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Strengthen Your Writing: Best Practices for Building a Strong Writing Group

April 14, 2015

strengthen

This summer will be the second anniversary of working with my writing group. I’ve worked with a few over the years, and visited so-called “open groups,” but the one I’m currently with has been the one that has stuck together the longest.

These three authors have been by my side through thick and thin. They’ve helped me edit my second book and get it ready for publication, and they continue to work with me on my third. I’ve come to learn so much from them and value their feedback as much as any editor’s. I’ve also come to truly love reading their work.

Beyond that, though, they have become my friends. They’ve stood by my side at book launches, helped me write book blurbs, been willing to catch my clichés and repeated words, and put eyes on my writing while it’s still naked and swaddled in the loose writing of its infancy stage. They have been doulas and midwives to the birth of any writing project.

For me, as far as strengthening my writing is concerned, a good writing group is worth more than emeralds.

Recently, I attended a session on how to put together a writing group. The session gave us some best practices and then provided an opportunity for people to mingle and potentially connect with writing group members.

The best practices were very helpful. I found I’ve followed most of them myself, so I thought I’d share them and include some of my own.

Best practices for starting or finding a writing group:

Know Yourself and What Your Needs Are

At the session, they used the term writing group instead of critique group. My group calls itself both. But you can have a writing group without doing any critiques. It simply depends on what you want to call it and what your group does when they meet. (It’s like a book club can sometimes become a book and wine club!)

The following are questions to ask yourself to assess yourself and your own needs. The more clear you are with yourself, the easier it will be to find what you’re looking for.

  1. What are your goals as a writer?

This can be:

  • the form you’d like to do: short fiction, poetry, novels, or all types.
  • the genre of writing: memoir, non-fiction, fiction: children’s, literary, historical, romance, thrillers, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.
  • the audiences you’d like to reach: Children’s (picture books through middle grade and young adult fiction), New Adult, Adult.
  • the writing skills you’d like to master: to get stronger in dialog, to get stronger in prose, to master epic iambic pentameter, etc.

It should also include:

  • the word count you’re aiming to write (or one short story or how many poems) and how often you’ll be writing.
  • your publishing goals. (Are you writing for publication under contract? Are you writing for submission to agents and editors in the near future? Is your publication goal more distant? Are you entering writing contests? Are you writing for the pure joy of it and to master the craft?)
  1. What do you hope to get out of a writing (or critique) group?

This would be why you’d like to join a group and what you hope the group can help you with.

  1. Where are you at in your writing process?

  • How often do you write? How much time do you have to contribute to a group and give feedback.
  • List a few of your strengths as well areas you know are weaknesses.
  • List five adjectives to describe yourself as a writer.

Once you know your own strengths…


nomoretears_poster

Look for Members with Similar Goals and Complementary Strengths

One of the things I’ve found truly works is that the colleagues I work with have similar motivations to mine:

  • we write regularly
  • we’ve been published and are writing professionally to be published again
  • we frequently upgrade our writing skills by attending workshops and courses, or by reading books on craft.

This isn’t how it has to be for everyone. In fact, there are many reasons to join a group. Here are some I’ve heard:

  • to reach out and talk to other writers to feel less alone (definitely a benefit)
  • to set deadlines that would motivate yourself to write
  • to meet and write in cafés (this would be primarily a writing group versus a critique group)
  • to brainstorm ideas, seek friendly advice, and learn more about the craft.

At a session I recently attended, I was the only person in the room who was writing to a publication deadline.

However, someone working to a publication deadline might not be well-suited to work with a newer writer who hasn’t written in over a year and simply wants a group to hold them accountable. The energy of the group may dissipate.

The same might be the case if you mixed children’s picture book writers with writers of erotic fiction. Sometimes, there are cross-over skills, and sometimes not.

Complementary strengths is about finding people who are strong where you are not. In turn, you are strong where they need help. When you find this, it is a gift indeed. In my group, it just happened. We all found ourselves looking at different things, and sharing what we had learned so far on our writing journeys. A synergy happened where we were each inspired to learn more from each other. Somehow, it all worked out but it came from….

Build Trust

In my group, we had an initial meeting where we talked about the kind of feedback we wanted. How we needed to hear both good and bad, and yet, we wanted the truth.

First and foremost, we needed to have each other’s best interests at heart.

