Midnight Musings: Paying It Forward

by Willa Blair

We’ve come from different walks of life. Different cities and states. Different schools. Different experiences. But somehow, we’ve all wound up here together, with one important thing in common.

We’re writers.

Pre-published, published, multi-published, fiction of all varieties, non-fiction, too. We’ve had one goal in mind, some of us for most of our lives: to become a published author.

Along the way, there may have been parents who read to us, teachers who helped us perfect language skills, and librarians who guided us to the stack of books we read under the covers with a flashlight long after lights-out. We found authors whose books we loved, even a few books we wished we’d written, and we thought, I want to do that, to be that.  An author.

More recently, there have been writers groups like this one, critique partners, online organizations and chapters, workshops, classes, hundreds of ways to hone our craft and learn from each other.

We’re writers. We’re a society of writers. And like any society, there are those who are further along on the path we tread. They’re the ones we emulated and learned from. Then there are those who follow behind, still gaining experience. We may still feel like wet-behind-the-ears beginners, but to those following us, we’re the sages, the wise ones who’ve been there, done that, and have stories to tell.

The society of writers, or in modern parlance, the network, sustains us in ways we take for granted. Few of us get here alone. And once here, none of us remain alone. Even as we sit solitary in front of our computer screens, we connect with each other through social networking sites, blogs, emails, even phone calls. When we meet face-to-face, we overstay the allotted time because we have so much to share and to learn.

And like the ones who taught us, we pay it forward. We write, we meet, we teach each other. We share our hard-won wisdom, great and small, about how to write, to be a writer, and to prosper in this business.

“Pay it forward” has become a cliché, but it’s a good one. It’s what we do. What others have done for us.  It’s a large part of how we got here and how we stay here.  Supporting each other with our wisdom.

So what can we do to pay it forward?

Here are a few questions for you to answer – either here in comments or just to yourself.

How do you pay it forward?

What would you recommend for others who want to be more active in our society of writers?

What’s the next thing you’re going to DO?

Find me a www.willablair.com.

My Fingers Are in My Ears for a Reason

by Marilyn Hudson Tucker

I like writers’ groups. Perhaps I should say I love them, since I am a member of three critique groups. They are all invaluable, but in different ways.

The first time I had my work read at a writers’ critique group, I assumed that everyone would say my chapter was fine just as it was. Perhaps even perfect. “Go, thou, and seek publication immediately.” That sort of thing.

Not so. They told me exactly what was wrong with it and what I could do to improve it.  I won’t say I left with my tail between my legs, but I definitely no longer had my nose in the air. At least they laughed in the right places. Since humor is my passion, I knew I was on the right track.

I persevered, and my writing slowly improved with each new session. Even when my work did not make it into the queue to be presented during that session, I learned by listening to the critiques of others’ works.

Over the years, I have learned that some suggestions must be ignored.

Sometimes, the advice given is simply wrong. One person said I should make my dialogue tags “consistent,” with all of them either at the beginning or in the middle or even at the end of (after) the quotations. The person wrote that advice but did not say it aloud, so I didn’t even have a chance to discuss the comment.

Often, a person will read something on the Internet and decide it is always true. One person in my group insists that every agent or publisher will throw the prologue away and refuse to read it. Not so. I heard a famous agent say he loves prologues. I have witnesses. He even named and explained all the various uses for prologues. In fact, on my iPad I have several bestselling novels that begin with prologues. One even has a “prelude.” Be careful about following suggestions willy-nilly.

Recently, a friend suggested that I have my main character do something that would be quite hilarious. I seriously considered including it until I realized that she would never do what was suggested. Basically, the scene involved my main character wearing borrowed stripper clothes to go to her sister’s law firm after being locked out of her own apartment.

I love to make people laugh, and I truly wanted to use the scene, but deep down I could not make my character do it. She simply refused. I asked a good friend about whether I should follow that suggestion, and he gave me excellent advice.

“Trust yourself,” he said.

It is perhaps the best advice I’ve ever listened to.

Find more humorous articles on my website: MarilynHudsonTucker.com

Critique This!

by Patricia Walters-Fischer

One of the best things about being in a writer’s group is the critique group. Every two weeks, we have the opportunity to send in fifteen pages and get it shredded by our colleagues so we can continue to improve, grow, and learn.

I don’t know about any of you, but I love critique weeks. I’m always grateful for the input, the suggestions and even the “I didn’t like it” critique.

This week, I got one such review. In fact, I received “I really didn’t like this.” Not only did she not like my story, she didn’t like the heroine at all and she felt the supporting character sounded preachy.

Along with my critique, my amazing fellow writer said, “I’m so sorry. I know all the words we write are personal.”

The beauty of having so many genres in romance writing is there will be times when someone writes something that you simply don’t like and it’s fine. I lost no sleep over the critique, nor did I get upset.

Immediately writing her back, I told her I appreciated her honesty and she had some very valid points. Will I change my story? A bit, but overall, the conflict she doesn’t like is what drives my story.

This morning at 1:43, she’d responded, telling me she had actually been unable to rest because of what she’d written to me. I’m glad I wrote her right back. I would hate to think she’d actually lost sleep over doing what I asked of her.

When we all enter our “babies” in critique sessions, we all know we’re putting them on the block. Sometimes we’ll come away with glowing reports and others, well, it won’t be pretty, but it’s not personal.

Our chapter is unique in that we all seem to want everyone to succeed. I’ve known of many writers groups that don’t help each other one bit and hope for no one else to be published or successful. All I feel is love and hope when I get together with all of you.

I know is this person gave me an honest critique. She spent her time going over it with the intension of helping me improve… and she didn’t even like it.

Regardless of what I think she should have seen in my work, it doesn’t matter. She gave me something to think about, things to fix, and lines to improve.

