Feature Friday #3 (Bloggers & Books)

feature-friday

Welcome to another Feature Friday!  We’ve survived another week.  Today we’ll cast a blazing inferno on some bloggers who are consistently generating insightful posts about the written word.  I try to dedicate time to broadening my understanding of the craft, and these folks seem to deliver on a regular basis.  I’ll also be compiling the books I used to generate my blog posts this week into a one-stop-shop.

spotlight-facing-rightThe first blogger I want to talk about is QuestingAuthor.  Not only is this a blogger who offers great comments on my page (thanks!), but this blogger also writes a variety of really enjoyable content.  If you scroll down to the bottom of their page, you will see all kinds of info-rich categories that include things like writing advice, processes, analysis, and inspiration (to just name a few).

The post that prompted me to reach out and share the love is called, Three Tips to Spice Up that Fight Scene.  I know many writers struggle with writing believable fights scenes, and this post offers some enjoyable advice.  Not to mention Final Fantasy was used as an example (which is a win in my nerd book).

spotlight-facing-rightThe second blogger I wanted to give a shout out to is Andrew, over at The Idiot In Tin Foil.  Some of you have mentioned how impressive it is that I generate a post each day, well, Andrew writes enjoyable short stories every day.  The last time I stopped in, he was on Day 161 of his 642 day challenge.  You heard me right.  For me, Andrew serves as a source of inspiration.  Plus, his short stories are a lot of fun to read.

While I don’t have a specific short story to point you all toward, Andrew has taken the time to categorize his content.  You will find short stories that creatively explore the following: violence & murder, sky pirates, the supernatural, superpowers, the bleak wasteland, and many, many more.  When I feel my creative well getting dry, I look at Andrews page and say, “If he can write an entire short story every day for 160+ days, I can at least pump out a few pages.”

spotlight-facing-rightThird, I wanted to point folks over to Jenn Moss, over at Rough & Ready Fiction. Her page is neatly organized, and her content is always full of insight.  She recently updated her page and has done a fantastic job of breaking down her posting schedule.  Jenn is also a regular comment contributor here at QE, and often offers very informative tips to help me expand my content and improve collaboration.

While I enjoy all of her writing, I’m a sucker for Meta Mondays as well as Tarot Tuesday.  Meta Mondays cover a range of topics, but really they are a way for people to collaborate and discuss varying concepts.  For instance, within Meta Mondays she recently posted Anachronisms—Nay or Yea?  It’s a great topic for discussion, and her comment section almost reads like a web forum because there are so many thoughtful posters.  As for Tarot Tuesday, I find this series to be one of the most insightful explorations into character archetypes, as well as symbols and metaphor.

thanksAs always, I wanted to take a moment to thank all three of these folks for (1) contributing regularly on my page, (2) being a source of inspiration, and (3) consistently encouraging enjoyable discussion about both fiction and non-fiction.  You all rock!

resources

These are the resources I used this week (Friday to Friday) to create my posts.  I’m a voracious eater of greens and believe in the power of self-study to improve writing skill and understanding.

Writing Monsters, by Philip Athans [Amazon] [goodreads]

Theory and Technique of Playwriting, by Howard Lawson [Amazon] [goodreads]

How to Write Dazzling Dialogue, by James Scott Bell [Amazon] [goodreads]

Writing Novels That Sell, by Jack Bickham’s [Amazon] [goodreads]

The Sense of Style, by Steven Pinker [Amazon] [goodreads]

For a more comprehensive list of books I have utilized to build content here on QE, you can refer to this post.

hourglassThat’s it for today!  If you would like to be featured next Friday, contact me.  It always helps if you let me know what specific post you would like to be featured.  My goal with Feature Friday is to connect like-minded individuals with one another.  The blogoverse is a giant place, and it’s nice to be able to provide some navigation. Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Writing Groups: Purpose, Productivity & Professionalism

A Bored Writing Group

Some people can write in a vacuum.  For others, collaboration is essential.  I lurk around somewhere between the two.  I feel it’s important to flush your story out independently before you let other people in who might influence it.  Personally, I don’t want someone else’s visions polluting the story I am writing.

Regardless, at some point, (hopefully after you have finished, or are close to finishing the first draft) you might want to start reaching out and getting outside feedback.  For me, this is the stage before going to Beta Readers and after the first draft.  Essentially, it is an element of my self-editing phase.

I was messaging a fellow blogger, A.M. Bradley, who wrote a post about trying to locate writing groups.  While I will let this intrepid pioneer chronicle the journey of searching for the perfect group, I thought I would touch on what you should look for in one.

lewis-inklings-featuredA writing group is a gaggle of writers who meet to discuss their work and provide useful feedback to each other.  I always envisioned them to be similar to the literary club the Inklings.  Their membership included J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and many other greats.   They were just a group of brilliant writers, in a pub, talking about their classic works and enjoying each others company.  The sad truth is, a lot of writing groups are full of literary blow-hards who are only interested in quoting other peoples work and listening to themselves talk.  Fear not!  There is a group out there for you, and these are the things you should look for in one.

Look for groups operating within your genre.

You don’t go to a restaurant and ask the chef to give you a close shave, so why rely on someone who only reads and writes romance to provide feedback on your horror novel?  The naysayers are probably going, “But a real literary connoisseur isn’t limited by genre!”  Maybe there’s some truth to that.  I’m just saying, if I’m marketing a book to horror or romance readers I want someone who enjoys these genres to be critiquing it.  Not someone who is forcing themselves to read it to appease a writing group.

