Why I need a face 2 face writing group.

If you live in the state of Utah, you are in luck…there is plenty of support for both the new and the experienced writer alike. Joining a group that is especially for writers can be a very helpful thing. Not only do you get support, but you can network and learn new things from others in the field.
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Upon leaving WIFYR last June, I was all excited to write AND to help create an online writing group that included all the friends I’d made during that fun week. BUT here I am 3 months later, and I have NOT helped with the writing group that the kind and talented Jared organized. I have to ask myself WHY NOT.

It’s not that I don’t want to be part of a writing group because I really do, but I realized I want to meet face 2 face, NOT computer 2 computer. Even though it means adding one more meeting to my busy life, traveling to who-knows-where through wind, rain, snow, sleet and occasional sunshine or moonlight. That didn’t appeal to me in June, but it does now.

So these are the reasons an online group doesn’t fit the bill for me:

  • I need DEADLINES – not just write-and-submit due dates, but show-up with-manuscript-in-hand-and-face-your-peers kind of cut-offs.
  • I need to HEAR someone besides MY inner or outer voice read my writing to see if it sounds as good or bad as it does in my mind.
  • I need feedback THAT VERY MINUTE, not when an online buddy can get around to looking it over, because if they are as pathetic as I am, they will NEVER get to it.
  • I need living, breathing bodies to interact with because I spend enough time staring at a screen, and as much as I love listening to i Tunes or Pandora, I crave the energy of human beings. I like to see their faces, not just their Gravatars.
  • I need people to laugh at my craziness, to encourage me when I miss the mark, and to share ideas that are better than what I glean from Me, Myself, and I.

With that said, this is what I’m looking for – a group that …

  • meets once a month
  • includes experienced AND INexperienced writers
  • experiments with a variety of genres – from sci-fi/fantasy to contemporary; from paranormal to mysteries; from romance to historical.
  • includes Millennials as well as the Geritol Generation, and
  • can laugh out loud.
  • is willing to take risks with their writing and who encourage others to do so.
  • can give constructive suggestions without making the writer feel inferior, and can receive suggestions without becoming all defensive.

I don’t really want much. But if you know of such a collection of aspiring writers, please let me know. I’d love to land there!

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Epiphany at WRITING for CHARITY

Found on Flickr

When August 21st rolled around, and Writing for Charity (WFC) along with it, I had completed 13 pages of my work in progress (wip). I was EXTREMELY anxious to share my first page (cuz that’s all you are allowed to share at this event) as I was experimenting with a multi-writing-genre format.

The protocol for most writing groups requires that someone OTHER than the author reads the draft. The writer CANNOT say ANYTHING. This is difficult for me, and I slipped when my reader Ann Dee Ellis couldn’t figure out a weird contraction.

“Ah, ah, ah, Renae,” she said. “You need to listen to the way readers might say this word.”

Of course she is right, and such a read-through revealed several issues that I immediately recognized. I started to point them out, and Ann Dee stopped me again as I needed to see if our group members identified the same problems FIRST. And they did.

I had hoped my writing experiment wouldn’t appear gimmicky, and that it would introduce readers to a WHAM-BAM first line; SUPER strong voice; and an INTRIGUING plot set-up.

If those areas were graded, I’d say I received a D, B, and D. And this is why.

  • The first line introduces 2 pieces of the plot that I wanted to emphasize, BUT one part overshadowed the other to the point that my readers didn’t even notice the second detail. And that one was THE most important! This problem deflated both the WHAM and the BAM.
  • While the first page does a decent job of creating a YA voice, the experimental format doesn’t help readers get a real feel for the character’s voice. THIS is critical. Without it, we don’t understand enough about the MC to decide whether or not we like him/her, and if we don’t like that him or if we aren’t intrigued with her, why read on? (I just talked myself into reducing the “B” to a “C”.)
  • While I think I have an intriguing plot idea, I failed to clearly introduce it. My peer readers had to go back and re-read the first part to figure out what had just happened. (NOT a good thing.)

So with those flaws in mind, my group discussed what I could do to “fix” the problems. Ann Dee led the discussion, and she helped me understand the limitations of the format, and she also threw out an idea that could improve the ALL-IMPORTANT first line.

Other group members asked good questions that helped me recognize additional holes.  And so, I went away with concrete ideas that should strengthen that first page and, hopefully, the rest of the manuscript.

