Archive for category: Creative Writing

Former agent, current author, and all-around-nice-guy Nathan Bransford is running his annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge over on his blog. Over 1500 writers (this one included) posted the first paragraphs of their WIP (work in progress). Sweet Jesus! That’s a lot of writers, a lot of dreams, a lot of late nights, early mornings, lost showers (ahem), and lost relationships, no doubt.

The sheer number of entries humbled me. Think about it: those are just the people who decided to enter. Think of all the others who were too shy or too scared. Think about all the writers who aren’t familiar with Nathan’s blog (I’m sure there are some). Think about all the writers in non-English-speaking countries who have the same dreams.

It’s times like these when it becomes clear — like Technicolor clear — that talent and persistence aren’t enough. You really do need a good dose of Lady Luck or an ardent belief in The Secret or some sort of direct conduit to the Publishing Gods.

I often say there’s enough room for all of us, but I think reality dictates that I revise my statement to this: there’s enough room for most of us. Try as we might, some of us won’t see our dreams manifest into reality. Will it be me? Will it be you? Who knows? Sure, we can all go to our graves saying we’re writers and that we worked hard at our craft, and that’s nice and all, but this writer right here wants to be read by more people than her best friend and mother. I’ve made some inroads to that end. Thanks to digital publishing, short stories that had been traditionally published and long since forgotten have had a second chance at life, which is great. And I’m releasing my debut novel in May. But still, I wonder.

(I mentioned the humbling part, right?)

What humbles you as a writer?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Just discovered this dude who is trying to write one novel per month for 12 months. He just finished January. You can follow his progress here.

Here’s his reasoning, and I quote:

“Great authors such as Stephen King have assured the world that we all need to write 1,000,000 words of drivel before we can actually begin writing things of note, and thus I have set about in a slightly ludicrous fashion to do just that. At 2,740 words per day, I should hit my first million word mark come December 31st.”

King talks about this in his writing memoir, On Writing (highly recommend). And I think I agree that one million words is probably about right. But to get them out all at once? That’s a lot of writing diarrhea. We’ll see how he does, though. Let’s check in on him in June and see where he’s at…and how sane he is. I give him a lot of credit.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard this piece of advice or discovered it on your own: by the time you finish a draft of your short story or novel, it’s important to go back and take a hard look at the beginning.

Why? Because by the time we get to the end of a draft, we know our characters inside and out. It’s unlikely we started the draft knowing them so well, which means you probably need to flesh them out a little more so they’re fully three dimensional and jump off the page.

An analogy I like to use is this: compare pilot episodes of TV shows to one of the shows from a few seasons out. You will see the difference. This happened to me recently when I got sucked into Criminal Minds marathons.

I had never watched the show in its normal time slot, so when I came to the show it was already a season or two in. But at some point during one of the marathons, the station played the original pilot. And it was noticeable — very noticeable — how the writers were still figuring out the characters.

For example, Hotch, the leader of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit is known for his dour, serious, never-cracks-a-smile demeanor, at least that’s how I knew him in later episodes. During the pilot, it was obvious that this characterization hadn’t been fully developed, since his character in this first show was chattier, friendly even.

TV shows, of course, don’t have the luxury of going back and re-doing the pilots. But as writers, we can go back and rework the early chapters or pages so that the fully developed character on page 303 is the same character who appears on page one.

Note: The TV show Bones did something quite clever last season (another show that I got sucked into during a marathon). It spent a whole episode in mostly flashback where the main characters recounted the very first case they had worked on together. The pilot episode for Bones hinted there was some history between Booth and Brennan, but it wasn’t until many seasons later — after the characters were fully known to the writers — that the show filled in the blanks of this first case.

As a fun exercise, watch the pilot episode of one of your favorite series — it could be any series: Seinfeld, Lost, you name it, since I think my theory will hold true no matter which one you choose. Then watch an episode from at least three seasons out. What differences in characterizations do you notice?

