Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finding the Right Writing Group

A few weeks ago I found a new writing group. I’ve been to a handful of meetings and can officially say I’m in love.

I’ve been on the lookout for a new writing group since my old one kinda sorta disbanded when the founder stopped scheduling meetings when her personal life got in the way. There’s still a chance things will resume. But after four months of radio silence, I’m not going to hold my breath.

My weekly prompt writing group is still going strong – and that’s where the two stories accepted for publication in Eclectic Flash originated from. But this group, although I love going, is focused on writing practice not critique – and critique is something I’m needing at this point in time.

I happened to be scrolling through my Twitter timeline a few weeks ago when I saw a tweet by Elizabeth S Craig: “A tool for finding in-person crit groups. Type in "critique group" and your location: http://bit.ly/lSed7B

So I clicked, and was redirected to Meetup.com.


Wait a minute. I had already done this when I first moved to town almost two years ago. There was only one writing group, and they were closed to any more fiction writers with maybe a spot for a serious writer of creative nonfiction or memoir. Pretentious much?

But since I was already on the page, I decided I might as well plug in my zip code to see if anything changed. After all, I was desperate for the regular meetings and thoughtful discussions that come from a dedicated critique group.

Turns out a new writing group had gotten started at the beginning of the year and anyone could join. Score. Meetups are held in alternating locations across town, and there’s at least two sessions each week (one in the mornings and one after work) with writers of all styles and genres.

Although I’ve been going to as many meetups as possible, the structure allow for people to pop in now and again with no commitment. We just need to bring five pages and copies to share. Everyone reads their work aloud and then the group discusses it, offering constructive feedback, the good and bad. It’s a great format for testing out story ideas or seeing if the oh-so-important beginning of your story or novel hooks readers of all stripes. And best of all, there’s been no egos in sight – just writers serious about strengthening their work.

After just a few sessions, I’ve already connected with dozens of writers in the area I’ve never met before through other literary events in town. And considering the on-again/off-again relationship with my last group, I’m glad for something with a bit more stability.

Writing groups are fickle things – just like the people behind them.

Don’t settle for a group that doesn’t fit your needs. You may not find a perfect group right away, but don’t stop looking. Stay on the lookout for new opportunities.

And don’t forget to recheck resources like Meetup.com every so often. You never know what will happen.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It’s Finally Real

Or more real than it was last week

Or it’s always been real, but now I have proof*

*proof forthcoming

What am I talking about? Last week I learned that two of my short stories were accepted for publication. Not one. Two. Needless to say I am thrilled my stories will be in the September issue of Eclectic Flash.


When I saw the replies sitting in my inbox that morning last week, I mentally braced myself for more rejections. In fact, I must have read the acceptance emails a dozen times before I believed my eyes. Then I spent a few hours waiting to see if another email would arrive explaining there had been a terrible mistake and that they didn’t actually want my stuff. It never came.

Now you might think I had no confidence in placing these stories based on the mental hand-wringing described above. That’s not true. I absolutely loved my stories – which is why I spent so much time revising and submitting them. I though they were worth the effort and the rejections that came with them. After all, besides all the writing, rejection is the other hallmark of being a writer.

But I was so focused on the submitting and revising cycle that it never occurred to me how an acceptance would affect things. So I offer up some impressions after going through this process:

No More Tinkering – I no longer have to ponder past rejections or scour submission guidelines and revise these two stories. They’ve been accepted. They will be published. And I need not tinker with them again. In some ways, that's a relief. But I sometimes feel the empty space in my brain where they used to reside as I'd think about new ways to improve them.

No Money? No Problem – Eclectic Flash is a non-paying market. The distinction between paying and nonpaying does matter to some writers. But honestly, that wasn’t an issue for me. The validation that the publication credits gives me and the accessibility of my stories in both print and online has far more value at this stage in my writing life.

Never Underestimate FitMy submission strategy is usually to aim at the top markets and go from there. I had collected a couple of rejections, and was debating my next step for both my stories when I learned about Eclectic Flash. After reading their guidelines, I felt my stories would be a great fit – not a cross-your-fingers-and-let’s-see but a oh-my-gosh-it-sounds-perfect feeling. So I sent them off even though I hadn’t exhausted all the pro markets yet. And I will never regret that decision.

Never Discount Story Ideas – The kernel for both these stories originated from prompts I participated in through my weekly writing group. Something about them compelled me to keep working on them until they were strong enough for me to submit. Had I not participated in the writing group or never allowed myself to revisit the stories, I wouldn’t be published.

Now What? Now that the revise/resubmit cycle is over for these two stories, there’s others that need my attention. I thought I’d feel different about getting a few publication credits under my belt. Perhaps even feel less cowardly about getting my stuff out there. But now all I’m thinking about is where do I go from here? What’s next? How do I keep up this momentum?

