Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HOW DO WRITING GROUPS ACTUALLY WORK? [PART ONE]

Writing can be like folding a banquet-sized tablecloth; you can do it yourself, but it's a lot easier when you can find somebody to help.


-- Ted Kooser & Steve Cox, in Writing Brave and Free: Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing



Lynn here: I'm a big fan of the concept of getting help with your writing--been doing it for years. That's why I put out a call to various writers to ask them to share with us how the writing groups they belong to work. Katie Smith graciously complied with the following information on Bearlodge Writers in Sundance and Prairie Pens in Gillette. In future posts, I'll share more contributions about this crucial tool for Wyoming writers.

Note: some of the information on Bearlodge Writers was previously published in an article by Writer's Digest Online that you can access here. Read it and you'll also learn about how groups in Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, California and Montana operate.

guest post by Kathleen Smith

Writing is a solitary endeavor until you have written an essay, a poem, nonfiction or fiction piece and want to make your craft better. Then you must share your words laid so carefully on the page from your heart. The easiest way to improve your craft is find a source of writers for companionship and critique.

In Wyoming because of the miles between communities some writers utilize on line writing groups. Others like me drive miles to be in the company of good writers with the desire to make the writing better for everyone at the table.

Let me share how Bearlodge Writers work.

THE BEARLODGE WRITERS (BLW) group has been active since 1979. BLW is open to any writer, new or experienced, seeking a welcoming, safe place to present work for praise and for constructive, sensitive critique. The group works with writers from first draft to last revision prior to publication. While BLW’s main mission is to offer assistance and support to one another, it has also sponsored writers’ residencies and scholarships and participated in writers conferences.

WRITING FROM: Sundance, Wyo.

SIZE: Currently, we have 20 members on our active email list. Members have ranged in age from 15 to 82.

FORMAT: BLW’s format is simple and effective. We sit around a large table located in a conference room at a very supportive local library, read the work, and garner both praise and critique from the other writers present at the table.

At one time, we did not bring copies of the work to pass around, but simply read the work while listeners made notes. Now, writers bring copies of the material to pass around the table. The writer reads while listeners write notes on the pages or suggest comments, and marks any corrections.

Sometimes, a writer will ask another writer to read the material. After critique, all copies are signed and returned to the writer. It cannot be stressed enough that we value kindness and respect for each writer’s work above criticism.

MEET UP: BLW gathers at the Sundance Library on the first Tuesday of every month, at 11:00 a.m., and on the third Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.

One member travels more than 150 miles, round trip, for meetings. Others come from neighboring South Dakota, a round-trip drive of about 60 miles. Those arriving first start the coffee and set out snacks—including lots of chocolate.

Before the reading and critique session, BLW spends about 30 minutes discussing any business, sharing information about writing successes and publishing opportunities, and answering general questions.

Those present needn’t have a piece of writing on a given day. Those who have brought work to be critiqued draw from a bag of dominoes that is passed around the table. Work is read in order from the smallest domino number to the largest.

Each writer brings a unique and valued skill set to the table. We have writers who envision the story arc, ferret out the thread of the writer’s intent and give advice on overall structure. Others are “grammar police,” able to determine proper word usage and phrasing. Members often comment about how the piece affects them emotionally and/or intellectually.

SUPPORTING EACH OTHER: Most importantly, it is about respect for the writer and the work. We are earnest about sharing a deep level of trust. What is read or said at BLW stays at the table until such time as the author chooses to share it. We offer consistent and sincere encouragement. As one member recently stated, “Bearlodge Writers is a safe place to be vulnerable.”

LESSONS LEARNED: Our individual successes help perpetuate and encourage the success of everyone in the group. The consistency of the format offers stability, and although members have come and gone—we recently lost one irreplaceable and beloved founding member—the heart and the purpose of the group remains the same: To encourage, respect and nurture writers, honor their processes, and celebrate their victories, whether that victory involves finishing a first draft or achieving publication.

Welcoming new members keeps the group vibrant, while long-time members offer an historical and experienced perspective.