Do you find this to be true in your own writing? Do you need to go back and rework the early chapters? Or do you spend a ton of time on characterization up front? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Definitions abound. I’m going to give you mine. Flash fiction (or micro fiction) is ultra-short fiction, usually under 1000 words. Some publications that specialize in flash might require even fewer words than that (I’ve seen 750 and even 500 words).

To me, successful flash has a clear beginning, middle, and end. But keep this in mind: a clear end doesn’t always mean a resolved ending. The short stories I love the most are ones that are satisfying as is, but also leave me wondering about what happens next. No easy feat for a writer.

It’s a fun form to experiment with, and it’s an informative form to experiment with, simply because it forces the writer to consider every. Single. Word. Which he or she should be doing anyway, right? But it’s easier to let some of those flights of fancy and purple prose slip by when you’re working on a longer short story or a novel. Flash is all about the economy of words and packing the most emotional punch with the fewest words.

It’s also fun to read when it’s done well.

So what’s your definition of flash fiction? Do you enjoy reading it? Do you have any favorite flash “finds” that you want to share or, even better, link to? Please leave ’em in the comments (note: as of the writing of this post, I moderate comments, only to ensure the mortgage-credit-help-viagra-cash-for-gold spammers don’t get through).

Here’s the trailer for my flash fiction, “The Object.”

Check out the story and let me know what you think. It’s only 99 cents ($1 in some places, depending on where you buy it), and you can download it to your Kindle, Nook, and more…or you can read it on your PC…or print it out.

Enhanced by Zemanta

In Wednesday’s post about my MFA reading list, I mentioned that I was on the nonfiction track when I entered Lesley University’s creative writing program in 2006. I graduated with a multi-genre thesis (nonfiction and fiction) because I ended up being able to work on my fiction as well (during semesters two, three, and four).

Fiction is my first love. It’s pretty much all I write these days (although one of the titles I’m releasing next year will be nonfiction). So why didn’t I declare fiction as my focus when I entered Lesley? Simple. I was afraid. Fear, of course, is seldom logical. Here’s my mostly illogical reasoning for choosing nonfiction (in no particular order):

What I thought going in: Nonfiction felt safer, which might sound crazy since nonfiction is supposed to be about real life, real people, real names. But nonfiction felt safer for me in that the “story” was already set. I wasn’t making up a story for people to judge. I was simply talking about a story that had happened or was happening.

What I learned: stories of “truth” come with their own restrictions and can still be judged. There’s nothing safe about it, if you’re going to do it right.

What I thought going in: The nonfiction program was smaller in terms of the number of students.  I can be a shy person and easily spooked when I’m in situations where I don’t feel confident. I thought it would be easier to get naked (which is what essentially happens when you share your writing in a workshop) with a smaller group of people.

What I learned: smaller groups meant there was more time for everyone to focus on a particular work, including mine. Think nakedness under microscopes.

What I thought going in: I didn’t feel as well read as I should have been in literary fiction. I thought this would affect my ability to workshop pieces and take part in class discussions.

What I learned: One of the most important things I learned in school is to stop making excuses or feeling bad about what you don’t know and, instead, go learn it or go read it. Most of us have gaps in our educations somewhere. It’s okay. You can remedy the situation.

What I thought going in: At the time, I did not have enough confidence in my fiction. At least, not the type of fiction I thought creative writing programs wanted. In my mind, creative writing programs wanted literary writing. Mine was way more commercial, and I was okay with that. (I still am.) I think I feared that my commercial writing would be mocked and that I’d be encouraged to write in a more literary fashion. I guess you could call me stubborn in this case — I didn’t want to become a literary writer just because that’s what was expected in grad school. (Note: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with literary writing; it’s just not my style.)

