Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Update 4/29/15: I know, I'm supposed to be back! I am back, but being on vacation left me with a small mountain of work to get done. So, I'll be on blog hiatus til next week. If I can get around to make my blog visits this week, I will! Otherwise, I'll see you all next week :)

I'm off in lovely British Columbia this week. I'll see you all next Wednesday, as per usual! In the meantime, please go visit Nicki Elson, who has a brand new book out this week!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Finding And Maintaining A Fun And Effective Writing Group

So last week I lamented the lack of writing groups in my life, and asked for help. Because she's amazing, my blogging friend Loni Townsend answered me with such a long, detailed, and helpful email that I asked her to reshape it a bit and make it into a guest post. She did this purely because I asked her to, but I wanted to give her a shout-out, because a) her writing is wonderful, and b) so is she. So if you haven't already, please go buy her books! (And keep reading after her guest post for a look into her most recent novella, This World Bites.)

What follows is Loni's excellent advice on finding, forming, and maintaining a writing group:

Last week, Liz brought up the topic of writing groups, and how much she’d love to find one.

As my buddy Jim mentioned on my blog a few weeks back, I do have one of those groups. In fact, I'm the one that started it because I couldn't find anything that matched what I wanted in a group. I didn't want casual come-if-you-can-and-we'll-do-whatever, which at the time was all the Idaho Writer's Guild offered.

Jim is actually the critique group manager guy for the guild. He keeps track of all of the different groups, so that when someone comes to the guild, he can point them in the right direction. I'm not part of the guild, since I can't justify paying for meetings and conferences that I can't attend because of work and family. But I know enough people on the board to be dangerous. ;) That being said, if you have a local writer's guild, check there first because they may have something you're looking for.

Since the guild didn't have something I wanted, I made my own. It started with NaNoWriMo. Me and a couple of friends met every Friday morning for "write-ins" (drinking coffee and chatting a lot) during November. After November ended, we created a Facebook group that local people could join and stay in contact beyond the NaNo forums. I posted a question to the group to see if anyone would be interested in starting up a critique group. I knew I wanted a limited number of people because big groups are hard to manage when it comes to scheduling, plus you lose some of the intimacy. I got a couple of bites from people I hadn't met yet, and some interest from a few I had.

I ended up limiting it to 12 because the closest library had a meeting room that sat 12 and was free to reserve.

Then I sat down and wrote the expectations and guidelines for what I wanted. Here's a look into those guidelines:

Treasure Valley Critiquers is a group aimed to provide constructive criticism to group participants. It is a community where writers can go to gain honest feedback about a segment of their work.


  • Meetings will take place every two weeks
  • Sharing will take place on a round-robin schedule.
  • One member will share per scheduled 60 minutes. If more than 60 minutes is scheduled, then more than one member will share.
  • The scheduled sharer will email their work to the other members, or place it in the appropriate Dropbox folder, 10-14 days before their scheduled share date and indicate genre.
  • The shared segment will consist of approximately 5,000 words or less.
  • Critiquing members will have feedback compiled prior to meeting start (either physically or electronically).
  • Sharing author will remain silent during the discussion.
  • Critiquing members will discuss the work with the author present, but not directly address the author. 
  • First time attendees must participate in critiquing another member’s work before they are added to the schedule. 
  • Criticism is more than just grammar. 
  • Topics covered will include:
    • Plot/Pacing
    • Characterization
    • Setting/Tone
    • Clarity
    • Dialogue
    • Entertainment Value – If a short story, was it satisfactory? If part of a bigger story, would you continue reading?
    • Other


  • Be courteous. It is fine to dislike another person’s writing or work and to voice that opinion, but refrain from cruel or mean-spirited feedback. Comments such as “It sucked” are inappropriate. If you come bearing a complaint, be prepared to provide a suggestion on how the piece can be improved.
  • Keep an open mind. People are allowed to have opinions. Whether you are giving feedback or receiving it, not everyone comes from the same background. Some people may and will have different moral foundations. Even if you disagree with someone else’s opinion, discuss your reasons civilly. 
  • If you are the sharing author: once your time has started, you are done talking. Refrain from defending or commenting on or even clarifying any of the details within your work. You are there to listen. Your readers will not have you there to answer all their questions once you publish, so if something is misunderstood, then it may need to be rewritten. 
  • Avoid sidetracking on tangents that don’t relate to the author’s work. This is the time to focus on the author’s writing and not how attractive a particular actor is (even though you would love to see him play this such-and-such character in the segment you’ve just read).
  • Don't share another author's pages with people outside of the group unless you gain the author's explicit permission. They are trusting you with their work. Don't betray that trust. You don't own the rights to their work.

It's been tweaked a few times since the beginning, but mostly it's the same.

Then I figured out a schedule. Every other Wednesday worked best for most people, so that's what I went with.

I manage the critiquing schedule, group vacancies, and location scheduling. We have a closed Facebook group where I post the events of who is going when and where we're meeting. I also keep track of time and prompt topic discussion while we are critiquing, and steer conversation back on track when we get too far off-topic. I've even busted out my mom voice on some of the more excessive talkers.

Not all people understand the finer points of the group's intention. We've had to update our expectations to include a topic list so that we weren't spending twenty minutes on wrongly placed commas. It's helped smooth over some of the frustrations some members have with other members.

We use Dropbox to share our work and feedback. This works, for the most part. :) Some people still struggle with uploading files. They usually just email them to me and I put them in the folder. We used to email our pieces to a group distribution, but then some people were getting missed or lost, and I'd have to re-email.

