Monday, October 28, 2013

Guest Post: Laura Stephenson on Writing Groups

I've participated in five different writing groups in five different states, so I feel I have a wide range of experience on this subject. Even though each group yielded similar results, they were each run in a different manner. In one you brought in two pages of your writing (one copy for everyone coming), and read it aloud during the meeting. In another one person submitted ten pages each week, sending it by email a week in advance, everyone on a rotation. Etc.

How were they useful? With so many eyes dedicated to the page, they were catching things my beta readers weren't. All of the groups were made up of a pretty good cross-section of humanity, so they showed me how people outside my main audience might view my writing. They were usually pretty supportive, all with at least one common interest to me, so going to the meetings felt like time out and about with friends (of which I had desperate need, being the nerdy, homebody, stay-at-home mom I was).

Yet I kept finding myself frustrated. I would do my best to discover all the faults I could find in the other members' pages, leaving bloody trails of red pen, exhausting myself. But when I got my pages back, they were barely touched, with a few minor things here and there. I felt like no one else was working as hard as I.

How are writing groups not helpful? They aren't a group of critique partners. It wears on you too much to go in-depth on five to ten other writers' work. People either won't do it, or they will, get burnt out, and quit the group (as I did). If you want someone combing through, finding everything they can, they can be great for finding one or two other people to work more closely with.

Then again, most of the people in the group probably won't write the same genre as you do, so they can't give you the specific advice you really need. Their advice won't always work. I had a romance writer telling me to put paragraph breaks between a character's dialogue and their actions. In fantasy I've found it pretty standard to cut the paragraphs when switching which character is acting/speaking, but not between a single character's speech and actions. Every time she made the note, I disregarded it. It was a waste on both of our time.

Whether you personally go with the group or not should depend on where you are as a writer, and what you're looking for in the process. If you're green and looking for some encouragement and guidance, go for it. Perhaps you're more advanced, but you'd love to help out some local fellows while getting some socializing in. Great!

As you can probably tell by now, I've given up on writing groups. I'll use my close friends as beta readers, helping me develop the story, then a professional editor to tidy up. And that's a valid option, too. I guess my biggest piece of advice would be to try it out, and if the glove doesn't fit, don't feel pressured to keep it on.


Mrs. Laura Stephenson
Author of The Complete Guide to Being Evil

Laura is a new author in the field of fantasy. Her first book, The Complete Guide to Being Evil, is a quirky urban fantasy. She lives in Washington State with her husband and two kids, and enjoys outdoor activities and evenings in playing board games.

Laura's debut novel, The Complete Guide to Being Evil, is on Kickstarter! So far it's ~71% funded. Check it out, and she'd like you to consider making a small pledge.


Here's a short blurb about Laura's book (shamelessly borrowed from her Smashwords page): " What can evil do for you today? A young, impetuous mage named Kalara angers a local necromancer. Instead of leaving town, laying low for a while, or trying to appease him, she makes a deal with a devil to gain more power and win her little magi war."

Sounds like a fun book.  Anyone have any questions or comments about writing groups for Laura?  

:Disclaimer:  The Unpublished Writers' Guide to Survival and its owner have no affiliation with Laura and I am not personally asking any of you to fund her Kickstarter campaign.  If you decide to do so, that is your choice. =o) - B.E. Sanderson

Thursday, October 24, 2013

How to Write a Book

Wandering the webs this morning, I noticed someone had asked someone else how to go about writing a book.  This person was an agent, not a writer, so they opened the question to other people's answers.  I decided to answer it here.

You know, it occurs to me when I started out I never even thought to ask this question, but I guess there are people out there who just don't know. 

The easy answer I'll take from the Mad Hatter: "Start at the beginning and when you get to the end, stop."

It really is that simple.  And it's also that complicated.

So, here's the real answer as I see it...

First off, you should have a good grasp of how books are laid out.  How they ebb and flow.  The general structure of books and plots and characters.  As I see it, that means reading books other people wrote - a lot of them.  If you haven't already done this, you're behind the curve.  It's not impossible to write a book if you're not a reader, but it's sure not any easier, so you better get cracking.  And I ain't just talking 'how-to' books on writing or books in the area you think your book will fit into.  Read everything - because even if you're a straight romance writer, you can learn stuff from SF or fantasy or mystery.  And vice versa.

Now, I assume that since you asked the question, you already have an idea in mind.  If not, you really are jumping way ahead even wondering how you write a whole book.  Even if your idea is just a kernel of an idea, you have to have one to take the first step on the road to THE END. 

