Wrangling Up the Posse

Howdy friends! A happy late Mother’s Day to all you maternal types. Today’s going to be a little short today, as I find myself working through some unpleasantness that you’ll probably have the joy of reading about later.

M Elizabeth Tait pointed out last week that I had forgotten to add a mentioned link and then she kindly helped me comb through the archives to find it. During the hunt, it became apparent that I had skipped over some information in my post that I had thought were written up in a previous post, but didn’t seem to have been. (Gosh, what tense is that sentence in?) And some of that missing information is finding those writing pals in the first place- pretty important stuff!

So as a quick follow up/stop gag to last week’s post, here are some of my favorite places where aspiring posse-ists can look for fellow creatives.

Formal Writing Organizations– A lot of towns and even regions have their own writing groups, like my very own Alaska Writers Guild, particularly our chapter right here in Fairbanks. You can also check and see if your age category or genre has a writing organization, such as SCBWI, RWA, SFWA, or HWA; these groups also often have local chapters as well where you can meet up with your writerly neighbors and keep up with each other and your projects. If there aren’t any local chapters, forums can help you to keep in touch with fellow members.

Writers Conferences, Workshops, etc.– When attending writing events, be sure to take a bundle of business cards with you (or at the very least, a pad of paper and a writing utensil) so you can give out your info- and be sure to plug any new pals’ info into your phone or laptop as soon as possible just in case you lose that slip of paper later. Swapping contact information with other writers at these events can be a great way to build up your writing support group.

Social Media– I found a bunch of my writing buddies on Twitter. Maybe Instagram is your thing- writers are there. Pinterest? Writers are there too! Facebook? There. Anywhere you are, other writers are too.

Local Libraries, Bookshops, Schools, etc.– These spaces love supporting local writers and often have groups you can join, or at least contacts for writing groups in town. If your local college/university/high school has a creative writing department, get it touch with those teachers specifically and see if they can introduce you to other writers as well. The same holds true for librarians and shop owners. These folks know people. These folks know everything.

So the hunt is on! Just remember as you put together your writing group that this is a collaboration to benefit all members. Be sure you give as much as you take and you will soon have a healthy, thriving writing group to support you in all your literary goals.

Happy writing!

Cultivating a Writing Posse

posseWant to know a secret? When left to my own devices, I’m not a very productive writer. I can easily type over seventy words per minute, but I generally don’t write more than a couple paragraphs in a day

That is, unless I’m writing with pals. On those nights, I can clock in and have nearly two thousand words an hour later. Of course, I’m not always that productive. We do like to chitchat between sprints, and we can sometimes lose track of how much chatting we’re doing (and how little writing). But I definitely write more when I have others working with me.

I think it comes down to pride. I am a very competitive person (just ask my longsuffering husband). And as any kid who has ever done like any sport ever knows, you’re really only supposed to compete against yourself, but- yeah. I run faster when I have other people running with me, and I got better grades when I took the same classes as my brother, and I write more when there are others writing with me. None of this is to say that I excel at any of these things. Just that I try harder than when I am on my own. (There are probably all kinds of psych to unpack here.)

Whether this is good or bad, I know me and I know what gets me moving. So while some people work better in seclusion, I work better when I know that in fifteen minutes I’m going to be comparing my word count and the last sentence I wrote to some very talented friends, and darn it all, I don’t want to embarrass myself.

I’ve written in the past about where to find writing pals (but never did it better than Grandmaster Evrard in A Beta, a Beta, My Kingdom for a Beta-Reader), but once you have a group of people together, what can you do to make that group the best it can be? Here are three things that I’ve found help our group shine.

STAY POSITIVE Okay, yes, everybody loves a little trash talk, but in the end, we are all there for encouragement. So even when someone gets a stinky word count or has to miss a session or drops off the planet for months at a time, stay positive- this is a zero guilt zone! Everyone is stronger when we support one another.

BE FLEXIBLE Whenever you get groups of people together, there must be give and take. For example, I write best at night, but that time doesn’t work for my group because one of us lives on the east coast and I live out west. My ideal writing time is like one or two in the morning for her and that’s no good. We work together to make the group the best possible for the most of us, most of the time, which is basically like trying to hit a moving target. It will never be perfect for everyone, but we try to roll with it.

