Last night I met with my six writing sisters, a creative group of fascinating women who write stories and poems. This was our first meeting of the new year.
In 2015, we left behind numerous rejection letters, rewriting queries until all the cows came home, and some awesome writing conferences.
One of our rituals is to light our ‘writing sisters’ candle before we begin ‘checking in.’ This helps us to focus after all the chit chat and munching that proceeds our work.
During our check in we heard some thrilling news. Toni, one of our members, secured a literary agent to represent her middle-grade book and another member, Florencia, is in ‘talks’ with a publishing house for her creative non-fiction book. You can check out her cool blog here: Eat Less Water
We shared our writing goals, too many to mention, but you may find these 5 Simple Steps showing you how to set up SMART goals.
To make our lives easier, we also came up with a word for the new year. A single word to post near our writing space and journal is a reminder of our individual intentions.
Our meeting also included planning for one retreat a quarter. We need a day or three to refresh ourselves with hugs, laughter, and writing. This is how we make it through the ups and downs of a writing life entwined with families, jobs, and other responsibilities.
So the secret ingredient to achieving your writing goals and becoming a better writer is no secret. Becoming a better writer is a lot of hard work. You need persistence, resilience, and someone to cheer you on when you want to give up.
Hemingway’s quote settles the debate over whether people are born writers or if writing can be taught. Whether you’re a natural at writing or not, everyone has to work to improve their ability.
Three years ago, I participated in the Platform Challenge, given by Robert Lee Brewer, from Writer’s Digest who described himself as a poet, editor, and happy smack talker. The latter captured my interest and I joined.
Our challenge was to try a different tool, process or form of social media every day in order to build an online platform. Over 300 writers formed around that challenge and when it was over, most of the group banded together and founded Wordsmith Studio, a community of writers, of which I’m a founding member.
Many of the members are now published authors, poets, editors, book reviewers, and all around lovely writers. I’ve met so many writers who have brought me stories and poems that delighted, inspired or gave me a new perspective on a subject.
To commemorate our three-year anniversary, we are catching up with group members who are spread all over the nation by using writing prompts as a means of checking in with one another and celebrating our three-year anniversary with a blog hop.
This week’s prompt is to share our challenges and successes, to reflect on skills, tools or resources that helped us find success. And by success, I don’t mean I’m a published author with thousands of sales. Success means I’m improving, still writing stories, and sending out queries.
Now, on to the questions:
1) What are you currently working on? One of my YA manuscript’s (ms) is out in query stage after too many to count revisions and two editors (hey, it was my first novel). I’m having the hardest time with finding an agent to take on a ‘girl in prison’ story.
The second one, Women’s Fiction, was given the once-over by an editor I met online who did a wonderful job. The third ms is on a hard drive. The fourth work in progress, a New Adult, is halfway completed.
2) For past work, what was your greatest joy or greatest challenge?
The best things that I’ve enjoyed is receiving a fellowship, twice, to A Room Of Her Own (AROHO) Foundation for their biannual writers retreat and accepted as a ‘mentee’ into the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Mentorship three month program. My mentor is an author and creative writing professor at a university.
The other best thing is when people say great things about your writing. My AWP mentor’s encouraging words, “There are remarkable revisions in this ms…Juana’s story continues to grow with drama and emotion, with compelling lives and stories, …what strikes me from the very beginning are the beautiful and powerful images that (she) remembers, imagines, andculls from her life; images you compose with beauty and power.”
From my recent editor on the second ms: “Your (ms) opens with some of the most brilliant writing I have seen for some time. There is an air of literary style, coupled with a control of sentence structure that creates an atmosphere thick with emotion. Helpless, vulnerable, deeply hurt, but with a bit of hope and denial…”
3) For current work, what challenge are you working through now?
My goal is to revise the Women’s Fiction ms during May. Although my editor had great comments about the novel, there are many other not so good areas to fix.
4) What have successes or challenges in your work (recently) taught you?
Utilize all the help you can get. By that I mean go to at least one workshop or conference a year on writing craft. Participate in an going critique group. Online you can use Critique Circle. Be persistent, disciplined, and believe in what you’re doing. Writer’s have to be in it for the long haul-years, decades, not months.
Being a pantser did not work out for me. My first novel has taken years and numerous revisions because I did not know story structure. I will never be a plotter, but I have found that a loose outline helps tremendously. Study story structure. I like Larry Brooks’ blog from Storyfix.
I use too many commas, use the words ‘just,’ ‘even’ and ‘was.’ To help me with grammar, redundant words, and passives I bought a month of AutoCrit. I needed it so much that I ended up buying the editing service for a year. I also use Grammarly.
6) What obstacles or challenges have you not been able to overcome, or still frustrate you?
Writing query and synopsis letters is still the most frustrating and non-fun thing to do. I would like to outsource this work.
7) How would you describe a great writing day (or week)?
Writing in my pajamas, with fresh hot coffee at my side, glancing at the flowers on my patio once in a while, and finishing what I set out to do that morning makes me feel satisfied. Taking a walk in the late afternoon and reading an absorbing book tops off a great writing day.
And in the words of Winston Churchill:
If you are from the Wordsmith community, stop by and click a ‘Like,’ subscribe, or say hello in the comments. Thanks for reading and have a fun weekend.
I have stories to tell the world, and I’m tired of my seven member critique group being the only ones to read them.
They may be tired of them too.
