Tag Archives: Writers’ Workshop

Library Writers Group: An Introduction

5 May

Because I’m not in enough writers’ groups, I’ve joined one more. And I’ll be going back to my Wednesday group soon, so you’ll all get a lot more of my writers’ group knowledge in the coming months.

This group is sponsored by my library and run by a librarian who also runs one of my book clubs. She told me about it a few months ago so my anticipation was pretty high. I know, I’m easily excitable. Nicole joined me for dinner and we headed over to see what all the fuss was about.

There were ten of us present, including the two librarians running the group. Besides Nicole and myself, there was a woman who writs poetry, another pair of crit partners who focus on YA and New Adult (how perfect!), a young woman who came in late and I’m not sure what she writes, a gentleman who writs historical biographies and a woman who has published 4 non-fiction books and one fiction book. I really like that we’re going to have some variety in those participating.

A lot of what we discussed was what we wanted to get out of the group. Our leader’s idea was to have two parts to each meeting: discussion and critique. She has some ideas for the discussion part for the next few months and we wrote down suggestions for other topics. Next month we’re going to talk about ‘giving and receiving constructive criticism’ which I think I struggle with. I’m very judgmental when I read something and I have to review it a second time to find things I liked about a piece. They are two different states of mind for me and I have to do them separately. I’m getting excited for this conversation. An idea for another topic was ‘Who is a book’s target audience?’ This reminds me of Stephen King’s advice about an ideal reader and I’m curious to see what others will say.

The second part will be the critique section which will run much like it does in my other critique groups. Word limit is 3,000 words and pieces will be distributed a week ahead of time. One idea I liked is that with your piece, you include a few questions for the other members. This will help get feedback more targeted to what you want. If you’re worried about how your antagonist is developed, you can get that instead of advice on a better way to describe your side character’s shoes.

Our discussion for this meeting was on an article that we read by Chuck Palahnuik where he challenges writers to stop using ‘thought verbs.’ You can read the article here and I really recommend it. His ideas will really drive home ‘show don’t tell’ and give some good ways to practice it.

In essence, he’s saying that using words like though, knew, remembered, liked and wanted are cheating. It’s telling the reader how a character feels or is thinking about. It’s not describing why the character has these feelings. They can sometimes feel like ‘thesis statements’ when you start a paragraph with ‘John knew Sarah was mad’ and then go on to explain why he knew. Why are you giving away to the reader what you’re about to describe? Strike the thesis statement. A few other nuggets that I loved were to have a character alone as little as possible to maximize action and to allow the reader to do the ‘thinking’ and ‘knowing.’

We did a few exercises and I’ll share two of mine here. I hope this illustrates what the goal was.

  1. There is nothing I hate more than waiting. Shelly bounced her foot nervously. Being chronically early to a doctor who was incurably late was a bad diagnosis. She sighed, checking her phone to see if she was still seven minutes behind or if it was yet eight.
  2. I thought she was the nicest person I’d ever met. She oozed smiles like a teenage boy oozes apathy. Her reassuring touches could calm the hulk and in a sentence I’m sure she could pacify Hitler. Every baby shower and birthday party in a ten-mile radius had her touch on it. I never heard her speak ill of anyone and the only thing she ever complained about was the weather.

Does that help? I hope so. I’m really excited for us to meet in May! It will be a great talk. I’m still deciding if I should bring something. Maybe a poem, I’ve been trying to write poetry.

Until next time, write on.

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Novel Girls: Cutting, Adding, and Your Own Weakness

22 Apr

There is no way to describe how much I love meeting with my Novel Girls. It’s the perfect thing to do on a Thursday night to put me in my weekend brain a bit early. Then I float through Friday in a cloud, which is really wonderful.

This week it was me, Katherine, and Nicole and we met at Nicole’s new place again, which is great. I’m super jealous of her book shelf, by the way. It’s so well-organized and mine’s a total mess, haha. We all brought short stories, which was a nice change of pace for us, as we normally bring chapters of our novels.

