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

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Whoops! Missed my Wednesday post.

Ack! I’ve been trying to post weekly on Wednesdays, and I completely spaced this week. (I’ve got a good excuse – all my kids are on vacation.) Anyway, I’m taking a moment to write something now, before Shabbos, to make sure I stay in the groove.

I struggled to make a writing deadline last Friday and actually missed it, in the end. This is very unusual for me. I rarely experience writer’s block, but here it was and I was feeling very, very low.

I finally finished the story and turned it in on Tuesday. What got me over the hump?

  1. Advice from members of my writing group.
  2. Contemplating why I couldn’t write.

That second one flipped a switch in my head from “I just can’t finish this story!” to a frenzy of writing in which everything just poured out. It turned out that I was simply approaching the story from the wrong direction. So here’s my…

Writer’s tip for the day:

If you are stalling out while writing a story, approach things from a different direction. Change the POV. Change the tense. Change the genre. If the writing is emotive, write it with clinical dispassion, and if you are writing with that dispassionate voice, mix in more emotions. If you have been focusing on dialogue, start writing a description of the scenery, or vice versa.

Or, my favorite piece of advice for fiction writers, have a long talk or “interview” with your characters. How do they perceive the central conflict of the story? What do they think will happen next?

Two writing-themed reads: Wired for Story and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Neuropsychology might be a writer’s best friend.

I recently read two relatively new books about writing that I found very useful, and thought I’d share them with you.

Wired for Story

My best friend since college is, like me, a professional writer, although she specializes in a totally difference field. When she raved about the book Wired for Story, I immediately added it to my Goodreads list. It just took me a while to actually buckle down and read it. I’m glad I finally did. Continue reading

Megillat Esther through the eyes of a 21st century writer, or It’s okay if G-d saves the day if there’s forshadowing

This year, in preparation for Purim, I’ve been rereading the megillah at a class given by my LOR (local Orthodox rabbi). Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve read The Book of Esther, as it’s called in English. We do that every year on Purim–twice! And it’s also not the first time I’ve learned it with this particular rabbi. But it is the first time I’ve read it with commentary, guided by my rabbi, since I officially became an author (whatever that means). And boy, is there a difference.

The Big Literary No-No All Over the Megillah

book of esther theater poland

A Purim Spiel in Poland. Photo shared in the Wikipedia Commons by Henryk Kotowski.

When you’re writing fiction, there is a big no-no that you’re told never to do: rely on deus ex machina. In short: don’t get your characters out of a tight corner by dropping a deity down from the sky to perform an instantaneous rescue. The audience will roll their eyes, at best.

The term originated with actors playing deities in the theaters of Greece. But for a religious writer of a different persuasion in the 21st century, it causes problems. Continue reading

Seeing the world through a writer’s eyes

I’ve been thinking a little bit more about my theme of a couple posts ago, “how to be funny.”

jester

A good jester will find humor in any situation, not just those that are obviously funny.

One of the steps to writing funny is seeing funny all around you. You can look at almost any situation and find something funny in it if you relax and try to experience it through calm, judgment-free observation.

A few months ago, someone (it might have been Erika Dreifus) pointed out this opinion piece by Silas House in the N.Y. Times:

We are a people who are forever moving, who do not have enough hours in the day, but while we are trying our best to be parents and partners, employees and caregivers, we must also remain writers.

There is no way to learn how to do this except by simply doing it. We must use every moment we can to think about the piece of writing at hand, to see the world through the point of view of our characters, to learn everything we can that serves the writing. We must notice details around us, while also blocking diversions and keeping our thought processes focused on our current poem, essay or book.

This way of being must be something that we have to turn off instead of actively turn on. It must be the way we live our lives.

Some people take this kind of remote observation a bit far. Silas House argues that the majority of a writer’s mind should be working on literary pursuits at any given time. I’d disagree. I try to turn this part of my brain off on Shabbat, during conversations with loved ones, and on date night, too. The key is not to remove yourself entirely from life around you, but to be able to see it calmly with a portion of your mind at will.

But that doesn’t mean that when on a stroll with my kids and I’m admiring your garden that I’m not noting which flowers are in bloom at this season so I can work them into the setting of my work in progress.

There’s a story Continue reading