The topic of building trust is a big one. Each of us had unpleasant memories from some groups (especially open groups). But we found that agreeing to act from this core belief in helping each other and wanting the best for each other was a good start.

Everyone has different trust levels, so sometimes it’s a good idea to talk it out and find out what each group member needs.

Agree Upon Guidelines

It’s important to decide on some details up front. You don’t have to organize everything, but a few things do best if you’re organized, such as:

  • Where to meet (in person, via Skype, only via email, etc.)
  • When and how often to meet
  • How much to share and how to share it. (Some groups stagger the sharing, others allow everyone to share at each session)

Some groups meet and read aloud their pieces and people critique on the spot. Others, like ours, submit their work ahead of time. As a group, decide on what everyone wants to do, and what works.

For example, our group meets once a month and we would send our pieces to be critiqued four days ahead of time. We set a word limit (guideline) of approximately 2,500 words or a chapter. We mark up each other’s work and share it with each other by speaking to it, versus just sending that marked up document to our colleagues.

Learn How to Communicate with Each Other

This topic is a bit of a wiggly one. We all know how to communicate, right? After all, it’s what we do.

We met in person, so we could read each other’s cues and body language. We soon discovered ways to highlight the things we liked in the piece – sometimes it may take more work. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll find people’s work you love.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • Find out what boundaries exist for group members and how they like to be communicated with.
  • Lead by example: show others how you’d like to be treated (probably with respect and kindness) but also stay open to different communication styles.
  • Be mindful of reactions. Learn to read body language and non-verbal cues.
  • Take time to discuss what is working and what isn’t for the whole group.

Learn How to Give Feedback

I could write an entire post on this and still not cover it, but it’s good to start with a few ground rules:

As the person receiving the feedback:

  • Remember the spirit in which the feedback is offered (they have your best interests at heart!)
  • It is all right to state what kind of feedback you need ahead of time. For example, do you simply need it looked at for story arc, or for character, or do you need a line edit? Etc.
  • Listen to all feedback before responding. Do not be defensive. (This can sometimes vary depending on the personality of the group. A writing group can be like a family; some are well-mannered and formal, whereas others are passionate and animated.)
  • At the end, ask questions for clarification.
  • Everyone sees things differently. It’s okay to filter information. It is your writing, and you can take the feedback or leave it.
  • However, if you have several people stuck on the same area of a piece, it may need work.

As the person giving the feedback:

  • Ask yourself: Is it helpful? Is it kind and from the heart? (I believe things can be truthful and kind)
  • Use “I” language to give your impressions.
  • Ask questions, such as: Why did your main character show up for the event 15 minutes early? What did you mean when you said ____?
  • Look for the positive as well as areas for improvement and sandwich more difficult feedback between possible corrections.
  • Gage the person whose work you’re reviewing. Are they tired or overwhelmed? Vary your feedback accordingly.
  • Remember that it is not your story, so do not be attached to someone taking your feedback.

There you have it, some best practices on writing groups. What are some of yours?

Spring YA Scavenger Hunt: Exclusive Content from @kaimcca93 #YASH #TeamPurple

April 2, 2015

Hello and Welcome to the 10th YA Scavenger Hunt!

YASH INFO

Hello! I am Lisa Voisin, your hostess for this leg of the hunt.

LisaThis is me
(once I’ve had my hair straightened)

I’m a city girl who loves nature and lives beside a temperate rainforest at the base of a mountain.

I love coffee but I have over two dozen different kinds of tea in my cupboard. (It’s a compulsion)

Neil Gaiman is one of my idols.

I love cherry blossoms in the spring.

The Hunt:

This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes!

On this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each participating YA author, you also get a secret number. Add up the numbers, and enter it for a chance to win a major prize–one lucky winner will receive at least one signed book from each author on my team in the hunt! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online until noon Pacific time on Sunday, April 5th!

You can start right here or you can also go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage to find out all about the hunt. There are EIGHT contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one, two or ALL of them! I am a part of TEAM PURPLE–but there is also a blue team, a red team, a green team, a pink team, a gold team, an orange team, and a teal team. If you do those hunts too, you’ll have a chance to win many different sets of signed books!

Team Purple

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, see the full list of prizes up for grabs, or if you get lost along the way, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage. Full instructions can be found on the How to Hunt page.

Looking for my exclusive bonus content? You’ll have to keep searching. Somewhere on this blog hop, I’ve hidden an exclusive, never-before-seen scene from Mia and Michael’s past — from the yet to be published sequel to The Angel Killer. ( No spoilers, I promise!)

