Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The Benefits of Book Clubs

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Readers who love books and talking about books join book clubs, but writers who do so can double dip, literally.

They can improve their analytical skills in reading, while also discovering what makes for good writing that appeals to a cross-section of readers.

I discovered this fact after I joined a book club that meets monthly at the Barnes & Noble in Fort   Collins.

We each make a recommendation about what we want to read, and as a result compile a laundry list of titles. Since I’ve joined, we’ve read “The Forgotten Garden,” “Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English,” “The Language of Flowers,” “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” and “Falling Together.”

Book clubs are a way to discover books and authors you wouldn’t find on your own and to sample new genres, particularly if you’re part of a general club that tries to appeal to all of the readers in the group.

In my group, the members ask questions and notice aspects about the book that I didn’t catch, because everyone, of course, has a different perspective and worldview. For instance, one of the members is from England and brought in her own experiences with English tea time when we discussed “The Forgotten Garden,” by Kate Morton.

I’ve seen what life elements, including personal, social and political, readers will bring to a discussion, adding to the background of what I know about the book’s setting and circumstances.

All of this together enriches my reading experience, causing me to look deeper at what I read, as well as pay closer attention to plot and character development, so that I know what the other readers are referring to in the discussion.

In addition to improving reading skills, being part of a book club can help a writer:

  • Learn what readers of different interests like that’s the same or different.
  • Identify the types of characters they like and what, to them, makes for a good character description.
  • Pinpoint where they get bored in the plot.
  • Find out if they like how the dialogue is carried out and if it’s realistic to them.
  • Figure out what they like about each writer’s style and voice.
  • Discover what they first notice about the book.
  • Find out why they dislike certain books and love others.

At the end of each hour-long discussion, the members rate the book on a sale of 1-10. A good book gets mostly 9s and 10s, while a mediocre book gets 4s to 7s. A book also can get mixed reviews.

After the discussion, I like to ponder the ratings to figure out why the book got that rating. This helps me get a peek into the reader’s mind, though, as a writer, I won’t write to that reader unless I’m starting with something already within myself that needs expression.

The advantage of writing groups

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Joining both a book club and a writer’s group cross pollinates the writing process.

This I have found from my membership in two writer’s groups – Northern Colorado Christian Fiction Writers and Our Weekly Writers’ Workshops meets … Under the Cuckoo Clock – and a book club that holds monthly meetings at Barnes & Noble in Fort Collins.

The Weekly Writers’ Workshop, which I joined in 2008 to get back into writing, starts each meeting with a writing prompt, followed by a group edit of the work we bring in.

From being a part of this group, I learned new concepts, such as the definition for character arc and what is a word echo (the repetition of a word or phrase within the same paragraph or on the same page).

I improved my editing skills by observing how other writers’ edited each other’s work and also by doing the editing, because practice leads to skill improvement.

And I kept to a writing schedule, wanting something to submit each week for our accountability reports.

At the NCCFW group, which meets monthly, we read a chapter or two from a writing book and then the next month bring in a response to a writing assignment related to the book or a few pages from our current project.

Because of the assignments, I’ve written stories that I would not have thought of without the prompt. I’ve seen how other writers interpret the chapters, expanding what I notice and recall from each chapter. And I’ve remembered the material, because learning new facts and ideas is easier through repetition.

By being part of these two groups, I’ve also realized:

  • Words and phrases said out loud read differently than they appear on the page, helping identify where things are stated awkwardly or fail to read      smoothly.
  • Hearing writing read aloud helps catch grammar mistakes and missing words or grammatical marks.
  • Other writers can help point out any weak areas in plot and character      development that you may not notice, as well as problems with pacing. For example, my writers’ groups have helped me tighten dialogue by deleting unnecessary pieces of conversation that don’t move the plot forward.

By joining a writers’ group, you can get help with brainstorming plot or other elements and hear a variety of perspectives on what you’ve written. Each writer notices different things, doubling or tripling your editing effort.

A writers’ group serves as a writing community, providing you with people who care about your successes and commiserate with you when you run into obstacles with the writing and getting-published processes.

Revision Commitment

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Revising a novel is like making a long-term commitment to someone you kind of love but maybe find a bit tiring.

In other words, revision is an obligation that, unless you’re a one-draft wonder, is part of the process of writing.

I am in midst of that obligation editing my nearly 90,000-word novel that was, at one time, 92,000-plus words. I didn’t just cut 2,000 words but cut much more, including partial scenes, repetitions and unnecessary descriptions. I also added words by fixing missing logistics of where or when, holes in the plot and character development, and word-heavy dialogues that didn’t make it clear who was speaking.

At 11:59 p.m. Sunday, I made the last red mark in my second revision of “The Fire Painter,” which is about a 30-something artist who loses everything in an apartment fire and searches to replace her lost things.

I like to think of myself as a quick editor, mainly because I want to get in and out and go on to more writing. It’s called diving in, using any and every free moment to heal my pain (pain is editing, healing is finishing editing).

