Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I HEREBY RESOLVE...

post by Lynn

I’m not normally one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I decided this year that I will—resolutions for my writing life.


I hereby resolve to fail more 

“Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.”
- Jon Sinclair 
In 2018 I want to accumulate failure because then I’ll know I’m stretching my abilities. In order to fail I must put my writing out there (submit!) and in order to do that I must complete poems, essays, stories and blog posts and in order to do that I must write, write and write!

So if you see me on December 31st, 2018 with bruises all over, you’ll understand why I have that big smile on my face.


I hereby resolve to cut down on my screen time 




To get my face into a book instead of Facebook.

Next up: A Wrinkle in Time. by Madeleine L'Engle. I’ve never read it and I want to before I go and see the movie.





I hereby resolve to stick to my writing rituals 



“The pleasure of doing a thing in the same way at the same time every day, and savoring it, should be noted.” 
- Arnold Bennett 


It’s such a soothing thing to wake up (5:30 am-ish) and know exactly what I’ll be doing as soon as I get my cup of coffee ready. I’ll be crawling onto my chaise, pulling the quilted throw over my lap, extracting my journal from the bookcase and writing.


Unless I’m traveling (and often when I am) I know this is how I’ll start my day. No equivocation. No “what should I do first today?”

I have a system, a process, and I stick to it. (See what James Clear has to say about system vs. goals here.)

Here’s what I know for a fact: 99% of what I produce as a writer has its genesis in those early morning hours.

Why would I want to mess with that?


I hereby resolve to treasure my time with my writing group 


I need the instruction, distraction, the traction and writerly interaction, and even more than needing it, I derive a lot of pleasure from it.

Here’s looking at you Judy, Mike, Beth, Susan and Thesanica!


I hereby resolve to trust my intuition more when it comes to feedback on my writing 



“He who builds according to every man’s advice will have a crooked house.” 
- Danish proverb 

I also resolve to offer feedback to other writers with less fervor—as if I know exactly how the writing should be changed. Hubris!

I want to remember that the best gift to a writer is the gift of a close reading. I can point out where I get confused, or stuck, or bored, but it’s up to the author to decide what to do with that information. 



There you have it—5 resolutions. I’ll print them off and revisit them frequently.


So what do you hereby resolve to do for your writing life in 2018?

And by the way...



Susan and are grateful that you visit the Writing Wyoming blog, and wish you a happy, healthy and writing-filled 2018!


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

WE ASK THE OLD QUESTION: WHY DO WRITERS WRITE?

guest post by Michael Shay

Lynn here: The following was originally posted in October on Mike's blog: Hummingbird Minds 
(http://hummingbirdminds.blogspot.com). 

I follow Mike's blog and enjoyed his insights here on the rambling route many of us take into the writing life. 



When we speak about books, we often speak in the singular case: the writer's vision, the poet's voice.

We talk very little of writing communities.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. Beginning in childhood, we are influenced by our family and friends and teachers. The media, too, of course, a factor that surrounds us in 2017.

But what turns this interest into a passion?

The rewards can be substantial. Fame and riches await. Pause here for laughs. There are easier ways to get rich. So why do writers persevere?

My parents were readers but not writers. My father was an accountant, my mother a nurse. They read books. They bought books and took us to the local library.

My mother often joked about writing a book. She had subjects: nine kids, plenty of pets, a profession that put her in contact with suffering and transcendence, skill and ineptitude.


She was sociable. She had friends. She had a career, unusual for that generation.

My father read books and hung out with his kids. He had few friends, typical of his generation of men. War chums, college friends, a few relatives. He only had one sibling and they didn't get along.

On occasion, my Catholic parents made babies. How and why they did this remains a mystery. They left it to the nuns and priests to explain it to us. They were no help. I grew up surrounded by mysteries. I remember things forgotten by my siblings. Or they remember things differently.

What is memory and why does it play such strange tricks on us?

I thought about this [on October 7th, 2017] as writer Sharman Apt Russell explored the reasons that writers write. She presented the morning talk at Literary Connection, the annual literary gathering at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne.

Russell and fellow writer Craig Johnson were part of a long line of writers who have appeared at this conference.

I've attended every one going back at least a decade. Annie Proulx, Tim O'Brien, Kent Haruf, Laura Pritchett, Pam Houston, Mark Spragg. Those are some of the names you might recognize. There are so many others. Ernest Cline attended one year to talk about his best-seller "Ready Player One," now being turned into a film by Stephen Spielberg. Connie May Fowler talked about her southern heritage and her work. Her 2005 novel, "The Problem with Murmur Lee," is one of the best books I've read with a Central Florida setting. It's simply a great book. I had a hard time finishing her memoir because the pain and the person it was happening to were so real.