What I learned: during our one-week residencies, we often attended classes that were led by people outside of our chosen genre. So I got familiar with the fiction faculty, and I think that the majority would have been okay with my more commercial voice. During my second semester, I worked on my novel with someone outside of Lesley whom I had chosen. During my third and fourth semesters, my nonfiction mentor also worked with me in fiction because she wrote in both genres. This worked out great for me because I felt more in control, and, thus, more confident about my work and the process.

It’s because of this last reason that I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had to do it all over again. I really lucked out and got the best of both worlds with almost equal time in both fiction and nonfiction.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

I read an interesting article the other day in Slate Magazine called “MFA vs. NYC: America now has two distinct literary cultures. Which one will last?” It’s one of those subjects that’s been around since the dawn of MFA programs, although it’s evolved with time.

I received my MFA in Creative Writing in 2008 from Lesley University’s low-residency MFA program in Cambridge, Mass. I debated with myself a long time before I made the decision to apply to a program (and I have a very distinct memory of printing applications to other full-time MFA programs, like Brown’s and BU’s, on September 10, 2001. We all know what happened the next day. To say I lost focus after that is an understatement).

I’m a commercial writer, not a literary one (or, at least, not what I consider to be a literary writer). As you can tell from this here blog and website and Facebook page, I have no problem promoting myself (I’m a marketing copywriter by day), which is something that many literary types loathe. The bottom line for me is I want to be the best writer I can possibly be and write stuff that matters to a passionate tribe of fans. Not everyone will like what I write, and that’s okay.

So why did I finally decide to go for my MFA? A few reasons. At the time, I thought I might want to teach full time (I’d been an adjunct professor at Mass School of Law), and the MFA is considered the terminal degree in the writing field. I thought being involved in a program would help take my writing to the next proverbial level. And I thought the degree would provide validation: to family, friends, and myself.

I don’t regret my decision at all. But I’m not pursuing a teaching gig (and I don’t see that in my future, but never say never). I had an epiphany over the summer (with the help of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird) that validation needs to start with me. All that said, my writing did reach the next proverbial level, I think. Would that have happened anyway over the course of two years? I’d like to think yes, but who knows? I do think it happened faster because I was in a program.

Like anything else, there are definite pros and cons to an MFA program. Here’s my list, as I see it.


  • Justified time (one to two years) devoted to your writing (I say justified because for those people in your world who don’t understand that writers need to write, it’s much easier to say, “I have something due for school” and have the person understand and accept it)
  • Someone else – faculty members – devoted to your writing
  • Meeting other writers
  • Expansion of thoughts and worldview: new books, new ideas, new ways to think and do things
  • Terminal degree, which is needed if you want to teach writing at the college level
  • *Might help your queries or submissions get noticed (I am a true believer that in the end it’s about the writing…but if someone is willing to read a couple of extra pages – be it a fiction reader or editor – because of the MFA, well okeedokee)


  • Writing programs are filled with published writers who teach. A published writer does not a good teacher make. I actually have a theory that editors would make better writing instructors because a good editor will see what’s working with your piece, your voice, your vision and will help you shape it and take it to the next level. Too often writers who teach don’t know how to teach beyond the way they write. This isn’t criticism. It’s merely an observation.
  • Some writing programs are notorious for being cutthroat and ultra competitive. Personally, that’s not an environment I would flourish in, although maybe it works for some people.
  • More debt, as in school loans, and often later in life when you’re likely to have a mortgage and kids’ educations to think about.

Some other thoughts, and these are just my opinions, so accept or reject at will.

  • You don’t need an MFA to write quality fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
  • You don’t need an MFA to get published.
  • You don’t need an MFA “to be a writer.”
  • You do need an MFA (yes, there are always exceptions) if you want to teach writing at the college level.
  • You don’t need an MFA to learn to become disciplined.
  • You don’t need an MFA to make connections.