There should be some ground rules.

Writing Group Rules.jpgThis may seem like common sense, but if you are new to writing groups and you’ve stumbled into one lacking structure, know that’s a red flag.   The group, upon meeting, should have to stand, place a hand over their heart, and recite from memory the groups rules.  Okay, so that’s crazy.  However, there do need to be rules.

Depending on the size of the group (I would advise a smaller more intimate group) time is going to be essential to the success, enjoyment, and usefulness of your meetings.  For example, each meeting you will submit X number of pages for review the following week.  We each have X amount of time to provide feedback.  We have X amount of time to respond to feedback.  No cell phones (barring emergencies obviously) and so forth.

People should know when to show their cards and when to hold them. 

A Waterloo.jpgSo you’ve found your genre specific group and it has rules.  Good deal.  You are all huddled together in the corner, clutching coffees (or booze), and waiting with baited breath to hear feedback.  The feedback is coming, but wait, this clown missed the point I was trying to make with that passage.  You open your mouth to protest.  Stop.  Just don’t.

Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells made a phenomenal podcast on their website Writing Excuses about writing groups and touch on this specifically.  Keep in mind, these aren’t my words, they are the words of super-legit published authors (I’m not worthy…I’m not worthy).  If you won’t listen to me, listen to them.

Wells states that, “When your thing is being workshopped, shut up.  You sit, you don’t talk.  If you start to defend your work while others are critiquing it, you will get into arguments, and it will be a useless writing group.”

Taylor adds, “And the other thing to keep in mind, in that regard, is that if you’ve written something and it can’t defend itself without you saying stuff, it’s broken and it needs to be fixed.”

People should know the difference between providing feedback and inciting a duel to the death.

Unwanted Feedback.jpgLimit feedback to match the goals of the group or individual.  Some group members may want you to provide them with ideas as to where the story should go (not recommended). Some just want to know what you thought of what is already written, and why (recommended).

No writer that I know of wants to hear, “Hey, have you considered completely changing your main characters motivations to more align with this?”  That’s not feedback — that’s changing the course the voices in someones head are guiding them down.  We have enough voices in our heads pulling us along without another one derailing us into no mans land.

Even worse, no writer wants to hear, “The last few paragraphs were riddled with typos and didn’t make any sense at all – maybe grab a grammar book and try again?” That my friends is a word bullet.  Rephrase to, “There were some inconsistencies in the last few paragraphs that made it a little hard to follow.  To be honest, it left me a little confused.”  This sort of social awareness should be common sense, but I’ve heard worse statements made.

Even in my own group, which has been meeting together for years, I have an understanding of how to communicate effectively with each member.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all method.

People should share what they think, not what some amazing wiz-bang published author wrote and would think  (because we don’t really know what they think).

Angry Critic.jpgIf you can’t think of a bunch of feedback, that’s okay.  It means the writer conveyed their story in a well written and interesting manner.  Just say that.  You don’t need to start searching through memoirs, autobiographies, and self-help books to create feedback.

Don’t say, “Stephen King would probably tell you to stop focusing on describing clothes so much.  You know that’s a pet peeve of his?  I read about it in his book On Writing.”  We would all be so lucky to have Stephen King in our writing group — bad news though — Stephen King you are not (unless Stephen King is reading this, then you are more than welcome to cite yourself old chap).  When it comes to writing groups, be you, not the mouthpiece of someone else.

People should take notes.

take notes.jpgNothing says, “I don’t give a flaming crap rocket about what you are telling me,” more then someone who sits blankly and stares at you during feedback and doesn’t take notes. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you should be jotting down notes.  Honestly, even if you do have a mutant eidetic brain you should take notes anyways.

Part of the strength of writing groups derives from the camaraderie of coming together with a sect of like-minded individuals.  If you are sitting down with people you don’t know, taking notes, and being receptive to criticism, it tells everyone you mean business and take this writing thing seriously.

Let me put it another way.  You sit down with two pieces of work to critique.  One is your best friends, who always gives you useful feedback.  The other is some weird guy/girl from your writing group who doesn’t take notes and just mouth breaths at you the whole time you provide feedback.  Which one will you read with more interest and care?  Be the best friend.

Lastly, and most importantly, people should check their ego at the door.

ego.jpgIf you are looking for someone to read your work and gush about how amazing it is, email it to your parents, or girlfriend/boyfriend, or siblings, or whoever.  I’m not saying you can’t be upset about criticism (never let them see you bleed), but if you are going to turn red and go radioactive when someone tells you they aren’t connecting with a character, or idea, then maybe a writing group isn’t for you.  For me, I would rather a small circle of people tear my work up so I can rebuild it stronger, then go willy-nilly into the night and have critics publicly crucify my work on every review website and blog scattered among the interwebs.  (It will probably happen anyways, but hey, that’s writing for you.)

Happy hunting! 

Hopefully, some of this helped.  There’s plenty more hot tips out there, and I encourage you all to share them.  Heck, maybe you disagree with some of this completely.  If you have an experience or differing opinion, share it, I’ll make sure it posts (as long as it isn’t a string of incoherent expletives).

question-markSometimes you just fall into a writing group and it’s hunky dory. Sometimes you have to search far and wide.  Regardless of your situation, don’t settle for a crummy group.  If you can’t find a group, it’s time for you to make one.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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