Before you go on though, check out the amazing author I’m hosting. But, first, a few rules.

scavenger_hunt_2

Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the green team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!). Hint: the secret number is highlighted in:

PURPLE

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally. Anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by October 5th, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

Now that all the technical stuff is out of the way, I am super excited to be hosting…

 Kai McCarthy

kaimc

Kai’s Story:

Kai is the indie author of “Unpredictable Prophecies” and “Unimaginable Prospects.” Growing up in a small town near Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kai McCarthy started reading at a young age. The only books that drew Kai’s attention were the supernatural ones. She started writing in middle school. UNPREDICTABLE PROPHECIES’ inspiration came from a dream. Kai is currently working on the Fontanei series.

Kai’s Books:

Unpredictable Prophecies (Book One in the World’s End Trilogy)

Unimaginable Prospects (A World’s End novella)

Here’s a bit about UNPREDICTABLE PROPHECIES:

Fallen angel? Try risen demon.

Acadia Mills has been sent to perform very serious tasks. Part of the prophecy that predicts the end of the world, Acadia must figure out how to make it less severe of an outcome. When the only person who can tell her how to do that is mysteriously murdered, Acadia must work with the compelling angel Micah, whose team is also trying to figure it out. Torn between following her guardian’s orders and doing what is right, Acadia finds herself reliving her human life, where she makes a startling discovery.

When everything falls to pieces, can Acadia save the one she loves to find the one she is destined for?

Bonus Content: Prologue to The Magpie’s Daughter

(from Kai’s upcoming Fontanei series – for more information, visit Kai’s shiny new website: http://kai-mccarthy.com/  I visited it THIRTEEN (that’s 13) times.)

Prologue

 People surged through the streets as arrows whizzed over their heads. Panicked crowds rushed in groups to the nearby forest. Men on horses galloped over citizens, slashing their swords at anyone in their way. One woman weaseled her way against the crowd, a screaming child in her arm as another, her son, clung to her hand.

“Mommy,” the boy whined, barely heard over the shouting and screaming, “where are we going? I’m scared.”

Shh, Charles, I know. Mommy’s scared too.” She glanced at all the terrified faces, a sickness settling her gut. Her children came first but she couldn’t take the youngest. She knew only one people well enough to entrust with the baby’s care. Pushing against the walls, the woman clung tight to Charles’ hand as more and more people rushed to the gates.

“Mommy, why aren’t we going with them?” Charles cried, pointing to the crowds. Tears were streaming down his face as he saw children his own age being carried by their parents, heading to somewhere safe. Where was his mother taking him?

“Charles, in here,” his mother ordered, ushering him into a building. It was dark and smelled of mold, but he listened. Once his eyes adjusted, he noticed a woman standing next to a curtain, her dark hair stringy and messy. Her eyes were wild, a bright green seeming to shine through them, as if it wasn’t their natural color. She looked crazy and Charles was petrified.

“Mathilda, I beg you for your help.” The woman with the baby approached the other, kneeling and bowing her head as she offered the bundle of cloth. “This child will only be a burden and I fear she will cost all our lives if I keep her. Charles is old enough to understand and Richard already knows my plan.”

Mathilda shook her head sadly. “How do you expect me to care for her?”

“Please. Do whatever you must. I’ll be back for her when I can. Just keep her safe. Richard was so happy when she was born, I fear it will break his heart if she died at the hands of the Garbonians.”

Charles stepped up to his mother and clutched her skirts. “Mother–“

“Hush, boy,” Mathilda scolded. “Heavens, Elizabeth, did you teach him nothing yet? Where are his manners?” She grabbed the baby and coddled her, pushing back the cloth enough to see her sleeping face. “Fine. I will watch over your daughter as if she is my own. She will know nothing of you, Richard, or Charles. Is that what you want?”

Elizabeth’s heart broke. Her daughter wouldn’t know anything about her? “Is this the only way?”

“If you wish to keep her safe, yes.”

The mother hung her head. “So be it.” She stood, grabbed Charles by the hand once again, and turned away. Tears ran down her face but she knew Mathilda would take care of the baby. “Come along, Charles.” She opened the door and joined the crowd, never once looking back. Charles, however, looked just in time to see Mathilda slip through the curtain, his baby sister still in her arms.