KEEP IT SMALL Try to keep your group small and close knit. This will make hitting that aforementioned moving target a little easier. Also, don’t make huge plans to meet every other day for three hours at a time; make it manageable. (For example, there are three of us in my group that meets online for one hour twice per week while kids are napping/at school.) Likewise, populate your group with others that are at about your own skill level, which will help assure that everyone benefits from the group.

And that’s it! I’m sure there are other things that we could be doing Writing Crest Simpleto improve group cohesion, but honestly, I don’t think we need much more than that. We’re basically like the same demographic copied three times and we adore each other; doesn’t get much more cohesive than that. Some groups prefer having group agreements laid out at the beginning for newcomers to sign. Others like to keep it local and meet face to face. Some groups are only for writing, which others like to throw in beta reading as well. What works for one group might not work for the next. You do you.

If you have some eager authors ready to write but aren’t sure how you want the group to look in the end, just set a meeting and get started. You’ll figure out pretty quickly what works and what doesn’t, so don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. If everyone treats the group like a first draft and understands that you’ll shift and settle into your best group over time, that’s fine. If you’d rather have the bylaws and election ballots ready to go on day one, that’s fine too. Just do whatever works for your group.

However, if you start a group, or join an already established one, and find that it isn’t working for you, do not feel obligated to stay. I’m not telling you to get everyone to edit your work and then drop them when they ask the same of you (because that would make you a turd), but don’t stick with something that isn’t good for your writing career. Our group briefly had a fourth member; she was only with us for a couple months before she realized that she works more effectively on her own. And good for her for standing up for her career! Remember, zero guilt zone!

Building your career as a successful author begins with building your process. If you want that process to include others, great! If that process is best done alone, great! Know what works best for you and do that. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. The only ‘should’ is to write, whatever form that takes. That’s it.

Happy writing!

Watercolor and Fire

Sorry, I had this all ready to post yesterday, but had a long and fierce argument with the scanner instead. (And shortly thereafter gave up on my Epson scanner. I gave up on it years ago as a printer and I’m giving up on it now as a scanner. Anybody want a free doorstop- I mean scanner?)

ANYWAY. I have a writing buddy who is doing a fantastic job at NaNoWriMo this month, but finds herself a tad behind. So I painted her a victory postcard! It is two of the characters from her WIP and I am mailing it to her today.

Dragon Painting

The catch? Well it IS a victory postcard. And the victory IS in question. So if she doesn’t win, she must burn her painting with dragonfire. Or just regular fire, you know, whatever’s around.

So good luck, Anna! Tick tock!

Speaking of, I’m a tad behind as well. Ugh, I think I’ve been caught up for like three days this entire month. Time to stop painting and start writing! (Well, stop blogging and get to work, but I’ll write soon! I promise!)

Update: She won! The postcard is safe! Another victory for truth and science!

A closing note:

The above picture was taken with my phone on my table, despite me being a TERRIBLE photographer. Even with the crookedness and the darkening of my colors, I still thought it was an improvement. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the Epson scan, shall we?

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Yeah, ew.

Prize Postcard

Sometimes, when I’m word sprinting with friends, I offer them postcards as prizes. A few months ago, my friend Mary totally spanked me and I promised her a custom postcard as her prize. Little did she know that postcard would be like two months in the making, but here it is, the postcard that was most-hard. (I don’t know what my scanner did to the colors here, but you get the idea.)

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With a Little Help from My Friends

HelpingSo, this last year I had the personal goal to earn the Writer of the Year award through the Alaska Writers Guild. To do this, I had to accumulate the most points of anyone who entered the Guild’s anonymous bimonthly writing contest for members, wherein entrants write within rotating categories, and see how close to the deadline they can turn in a piece without getting disqualified. (Oh, wait, was that last part just me?)

Now I’m not all that super at nonfiction, and I truly suck at poetry, but, hands down, the hardest one of the contests for me to write was the category of Alaska Mystery. I think I’m getting phantom chest pains just thinking about it.