I am the writer referenced in the above article that travels 150 miles. I choose to make that drive because I always know the words I share at the Bearlodge critique table will be improved.

After years of attending this writing group I have come to realize one person’s dedication and sacrifice of time has made group possible for all. Through the years, others have assumed small responsibilities for tasks to assist the group’s goals. There must be someone to arrange the meeting time with the library and maintain a current contact list for the multi-genre group of beginners and advanced writers.

Gaydell Collier was that dedicated person for Bearlodge and was a charter member of Wyoming Writers. She wrote the following in February 2007:
So what makes a good writers’ group? If we had to answer in one word, we would say, respect, and that includes trust
Respect for the writer. The writer comes as a pilgrim, bearing an offering. Whether the writer be prince (experience/published) or pauper (brand new beginner), he is granted the respect of willing attention and receipt of the critique he desires, whether it be “Does this work? Are the characters believable?” or a complete pre-pub edit. This includes respect for the writer’s emotions—a willingness to laugh or cry along with him. 
Respect for the piece. To place the offering on the table requires an act of faith by the writer. This is met by the respect of serious consideration and gentle but honest critique, focusing on the merits of the piece itself, the type of critique desired, and the intent of the writer. It is never the group’s purpose to change the intent, but to clarify, to suggest, and to encourage. 
Respect for the group. Each writer brings to the group his respect for its function and for the other members, making sure each one has time for his work to be discussed, is willing to give his thoughtful critique or expertise, and holds sacred within the group whatever revelations might be shared. Because of the mutal trust within the group, there is no “competition.” Everyone has the same goal—to make each other’s work the best it can be.
In my mind, the most important aspect of a writing group is to make the writing better without changing the voice of the author.

Our trust and respect is built by sharing an annual Christmas party, working together to bring guest speakers to our writers and others in the area, but most of all is developed by sharing lives in essays, poems, bios for submissions, and by being present at the table.


Prairie Pens 
By Kathleen Smith

PRAIRIE PENS writing group has been active since October 2004 in Gillette, Wyoming. Our group has undergone important milestones as we’ve moved forward through the years, and after experiencing the loss of Midge Farmer, the anchoring individual who gave unselfishly of her time to establish the group and was a Charter Member of Wyoming Writers.

Prairie Pens leadership has passed to Kathleen Smith and Donna Robbins, who continue to invite and encourage new writers.

Another milestone was the hosting of the Wyoming Writers Conference in Gillette in June 2017. We worked together as a group to host the catered conference in the Camplex Events Center, utilizing a hotel within easy walking distance. We learned about conference mechanics.

Our third milestone is the comaradarie and trust developed among our group from working together on this literary event. This event tied our writers in friendship and writing to others from Wyoming and other states.

WRITING FROM: Gillette, Wyoming

FORMAT: Our writers bring copies of double spaced, one inch margin, formatted writing to share with those in attendance. Writers read their work and request criticial input, as well as praise, from the group as they look to improve their efforts. Members record their comments on the critique copy, then sign, and return the piece to the writer.


MEET UP: Prairie Pens meet at the Campbell County Library on the third Saturday of each month at 1:00 p.m. in Pioneer Room 1. We are a multi-genre group welcoming writers and writing of all kinds and of all levels who wish to participate or observe.

SUPPORT OF THE WRITER: We have governing guidelines based on those used by the Sheridan Range Writers and Bearlodge Writers. Over the years we have modified these guidelines to better fit our local writers.

LESSONS LEARNED: We host in-depth work days on specific pieces to take critique to a deeper level. We share mini lessons on topics specific to the craft of writing. Prairie Pens serves and encourages talented writers in our community.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

OUR CRAZY, CRANKY TRIBE

photo by Lynn Carlson
repost by Lynn

I collect quotes, especially quotes by writers. As I read through the notebook where I scribble or cut-and-tape these quotes, I am struck by what a colorful, irascible bunch of human beings we writers are.

The quotes makes me laugh, and also leave me thinking that even on my most disgruntled days—it's not a problem, because I am in such excellent company!