The question I asked myself was this: Shall I revise OR start over? I remembered that Carol Lynch Williams challenged followers of Throwing Up Words to toss out the first 5 pages and reCREATE them – NOT reWRITE them. I believe recreation means I come at the story in a different way; and while I like the multi-writing-genre idea, I think I need to scale it back some. BUT I will NOT even look at those first 5 pages when I reWRITE/CREATE them!!!

The point is I walked away from the workshop experience rejuvenated because I remembered this quotation from Writing Simplified:

Writing alone isn’t enough to help you improve; you need FEEDBACK.

Crazy Fun at WRITING for CHARITY

The best thing about being a writer is I’m my own boss, and the worst thing about being a writer is I’m my own boss.

~ Rick Walton

These are some of the best chunks of craziness I picked up at Writing for Charity (WfC). I encountered some from the question and answer sessions, some from the author/writer workshop, and some from eaves dropping! 😉

  • Most surprising discovery: Once you publish, don’t be surprised if your book cover shows up on one OR more other books. Check THIS out.

What makes this a little more surprising is that both authors live at opposite ends of the Wasatch Front – Wendy Toliver, who penned Lifted, lives in Davis County and Ann Dee Ellis, author of Everything is Fine, calls Utah County home.

The books couldn’t be more different, but I’m thinkin’ the cover girl fits both main characters in some ways. I believe Toliver’s Poppy could be an older version of Ellis’ Samara. (Of course, I’m basing this opinion on having read Everything is Fine in its entirety and Lifted’s entire SUMMARY. But this book IS on my Utah writers’ to-read list.)

Both Wendy and Ann Dee attended WfC and were good sports about the double-take. They explained that publishers use stock photos for book covers, and Wendy said that this same cover is on yet a 3rd book. The authors added that they have NO say, whatsoever, in the choice. While their opinion is asked, it’s not really heeded.

Wendy told her agent about this, but the publisher said, “Oh, well.”

  • Best Twilight Zone experience for an author goes to Anne Bowen, picture book author who is trying her hand at writing a YA novel. She decided a LONG time ago to name her main character Kendra Anderson. And so this summer when she started working on the novel featuring Miss Kendra, guess what! Anne started receiving MAIL address to – yup, you guessed it – KENDRA ANDERSON. (Insert the “do doo do doo” Twilight Zone theme here! 🙂 )
  • Strangest coincidence award goes to Emily Wing Smith, author of The Way He Lived and her new book, the April release of Back When You Were Easier to Love. After the publication of her first novel, she received a message from an aspiring author who said, “I’m jealous of you.” Of course, Emily thought that was pretty cool until the author of the message continued, “because back in high school you went to prom with my husband.” (Not that the couple was married then – oh, you know what she was saying.)

The coincidence lies in the fact that this guy DATED an aspiring YA author and MARRIED another aspiring YA author – who, unlike Emily, is STILL aspiring. Interesting.

  • Craziest silent auction prizes. Author of I’m Not a Serial Killer, Dan Wells, offered to kill you off in his next book. This is crazy at so many levels:
    1. Dan is NOT a serial killer nor a hit man, and so this is a fictional killing. (Sorry, insane people, this won’t help you bump off your in-laws or anyone else for that matter.)
    2. Someone actually entered a $500 bid online, and I’m thinkin’ Dan’s mom, dad, or brother might be the author’s  next FICTIONAL victim because who else would pay that much to be knocked off in a fledgling author’s book but a relative? I mean $500???
    3. BTW, Dan doesn’t seem to be serial killer-crazy and yet he’s written a YA novel about a kid who is a potential serial killer and is fighting it. (I don’t think this is the Edward fighting his vampire-hood kind of story. I just started reading it, and I don’t suggest it for bedtime reading.)
  • Most far-flung event goes to fellow aspiring writer Brodi Ashton’s maniacal purse that knocked my copy of Dan Well’s book from my hand and sent it sailing across the room barely missing two WfC staffers. And Brodi was totally unaware of her bag’s shenanigans.

Only when Dan opened the book to sign it and commented that the title page was all bent out of shape did I say, “It was Brodi’s purse’s fault.” Upon which, Brodi felt all bad, but Dan wrote a fun message that will bring a smile to my face for years. So it was worth it, Brodi! Seriously. 😀

Brodi Ashton totally beat this book and owes you an ice cream cone. Daniel A. Wells

  • Most surprising good/bad news was finding Ann Cannon at the event – NOT as a participating author but rather as a cute King’s English Bookstore sales dude. At least I was able to say hello, give her a hug, and line her up for a guest spot at a Jordan Council International Reading Association meeting. 😉
  • Insanity personified is awarded to someone’s statement I overheard while eating my delicious sandwich: “I have STARTED 13 novels.” (Oh please don’t let that be me in a few months!)