Two months seems like it should be plenty of time to write a story with a maximum of 2500 words, but that can seem like a mighty tight deadline when you spend the first six weeks of it feverishly drafting and then summarily executing- I kid you not- twelve different story ideas. It was very easy to feel very discouraged very quickly. And so I did, verily. With hardly more than a week left before the deadline, I was ready to throw in the towel.

But the trouble was that I keep this pesky husband. And we sometimes talk to each other about our goals and stuff. He knew what I was working toward, and he knew how important it was for me to enter every contest, even the difficult ones.

That man gave me no rest.

Every time I sat down, he’d start pestering me. “What are you working on? Are you doing the one with the mountains? With the serial killer? With the fox? What are you doing? Why? Why not? (Have a cookie.) What are you working on?” The man was relentless. And he would hear not a word of giving up, not on my goal and not on this Alaska mystery contest.

And that was before he started telling everyone we know about it, too. *shudders*

I don’t know about you, but I have confidence problems sometimes. Sometimes too much, most times not enough. My husband, and a few close friends like him, give me the kick in the pants when I want to lie down and surrender, and the tackle of forbearance when I’m full steam ahead on a really bad idea.

The secret weapon of all successful writers is tenacity. And for some of us, a little of that tenacity can be sponged off others. I tend to break down my cheerleading squad into two broad categories: writers, and nonwriters.

Writers Your fellow writers are the monarchs of commiseration. They understand what it’s like to be blocked. They know the brain-addled madness of waiting- for beta readers, for query answers, for book reviews, for sales reports. They understand the pain of rejections. They also know when a story of yours isn’t working, and are usually able to articulate what’s wrong. They’re widely read and industry savvy. Your writer friends are ideal when you have a piece that you’re working on and could use a little guidance in making it presentable.

Nonwriters These are the people who, although maybe they enjoy reading, don’t do any writing themselves. And as well as being legion in numbers, they’re also chattier than a giggling high school clique back from spring break. Once you let one of them know (cough, cough, husband, cough), they’ll all know, and they’ll all want to know why you’re not done yet. They don’t know how long drafting takes, let alone editing and submissions. And they don’t care. Your nonwriter friends are ideal when you have a concrete goal combined with motivation issues.

So there you have it: my fail-proof formula for squeezing out a piece even when it hurts. One part cheerleader, one part drill sergeant, writers and nonwriters alike are always at the ready to help their buds with what is important to them. Of course, you still have to want to reach your writing goals yourself, and be willing to put in the work, but the endless harassment loving encouragement of your friends, family, mail carrier, and grocery clerk can be the final nudge to help you get that story out the door and into the wide world.

(And it works, too- I did win Writer of the Year at the 2017 guild conference! Yay!)

So if you find yourself struggling, whether with improving a piece, or just summing up the motivation to work at it, clue in your pals! They’ll hold your feet to the fire in a way you never could for yourself, and they’ll cheer you at every victory along the way.

Happy writing!

Writing Magic

This week’s post is by writer extraordinaire Laura Lancaster, Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild. She is fun, clever, and has excellent taste in apple juice. Behold her wisdom!magic cards

When I was 12 I learned a magic trick from my next-door neighbor. She showed me an ordinary quarter, put both her arms behind her head like a pitcher about to throw a curveball and scrunched up her face. Then she brought her arms forward and showed me her empty hands.

“See, I just pushed that quarter into my neck. In a few seconds, it will land in my mouth. It doesn’t hurt because it’s magic.” Then she reached into her mouth and tossed the quarter in a high arc. It bounced across the floor with a magical metallic ring.

If I ever see you in person, I’ll teach you the trick that turned me, a shy awkward tween into an awkward ham who did goofy magic tricks.

My favorite went like this: I placed the magic baseball cap in front of me on a table. I declared,“I can make three balloon animals in the time it takes most people to make one.”

Then I whisked a rubber glove from my ball cap, blew it up, held it on top of my head and yelled, “chicken.” I held it high and squeezed the fingers, “cow.” Then I let the air out and the glove dangled, limp. I slowed and dropped my voice. “Jelly fish.”

Even though my shows got lots of laughs, I made lots of mistakes. I once had an audience member stand next to me while I did the quarter trick. He looked behind me and learned the secret. Once I had a large audience and my mom told me I had turned away from the microphone and everyone in the back hadn’t heard a word. They applauded out of politeness.