My story is one I had rejected recently. Not my proudest moment, but I’ll live with it. I took the piece to another writers’ group and got a bit of feedback on it, but I was looking for more. The girls had some good advice on where I can make some cuts in the piece. They felt a part of it was entertaining, but didn’t develop my character. I thought that was really good feedback. The other part where they suggested I cut something is when my character’s finally revealing something about himself, but it gets muddled in the wording. This was hard for me to hear because the other group had said this part wasn’t long enough and needed more because the importance of the secondary character was watered down. One group wants more details on her, my girls wanted less and for me to focus on my main character. I’m still trying to decide what to do here. Reader, what do you do when you get two pieces of advice that seem great but contradict each other? I”m stuck in an author’s limbo!

Nicole seemed to have the opposite problem from me. In her story, we as readers wanted more! We wanted more detail as to what both were thinking, what started the conversation they were having, and what they were doing. The piece was very emotionally charged, very hard for both of the characters to endure, and very detailed. We felt the emotional changes the characters were experiencing merited a more in-dept look because of how their lives were changing in this ten minute window. Because it was such a rough time for both, I suggested giving the story a little more of a starting point and frame of reference so that the reader would understand how out of character some of the things were for these characters and how this was something that was hard for them to do. I think it will be a really strong piece when it’s finished.

When I read Kathrine’s piece, I knew that there were two spots which didn’t show her best writing. When I pointed them out, she agreed. She’s felt that these were two weak points herself when she’d sent it off to us. We talked through some ways to improve them and I think Katherine was glad to have some other people to talk to about those two parts. It was a reminder to us all that if something sounds weak when you write it, the reader will probably notice. It’s better to re-word or re-structure the part then to assume your reader will ‘get it’ or hope no one notices. This shows how helpful a close group of writers can be.

I hope all of your writers groups are going well. Until next time, write on.

New Writer’s Group: Small Group of Strangers Workshop

15 Apr

As if there wasn’t enough going on in my life, I’ve joined another writing group! This one is workshop centered and run by a young woman with a creative writing degree (yes, I’m jealous). I found the group on Meetup.com and if you’ve ignored me before when I say this is a great place to find writing friends, take your fingers out of your ears and give it a try.

The group was great and I loved how it was run. The moderator says it’s the same way they ran workshops at school. I loved how organized the group was. As a note, all writers groups are different and you just have to find one that works for you. They all have their virtues, just find the one you like. That lecture aside, I think I’ll continue going to this one. Here’s how it was run.

We all arrived no more than five minutes late and there were only four of us. This was wonderful as a first timer because I didn’t feel too left out. The other three had all attended before and only two of us had submitted something, myself and a gentleman. We did his piece first, which was nice because it showed me how mine would be reviewed.

We started with him reading the first page or so of his work aloud. I loved this because it told us how to pronounce one of the names (which I was saying wrong in my head) and get the tone he wanted to get across. Then we as a group summarized what happened in the piece, cutting each other off and finishing where someone stopped. That sounds rude when I write it like that, but it was nothing of the sort. It was really great and made us all feel really connected to the piece again.

Don’t worry, we did get to the critique part! We said what we liked about the piece, what we thought it had going for it and was well done. And then, finally, we did go over what we thought could be changed about the piece to make it better. This ranged from metaphors and words to voice and character development. I got a lot of good advice from this group, some of it I’m not sure how to implement yet. I’ll go over it with the Novel Girls before I’m done and I bet I put it through another round of edits. Such is life.

I hope those of you who are writers have found a group of writers to bounce pieces off of. How is your favorite writing group structured? Do you like large or smaller groups? I love hearing about all the different ways a piece can be critiqued.

As a reminder, if you’re interested in doing a Read-Along, please respond to this post. There’s a poll where you can vote on what book you’d like to read. Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can see all of these on the right hand bar. (You know you want to.)

Until next time, write on.

Where Do You Find Critique Partners?

25 Feb

One of the librarians stopped me on my way to book club yesterday to tell me the library was going to start a literary critique group in April. Finally! She’s been pushing for this for a while and I’ve told her I’ll support it when she finally got the red tape torn down. Now it finally seems that it’s happening!