If anyone reading this wonders what helpful insights I learned when workshopping my WIP, stay tuned for the next post. In the little time we had, I gained what I went there for, thanks to the AMAZING Ms. Ann Dee Ellis.

As for my writing friends who couldn’t attend, I MISSED YOU! SERIOUSLY!


Desperately seeking VOICE

“Voice – as distinct from style – has the whole weight of a life behind it.”

~ from the front flap of The Writer’s Voice by A. Alvarez             

Cheri Pray Earl wrote the workshop goals/objectives on a small whiteboard just out of my sight. But when she read them aloud, I thought, “Oh, I know what voice in writing is. I won’t have problems ‘finding’ it. Afterall, I’ve taught that trait to my middle, high school and even teachers for years!” Within hours, my smuggy confidence evaporated, disappeared, vanished!             

Voice, as I understood it, is only a teeny-tiny piece of the puzzle. And voice is a puzzle because its definition is multi-layered. When teaching students how to include this trait into their writing, I told them that their personality should show up in their paper. I sponsor 3 blog sites (and yes, I am crazy). One is associated with my profession; the other is my personal but public journal; and this one is my self-motivating, writing warm-up.             

While my quirky personality makes appearances in all three, readers are exposed to a different version of me in each one because the voice varies. Why? Because the purpose and audience of each blog varies. My writing is more formal in one, more personal in another, and more focused in this one. Does that make sense?    

But the author’s voice can be a HUGE problem when writing fiction, especially Young Adult fiction. I don’t want the voice of a 62-year-old grandmother, mother, and teacher coming through my characters or found in the narration. What 13 to 18-year-old wants to hear that?     

Whose voice needs to come through? THE CHARACTERS. If the character is a young adult, then a teen’s voice should be heard. I did not realize how hard this would be. With a story in mind, I wrote a couple of pages from the viewpoint of a 12-year-old girl. I simplified the voicabulary vocabulary and used a fair amount of dialogue. Because the scene went back and forth in time, readers caught a tiny glimpse of the main character’s personality before and after a tragedy. But the snippets were not enough to help readers to care about her. In other words, that time shift so early in the book weakened the voice and ultimately confused my readers.         

  

Visual representation of 2 different voices!

 

By Wednesday’s workshop, I struggled to believe I would reach that objective written on the whiteboard. I’d be a WIFYR flunkie. And it didn’t help any when an editor from a major publishing house spoke to us and emphasized that the #1 characteristic she looks for in a submitted manuscript is – yup, you guessed it. V.O.I.C.E. A unique, authentic, honest vOiCe! On Wednesday, that lofty goal grew to the heights of Mt. Everest.       

Thursday’s assignment was to bring in an example of writing that represented our best _ _ _ _ _. (I’m even tired of writing it!) I couldn’t bring myself to look at the latest revision that night. So I made an executive decision to work on something else I had written because I had questions that needed answering about that little number. Questions like –  Is the dialect overpowering and distracting? (That had REALLY been bothering me. The response from C.L.W. was “NO, the dialect was not overpowering or distracting – hallelujah – but she did suggest that I rewrite the scene in first person. I can do that AND keep the dialect I hear buzzing around in my head. YaY!)       

Back to the main point. (It’s hidden in this post somewhere. Oh, here it is.) Thursday night’s assignment was to polish our best efforts so we could read them aloud in class. As of 11:00 P.M., I had no best writing. Desperate, I decided to work on a scene near the end of the story that I had shared with a couple of workshop buddies.             

As I developed the scene, the main character turned into a sassy 13-year-old with a sarcastic wit rather than the shy seventh-grader with a dry sense of humor. And just as Johnny Depp developed his Captain Jack character after picturing the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, I heard bits and pieces of the slightly bratty 8th-grade ME come through my character’s voice. She absolutely took over. Seriously.             

The next day, after a couple more slight revisions made just before I left the house, I read the 3 pages. While listeners were not really supposed to comment, my instructor Ms. Cheri said, “You found your young adult voice!” I couldn’t have received higher praise.              

But I was not the only one. Reading after reading revealed a heightened intensity in colleagues’ writings because most – if not all – had learned a little more about finding the voice intended audiences will enjoy, AND about allowing characters to push aside the author’s voice to expose the “weight of [characters’] lives” behind the words.              