I blogged about Poe Ballantine's 2013 appearance at the Literary Connection. I read his true-crime book "Love and Terror on the High Plains of Nowhere" and was dazzled by it.

One of the book's subjects did not appreciate my commentary. The book world is sometimes a very small place.

Russell began to write when she was eight years old. Not unusual for writers. Her father, a test pilot, died when she was two. People write, Russell said, for many reasons. "We love to read, particularly when we were children," she said. "Those who fell in love with reading as children, it's entered your bones. You want to be part of something that's given you so much."

So true. My parents read to me. They taught me, and I read as soon as I could. I have fallen out of love with books and reading and writing on many occasions. I keep coming back to it, probably because it's in my bones.

Writers like to play. We make up stories to learn how to survive as a human and to try on other roles, as actors trying out different characters. We are storytelling animals. It's part of our engagement with the world. "When you write, you find your thoughts being clarified," Russell said. "It's your conversation with the world." Writing is discovery. It helps you to be vulnerable and honest. Russell thinks you not only should write a book but publish it.

Technology has never made it easier to publish, whether it be with a small press or one we call our own. You can publish online. You can publish here. You can publish there. You can publish anywhere. This gave me hope. Most writers worry too much about publishing. I do.

It's the goal of our writers' critique group. We want to be better writers. But we also want readers. "Getting readers is the follow-through for writers." She half-jokingly wrapped up her talk with this: "If you are spending a lot of money on therapy, just write books." And it got a big laugh.

I thought to myself: "I spend my treasure on therapy and also write books."




Michael Shay is the author of the short story collection, “The Weight of a Body.” He retired recently as communications and literary arts specialist at the Wyoming Arts Council. 

For insights on writing dialogue, read Mike's post, "Writing Realistic Dialogue"--first published in May, 2016. 




Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Get Your Books into Libraries

Guest post by Steve Rzasa
Reposted from his blog

The title’s misleading. Any author can get his or her books into a library. Simply walk through the door, offer them a free copy, and say, “I’d like to donate this to your collection.”

Librarians like free books. Especially good ones.

What I want to talk about, though, is what indie authors have a greater concern for—convincing libraries to buy their books. There’s several factors to take into account. As a guy who’s both a published author—traditionally and indie—as well as a librarian, I’ll lay them out.

Budgets
This is the biggest issue. Libraries are mostly public funded. When times get tough, and they have to make budget cuts, acquisition for collections suffers first. Most libraries I know of (in the state of Wyoming, where I work, anyway) don’t want to cut staff. If you can determine whether or not your library is fiscally stable, then you’ve already got a better chance than offering your book for purchase by a library facing tight financial times.

Audience
This one’s trickier, and it helps if you have a relationship with a librarian who has a good handle on what the patrons of that institution like to read. Granted, sci-fi and fantasy have small readership, generally speaking. But does your local library have a core of readers who like one or the other? If so, that gives you an in. Librarians are more likely to spend money on a book and put it on their shelves if they know of people who want to read what you’ve written.

Reviews
Yes, librarians read reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, especially younger staff. However, if you can get into a journal like Publishers Weekly or Library Journal, you’ve got an even better chance of being considered for purchase.

(Susan here: Speaking of reviews, go check out the one on Steve's book, Man Behind the Wheel, on the Wyoming State Library blog.)

Patron Recommendation
This is one of the best ways. If you have even one or two people ask the library to buy your book to stock on your shelves, they will likely do it—especially if it’s people who put their name on a list to check out the book once it is processed into the collection.

Of course, it’s better to have a librarian ask the bosses to buy one of your books.

Year of Publication
This one was mentioned in one of the comments in the Realm Makers Consortium, as one library only takes books published within the last six months. Why? Well, without speaking to the staff at that library, I can only guess, but I’ll make a few educated ones.

It is likely a simple space issue. Our building has about 40,000 items in it. Every year, I process between 900 and 1,000 novels, both YA and adult fiction. The vast majority were published that year. Our bookshelves fit 20 to 25 books on each one, and there’s six shelves per unit. Math that one out: 120 books per shelf unit means we add nearly ten shelf units to the building each year. Have you tried to add ten bookcases to your house? You’d run out of space quick. So libraries weed older books, damaged books, and those that don’t circulate in order to find room.