 Chapter One

Hiyah!” The blade sunk into the tree, cutting it through two solid inches. Emmalyn panted with exertion, her body drenched in sweat. Even her hair, usually tied neatly in a bun at the nape of her neck, hung loose, the dark strands clinging to her face.

Clapping sounded from behind her. “Quite impressive, Emmalyn. Perhaps next time you can hack it down with your mind instead.”

Emmalyn turned to see her mother, Mathilda, standing in the doorway to the cottage. She wore black, as usual, the robes hanging to the ground as if wanting to trip her. Her hair, too, was its normal craziness, sticking out at random places and looking as coarse as straw. Emmalyn bowed to her.

“Thank you, Mother. My training has improved much.”

“Indeed. It’s a shame you don’t pay as much attention to your studies. You have a brilliant mind, if only you would choose to utilize it.”

Yanking the sword from the tree, Emmalyn ignored the jibe. She was smart, yes, but schooling would get her nowhere, not while she was a woman. That, and the ‘studies’ she spoke of didn’t interest her at all. She had no need for magic. Mathilda watched her as she wiped the blade down, her keen eyes noticing when Emmalyn sucked in a sharp breath and massaged a part of the sharp metal.

“Is your blade chipped?” she asked the younger woman.

Emmalyn looked up in shock. “Yes, Mother,” she replied after taking a moment to control herself. “I’ll need to repair it later tonight.”

“You will do no such thing,” Mathilda clipped. “There’s a ball this evening and you must look your best. Every eligible young man will be there looking for a suitable woman to make his bride. You must keep to traditions. Your sixteenth birthday has come and passed. It’s time you find a husband.”

“I wish for no husband,” Emmalyn snarled, sheathing the weapon into its case on her hip. “I have no interest in conversing with men who will leave me with child for a war we cannot win.”

Mathilda sighed. “Emmalyn, it is your duty as a woman to attend. You must. Now, you will come into the cottage, bathe the grime from today’s training off your body, and dress in the elegant gown I made for you. No argument.” She turned back into the cottage, the door closing quieter than Emmalyn would have thought possible.

Heaving a sigh to match her mother’s, Emmalyn crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the cottage. She hated getting prettied up for men who only seemed to pretend to be interested in her. With her childbearing hips, every man’s mother was commanding him to introduce himself to Emmalyn at these kinds of events, even before she was of age. She doubted tonight would be any different.

 


Bonus Draw

Thank you so much for visiting my website! While you’re here, don’t forget to enter the bonus draw I am running exclusively during the YA Scavenger Hunt.

For the BONUS draw, do the following (see the Rafflecopter link below):

1. Tweet about this page and help spread the word about the YA Scavenger Hunt!

2. Leave a comment on this blog and answer the following: Which would you prefer: would you rather be able to fly (with your own wings), heal people with your touch, or read other people’s thoughts?

There are other ways to get more points too! Don’t forget to enter them in the: Rafflecopter giveaway

Speaking of hearing other people’s thoughts. I look forward to hearing yours! Have fun!

For this Bonus Contest, I will be giving away ecopies of THE WATCHER, book one of The Watcher Saga and two ecopies of THE ANGEL KILLER.

Once you’ve commented, proceed to the next author in the hunt… drumroll please! NICOLE CONWAY!

Countdown to the YA Scavenger Hunt #YASH – Coming April 2nd 2015 #TeamPurple

March 27, 2015

Hello Everyone!

I’m so happy to introduce to you the Spring 2015 YA Scavenger Hunt Authors!

We have eight outstanding teams this season. I am going to be a part of #TeamPurple! The Scavenger Hunt runs from April 2nd through April 5th beginning and ending at noon Pacific time on those days.

If you’ve never been a part of the hunt before you should give it a try. It runs like a giant blog hop, introducing you to new YA authors and books along the way. There are tons of prizes including a grand prize for each team. If you win one of the grand prizes you will get a book from each author on that team! For more information and to make sure you get hunt updates, sign up for news on the #YASH website.

Not only will I be hiding an exclusive never-before-revealed scene from Mia and Michael’s past, but I will also be hosting the author of UNPREDICTABLE PROPHECIES! On my blog, I’ll be giving away ecopies of THE WATCHER and THE ANGEL KILLER too. You don’t want to miss out on this fabulous and fun event, but play fast because the hunt is only live for three days.

