Drat! Writers’ Problems

Usually, I pat myself on the back for writing my first drafts in longhand. I fill notebook after notebook. I’m a big fan of cursive and just love the way pen feels as it loops and drags across paper. And my mind operates differently with pen in hand than it does with fingers on my keyboard.

But today, I am cranky because of my longhand habit.

An editor reached out to me about an article. I told her I have the perfect personal essay to suit her needs. All I need to do is find it.

Just in case I’d typed it up already – I suspected I hadn’t but wasn’t entirely sure – I searched my hard drive. Zilch.

I thought, “Maybe I wrote about it in an email to my sister or something,” so I searched my “Sent” box. Nada.

“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just find the notebook I wrote in last summer.”

I have found lots and lots of notebooks – but not the one I journaled in last summer.

If you hear something while reading this post, it’s probably the sound of my head hitting my desk. Tomorrow I get to dig around some more, and then – if totally desperate – I’ll have to reconstruct the entire incident I want to write about.

Lesson learned: if you want to keep journals and notebooks full of lovely cursive first drafts, organize those journals and notebooks.

Are you a writer? If so, what kind of writers’ problems and failures have you experienced? Feel free to share in comments. I promise to empathize.

What I’m Reading Right Now: On Moral Fiction

A while back, EriOn Moral Fictionka Dreifus had recommended John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, a slim volume dedicated to writing and literary criticism from the POV that an artist has a moral responsibility to their audience, and that art criticism should in part address how well the creator of a work of art has met that responsibility. The book dates from 1978, and it’s amazing how well it (thus far in my reading) stands up over time.

I’m only about three chapters in, and what strikes me most Continue reading

Writing Groups Run for Pay Are Useful…But Not the Same as No-Fee Writing Groups

After last week’s post, in which I explained how to set up and run writing critique groups and manuscript swaps, I got some feedback, and I’d like to address one of the issues that came up.

What to expect if you pay for a professionally-led writing group:

There are many writers/editors, who run critique groups for a fee – and I am among them. Usually, the organizer will do at least some of the recruitment for you, and they have genuine expertise. (Although I suggest you check on this – recently, I came upon a writer who offered advice – for a fee – to a person in a field of writing it turned out they knew nothing about. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a reference even if the person is a published writer of note. Not all writers know all fields of writing, and not all writers are good at running critique groups.) Good writing group leaders are familiar with the “writing group format” and may have a very gentle and efficient way of keeping participants on-task and well-behaved. They will often arrange the logistics of the location/conference call/whatever.

Interestingly, since participants usually pay in advance for a series of meetings, they are more likely to show up. I have a close friend who is a personal trainer, and she says her clients have the same attitude: If you pay in advance, you are more likely to show up, because you know your absence will cost you money, and yet you will get no benefit from that money. For a fledgling writer who really, really needs a fire lit under their tuchas to make them show up regularly for a writing group, this has a big advantage over a free model.

I know many, many people who have enjoyed and learned a lot in writing groups run by a paid professional. A really good writing-group-for-fee is worth the price you pay. However, I don’t classify them with lay-led, no-fee groups for a number of reasons. Examining these will help a writer decide which model will work best for them. Continue reading

Step-by-Step Guide to Setting up a Writing Critique Group or a Manuscript Swap

A little birdie told me what to write about this week.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But recently, quite a few people have either asked me how to advance their writing skills (answer: join a critique group) or how to arrange a critique group or what they should do if they cannot attend a critique group. And while I’ve discussed critique groups on the blog before, I think it’s worth a new blog post dedicated to this topic, because I’ve been helping run critique groups for nearly five (or is it six?) years now, and I’ve learned a lot.

Why Join a Critique Group?

You only will grow as a writer if you write regularly. But motivating yourself to write regularly, with no deadlines, is challenging. Getting useful feedback can also be challenging. For instance, you might have a close friend or relative read it, but will they be objective? And you could take a class, but that might involve spending money. (Note: I think it can be worthwhile to take writing classes – but I don’t have much spare change and won’t assume you have it either.) You can remedy all these problems with a single solution: the critique group.

How to create a critique group:

Continue reading

Nice writerly things that have happened this week

On Sunday, we had a second ladies-only Open Mic night at my synagogue for women here in L.A. Despite it being Oscar Night, the evening of a big community bar mitzvah, and the height of cold season, we got a decent-sized crowd. Women's Open Mic FEB 2016

The participants were awesome. The youngest was in her twenties, I think, and the oldest was 68! The audience was just as diverse. More people I didn’t know already came this time, so I think that word-of-mouth is getting around. Continue reading