Now I’m a beginning writer. I look back on my career as a teenage magician and I realize I had found my style, or genre, of magic, but I needed more tricks, practice and critique. Writing is no different.

magic levitationMagicians have to master stage presence, precise movement, and misdirection the way writers have to learn plotting, character creation, effective research, world building, precise prose and any number of other skills. If any of those elements are weak, the magic disappears.

Fortunately, if I, as a goofy, awkward teenager could learn magic tricks and face the nerves of performance, I can learn to write fiction.

I’ve learned from books, blogs and magazines, but one of my most helpful tools are writers groups and professional organizations. I even became the Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild Interior and I’ve found that even if you are not published, there are three reasons to get involved in the writing community.

Practice Makes Better-

Often writers organizations sponsor critique groups. If you are at a place where you can show your work to others, you ought to. Critique groups, whether online or in person, are a great place to start. You may find partners who understand what you want to do and help you do it better. Like magic coaches, they can show you where your patter is flawed, or when they saw the quarter hidden in your sleeve, so to speak.

Guidance In Going Big-

The community talent shows where I did my magic were a place to start, but to get noticed, you have to work a lot harder. Many writers groups sponsor writing classes or conferences and they’ll give you access to big-time writers who teach craft and agents who can advise you about your pitch or query letter. If you are considering hybrid, indie or self-publishing, many authors in professional organizations have done it and are willing to share what they know about publication options, promotion and sales. Magicians never reveal their secrets to the audience, but the most generous reveal their secrets to other magicians and it’s true of the writers you’ll meet at professional organizations.

Encouragement-

Communication is possibly the hardest thing we humans do. We must have a clear idea in our own heads, then convey it to someone else. Miscommunications have caused professional ventures to fail, battles to be lost and families to split. No one gets it right the first time or all the time. How can we persevere long enough to become effective writers?

I’ve found that meeting regularly with writers is my most powerful motivation. When I meet with my critique group and I didn’t make a submission, everyone one reminds me that they want to find out what happens next, and I know it’s not just politeness, they want to help me write better.magic marbles

I have solved many a plot or characterization problem with other writers over coffee, writers I met at Alaska Writers Guild meetings, and I have helped them do the same. The topics speakers bring to monthly meetings and conferences, such as how to submit to an agent, help me, even if I don’t apply the lessons…yet.

Some people have said that writing cannot be taught, but most people would not say that about stage magic. Natural performers still need to learn skills through professional guidance. Natural storytellers have weaknesses that they must recognize and overcome. Every writer has been there. Keep working. Learn from those around you. Professional writers organizations can put those people around you. So when you watch David Copperfield perform an illusion or read Dicken’s David Copperfield, remember, you too can make your writing magical.

Laura Lancaster is a foodie, sci-fi aficionado and fortune cookie baker. She has been the Vice President in charge of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild for the last four years. She is writing sci-fi novels and short stories. Find her on social media: Twitter: Phoenix40below Facebook: @Phoenixseries and blog: lalancaster.com

To find out more about the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild email awginterior@gmail.com or go to www.alaskawritersguild.com/interior-chapter

Personal Achievement Badges to which I Pay Too Much Mind

WIN_20151115_22_17_24_ProAs I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago, I managed to mess up my left hand.  So there’s been a lot of awkward one-handed/hunt-and-peck sort of nonsense going on, which has just more than chopped my daily average in half.  (We’re not gonna talk about how long it took to type this post up. *weeps*)  It’s not too bad so far.  I had a reasonable buffer by that point, so I hadn’t slipped beneath the goal bar until just today.  The doctor said to wear the splint until next Wednesday, and then I can start using my hand again in little bits.  But I’m pretty sure I’ll still pull off NaNo without too much more drama. *crosses fingers*

NaNoWriMo always has a great website.  So beautiful, so cheerful.  There’s always tons of encouragement, and I’m half in love with the daily word graph.  But they added something new this year.  Personal Achievement Badges.  Behold!

