to my section a benefit I gain as the person completing the editing work? Do I have to keep everything I wrote in the spirit of the exercise and endure the cringe? Tell me what’s a “professional” writer/editor to do in this situation with my minor conflict of interest.
Fellow writers: would you rather a reviewer tell you that the book’s story and characters were amazing but the writing quality didn’t meet expectations or that your book’s writing was mind blowing but the characters and story were cliche retreaded territory? Follow up bonus question: are your feelings hurt by either or these critiques?
I’m asking because I write a lot of book reviews (check me out on Goodreads/shameless plug) and they are critical, even onbooksIlike. I wonder like many aspiring writers might, what effects if any of my reviews have on the authors and on my ability to reach out/break into their world of publication. Am I speaking to other readers or do authors also follow discussions on their books? Am I closing doors by breaking a book down or am I showcasing a thoughtful and attentive mind by considering so many facets? For me these answers break down to whether my comments are offensive and insults are often in the eye of the beholder.
Assuming for the moment that critical discussion on aspects of a book don’t automatically equal injury, I want to know what specific kinds of critical discussion would be fair to discuss with an author.
Personally, I’d rather have characters and plot that a reader falls in love with than pitch perfect writing. Things I want to hear include: “The characters felt very real,”, “I felt like I knew everything about these characters,”, “I needed to know more,”, “I’ve never seen this kind of story explored this way.”
That said, I have a distinctive sing song almost poetic style in all my writing. I have an unique “tone.” If someone compared my writing to another person’s style, I’d be curious to read more of that person’s work and excited to meet a kindred spirit. If someone doesn’t like my style, I get that too. It’s heavy in description, relies on alliteration, and is simile/metaphor heavy. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Grammatically, I know I need serious help. Critiques to that effect can dishearten me after I’ve gone through editing that relates to correcting grammar, but it doesn’t cut me. Either I can go back in and correct the grammatical errors (a bonus to electronic publishing), or I’ve made the error in favor of how a phrase flows or draws out a feeling fragmented instead of a full detailed thought.
Does it all boil down to where we as writers are insecure? My confidence in writing style makes me believe problems in my book must be character/plot related, and therefor I’m more concerned with feedback from those quarters. I still want the feedback. For me there is never enough feedback or feedback that’s too harsh as long as it comes with specific examples so I can follow another’s thoughts.
Please give me your thoughts. Do you fear another kind of feedback? If someone published you would negative or mixed reviews hurt your feelings? And how do you rate books/media?