That said, an MFA can help with all of the above, if you decide to work it that way. For example, if you decide to pursue an MFA because you’re serious about taking your writing to the next level, well, then, you likely will. But it’s you who is making that happen – not the MFA (however, the MFA program might give your subconscious a “reason” to focus…and the MFA program will likely provide an environment that will help you succeed in your goal – a thesis deadline will do that for a person).

An MFA can be a good “excuse,” if you need an excuse, to focus on your writing for one to two years.

So, you might be wondering, if I had to do it all over again, would I?

That’s a good question. I definitely grew as a writer during the program, and while I’d like to think that growth would have happened anyway, I have no way of knowing that with any certainty. The biggest thing I got out of my program is the different writing I was exposed to. Yeah, I love to read, and I know, as writers, we’re supposed to read widely, but it does help to have some guidance from veteran writers on just how wide to cast the net…and where to cast the net. I loved the reading lists my faculty advisors and I put together for my first three semesters (I’ll share those lists in another post). I’m not sure I would have found some of those writers on my own, even with my good intentions of reading widely.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Are you considering an MFA? If yes, share your reasons, your reservations, etc. And for the MFA veterans out there, what do YOU think of my pros and cons? Agree or disagree? Any to add? Get the discussion started in the comments.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

I’m obsessed with writing group posts this month. The good news? Many of the topics — like how to comment on someone’s writing and the reality of the green-eyed monster — also apply to the larger topic of writing in general. And so, I continue.

Today’s topic? How to receive feedback on your writing. The whole “thick skin” recommendation is a crock of you-know-what. We’re not lizards or alligators. Our skin bruises. Easily. I think what writers need to develop is Bounce Back. Feedback, even the best intentioned, will *likely* sting, bruise, hurt, and, in some cases, completely shatter your soul. (Notice I use the word “likely” a lot when I’m making these generalizations. There are always exceptions to the rule. I’m sure there’s a Teflon Writer out there who doesn’t feel a thing when receiving feedback. I haven’t met this person. But, like Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster, I’ve heard about rare sightings.)

What is “Bounce Back”? It’s not some fancy-schmancy SEO term or a warning on your checking account. Basically, it’s the term I use to describe how quickly you bounce back from receiving feedback. Bounce Back manifests itself in how you respond over time to the feedback. Forget your immediate response, which might involve expletives running through your head and thoughts of “You don’t know what you’re talking about” rants that you’d like to deliver to your fellow writing group members. Or your editor. Or that reviewer. Or that customer comment on Amazon. Bounce Back is what happens after you’ve had a chance to digest the criticism, constructive or otherwise.

At the end of the day, it’s your writing. You get to decide what feedback to reject and what to accept. You know you’ve hit your Bounce Back groove when you find yourself doing both. If all you’re doing is rejecting everything everyone says, well, you have very low Bounce Back. Same if you accept everything everyone says (thus turning the piece of writing into what I often call a platypus). Bounce Back is kinda like the Golden Mean of feedback. It balances what makes sense to you with what doesn’t feel right…and it allows you to go back and look at your piece with an objective eye.

Achieving Bounce Back takes practice. Here are some strategies:

  • Take notes. Listening to feedback can be painful (even if it’s good overall, your mind will home in on that one comment that wasn’t). Learning to really hear what people are saying is not always easy to decipher as you’re listening. That’s why it’s important to take notes, I think. Write down everything everyone says, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. Why? Two reasons. First, it gives you something to do while people are delivering their feedback. Second, it gives you something to go back to after your mind has had a chance to process.
  • Put the notes aside for awhile. How long will depend upon your personality and/or it might depend on the piece. I’ll often go through my notes and marked-up drafts within a couple of days and accept all the obvious things (e.g. typos) and whatever feels instantly “right” in my gut. Then I put it aside, knowing that my subconscious is working through the more controversial recommendations and feedback. As for how long it takes before I come back to that specific feedback? It really depends. Sometimes days, sometimes years (for novels).
  • Look at the craziest idea and try it. Is someone suggesting you ditch third person and try writing it in first? Try it. Open a fresh Word doc and try writing one scene or one chapter in first person. Is someone saying they want more description? Open a new page, and try describing a room, a character, whatever in great detail. Go with it. You may or may not end up using the text, but it will flex your brain muscle in a new way. And that’s a good thing.
  • Keep it in perspective – one person’s opinions is one person’s opinions. You will never, ever get everyone to like your piece. Don’t aim to please everyone. Aim to make the writing and the story (memoir, poem, etc.) as strong as you can make it. (How do you know when you’ve achieved this? When the thought of your own death and having people find your writing when they’re cleaning out your stuff doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you.)
  • Consider the source. Everyone’s opinion is valid; this is true. But some feedback is going to be more informed than others. In my writing group, we have some members who write sci-fi. I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, so I always preface my feedback with that disclaimer. That particular genre has certain “rules,” and I always defer to the writer and the members in the group who are voracious readers of the genre. That doesn’t mean I don’t have any relevant feedback to provide; I often do. But I think it’s important for everyone to realize they have their strengths. (Agents often specialize in certain genres for this reason — same concept applies.)
  • Receive feedback graciously (even the yucky stuff). Feedback is a one-way process: from one person to you. You should not debate with someone that he or she is wrong or missed the point. Why? Because you’re not going to be sitting next to every reader who picks up your short story, novel, poem, etc. and offering explanations when he or she misinterprets something or misses a point. Your job is to ensure that you’re conveying on the page what your mind thinks it’s conveying — the two often don’t match up.
  • Don’t exact revenge on others. If you get torn apart in a workshop session, do not seek revenge by becoming a monster when it’s your turn to give feedback.
  • Don’t give up. A tough workshop session (I’m thinking MFA programs now rather than writing groups) can leave you questioning whether you should be doing this at all. It’s a normal reaction to have in certain moments, as long as you don’t let the notion consume you and cloud your judgment.

Add your ideas and experiences with feedback in the comments.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Some people hate the term workshop. I don’t have a problem with the word, and we use the term in my writing group, so I’m going with it.

In this recent post, I talked about how to start a writing group (in honor of National Writing Group Month, which I made up). So let’s talk about how to workshop.

These thoughts are based on my six years of experience with The Nobscot Niblets, on my experience teaching a first-semester writing course at Mass School of Law, and on my experience in being part of MFA workshops.

  • Lead with something positive. Yes, writing is hard. Yes, we writers need to develop thick skins. Yes, we can’t improve unless we hear all feedback: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But it’s much easier to swallow the yucky stuff if you lead with something sweet. Trust me.
  • Be specific. Don’t say, “I liked it.” This is a running joke now with the Nibs since one of our long-term members often starts out his comments with this line — on purpose now — but then he follows up with something specific. Try not to use the word “like” at all since that word often leads to general sentences — “I like your dialogue” — instead of something specific: “Your use of dialogue in this scene was effective because it revealed how much was at stake for Character X.” The same goes for pointing out what’s not working. Don’t say, “I didn’t like this.” Again, be specific, “The exposition here didn’t work for me because it took me out of the story. I think I felt that way because it seemed like a lot of background info was being put into a small space.”
  • Remember, you’re one reader with one very subjective opinion. Almost everything in writing is debatable. Almost. Share your thoughts honestly and respectfully. And acknowledge that your recommendations are just that.
  • Conversation or one-by-one? I tend to like having conversations about a piece of writing, like people do in book groups. I feel it can lead to better critiques because it involves conversation that can naturally lead to debates. The problem? Comment hogs. A good facilitator can help reign in the hogs and give the floor over to those who might be a little quieter. If you go one-by-one around the room, you ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak, but it can get a little boring. If you choose this way, make sure you mix up who goes first and last. And a facilitator is still needed to cut off that person who decides to rattle off a laundry list of issues.
  • Mark up the drafts. Your “public” critiques should highlight the most pressing questions you have or bring to light the issues. Save line edits for the hard copy. And remember to provide positive comments in the marked-up copy as well since no one wants to see only a marked-up draft of everything he or she did “wrong.”
  • Red pen alert! I know some people who think using a red pen is psychologically damaging — and in some schools, it’s actually forbidden. You’ll need to decide among yourselves what to do. Lots of red ink can be overwhelming. Is it less so if you use green or blue? I dunno.
  • For memoirs and personal essays, sometimes it’s more comfortable to refer to “the narrator” instead of the author’s name. I actually like this approach, even though it might come across as odd to talk about “the narrator” in the third person when the first-person subject is sitting right next to you. It depends on the content, I think, and on the writer’s comfort with it. If it’s heavy content (like incest, for example), it might be more comfortable for everyone to approach the discussion in a more neutral way by discussing “the narrator’s” actions, dialogue etc.
  • Workshopping poetry follows the basics outlined above, but there are other things to consider. If you have a group of poets, you know what to do. But if your group is a mix of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, you should probably provide some guidelines on how to workshop poetry.
  • Writers should be seen and not heard. Some workshops require the writer whose piece is under discussion to keep quiet during the critique and simply listen. At the end, he or she can then ask questions, provide clarification, or take part in the discussion. Overall, I like this approach since the writer should listen, which can be extremely hard to do; often our natural inclination is to defend what we wrote. But, again, this rule should be flexible, I think.