Bottom line, a newer book is more likely to get onto the shelves—unless you’re local, then convincing the library to buy your book is easier. Our library in particular loves to have local authors added. It’s part of our mission, and our director even waives room rental fees when writers have book signings.

Silver Lining
I don’t mean this to sound hopeless or hard. Your best bet is to aim local. If you can find champions of your book among hometown librarians, they’ll recommend your book to readers – and better yet, to other librarians. I’d also suggest banding together to do a vendor table at library conferences. Those tables aren’t cheap, but if a bunch of people can do something like the Realm Makers Mobile Bookstore at library conferences, that gets you seen by the people who decide purchasing.

Questions?
I’m an author, and a librarian. Feel free to ask me questions anytime about what goes on behind those bookshelves!

------

By day, Steve Rzasa works as your local technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming. By night, he dons his spacesuit and authors speculative fiction. (We asked, but he wouldn't send a spacesuit author photo.) Steve has written eleven novels, including Broken Sight, which won in American Christian Fiction Writers’ Best Speculative Fiction award in 2012. He’s a fan of all things sci-fi and superhero, and a student of history. His most recent book is Man Behind the Wheel. Find him online at www.steverzasa.com.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Making the Most of Your Manuscript Analysis

Guest post by Dallas Jones

To formally start the assessment and revision process for my first novel, Meet the Boys of Casper, I hired a professional to perform a manuscript analysis. The insights gained from this effort not only provided tangible suggestions to improve the quality of my writing—which I was expecting, but they also unexpectedly forced me to consider why and to whom I was writing my book.

A manuscript analysis is a high-level review of a prospective book. Rather than addressing detailed considerations such as sentence structure, its purpose is to assess the general flow of the story. Does the plot make sense, and is it well executed? Are the characters developed? In my mind, the manuscript analysis is an advance critique prior to starting the back and forth interaction with an editor. In fact, adjustments in your story as a result of feedback from a manuscript analysis might make the difference between being accepted or rejected by a publisher.

In my case, I had already decided to self-publish; however, I had reached the point where I needed some other eyes to review my work. After taking a few passes at my manuscript and bringing it to what I believed was a semi-polished state, I solicited feedback. Earlier in the effort, I ran my work by family, friends and some independent publishers. Their reactions tended to be positive, but no one offered any substantial type of constructive analysis, so I searched online for some help and ran across an indie publisher/author who offered a manuscript analysis for $125. I thought her price was reasonable, so I pursued an engagement. Within two weeks after submitting my work, my reviewer delivered a thorough and candid analysis.

She carefully described my writing style and assessed the story’s content. Specifically, she observed that I wrote from an omniscient point of view in an expository manner. Having never taken a creative writing course, these terms were new to me. I’d never really thought about my particular style—only that if felt natural to me—and appreciated the fact it had a formal definition. She also accurately described my book as a set of character studies. Finally, she provided a sample edit for the first few pages of my manuscript and pointed out some weaknesses.

In her summary, she identified the problems she perceived with my manuscript. First, she indicated though my prose was good, my type of writing style is out of date and would not grab/maintain readers’ attention (especially young adult readers). Then, she noted my work was long on detailed character descriptions and devoid of plot. Again, she stated I would lose the readers’ attention because the story lacked tension that is created from a conventional protagonist/antagonist conflict. Further, she indicated my characters had no connection with one another and their existence and events were haphazard. She concluded by saying the manuscript needed a major amount of rework before it would be attractive to a publisher. Then to her credit, she provided some constructive tips and resources for novel writing.

After roughly a year’s worth of sweat, this was not the analysis I was hoping to hear. I stepped away for a few days and then began thinking about her comments. Finally, I decided to perform my own analysis of her review, and in doing so used this feedback vehicle as more than just mere guidance on writing mechanics. This exercise forced me to revisit the most basic questions in my effort—How did I write this story, why did I write this story, and for whom did I write this story?

In one of her summary statements, my reviewer noted while I might enjoy writing character studies readers wouldn’t enjoy reading them. Her observation consisted of two parts: 1) I enjoy writing character studies, but 2) readers wouldn’t. She was spot on regarding the first part. I hadn’t thought about it previously, but I do enjoy writing character studies. It’s my style and my voice. Instead of changing to a different style, I decided to own it and move forward.