You think I’m making this up? Here’s a sampling:





“A story is not a carrier pigeon with a message clamped to its leg.” 
- David Madden 









"There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts."
- Charles Dickens





“You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.” 
-Warren Ellis







“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into a bouillon cube.”          - John Le Carre


“If I had to give young writers advice, I’d say don’t listen to writers talking about writing.”             - Lillian Hellman







“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”
 - H.G. Wells 







So if today is a day you find yourself frustrated, grumpy, sharp-tongued or short-tempered…

Welcome to the tribe!


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Writing Through Fear

By Susan

Not long ago, I found myself in an email conversation with Page Lambert, author of In Search of Kinship and Shifting Stars. I confessed how I struggle to write through fear. No matter how many times I may hear the virtues of "shitty first drafts," I worry that my writing will not be good enough. Here's what Page had to say:

"You asked, 'How can our writing matter if it’s not any good?' I think it matters because expression matters and has an intrinsic value from first blush to final polish. The first blush of creative endeavor might not yet be refined into artistic expression, but the only way thought and human behavior can possibly reach toward a higher expression is when we humble ourselves enough to express even the simplest thought.

Some believe that all matter begins as thought. When enough like-minded thoughts collide in the metaphysical universe, matter is created. A million single expressions can lead to the manifestation of a sea change of thought.

Your writing matters, Susan. All writing matters. All singing matters. All creation matters. We keep the world alive through our expressions."
She went on to share:
"I’m in Montana, celebrating the birth of my son’s second little daughter. What a blessing. The older sister, three-year-old little Carly, was painting rocks today with grandma’s help. It never would have occurred to her that there was a 'wrong' way to paint rocks. Oh how I wish we adults could be so joyful in our expressions!"
There you have it. Go, be joyful in your expressions. There is no wrong way.

-----

A member of the International League of Conservation Writers and an advisor for the Rocky Mountain Land Library, Page Lambert has been writing about the western landscape and leading nature retreats in the West for twenty years. A founding member of Women Writing the West and longtime member of Wyoming Writers, Lambert’s writing can be found inside monumental sculptures at the Denver Art Museum, online at Huffington Post, and inside the pages of Sojourns, The Writer, and elsewhere. She designs and teaches graduate writing courses for the University of Denver’s University College. Forthcoming works include “Not for Sale” (Langscape Magazine, publication of Terralingua.org), and “The Rural West” (The Light Shines from the West, Fulcrum Books). Lambert writes the popular blog All Things Literary/All Things Natural from her mountain home west of Denver, Colorado. Find her online at www.pagelambert.com

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How to Plan a Personal Writing Retreat

Guest post by Tina Ann Forkner

I have been asked a few times about my writing process. The answer, if I really went into it, would have been very long, but honestly when I start a new novel, I have to bury myself in it. It’s not always easy to do, but it’s easier to get started if I can really be alone.

This is what I did for two days during what amounted to a mini writing retreat for myself while my husband worked during the day in St. Louis. I got away for dinner and time with my husband and other humans in the evening (So grateful for great company!), but during the day I buried myself in my own work. It paid off, at least in terms of creativity and word count. I’m so glad I just went for it and focused on writing.

How did I do it? If you want to do a personal writing retreat of your own, it’s easy. Here’s how:

  1. Try to get away if possible. Go stay with your sister, borrow someone’s loft, or reserve a hotel room. If you can’t, then find a space in your home, library, or other place where you can spend several hours alone.
  2. Make yourself unavailable. Let people close to you know you won’t be emailing or answering the phone. Decide whom you will communicate with during the hours you have set aside, if anyone. For me it was my daughter and my husband, and then only for short texts or calls.
  3. If you write on a laptop, disconnect it from the Internet. You don’t want to get distracted by checking Facebook!
  4. Preparation is important, so take along some journals, pens, a laptop or notebooks for actual writing, a book on the writing craft, a novel, and a devotional.
  5. It is important to prepare your mind. That’s what the novel and devotional are for. Start the day out by reading a little bit. Scribble thoughts in a journal if you like. Clear your mind of daily clutter. Be quiet.
  6. It’s important to consider the advice of others, hence the craft book. Read a chapter or section here and there whenever you need a break throughout the day. Underline your favorite quotes and/or write them down. (Breaks are important.)
  7. Nourishment is important. Start and end your day with a good meal, and drink more water than your morning coffee or wine at dinner. You want to feel treated and refreshed, but not sluggish for that long writing stint.
  8. Exercise and stretch. It’s a good idea to make a trip to the gym or take a walk outside during a break or after your writing day. Turning into a pretzel won’t help.
  9. Observe your Writing Rituals. It’s okay to go through all of your weird, oddball routines that help you write. I am not going to share all of mine, but every writer has them, or you will. They can involve coffee, prayer, chocolate, meditation, music, affirmations, and probably things you may not even notice. My kids say I talk to myself when I’m in my writing zone. I doubt it, but it’s what they say!
  10. Write. That’s right. Pretty straight forward. Write without stopping, without correcting, without censoring, without thinking. Don’t think about how and when this will be published or who will be reading it. Just write. Write, write, and write until you are empty. Then take a deep breath and be proud of yourself. Edit it all later. For today, close up shop and pat yourself on the back.

So that’s it! Easy, right? I would love to hear about any personal writing retreats you put together. What advice do you have for others?

-----

Tina Ann Forkner writes women’s fiction and is the author of five novels including the award-winning Waking Up Joy, as well as Ruby Among Us. She is a mom/stepmom to three almost-grown children who all attend the University of Wyoming. When Tina isn’t writing or traveling with her husband, she is a substitute teacher in Cheyenne where she has lived for almost twenty years.

Find her online at www.tinaannforkner.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tinaannforknerauthor. Her Twitter handle is @tinaannforkner.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

THE ART OF THE SEQUEL

guest post by Huntly Rinck

Lynn here: Since Huntly is part of the High Plains Register team at Laramie County Community College, I don't think he'll mind if I jump in here and let you know that the deadline for submissions of previously unpublished, original poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, music and artwork to this fine literary magazine has been extended to December 15th. Visit their website for more information.

Okay, enough of that. On to Huntly's post...



Sequels are evil!

They are insidious in the way that they’ve wormed their way into our culture. It’s rare to visit a multiplex without at least one of the offerings having a number following the title. At least when we, as writers, create sequels of our short stories or novels, we try to label them with actual titles instead of just appending a number.

Sequels themselves can be good – most people enjoyed Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, volume 2 as much as the original. But they can be bad. 1997’s Batman and Robin killed the successful franchise for almost a decade. (I do differentiate between books or movies with one or several sequels, and books and movies that were planned to be a series.)

My problem with sequels is that they’re usually written for the wrong reason. There are a lot of wrong reasons to write a sequel:
  • For the money – someone’s willing to pay for it (or at least the author thinks so). Most movie sequels, especially the bad ones fall into this category. 
  • For the characters – the author wants to revisit some favorite characters (or his fans want him to). Lillian Jackson Braun’s popular Cat Who series falls into this category – later entries in the series lacked plot, but were enjoyable visits with the familiar characters, both human and feline. 
  • Laziness – the author just doesn’t want to create new characters or settings.
There is only one good reason to write a sequel: you have more story to tell.


So as an author, you have a duty to your readers to ask yourself if the story you’re going to tell in your proposed sequel can stand up. Is the story, by itself, worth your reader’s time and effort? Is it worth your time and effort?

One good test is to ask yourself: which came first, the idea of writing a sequel, or the story idea?


If you do have that story to tell, the one in your head burning to get out, then start writing and good luck.

In the interests of full disclosure, I wrote an internet novel that eventually had seven sequels. But in my defense, I claim that it was all an unplanned series. I started writing a short story that grew up into a novel-length story. When I posted it, I almost immediately got feedback asking when the sequel would be out, and I emphatically denied that there would be a sequel, after all. Sequels are evil.