badgesI know this is normally the week in which I post a sample chapter, buuuuut… yeah, this is possibly the ugliest first draft I’ve ever pounded out, haha.  Definitely not fit for human eyes just yet.  So in lieu of burning your eyeballs out of your sockets, I’m going to give you a little tour of how I earned my PABs.

plannerPlanner.  I was pretty torn on whether to give myself the planner or the pantser badge with this project.  Normally, I come into these things with a pretty thorough outline and beefy packet of notes and sketches.  This year, I got the idea a week before NaNo started and plowed ahead with about four pages of notes.  Hardly the blank page I needed to qualify as a pantser, but a far cry from the reams of notes I usually head into this with.  So it’s a little scary, but is its own kind of fun.

tell the world

Tell the World.  This is probably definitely my most boring badge.  I made an announcement on Twitter that I would be doing NaNoWriMo this year.  Again.  Like I always do.  … Yup.  I guess I did tell a bunch of random people and bullied a few of my friends into doing it with me, which, although much smaller in scope, was probably also much more meaningful.  So I’ll take it either way.

with gratitudeWith Gratitude.  I’ve earned this one several times over, but never enough.  Nano is gloriously fun for me, but it takes me away from my family a lot, especially my kids, and my husband picks up a lot of the slack.  So I thanked my husband first and foremost for all his help.  I thanked my kids for their patience.  I also thanked my writing buddies here in Fairbanks for putting up with me all the time and being so darned encouraging.  I thanked @NaNoWordSprints for all their tireless- you guessed it- sprints on Twitter that keep me motivated and entertained.  And there are probably a gajillion others who deserve my thanks as well!  Everyone- you are fantastic!  Thank you!

wrimo spiritWrimo Spirit. This one’s kind of related to the one above, but the coin has been flipped.  This badge was earned when I helped support other writers.  So when I cheer-lead on Twitter, when I set up lunch write-ins, when I walk to my kid’s school to ask his librarian how her Nano project is going, when I keep an eye on my friend’s kid at the church activity so she can scribble in a few more words… then I get good karma and this badge.  Huzzah!

secret novelingSecret Noveling. Okay, so when I’m honest with myself, I probably write most of my novel in less than ideal places. My kids know all my hiding places by now: in the van, beside the potted avocado tree, in the bathroom, in the laundry room, in the guest room that is about forty degrees this time of year.  Heck, I’ve even hidden behind the rocking chair in the baby’s room just to sneak in those few awesome lines before I forgot them.  But I can make these things work.  We’re all used to it.  So I wasn’t sure if that really counted for this badge.  (I spend a lot of time thinking about what really counts to earn these badges.)  But then I earned it definitely-for-sure on Saturday.  I was at a kids’ birthday party at the local children’s museum, and it was a lot of fun and we had a blast.  But then my boys wanted to stay late and I thought, ‘Oo! My golden opportunity!’  So I slipped out my laptop (because who doesn’t bring their laptop to a kids’ birthday party complete with water tables, cheese puffs, and fluorescent cupcakes?) and tried to figure out where I could hide from my children, but still be able to see them without too much trouble.  After much poking around (and very nearly settling on the bathroom foyer), I ended up hiding in the craft corner, wedged between the Lego table and the animals/continents diorama on a tiny tiny stool, but if I leaned out I could see most of the main room.  And there I sat, startling every staffer trying to get back to their offices, for a solid hour. Bliss!

game onGame On. Word wars are my lifeblood.  I can write without them.  I’ll still plink out words in my one-handed turtle’s pace.  But nothing gets me going like sprints.  I haven’t been reporting in my pathetic word counts as much since I hurt my hand, but I still do them nearly every time I sit down to write for more than twenty minutes.  I even make my writing friends do them with me during our lunches.  Last time, I had prizes!  I handed out little packets of candy and you got to eat one candy for every hundred words you got down.  And then the person with the highest word total at the end went home with the giantest candy bar I could find.  (I would have gotten a lot more candy throughout the whole affair if one of the kids didn’t run up in the middle of a sprint and make off with half my candy in a grab-and-dash maneuver.  Well played, little beast. This is why I hide from these monsters while writing.)

So how about you guys?  Any fellow Wrimos out there?  What’s your favorite Personal Achievement Badge and how did you earn it?