That’s a perfect critique.

Confessions of a Contest Judge

by Willa Blair

In my last post, I gave you some tips to ‘spiff up’ your contest submission. Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about what it’s like to be a contest judge.

Contest judges don’t know you. The judge receives each entry with a unique number on it, not your name. All they know about your writing is what you submitted to their category (historical, paranormal, etc.) and that your entry should fit within the parameters of that category.

Contest judges provide honest feedback, not just a numerical score. Most of them take that responsibility very seriously. And ‘honest feedback’ does not mean, well, mean. A good judge takes the time to help the writer understand what they did right as well as what they did wrong-and offers some ideas to fix what needs fixing.

They know that not all writers have experience accepting criticism. In fact, most aren’t very good at it. Are you? That thick skin takes years to develop. Mine still has thin spots. Judges are writers, too. They know it’s important to be helpful but not hurtful. After all, it’s just their opinion, especially if the problem is plot- or conflict-related, and another judge may like what they don’t.

Yes, scoring is subjective. What one judge (or agent or editor or reader) loves, another may hate. That’s the writing life. That’s the business we’re in. It’s important to recognize that and take from a judge’s comments only what is useful to you. Discard the rest. Really? Yes. It’s your writing. If all the judges mark up the same thing, chances are you need to pay attention to it. If there’s a diversity of opinion, go with your gut and your voice.

Punctuation and grammar problems? Okay, that involves the Style Manual’s opinion, too. Yes, it’s frustrating as a judge to wade through 8th grade mistakes. Yes, the author should have had an editor, or at least a friend, read their entry before they submitted it. Contest entries come in all skill levels. So judges mark up the mistakes — and they will affect your score.

Oh no, the author forgot to include the required synopsis? Or they exceeded the page limit? If the coordinator accepted the entry and can’t or won’t go back to the author, the best a judge can do is give fewer–or even zero–points in the affected category. That happened to me recently. The entry could have been a winner…but a key requirement was missing, so the hit to their total points kept them from even becoming a finalist. I almost cried. The entry was really that good…except for one major ooops.

The synopsis makes no sense? The book may be fabulous and the author just doesn’t understand how to write a synopsis. It’s a skill, and it’s not easy to learn. If a judge gets out their red pen/track changes/caps and font color change, or whatever, and shows the author (as much as they can) how to salvage it, it behooves the author to pay attention. The author might want to use that synopsis to submit to an agent or editor. The judge’s feedback can help sell the story.

General comments are useful and most judges try to provide them. Positive feedback about what worked is just as valuable as the truth about what needs work. Themes, big picture, consistent mistakes: this is where to find them.

Finally, a thank you to the judge through the contest coordinator is a nice thing to do and is appreciated – especially if the judge has taken a lot of time going over your entry. The more comments and corrections you see, the more you should think about doing just that. Any judge can give a top score and a “loved it”.  Yes, those are wonderful to get, but the real value of the contest is in the feedback that helps you improve your writing.

Visit me at www.willablair.com

Why The World Needs Writer’s Groups

by Patricia Walters-Fischer

My daughter is an amazing kid. Really, she’s one of those kids who seem to be aware of the world around her. Not just in a “oh look there’s a butterfly” sort of way. More like, “there’s a butterfly, let me make sure no one hurts it because it might be endangered” sort of way.

Now, she’s come up with a book idea to interview kids who are animal rescue and rehab volunteers. I think it’s a great idea, but what my sweet girl doesn’t quite understand is the work involved in writing said book.

So far, we’ve interviewed one person and have another eight to go. I keep asking her what questions she wants to ask the kids and she rattles off about three questions. Then she asks to go play. I explain to her you can ask those three questions, but chapters aren’t written on only a few questions. She’s got to get in there and come up with more things to ask as the interview goes on, get the person to talk more, give you more information because each person is different.

Looking at me, she said, “Write, Edit, Publish, right?”

I nod, then add, “Well, it’s more like write, edit, write, edit, edit, edit, edit, write, edit, edit, edit, then publish.”

Her eyes grew wide. “Really? That much?”

I ask her again about what she wants to say.

Her shoulders fall and she sighs, “I already told you the questions.”

That’s kind of like us, when we’re writing a new book. We have this great idea, this grandiose plan, but the details tend to make our mind wander or make us feel overwhelmed.

I want to write a story about mermaids—then it’ll start in 1700’s Ireland and end in modern day Southern California. Oh, and I’ll have a covered wagon and a train and a great looking guy, and a hurricane and they’ll live happily ever after. 
Now how in the world do I get them from Ireland to California?

Ugh! I need coffee…and chocolate.

Or you can approach it from another way, from what I call the Dug Way. (Dug is the dog from Pixar’s Up!)

Okay, I want to write about mermaids—you know my great-grandparents came from Danmark and that’s where Hans Christian Anderson is from and he wrote The Little Mermaid—wait, I want to write a book—focus. Okay, mermaids, mermaids…if mermaids came on land, do you think they need sunblock? What kind of sunblock would they use?

Wait, back to the book…SPF 30 or 50?

Ugh! I need coffee…and chocolate.

So how do you get from point A to Point B, C, D and all the way down to Z?

This is the beauty of having writer friends who can help you brainstorm, critique, or simply tell you to get back to writing your book instead of posting on Facebook about what happened at the grocery store last week.

Having other writers in your corner, especially great writers, can only make you stronger. They are there when you get that crappy rejection letter, that “thanks but no thanks” rejection letter that doesn’t help you at all, and they are some of your biggest supporters when you succeed.

Because of my writer’s group, I can not only brag that I’ll have a book published this year, but I have the knowledge to help my daughter’s dream a reality.
Thank you SARA’s for making all these dreams come true.