But the characters wouldn’t evacuate my head to make room for others, they had more to say. After I posted the sequel, I got more feedback asking about the next sequel. I replied that the sequel was a fluke and there wouldn’t be another. Sequels are evil.

Then I woke up after a dream, and rushed to my computer. My characters had more to say. After posting the third book, I stopped telling readers that there wouldn’t be sequels.




Huntly Rinck has been writing for almost half a century and is still learning the craft. He started submitting his work to magazines at age fourteen, though no one was interested. He sold a number of shorts in the seventies and eighties before turning to novels. 

His novel, Cartwheels, is available on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Where Does Creative Genius Come From?


Feeling writerly angst and anxiety? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, offers a different way to look at things in this funny and engaging TED Talk from 2009, "Your Elusive Creative Genius."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

DEAR EDITOR

Lynn here:

If you want to give yourself a challenging assignment, write a letter to the editor. Why?

  • It’s writing, isn’t it? Which means it counts in our apprenticeships as writers. 
  • It will force you to get clear about your thoughts and opinions on a topic that you feel strongly about; 
  • It is a privilege to join in the flow of public discourse. Never forget that not everyone in the world has this privilege—many are silenced; 
  • You know it will get read. 

I’ve written a few letters to the editor. One of them even got picked up by the Casper Star-Tribune and printed as an op-ed piece, much to my surprise.

My suggestion for writing a letter to the editor?

Go ahead and write hot, but then set the letter aside and edit when you have cooled down. Don’t, (please, please, please) don’t hit send after writing the first draft. Because these letters do go far and wide, you want to make sure you can live with the language you have put down.


Geri Maria Johnson is a Cheyenne writer who has penned plenty of well-written letters to the editor. I’ve tapped her to share some pointers with us…

guest post by Geri Maria Johnson

So, you have something you need to say?

First, be sure enough local readers are interested in your chosen topic.

Then, get acquainted with the publication process.

Here’s a secret. The less work editors have to do to get your letter to press, the greater the chances of acceptance.

Mechanics

#1. Spelling. No excuse for misspelled words.

#2. Grammar. If possible get someone to review your work. At the very least, be sure your verbs are correct and consistently in the same tense – past, present or future. It is also very helpful to read your letter out loud.

Punctuation is very difficult. If you’re not absolutely sure where it goes, leave it out. It is much easier for editors to add punctuation than to change it.

#3. Structure. Make sure each sentence is complete. No fragments. No run-ons.

Content

Readers should be able to easily understand the intent of your letter. Be very clear what you want to accomplish before you begin writing.

A statement may be true and yet not pertain to the discussion at hand. Make sure each point is relevant.

Give careful consideration to the order in which you present your points. Arrange them in the sequence that will best ensure readers will stay with you and arrive where you want them to go. Organize your thoughts well.

Letters that offer an informed opposing opinion to a position previously taken seem to be favored. Do your research, and when feasible, cite sources.

Avoid personal attacks. Politely differ with others’ ideas.

Editors rarely take the time to shorten your piece. They might return it or simply reject it without even reading it. Stay within the word count limit.

Don’t use five words when one will do. Be succinct.

My personal motto: Every word must earn its place on the page.

I share my views with Wyoming readers because I undoubtedly have a unique perspective, as well as a way of breaking down complicated ideas into more understandable parts. My hope is that they benefit from my take on issues about which I am both passionate and informed and are then led to expand their own viewpoints, especially on matters that concern us all.

Geri Maria Johnson was raised in Amityvillle, Long Island and graduated from SUNY at Albany. With a focus on languages and history, she has traveled to over 40 states, spending a summer in Anchorage. Seven times abroad, Geri has visited much of Western Europe, Greece and Egypt.

This essayist has extensively researched the history and genealogy of ten generations of the Johnson/Campbell family. As an avid political activist, Geri Maria has had numerous letters to the editors of Wyoming newspapers published. She’s retired now, a peaceful Cheyenne resident for nearly a decade.