Sometimes the group plan doesn't always work. One of my members started a separate group specifically for YA/NA (mine is open to all genres, including nonfiction). She based it on our existing structure, and expectations and guidelines. A volatile personality in her group started fracturing the other members' confidence. She came to me asking how I would handle the member. I suggested she talk to him, and if he wasn't willing to be tactful with his feedback, then to cut him off. I don't think she was willing to kick him out, or she didn't convey her message very well (she's not a mom and doesn't have a mom voice). The group crumbled, and disbanded after a few months.

We've had people come and go from my group. Since creating the group nearly two years ago, there are 6 from the original 12, and we've had 8 people join and leave for varying reasons (new babies, new jobs, new apartments in other cities). We still see each other around town and exchange laughs and stories.

Everyone is looking for something slightly different. If you don’t find what you want, try making your own.

This World Bites

It’s her first day on a new world and Cera's already found trouble. Michael, her guardian, has been bitten by a zombie and will soon join the undead ranks.

Everyone tells her there's no cure, but Cera isn't one to be deterred. She’s willing to face off with zombie hordes, demon slavers, and black market informants if it means she’ll find a cure for Michael.

But she’s not the only one hunting for something.

Something is hunting her.

Buy it now:

Barnes & Noble

By day, she writes code. By predawn darkness, she writes fantasies. All other times, she writes in her head.

People call her peculiar with a twisted sense of fashion, but don't let those understatements fool you. Her behavior is perfectly normal for a squirrel disguised as a human. That's part of being a ninja—blending in.

She makes her home in Idaho with her sadistically clever—yet often thwarted—husband, two frighteningly brilliant children, and three sneaky little shibas.

Find her on her blog or social media.

Contact info:
Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Goodreads

Thank you so much, Loni!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Writing Groups And Other Rare Species

Note: Somehow I missed signing up for Alex J. Cavanaugh's release day! I am so bummed, and so sorry, Alex!! So let me take a second to plug his BRAND NEW BOOK, Dragon of the Stars, which is OUT and available to buy. Head on over to Alex's blog for all of the info.

On to today's regular post...

Hey, A-Zers! You're through your first week of the marathon. Congratulations!!! I am wholly impressed by all of you.

Now, for something totally unrelated. Or, well, mostly unrelated.

I am at a loss. Not only that, I am lost. Being lost as well as at a loss is frustrating, not to mention confusing. Sort of like being stranded on a mountain with no idea of how to get home, and no idea of how to figure out how to get home. Maybe you have a compass but don't know how to use it, and you're staring at due north on it and wishing you knew what lay north of you if you walked that way, besides some fragment of Earth's magnetic field.

Before my metaphor gets stretched too thin (I know; too late), what I mean is that I know I am in desperate need of a writing group. Not just CPs or beta readers, although I love and appreciate them beyond words, but an actual, bona fide, official writing group. You know, people who meet up with each other on at least a semi-regular basis and exchange work, trade critiques and advice, inspire each other, and help each other. People who meet up just for writing dates. You know, my people. 

See, I'm working hard on my non-fiction and am producing pieces much more quickly than I could ever produce a novel, and as a result I need other pairs of eyes on them often. Far more often, in fact, than I can ask my CPs and beta readers to do. I also need some face-to-face time, some writing dates, some pushes and inspiration and community. As I said, I need a damn group.

The problem is that I can't seem to find one. I go to some writing classes and I meet some cool people, but I haven't yet met anyone who could form such a group. Some people live too far to meet up; some people are casual, occasional writers who don't need a group; and some...well, in total honesty some I don't want to be in a group with. There, I said it: I'm picky.

This is one of the few times I really regret not going through an MFA program. I think many people form their groups that way, or at least get connected to them through their communities.

Anyway, I am also at a loss as to how find this group. I know I could put out an ad on craig's list or something, but as I said, I'm picky.

So, blogosphere, I put this question out to you: if you have such a group, how on earth did you find it? How did it get started? Do you have any tips you could share with the lost, dazed, and confused?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Insecure Writers: Saying No and Cheering Anyway

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Happy IWSG, everyone, but also, happy first day of the A-Z Challenge! To use last week's metaphor, this is the starting line of one very long, challenging, amazing, inspiring, and exhausting marathon of a month. For the uninitiated (and are there any people who don't know what this is anymore?), bloggers who pick up the thrown gauntlet of the challenge must post every day for the month of April (except Sundays), with each post corresponding to a sequential letter of the alphabet, and revolving around a theme.

To all of you brave participants out there, I send my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes. You're all going to kill it, I know it, and I'll be here cheering you on from the sidelines.

Yes, from the sidelines. I feel a little wimpy saying that, but here's the deal: I did the challenge last year, and while I had fun, and learned a lot, and loved meeting so many other new bloggers, it took up a ton of time. And that's the problem.

Time, you see, is one commodity I never have enough of. And when my time gets cut short, one of the first things to suffer is my writing - because unfortunately, the day job pays the bills, and it doesn't do that so well when I take time off to blog or write.

When I signed up for the challenge last year, I was naive enough to think that as long as I planned it all in advance, it wouldn't take up too much of my time, and I'd still be able to write. After about two days I realized how ridiculous that thought was. It wasn't the posts that ate up my time - it was all of the visits! Every day! And I loved those visits, and couldn't bring myself to cut them short, and as a result I got very little actual writing done. So this year, I'm a little older, and a little wiser, and I know just can't do that again for another whole month. So this year, I am bowing out - gracefully or not - to devote more time to writing.

Do I feel insecure, and wimpy and sad and a little pathetic about that? YOU BET I DO. Is it going to stop me? Well, no, it's not.

So, my brave A-Z friends, I really do salute you - but I also want to salute anyone who, like me, is deciding that it's OK to miss the fun, and to prioritize other things. Because saying no is hard, darn it. I'm still learning how to do it.

Are you A-Zing it this year? If not, why not?