I welcome other ideas, especially any “big ones” I’ve overlooked. Leave your thoughts in the comments

Enhanced by Zemanta

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

I have no idea if such a month exists. A quick Google search didn’t shed any light. But there’s a National Novel Writing Month in November (and national everything-under-the-sun months), so it only seems fitting to have a National Writing Group Month. Even more so to have it in December, since it comes after NaNoWriMo (hello revisions! hello feedback!) and since people might be thinking about doing things differently in their writerly world come the New Year. December is also the month when I met the co-founder of my writing group, the Nobscot Niblets (long story), in 2004.

So you’re thinking of starting a writing group, eh?

Here are things to think about –I’m going to answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions.


You’re probably thinking, “Well, writers. Duh!” And here’s my response: what kind of writers? Novelists, memoirists, poets? Published? Unpublished? Legal-pad scribbler? Typewriter only? Open to anyone?

There are pros and cons to welcoming everyone no matter what they write or how they write it. While it’s great to want to embrace all writers, if you have one member who, say, doesn’t own a computer and only types submissions (on a typewriter) that she must then fax to someone in the group who then has to scan the fax and email to everyone…well, you get the idea. (This is not an extreme example. It really happened in my group.)

Setting the ground rules on who you want just makes it easier to vet prospective members. And your rules can evolve (ours did). At first, we didn’t accept poets (a story for another post), but then we did. (And I believe we’re all better writers and readers because of it).

Another thing: how many of the “who” will you be accepting? I know groups with only four members. Our group averages around nine. In smaller groups, people will need to submit regularly (probably every meeting), and this has its benefits (especially if people are working on book-length works).


Again, you’re probably thinking, “Well, writing, that’s what!” And again I say, what kind of writing (think genre)? YA, Sci-Fi, romance, literary? How long will submissions be? How often should members be required to submit? Should they be required to submit?

In the Niblets, we generally ask people to submit pieces that are under 5000 words. If members have a novel — and we’ve done this twice already — we’ll hold a special meeting where we’ll workshop only that novel (and we’ll get the novel at least one month in advance).Members try to submit every other meeting, and “try” is the key word. Some of us (this writer included) only submit once every couple of months.

Determine how rigid you’re going to be with the rules. In the Niblets, our goal is to have a full docket for every meeting. That’s usually anywhere from three to five submissions, depending on the length. Think about format requirements too: double spacing and page numbers help a lot when you’re reading and then discussing them in the group.