When I thought about part 2, readers’ reactions to my story, I was conflicted. It was apparent from her detailed comments that she did not enjoy the story; however, when I had previously run my material by others, several liked it including another indie publisher. The thought of readers rejecting your book is terrifying, but that image of rejection forced me to honestly address why I was writing it in the first place. And then I realized my “Eureka” moment. I wrote my story because I wanted to create a tribute to my teenage friends that said, “Once upon a time, we roamed this land, and this is how we rolled.”

Along with this realization, came clarity about my target audience. I decided my primary audience consisted of my old classmates. I would declare my effort a success if my peers concurred my novel accurately captured the spirit of our teenage years (and I could put a few smiles on their faces). However, that cluster of friends represented a tiny audience. Was my novel commercially viable as written? The reviewer didn’t think so, and she was a publisher. I believed her take on the young adult market was accurate. This story was too slow for them, but still I believed my potential audience was greater than just my friends. The key was to identify readers with whom I shared something in common.

I had tried to write a story I would enjoy reading, so I speculated that people with similar experiences or reading tastes to mine could fit into my potential audience category. I am a male who grew up in Wyoming during the ‘70s, and the following novels influenced me: The World According to Garp, Catch 22, and Lamb. Perhaps my novel might resonate with the following subcategories: men, anyone who grew up in the ‘70s, someone having familiarity with Wyoming, or readers who enjoy literary fiction with a splash of humor.

Having considered my own traits, I thought again about my reviewer and what, if anything, we shared in common. The answer was not much. She was female and a citizen of another country who liked stories packed with conflict and tension. At best, she represented a tangential member of my target market. At this point, I realized not everyone will enjoy my book, and I had better mentally prepare for those instances when someone does not.

Now at peace with my purpose for writing and an understanding of my target audience, I read through the reviewer’s analysis again. She had made two excellent points that I wanted to incorporate into my revision. First, I had established little, if any, connection among my characters early in my narration. This absence left readers confused throughout the story. I would address this issue by adding a chapter to the beginning of the book. Second, the narration was too passive in too many places. I would revisit each chapter and look for opportunities to apply a “showing” vs. “telling” technique.

In summary, the small investment I made in a manuscript analysis paid off handsomely. It not only identified areas in need of improvement but also forced me to understand my purpose and expectations in writing a novel.

-----



Dallas Jones was born and raised in Casper and is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Though currently residing in Colorado, he still loves everything about Wyoming except the wind. Dallas has written professionally about travel, education, and fantasy baseball. MEET THE BOYS OF CASPER is his first novel. Find him on Facebook.
 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Countdown Days to Contest and Christmas

Guest post by Myra Peak

Count down the number of days until Christmas or the number of days until the WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest deadline (December 15).

When you count down days are you wasting or using the days?

My grandmother accused my mother of wasting my grandmother's life by counting the days until any big event. As with many relationships, you'd have to know those two to appreciate the solemnity of it all. I, on the other hand, prefer to look at what I've gained or achieved in the ensuing counted down days.

Use the 21 days to Christmas to find ways to be kind to others. Open a door for someone, find a dollar bill on a store floor for someone who looks like they need chocolate, sweep snow off a neighbor's sidewalk, or offer cookies to a stranger or a friend walking by your house. The surprise could be that you get new material for the poems you will write in the next 11 days before the deadline for the Shea Contest. 

A member of WyoPoets has challenged his writing friends to enter the Shea Contest, touting the ease and low cost of entering. His encouragement has been tempered by his caveat that he expects to win as many prizes as possible so he has shared his condolences to us early on.

I challenge each of you to make him work harder for his poetry. He and we will appreciate it.

Entry guidelines can be found at http://www.wyopoets.org/contests.html.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A LETTER TO MYSELF

guest post by Rebekah Cayzer

Lynn here:

This fall I teamed up with Kristin Abraham, who teaches at Laramie County Community College, to create some new bloggers. I attended a session of Kristin's Creative Nonfiction and Poetry class and talked about what blog posts are, what they aren't and what topics a blogger might take on.

The students were assigned the task of writing a blog post, targeted to an audience of writers. The results were impressive, and under duress (so many good ones to choose from!) I selected four posts to share on the Writing Wyoming blog. Today's post is the first up--three more will be shared in the coming months. 

I think you'll agree--there's some serious talent coming out of our community colleges!




A Letter to Myself
by Rebekah Cayzer

Dear Younger Self, 
The me that was shy and trying to find a place to call her own, thank you. 
You picked up the pencil and began to write. 
You wrote late into the night, and early in the morning. You never gave up when the critics came. 
You were creative, and different. You found your place. 