And now, here are the teams! (Hint: If you click on the image you can get a close up)

Blue Team 1 Pink TeamTeam Gold (2)Team Purple 1Team GreenTeam Red 1Team Teal (2)
Team Orange

I hope you are all as excited as I am!

THE HUNT BEGINS 4/2/15!

Cover Reveal: Reflected by Majanka Verstraete @iheartreads @inkspellpublish

March 23, 2015

Reflected

About the Book

Title: Reflected (Mirrorland #2)

Author: Majanka Verstraete

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal Mystery, Romance, Dark Fantasy

When Alison was stuck in Mirrorland, all she wanted was to be alive again. Now she’s gotten her revenge by inhabiting Piper’s body and trapping her behind the mirror. But pretending to be Piper is more difficult than she imagined it would be.

On top of that, the borders between Mirrorland and the real world are crumbling. Danger abounds, demons appear in high school, and if wasn’t for the help of a new mysterious guy, Alison might not have escaped. But there’s more to this guy than meets the eye, and she’s determined to find out what, especially since it might be related to her own supernatural problems.

Meanwhile, Piper tries to convince the Horseman of Death to help her return to her own world, but he’s got his own hidden agenda, which may cause more serious risks. Can Piper find a way to restore the balance before both worlds collide?

Author Bio

Majanka VerstraeteMajanka Verstraete begged her Mom to teach her how to read while she was still in kindergarten. By the time she finished fifth grade, she had read through the entire children’s section of her hometown library.

She wrote her first story when she was seven years old, and hasn’t stopped writing since. With an imagination that never sleeps, and hundreds of possible book characters screaming for her attention, writing is more than a passion for her.

She writes about all things supernatural for children of all ages. She’s tried to write contemporary novels before, but something paranormal always manages to crawl in.

Majanka is currently studying for her Master of Laws degree, and hopes one day to be able to combine her passions for law and writing. When she’s not writing, reading or studying, she likes watching “The Vampire Diaries” and “Game of Thrones,” spending time with her friends, or playing “World of Warcraft.”

Links

Twitter- https://twitter.com/iheartreads

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Majanka-Verstraete/398570476832115

Website- http://majankaverstraete.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25162121-reflected

Giveaway

Win a $15 Amazon gift card to celebrate the cover reveal.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cover Reveal: Full Moon by Kristy Centeno @KrissyGirl122 @InkspellPublish

March 22, 2015

Today, it’s my pleasure to share a new book cover with you for an upcoming book by a fellow Inkspell author, Kristy Centeno. (Designed by the fabulous Najla Qamber)

FullMoon.v1

Title: Full Moon

Publisher: Inkspell Publishing

Release Date: April 1st, 2015

Genre: Paranormal

Synopsis:

Hidden lies…hidden demons…hidden battles…All leading to the ultimate sacrifice…

She knows what really brought me here.

She knows the motives that lead to our friendship.

She doubts what’s in my heart.

What she doesn’t know…all I’m willing to sacrifice in order to ensure eternity for her.

On the brink of putting a face to our enemy, I may have screwed up myself even more. As it turns out, now I’m battling not only an alpha with an uncanny ability to hide where no one can find him, but my own inner demons as well. Physically challenged, my only chance is to rely on two things: my brother and my love for her.

In the end, will Marjorie comprehend the depth of my sacrifice? Or will her pride get in the way of understanding…and her life?

Book Link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25039412-full-moon

About the author:

Kristy Centeno is an author of paranormal romance, young adult, new adult, horror, and contemporary romance.

She has always had a passion for books and after years of being an avid reader, she decided to transform her desire to write into a reality and thus, her first novel was born. In her journey to create memorable reads, she has delved into several genres, creating fictional characters meant to entice readers and captivate the mind.

She is currently working on finishing off the Keeper Witches series among other projects, which include sequels to her published work. When she’s not busy taking care of her five children or holding down the fort, she finds time to sit and do what she loves the most: writing.

Author Links:

Website: http://booksbycenteno.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KristyCenteno

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/KrissyGirl122

Goodreads:http://www.goodreads.com/KristyCenteno

Blog: http://therightbook4u.blogspot.com

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/kristycenteno

Linked In: www.linkedin.com/in/kristycenteno/

Skillpages: http://www.skillpages.com/kristy.centeno

Google+:  http://www.google.com/+KrissNeidy

Tsu: https://www.tsu.co/KCenteno

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/krissygirl122/

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