Ah, location, location, location. It’s important in real estate, and it’s important in terms of your critique group. Think about noise, ambiance, cost (if any), and how easy it is to access. We lucked out: our local Annie’s Book Stop in Framingham, Mass., hosts a wide variety of groups, and the owner was happy to give us the space for free (we all, happily, buy goodies from him before the meeting — his is also a coffee shop). Other ideas: libraries, church basements, members’ homes (rotate), coffee shops, B&N/Borders, indie bookstores.


How often will you meet? Once a month. Twice? Twice a month seems to work well for my group overall, but we’ve been known to meet once a month (during crazy times, like December), and I think the group is pretty much okay now with taking July and August off (though we still try to get together socially as a group). We meet on the first and third Thursdays of the month, around 7-ish (sadly, we are not a prompt group).


This, again, might seem like a question with an obvious answer, but I urge you and your prospective members to think about it. What’s the goal? Do your members write more for fun or as a hobby, or are your members serious about publication? Are you okay with a combination? Ninety percent of the Nibs are serious about publication and many of us have published over the last six years. The way you answer this question will influence group dynamics (and who you ultimately attract as members).


Just how does one form a group? For years, I thought of joining a group, but I tend to be shy and felt weird about joining an already existing group (I think I was also suffering from a lack of confidence). Luckily, I met Steve Tannuzzo (a fabulous fellow copywriter) at a networking event, and we got to talking about writing. Turns out, he had similar feelings. So we decided to form our own group.

Steve and I went to Paul, the owner of Annie’s, and pitched our idea. I knew Paul from my visits to his store and had mentioned casually in the past about starting a group, and he always seemed open to the idea of hosting. Indeed, Paul was all for it. This was in December of 2004.

We posted signs around Paul’s shop, and Steve did a Craig’s List posting as well. We had our first meeting in January of 2005, and it was small. We also had a pseudo “mentor” named Deb. Deb was a friend of mine who ran a successful writing group near her hometown and she shared her ideas and thoughts with us. Eventually, word got out. Members would pull in other members, some of whom were great. And then there was the one who used smoke signals to communicate instead of email, which, of course, leads to a question: how do you kick members out? I don’t have a good answer for that, and we’ve never done it in our group. People do come and go, for various reasons, and if someone isn’t working out, that someone will probably end up leaving on her own/his own.

The other “how” you need to think about is how to workshop submissions. I’ll discuss this in more detail in another post later this week, but my one recommendation would be this: encourage respectful comments. Constructive criticism is, of course, a good thing, but the way it’s delivered can make all the difference in the world. Leading with something positive (trust me, you can ALWAYS find at least one positive thing to say) is a good way to begin a critique session.

Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to start a writing group…you will figure a lot of it out as you go along, and your group will develop its own culture and its own, um, quirks and stories (ask me about the member who stormed out of a meeting over a chair dispute. The funny part was none of us witnessed her storming out…we all thought she was in the bathroom).

Most important, remember to have fun. Having a nearby pub where you can all go to after the meeting for a drink [or two] helps in this endeavor.

I welcome other ideas from veteran writing group folks — just leave them in the comments.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

This just happened to me. Back in June, an editor from The Breakwater Review called to tell me my personal essay, “Roar,” had been accepted and would be appearing in the summer issue. (It ended up appearing in September, but that’s a story for another post.)

A few days ago, I got an email from some new editors from The Breakwater Review telling me that they were sorry, but they had to pass on my personal essay, “Roar,” which the publication had already published.

I’m not sharing this to point out their error — The Breakwater Review, like many lit journals, is affiliated with an MFA program, so the editors change over with the school year, and I’m sure they’re trying to get through a ton of subs.

My point is this: different readers, different tastes.

It only takes one yes.

For all you writers out there, keep writing. For all you readers out there, try someone new, and if you love his or her work, tell everyone you know. (On behalf of all writers, we thank you in advance.)

Enhanced by Zemanta