This got me thinking about good critiques and how helpful they can be for writers. I’m fortunate enough to have my own little critique group, my Novel Girls friends. We get together about twice a month to go over each other’s work. Our next meeting is tonight and I’m so excited because I’m sharing the second-to-last section of my first novel. We’re so close to the end!

I’ve found a few other critique groups that have been instrumental in my growth as a writer. Both of them I found from the website Meetup. If you’re not familiar with this website, I recommend checking it out. Meetup is not just for writing, it’s for people with all sorts of interests to find others in their areas with those interests and join together to share experiences. I’ve used it for hiking, book clubs, and, of course, writing. Some groups are focused on critique, others on workshops and still others on writing together. I think all of these are useful because they introduce you to other writers. I met my Novel Girls in a prompt-writing group, the same one where I met an alpha reader.

In my strive to edit, I’m always looking for new ways to find critique partners. How have you found critique partners? Are there forums in which you’ve met people who have helped you make your writing better? Have you had success with Meetup? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think, I love hearing from you!

Until next time, write on.

Writers’ Workshop Advice: Tighter Prose

8 Oct

Hello, blogosphere!

Once a month I go to a writers’ workshop.  The participants vary though there are a few regulars.  I thought with my Wednesday night job that I wouldn’t be able to attend anymore, but I had no appointments this week and was able to go!  One of our regulars is a professional editor who is always handing out great writing advice.  A few of his sticking points have to do with writing on the ‘word-level.’  By this I mean that it’s not focused on voice, flow, or technique as much as on engaging a reader through word choice.  I took notes on his advice and I want to do an experiment!

I found an old prompt that I wrote a while back.  The prompt was: Write a death flashback scene of a villain’s life.  I want to go through it and work on the four things this editor recommended for tightening up one’s writing.  The four things (I’ll go into reasons later) are:

  • Adverbs
  • Adjectives
  • Forms of the verb ‘to be’
  • Prepositional Phrases

I’ll mark up the writing using the key above (ex. adverbs in dark purple, adjectives in green, etc.).  Then, I’ll go through each of the editor’s suggestions and explain why it helps to tighten up writing.  Then, I’ll re-write the passage with those suggestions in mind and you can tell me which you prefer, what parts you like best, and why.  Here we go!

David felt his heart clench inside his chestFrantically, he stumbled toward the phone in the living room but collapsed on the rug ten feet short.  He started to crawl, but the pain was too intense.

There was no one else in the house and he knew he was having a heart attack.  No one ever visited the big farm house.  No one would even know he was gone until he didn’t go around to pay the wages, and pay day was four days away.  David’s heart clenched again, this time in fear.  He was going to die alone.

There was no wife to rush to his side and cry over his body.  Jeanine had left twenty years ago and there were no children.  David had regretted how he acted, but he didn’t know another way.  He spent all day talking to his workers, treating them like the scum of the earth that they were; it was hard for him to come to Jeanine at the end of the day and be polite and loving.  His personality wasn’t a switch to turn on and off.

No friends would be his pallbearers at the funeral.  Come to think of it, there was no reason for a funeral at all.  The closest thing he had to friends were the men he bought fertilizer and farm equipment from in town twice a year.  They knew his name, did that mean they would mourn his passing?  UnlikelyMaybe the banker would mourn him.  David visited the bank frequently to inquire into his stock values and interest rates.  The banker would notice he was missing.  But he never came to visit so David couldn’t be saved.

His mother might arrange a funeral, if she was still alive.  When he’d left home, David had never looked back.  He was so determined to build a life for himself as far from the one-room house on another man’s ranch that he’d severed all ties.  He hoped his father was dead so that he didn’t have to bare this embarrassment in his father’s mind.  David remembered hearing that you shit yourself after you die.  His father would only laugh at that.

The room grew darker around him, but David could still make out the dear possessions in his living room.  The television set he never watched, purchased only to see the looks of jealousy on the faces of everyone else in the general store.  There was a bookcase filled with classics and first editions of which he’d never cracked the spinesPriceless art hung on his walls and David couldn’t help but wonder who would inherit it after he was gone.