My first revision, which I started Jan. 23 and took two weeks, was a read-through on the computer to fix any areas where the scenes seemed choppy or something didn’t make sense.

The second revision took three weeks and involved a printout and my red pen. In this revision:

  • I deleted scenes that partially repeated other scenes.
  • I removed facts or information I mentioned earlier in the draft.
  • I checked for inconsistencies, such as switching eye or hair color, which I did do without the convenience of new contacts or hair dye.
  • I reread the thoughts of two of my characters who tend toward self-pity to avoid making them too whiney.
  • I made sure I referred to important objects in the story in a consistent basis, such as the doggie piggybank, instead of dog bank.
  • I tightened the language by removing adjectives, details that didn’t push the story and any over-done descriptions.
  • With my  descriptions, I listened to how the language sounds, as well as to how each sentence builds on the previous sentence.
  • I changed areas of dialogue that didn’t sound like how real people talk.
  • I filled in words I accidentally left out and fixed any grammar errors I identified, plus added a few missing periods.
  • I realized I named two minor characters Linda, so I left the more minor of the two nameless.

I also plan to remove my tics, which I will do with my “search and find” function. I noticed that I love the words “OK,” “nods” and “shrugs.” Picture me nodding and shrugging and saying, “OK, whatever.”

As for other revisions, I know there will be more but as to how many, that depends on how long it will take me to say this is the best I can make my work. And then I’ll be looking for a literary agent. Wish me luck and bon voyage as I travel yet again through my story.

Where am I?

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

            When I flipped the page in my “Funny Signs” calendar to June, I was greeted with a photograph of an authentic highway sign (white letters on a green background) next to a mismatched grouping of six rural mailboxes. A dirt road with a few trees appeared in the background. The sign says, “NOWHERE/TOWN LIMITS.” Interesting, I thought. Welcome to Nowhere.

            A few days later the calendar picture captured my grandson’s attention. “Does that sign say No Where or does it say Now Here?” he asked. Surprised, I responded, “Well, I guess it could be either one.”

            Throughout the following week, I thought about the implications of Richard’s question. We really do get to choose how we interpret anything we encounter if life. We can choose to say, “I have arrived No Where,” or we can proclaim, “I am Now Here!”

            My choice is clear. I am now here. I am now participating in life. Life is good here – wherever I am.

Flying from A to Z

Friday, January 6th, 2012

On a breezy, rainy Sunday, Tim and I sit underneath the balcony at the Mandolin Café, drinking coffee as we write about what ifs, or what about’s, or some big maybe.

A dog squeals down the street.

“The dog’s singing opera,” Tim says as he writes.

A brown-haired girls plays Pachebel's Canon in D, a smile on her face.

Next to her, a thin woman with sleek gray hair under a beret pens in her journal.

And my dog Zoey sits underneath the table, looking down Fourth Street to where the other dog yips and yaps.

I want to get up and dance, but will words do?

The dog’s squeals start up again, riding on top of the piano notes, echoed by the tap-tap of our keyboards.

The sun slips out and the rain peppering my laptop slides away, as if the clouds are all wrung out.

I imagine Tim’s fingers moving up the body of his Fender Stratocaster as if she were a long-bodied woman. She’s white, cool and slick, this electric beauty that stings the stage with her wide mouthed squeals.

Tim seems to fondle the Fender’s neck as his fingers fly across the scales. The Fender melts with a howl as he swivels the song’s refrain into a furious flinging of movement. A hummingbird flitting around a tulip, this is how his hands look as he turns a song into dancing hands.

It’s his pickup of sound underneath the strings that turns a simple maybe into his dream of Flying V.

For Tim, it’s not a mandolin, a banjo, the piano, it’s this taking of guitar strings like telephone wires that carry sound into whole new meanings.

The Epiphone, the epic of flying from A to Z.

Finishing A Novel, Plus Forgiveness

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

With or without writing, I probably would have reached the same final emotion when I finished my novel: forgiveness.

This feeling arrived as if instant messaging me the day I completed my sixth edit. On that Sunday morning two weeks ago, I saw that I was finally done with “One April Day”– I had conducted enough repair work on the manuscript that I felt ready to start looking for an agent.

As I wrote, I didn’t expect to forgive, but the feeling came anyway. I wrote a fictionalized account of what had happened to me out of anger and curiosity – I wanted to tell the story of my layoff from a newspaper, a falling out with friends and my search for meaning in the upheaval.

I knew I needed to forgive, not for the sake of those who I should have let go, but for my own placidity. When this unsought for feeling hit me, I saw that the repair work had been on me.

I’m not sure how, but writing the story started my process of self-exploration. When I edited and reread the story, I found nuances both in my words and what I was trying to say. My loss entered the paper, like water needing to be wiped away, and became no longer mine.

The loss became a memory, something to stop holding onto after analyzing it from the angles of art and thought.

With that release, I didn’t have to drag along the past, like tin cans attached to a tailpipe. I could start the day and the next with a completed manuscript and a sewed up heart without the entanglements of what-ifs or I-should-have’s.