My stories in Eclectic Flash are a stepping stone. A first big break. Validation after months of hard work. The credits for that third paragraph in a query. The end of what could have been considered a hobby. And a new beginning…

Eclectic Flash Submission Guidelines
Eclectic Flash at Duotrope Digest 
Six Questions for Brad Nelson, Editor, Eclectic Flash

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Changing Things Up

I tried out a new coffee shop on Monday. In a different part of town. Far enough away I had to drive instead of ride my bike. I love writing in coffee shops, and wanted this new place to be worth the disruption in my normal routine. So I printed off the latest draft of a WIP and crossed my fingers.


You never know what you’ll get when you try out something new. Luckily, I found comfy chairs, first-rate java, and a pleasant space conducive to writing. And best of all, I got some work done.

Then I saw someone who I would never see at my usual coffee joint. A bodybuilder with a shaved head, wearing a red flannel shirt and gray spandex shorts (that left nothing to the imagination), with the phrase “What doesn’t kill you / Makes you stronger” tattooed down each brawny forearm.

A big difference from the suited yuppies, bored hipsters, and yoga moms at my regular spot. (Side note: I am none of these).

This man, so different from me and the characters I tend to write about, was a good reminder that we all need to change things up every now and then.

When I write, I sometimes find myself sticking to what I’m comfortable with. The same characters in different stories, the same stable of gestures and physical reactions. The same patterns of storytelling.

And while that’s ok, especially when drafting, sometimes you need to change things up, particularly as you revise to make your story the best it can be.

Sometimes it’s a simple as writing in a new locale. Or tackling a writing prompt to push yourself to write about something new or someone different from yourself. Think of that bodybuilder, tight shorts and all. What would he make of your story? What would he do if he was in your story?

I’m not saying every story needs some big man hopped up on ‘roids to pack a punch. Or that you need to give your MC a tat just because. But I do think it’s important you step outside yourself and analyze your work through someone else’s eyes. To see if you have pushed your story and your characters beyond the realm of your own experience and into that of a general audience.

You might just find what’s missing.

How do you change things up with your writing routine? How do you push your craft forward?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Eight Questions Meme

Tagged. With the Eight Questions Meme from my CP in crime, Lori M. Lee.


If you could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be?
My wedding day – lame, right? I was such a spaz that day. I’m not super comfortable with crowds and prefer small groups instead of the grip ‘n grins needed at the reception. I wish I could have spent more time with everyone without my emotions taking over. The day sped by so fast. I remember a few things but everything else is a blur. And the food! We put so much thought into the menu, and I don’t remember tasting any of it. We ate of course, but I was too distracted to enjoy it.
If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?
Not being brave enough to take writing classes in college. I was an English major (of course) but kept to the survey and criticism courses like the coward I am.
What movie/TV character do you most resemble in personality?
Depends on the day. Sometimes I’m Ise Nanao from Bleach: Calm, collected, industrious, and easily annoyed by people who interfere with that. Other times I’m Britta from Community: psuedo-bitchy without necessarily meaning to be. But mostly I’d have to say I’m Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, who kinda encapsulates aspects of both Nanao and Britta in her misguided, quasi-feminist attempt to do work she’s proud of without sacrificing her soul. Oh, and her love of inappropriate carbs. Full disclosure: Bossypants is on my nightstand.
If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would it be?
George Lucas in 1984. I would still be in training pants, but at least he wouldn’t have gone on to destroy a most-beloved trilogy with Greedo shooting first and Hayden Christensen’s punk ass showing up at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Name one habit you want to change in yourself.
My tentativeness.
Describe yourself in one word.
Practical. Or at least as practical as a writer can be.
Describe the person who named you in this meme in one word.
Artistic. Whether it’s sketches or a perfectly captured sensory detail in her story, Lori renders both with skill and artistry.
Why do you blog? Answer in one sentence.
I blog to share my process with others and for the camaraderie and accountability it brings.
***
Thanks, Lori, for passing this on! For those of you following along at home, consider yourself tagged. You know, only if you want to :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Getting Back on the Horse

It’s time.

Time for me to dust myself off and get back on the horse. What am I talking about? Why submitting, of course.


I started by submitting two flash pieces yesterday. I’m also reworking one short story and finishing up another one with the goal of having them submission-ready by the end of the month.

And then there’s that elephant in the room. My completed historical romance. There’s a voice in the back of my head that grows louder and more insistent every day to start querying. I’ve queried before – much too early – but this time it’s different (doesn’t everyone say that?). I’ve revised the story since the last round of queries. Had my critique partners look it over and I’m in the midst of revising again. I can see the difference in the writing in my story. Everything inside me is just screaming to send it off into the world. Now.

Author Jody Hedlund wrote a post earlier this week about the three stages of querying: the na├»ve beginner, the rejected optimist, and the seasoned realist. I’m definitely somewhere in these last two stages, and my next batch of queries will tell me if my work is ready. I already know I’m querying a tough time period, so it will come down to my writing and the fates.

Writer Sarah Fine also had a set of interesting posts on the querying process this week (Should You Send That Query? What We Can Learn From The Marshmallow Test & Step Away From The Marshmallow. And The SEND Button.). She relates how a psychology experiment measuring one’s ability to delay gratification ties into the querying process. Fascinating stuff!

So querying will happen. Very soon. And if nothing pans out, the process will galvanize me into tacking my next project with renewed fervor. In theory…
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