At first it was small, and only consisted of the notebooks and diaries, but then it grew. 
You wrote bravely for the Young Author’s contest your school had every year. 
Your first character was a part of yourself, placing your heart in her hands. 
Each piece you wrote, you created a personality that shined, taking the time to think and plan. 
You put in a lot of effort and time into each one, pouring out your heart. 

Thank you younger self. 
Your choice to write shaped me into who I am. 
I became confident, and the pen never left my hand. 
Each piece becomes a part of who I am, and you helped me with that. 
Thank you for finding a place to call home, it became a home to me too. 
I’m thankful you found something to call your own.





About Rebekah:

Currently a Psychology major at Laramie County Community College, Rebekah Cayzer enjoys her job working as a tutor in the LCCC student success center. She's been writing since she was old enough to make complete sentences.

Rebekah lives in a family of five girls, so growing up she wanted something that made her stand out and be different, which writing became. When she's not at LCCC, usually she's curled up in bed watching NCIS reruns, writing different stories, or listening to music.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Teens Take Their Poetry Out Loud




(assembled) by Susan*

As anyone who's ever participated in a reading might know, poetry is both a written and a spoken tradition. Poetry takes on a different dimension when performed rather than read.

Across the nation, teens experience poetry as an oral art form in Poetry Out Loud, and right now, the Wyoming Arts Council is inviting 9th-12th teachers and students to take part. There's still time to get involved -- the application deadline is December 22.

Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation and memorization contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. The program encourages teens to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. Students can work on mastering comprehension, public speaking, acting, performance, drama and English skills while building self-confidence and internalizing our rich literary heritage. (You can see performances on the POL YouTube Channel.)

Learn more and register. But if you're not convinced yet, keep reading...

Lauren Haiar, 2017 Wyoming Poetry Out Loud winner, spoke of her experience competing in the national round in Washington D.C.:

"I’ve enjoyed poetry my entire life, and so I immediately loved the idea of Poetry Out Loud ... I knew that [national competition] was an amazing opportunity and would be a great experience, but little did I know how much it would shape my life afterwards. My experiences there have played a part in many of the decisions that I’m making today, in and out of the classroom ... Coming from a small school where not many people share my love of literature, to be in a group setting with peers of the same interests was absolutely thrilling. I felt like I became a part of a family of like-minded people. However, like-minded as we may me, the amount of diversity that I was exposed to from interacting with high school students from all over America and our territories was so eye-opening. Through the influence of poetry and the power that our words have, we learned together, and learned from each other."

Mason Neiman, educator
"In the rural Midwest, where arts opportunities for students are few and far between, Poetry Out Loud allows for my often unrepresented students to shine ... excitement in our community has grown steadily, especially since we made it to nationals last year. Poetry is steadily emerging from the shadows here in Sundance, as the town show becomes more of an event every year. Last year, we were privileged to compete at Nationals in Washington D.C. ... to see my young poet, from a town of a thousand in “flyover country”, stand alongside and cultivate lasting friendships with other young lovers of poetry from across the country, made this teacher smile wide. The opportunity for my students to identify with the triumphs and trials common to us all through the art of the spoken word and other poets has time and again transformed wallflowers into performers and bubbly extroverts into thoughtful mystics ... I wouldn't trade POL for anything and will keep my students involved so long as the program exists."
Here at Writing Wyoming, we're way into anything that encourages young people to appreciate poetry and literature. Appreciation of words is often the first step to writing.

Teachers and home school groups can learn full program details and register on the Wyoming Arts Council site. Registered schools and groups will receive a free multi-media toolkit that includes a teacher’s guide complete with lesson plans, guidance on classroom contests, evaluation criteria, posters, and a customizable contest announcement poster.

Registration deadline for this year's Poetry Out Loud is December 22. Participating teachers and homeschoolers use the POL  toolkit to teach poetry performance and run classroom competitions. Following a pyramid structure, classroom winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to the state competition in March, with the state winner awarded an all-expense-paid trip to the national competition in Washington, D.C., April 23-25.

In addition to the wonderful learning experience this program offers, students have the opportunity to win cash prizes and money for their school library to purchase poetry books.

If a school is interested in participating in Wyoming’s Poetry Out Loud competition, needs further information, or needs a packet of printed program materials, contact Tara Pappas at tara.pappas@wyo.gov, 307-777-7109.

So get involved and encourage a teen's love of poetry. Good luck to our Wyoming competitors!

*Most of this info came straight from the Wyoming Arts Council, so I can't claim to have written this, other than an editorial comment interspersed here and there.

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."