A single tear rolled down his face.  It wasn’t from fear of death because David knew that Death would be a welcome ending.  It wasn’t from pain, as David considered himself above pain and suffering.  It was a tear of loneliness, one solitary tear.

So there’s the starting point.  Now, I’ll go into the four suggestions and talk about how they can lead to stronger writing.

Eliminate adverbs: This same topic came up on The Daily Post last week.  The basis of this argument (shared by many writers, including the great Stephen King) is that an adverb can be removed and replaced by a stronger verb.  Writers who find themselves using adverbs to excess are likely using the same basic verbs over and over, making for repetitive, boring, and weak writing.  The advice: use them sparingly if at all.

Minimize adjectives: This is a similar argument to the adverb argument.  Adjectives describe a noun.  Someone overusing adjectives is using weak nouns.  By minimizing adjectives, the writer forces himself to find more varied, unique, and impactful adjectives (now there’s a list of adjectives I should eliminate in a revision).

Avoid passive voice to the extreme: I say ‘to the extreme’ because that was what impacted me the most.  More than not using the passive voice (the SUBJECT was PAST PARTICIPL(ED) by the DIRECT OBJECT), this editor recommended getting rid of anything that could be construed as the passive voice and eliminate as many uses of the verb ‘to be’ as possible.  What a challenge!  This again related to the adverb advice: you can use a stronger verb.  ‘To be’ is one of the backbones of English and any language, but it’s such a common verb that it’s vastly over-utilized.  A stronger substitute works better.

Avoid prepositional phrases: There are two caviots to this advice: (1) keep it in dialogue and (2) unless it reads awkwardly without the phrase.  Wow, I would have never thought of this!  We can relate this one to the adjectives advice in that prepositional phrases can many times clutter a sentence with unnecessary description that detract from the message the writer wants to get across

Armed with this advice, I’m going to attempt to follow as much of it as possible and clean up my earlier prompt into much tighter, stronger, and impactful prose.  Here goes nothing!

David felt his heart clench.  He stumbled toward the phone but collapsed ten feet short.  He started to crawl, but pain coursed through him.

The empty house provided little relief from his sufferings.  Few visitors came visiting and no one would notice his absence.  The workers only spied him on pay days and one had just past.  David’s body tensed, realizing he would die alone.

The silence surrounding David struck him.  His wife had left him and their caustic nature never brought on a tendency toward children.  David regretted how he acted, but he’d never learned how to behave.  He spent all day working and treating the employees like scum; he couldn’t come home and fake polite and loving.  His personality didn’t turn on and off like a switch.

No friends would serve as pallbearers.  Come to think of it, a funeral would be a waste.  The men he bought farm equipment from might come but additional seats would remain vacant.  The men knew his name; did that mean they would mourn his passing?  Unlikely.  Maybe the banker would mourn him.  The bank allowed him to watch his money grow.  He and the banker used Christian names together but didn’t visit each other’s homes.  David had no savior coming.

His mother might arrange a funeral, if she still lived.  Once he’d left home, David hadn’t looked back.  He’d challenged himself to succeed and built life far from the one-room house on another man’s ranch his parents called home.  He hoped his father had passed so he wouldn’t have to hear this embarrassing end.  David remembered hearing that the recently deceased shit themselves.  His father would laugh to find David’s pants full of shit.

The room grew darker, but David could still make out the hoarded possessions surrounding him:  the television set he never watched, purchased only to see the clerk’s jealous look;  the bookcase filled with classics and first editions he hadn’t read;  the priceless art smiling sadly back at him. David couldn’t help but wonder who would inherit it all.

A single tear rolled down his face.  It didn’t reflect a fear of death because David knew that death would bring a welcome ending.  He was in no pain, as David considered himself above pain and suffering.  David shed a tear of loneliness; a solitary tear.

So there we are!  An original and a tidied up version.  Which do you prefer?  What (if anything) do you like about the cleaned up version?  Leave me a comment and let me know!