So, Dear Reader, what have you done to find the “write” voice for your characters? Do any of you have a VoiceMuse you turn to for help? How do you shut off your own voice when that is needed? What are some novels you’ve read that exemplify good voice AND bad?              

Love to hear some responses! Have a great day and write while the sun shines!             

“No time to wallow in the mire”

“Get an idea. Write. Edit. Sigh, ‘Finally my masterpiece is finished.’ Take a week off. Look at your masterpiece. Exclaim, ‘What was I thinking? This sucks!'”

~ from Kristen’s Guide

I hope I’m feeling this total lack of confidence because I’m tired and because my little PT Cruiser, Cream Puff, is still acting out. Her condition remains undiagnosed, but something is draining her energy – ahhh, she’s just feeling sympathy pains for ME!

Anyway, because I am tired and thinking I am a better blogger than novel writer and will forever travel the blog-o-sphere versus the published authors’ circuit, I’m not going to write much tonight. I won’t mention how I continue to search for my authentic, honest voice or how I wonder if I’ve grown too old for the YA market or how I’m wondering if the workshop will send out rejection e-mails for the 1st page contest so I can add it to my little collection.

No, I won’t take the time to bore you with all that. Instead, I’ll post this gallery of pictures so you can see what good writers look like! (While I wallow in the mire of self-pity!)

“One is the loneliest number you’ll ever do.”

“The writing profession is reeking with this loneliness. All our lives we spend in discoursing with ourselves. . . .”

~ quoted by Fred Hobson in Mencken: A Life, Random House, 1994

Today was the second day of WIFYR workshop. Other than missing my exit because I was thinking of a better lead for a new story thus making me late, the day has been an improvement over the first one. Okay, I knew this going in, but writing is NO LONGER a lonely affair. I kinda wish it was because I could live in a world where I don’t know there are SO MANY aspiring authors! Nor would I know how GOOD those writers are. Nevertheless, what I am gaining from all the experts and NON-experts, I could NOT teach myself.  

Let me tell you that this workshop is organized-PLUS; thus maximizing opportunities to learn.  The day is set up like this:

  • Mornings: Work with Cheri Pray Earl and Rick Walton, two published authors and writing instructors at Brigham Young University and 20 peers who crack me up! (That’s because Cheri and Rick introduced us to SASS that first day!)
  • Afternoons:
    • Plenary Presenters – Authors, editors, agents share tips and ideas. SO helpful! (By the way, PLENARY was a new word to me. I think it is a very cool word. It means, “fully attended or constituted by all entitled to be present.”)
    • Break-out sessions – Participants choose an author, editor, or agents or a panel of these folks who address various topics, concerns, and questions. Very informative.

     

While I knew this workshop provided support for writers, I am still amazed at the amount of sharing, consulting, suggesting, listening, encouraging, inspiring, informing that takes place. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. I know authors buddied up in days gone by, but I think that was AFTER writers published. I picture Hemingway partying in Paris with Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald or Carl Sandburg talking shop with Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson. But who did they brainstorm ideas with BEFORE their break? Who did they chat with when their plot lines flat-lined or their characters refused to develop? Maybe there were friends who provided what Hemingway or Fitzgerald needed over drinks, but I’m not sure that turned out in the long run.

Water was the only beverage we received at this confab. That only happened on the first day, and it was a mistake. So no potential authors need worry about ruining their lives because of booze provided by Writers and Illustrators for Young Readers Workshop. I know some were concerned when the conference moved from Brigham Young University to Salt Lake County, but don’t stress;  it’s still a dry environment.

Putting my drinking concerns aside, I found that one of the most helpful AND  scary activities is “work-shopping” participants’ writing. We read our papers while peers followed along. Next, writers listened to praise AND suggestions. It was all professional – civil even, and yet, my stomach clinched tighter and tighter as I watched my golden rod paper work its way to the top. Nervous as I was, I appreciated the feedback and think the suggestions strengthened my paper.

I was also inspired by reading the works of my fellow writers. WoW! What fine writing! Compelling and creative ideas that were fun to read. I also gleaned ideas from my colleagues’ comments to all the writers in the group. Sometimes a suggestion given to Amy or Jared applied to my work as well. I can’t tell you how beneficial this has been for me, and I want to soak up EVERY hint, idea, tip, suggestion,and critique I can. I really want to do this thing!