For almost six years, I’ve been writing stories which became an Adult Contemporary and two YA manuscripts.
I’ve spent the last year sending out queries, synopsis’, revising, and doing it all again. Still, no agent.
If you’re a writer, you might have a similar scenario to tell.
Until that ‘golden’ e-mail or phone call, I need to keep writing and improve what I’ve written.
I will not quit and neither should you.
That’s why I look for low cost classes. So many of us can’t afford to get an MFA or attend $400-$600 conferences.
But don’t let high prices stop you from improving your writing.
A few days ago, I posted the first two secrets to poetic prose, as described by author and poet, Sonya Sones.
Poetic prose refers to a narrative with some of the technical or literary qualities of poetry such as rhythm, patterned structure, or emotional heightening.
Let’s continue with the last two secrets:
3. The Rhythm of Three:
All sound breaks down into some sort of pattern of sounds. The syllables are either unstressed or stressed, pronounced more strongly, which gives us a beat and type of melody.
In the children’s book, Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger, the entire book is almost all written with a rhythm of three (there are ‘non-three’ lines between the rhythm of three):
When the day is done, he closes his book, combs his beard and puts on his jacket.
He lifts the strand, takes one pearl from it, and closes the chest again.
Can you hear the rhythm?
4. The Use of Trochiac:
Low vowel sounds evoke sadness. Use the ooh, o, um, and ah sounds.
Tell me not in mournful numbers
Words such as lost, roam, lunatics, olive, watching, rocking are examples of a trochee.
Ms. Sones gave us a prompt: “My dog is gone,” and gave us five minutes to write a few lines using trochee:
My dog is gone, lost, not loaned, did he roam, lose his way home? Does he groan somewhere, all alone? A romp in the grass, and now he’s gone Is he far from home? No nuzzles, no cuddles, no paw raised high Does he wait, watch for me, all alone?
It’s not the best 5 minute poem, but it does sound sad. Using low vowel sounds is a useful and fairly easy way to express a mournful or sad scene.
So there it is, four ways to enrich your writing.
Keep looking for courses you can afford, keep reading and happy writing.
There are so many perks from belonging to a great writer’s group. For the past two and a half years I’ve been involved in a women’s writers group: Women Who Write (WoWW). It was a case of serendipity that I was invited to this group of interesting, passionate, eclectic group of women writer’s and poets. Lucky for me I was accepted by the group (they decided I was a good fit) and my pen joined their own.
Sometimes the group is eight people strong and other times there are four of us who meet twice a month for three hours a session. We write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, YA books and novels. Some are published (5 times and WoWW is on that books dedication page ) and others not published, yet. And we always pot-luck. I’ve had the most wonderful food at our pot-lucks. Even more fantastic is that our group was free to join.
If you’re not in a writer’s group, find your way to one, as quick as you can. Some very large writer’s club’s have listing of smaller subgroups, coffee shops sometimes have them listed on the bulletin board, or you can find listing in writer’s magazines or your local paper.
The benefits of such a group are numerous. Off the top of my fingers: motivation, support, time to write (you have to carve out some time each month), discipline (you have to bring 1 to 5 pages of what you have written), input and critique (your writing improves if you don’t have thin skin and a thick ego), connection to others, creative energy & synergy (impromptu writings), and friendship.
And one of the biggest perks? Writing retreats. Once a quarter we spend 8 hours to 7 days together. We’re not rich, but through various connections (remember one has been published 5 times) we have written in Mesilla, New Mexico with Denise Chavez (Loving Pedro Infante, Last of the Menu Girls), at a local beach house for the weekend, in Santa Ynez for the day (photo below), Catalina Island, Santa Barbara and New Zealand (a member has a relative with a B & B). Not everyone goes every time, some women have small children, others spouses and/or there are other priorities that weekend.
Our retreats have been spent in surf, sand, heat, cold, and once during a flood when we were holed up in our hotel rooms. But we still had our retreat. Our wonderful group leader begins the day with a candle lighting ceremony where we each tell each other what we want to accomplish; we put out to the universe what we want for our writing time. An excerpt from The Artist Way by Julia Cameron or Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, is read and then we begin.
We do a generative writing where we can write from a writing prompt for 5 minutes, then 10, then 20 minutes. It’s amazing what comes out of your pen in those few minutes. It’s invigorating, you prove to yourself that you can do it. Then we read to each other, or not, it’s whatever we feel like doing.
Another exercise is to find something inside or outside and we sketch the object, write down every word (not sentence) that comes to mind when you see the object, then create a story from it. It can be a painting, insect, vase, your flowers seeds, anything. It doesn’t matter if your sketch looks like the object or not. I usually have to tell the group what I drew first. Again, it’s mind-boggling what you can write when you are immersed in the group.
Depending on whether it is an 8 hour retreat or two days, we always make time to write on our own, whether it’s revisions, continuing our Work In Progress (WIP), or developing a work. After we write we nap, swim, take a walk, or lay out for a while until the designated time we decide to come together for a picnic or put together a meal.
We have a closing ceremony too where we say one or two words to describe how we feel. Then the candle is blown out, we hug each other, kiss-kiss, and go on our merry way. And we are indeed merry, full of ideas, proud of ourselves for taking the time to write, to grow, and share.
In the latter part of 2012 we hope to have our writer’s group meet up in Paris, where two of us will be staying for a couple of months (a dream in the making). You never know what will happen when you join a writing group. I must study up on my French. Bonne nuit, mes amis!