Two Writing Lives

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I am a journalist by trade and a poet and writer by passion. I sometimes wonder if journalism encroaches into my creative writing time, because I have to work eight hours a day, five days a week. The creative spirit doesnít like schedules or boundaries, and sometimes I want to do my own writing when I have to be at work. I feel the conflict between necessity and imagination, too much so that I am screaming inside, ìDonít make me go to work!!î†

But I do.

And this is what I have found from living two distinct writing lives: Writing news articles has influenced my creative writing, while learning the craft of fiction writing changed how I approach news writing.

Writing news and feature articles for newspapers has taught me to write simpler, clarify what I write and to answer the four Wís and the H. But thatís just the surface. Iíve learned how to do research and to interview a variety of people, from politicians to farmers. Iíve been exposed to different personalities and mannerisms, gaining skills in reading people and how they relate to their environment. Iíve learned how to pay attention to detail that I can add into my story. I pay attention to not only the story I want to capture, but the environment in which that story or speech or meeting is occurring.

And with story writing, Iíve learned to think of my news or feature article as having a setting. I pick out details that give the reader a sense of time and place. I figure that my article should have a plot. I identify what I want to tell first and what quotes I want to use to carry the story along. I put in transitions to keep the story from feeling choppy, layering in details as I narrow in on the main points, nothing more and nothing less.

As I write, whether it is for my job or for play, the words I select are giving way to a voice Iíve developed, a mix of poetry and truth. Voice is hard to find, or it was for me, as I clamored to figure out who I really am as a writer. I both am an artist and practical, a lover of words and of language.

Conference Update & Surprise

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Thanks to the generosity of a dear friend, today I had the pleasure of attending the 5th Northern Colorado Writers Conference.Writers, both published and pre-published (Mike Beflerís clever tag), joined in welcoming award winning novelist and creator of more than forty television shows, Stephen Cannell. His keynote presentation kept the audience enthralled.

Stephen had several outstanding points in his presentation:

1. ìDyslexia never stopped me and I was never afraid to bet on myself.î Translation: believe in yourself and your work.

2. He suggested you think like an agent. Do research to find out what the agent has done, mention a favorite or two then instead of asking for representation, ask for help to improve your work to get to the caliber of present clients. Translation: Flattery will get you everythingÖwell at least it'll get you in the door. The rest is up to you.

3. Stephen discussed his relationship with actors. He claimed his ìI owe you my best opinion,î and ìwe can work it out,î set the scene for developing successful professional relationships.† Translation: cooperation and compromise work hand in hand for the most effective results.

I also attended three other inspiring workshops:

1. †Colorado author, Page Lambert who addressed the importance of place in writing through the use of atmosphere, symbolism, imagery, and metaphor through readings from classic novels and her own work.

2. Mike Befeler, another Colorado author, concentrated on the tools and techniques used to help an author establish a marketing platform.

3. Agents Rachelle Gardner (WordServe Literary GroupóCO ), Ken Sherman (Ken Sherman and Associates Literary AgencyóCA), Joe Monti (Barry Goldblatt Literary AgencyóNY), and editor Ben Barnhardt (Milkweed Editions) shared their personal and professional insights via a Q&A-Agent/Editor Panel. Their presentation was informative, candid, lighthearted and encouraging.

Then to top off the evening, after a tasty buffet dinner, YA author Todd Mitchell gave a spirited presentation on why weíre called to writing, introduced us to a top-ten list of why we should never stop writing and, in a most charming way, challenged us all to keep the words alive.

My own surprise came when I mentioned to the editor from Milkweed Editions my story: A Poppiní Tale. Seems I had contributed to one of their anthologies -† Stories From Where We Live: The Great North American Prairie and he recognized it. WOW!

When I came home I looked up the copyright date...weíre talking 2001. WOW!

I was also pleased to tell him the story had been used in the NV School Literacy tests for several years. He smiled at that tidbit of info; obviously impressed. After a brief chat, he said heíd be open to any query I think heíd be interest in taking a look-see for Milkweed. WOW!

Yes, fellow wordsmiths, I will follow up.

Everyone Needs A Goal

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

My husband is training for an ultra-marathon. In case youíre not up on your running terminology, an ìultraî is anything over the standard 26.2 mile course. Usually they come in 50 or 100 mile varieties and theyíre often run on trails through woods, over mountains, or across deserts just to add to the fun.

No, I do not join my dear husband on his runs. Yes, I think heís nuts.

If you ask him why he perseveres in all kinds of weather, pushing himself ever harder, his answer basically boils down to, ìI want to prove that I can do it.î

See? Crazy.

"You think Iíve lost it?î my husband shoots back. ìWhat about you? Youíve been writing for 10 years and have yet to get one of your books published. Why do you persevere day in and day out through the rejections and disappointments?î

ìWell . . .î I say. ìI guess I want to prove that I can do it.î

Okay. Maybe weíre both crazy. Or maybe not.

This quote by Benjamin Mays hangs near my computer. ìThe tragedy in life doesnít lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.î

So, whatís your goal?