So, bypassing the tragically idea-less, we'll jump back to the Mad Hatter and tweak his advice a little.  Take your knowledge of how books are generally laid out along with your shiny idea, set your butt down in a chair somewhere and start writing.  Do a few pages and see if you like where your idea is headed.  If yes, keep writing.  If no, try starting it over.  Or forge ahead with what you've got and hope it will work itself out along the way.  (I wouldn't do the starting over thing more than once or twice, or you'll never reach THE END - which is the ultimate goal.)  Any way you approach this part, keep writing until you reach the end and then stop. 

Lastly, pat yourself on the back because you did it.  You wrote a whole book all the way from Chapter One to THE END.  

Sure, there's a whole bunch of shit afterwards like editing and revising and rewriting, but the question was 'how to write a book' not 'how to write a book that could someday be good enough to be published'.  Hell, I'm obviously still figuring the latter out or I wouldn't be among the 'un'.

And yeah, it sounds easy, but it isn't.  If you want the easy road, try trash removal services.  (Nothing against trash removal personnel, but it's not exactly a brain-straining occupation.  Unless you're a trash removal person who's writing a book in their head while they do their mind-numbing job.)  There's no guaranteed paycheck here.  There's a shit-ton of work ahead without a foreseeable monetary return.

But there's also a huge personal return in the completion of a book - whether you ever get published or not.  And that's why you write one all the way to THE END.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Writerly Quotes... Pt... Last?

And here we are for the T-Z installment of my writerly quotes.  Unfortunately, I don't have any X-Z quotes, so you'll have to settle for only going through W.

If you get in an accident or a barfight and break all the fingers on both hands THEN you can claim writers block. Other than that you have the ability to write. - James R. Tuck, Jr.

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning. - Mark Twain

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. - Mark Twain

The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible. - Mark Twain

I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I'm afraid of. - Joss Whedon

 The hope and aim of a word-handler is that he may communicate a thought or an impression to his reader without the reader’s realizing that he has been dragged through a series of hazardous or grotesque syntactical situations. - E.B. White

You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist, you are learning your craft -- then you can add all the genius you like. - Phyllis A. Whitney

Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain. - Elie Wiesel

If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it. - Tennessee Williams

With Silver James' help - X Y Z:

 "Try to write the best you can without worrying too much about other things in advance." ~Qiu Xiaolong, best-selling Chinese crime novelist (living now in St. Louis)

"Make sure the first scene starts with a dead horse in the living room." ~Rebecca York/Ruth Glick, best-selling author

"Books hold no passports. There’s only one true literary tradition: the human." ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Spanish author

Thanks for stopping by.  I should have some more guest posters coming around soon. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest Post: Michelle McLean on Operation Awesome

Today I've invited Michelle McLean - author of awesome books in both fiction and nonfiction* - to talk to us about a wonderful resource for writers: Operation Awesome.  Take it away, Michelle...

I’ve had the great pleasure of being a part of the blogging group Operation Awesome for the past few years. Operation Awesome was started by a group of authors who wanted to give back to their writing community. This is a tough business, full of unspoken rules and etiquette, crushing disappointments, and interminable waiting periods. Having a good support group of like-minded folks makes navigating the publishing waters a little less daunting.

Being geared toward helping writers, most of our posts revolve around writing and publishing issues, how we deal with things that arise, tips and anecdotes, and fun little tidbits. We’ve recently started a Query Feedback series, where writers can enter their queries in a rafflecopter and one is randomly chosen for us to crit.

 Our most popular feature is our monthly Mystery Agent contests. Every month, our readers get the opportunity to get out of the slush pile and pitch an agent through our blog – though we don’t reveal who the agent is until the winners are chosen :) Grand prizes usually consist of full requests, with runners up often receiving partial requests or query critiques. It’s a fun way to help connect writers with agents and we’ve had several success stories so far.

So, if you are a writer who could use a few good tips, a chance to pitch to an agent, or just want to hang out with a bunch of other writers in the same boat, be sure to stop by Operation Awesome :)

About Michelle:
Romance and non-fiction author Michelle McLean spent 98% of her formative years with her nose in a book indulging in her love of reading and research. Expanding that love into writing was inevitable. Michelle has a B.S. in History, a M.A. in English, and tends to be a bit of an organized mess with an insatiable love of books and more weird quirks than you can shake a stick at. When Michelle's not editing, reading or chasing her kids around, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book. She resides in PA with her husband and two children, an insanely hyper dog, and two very spoiled cats.  

Her most recent release is:
WISH UPON A STAR Ceri McKinley never stopped wishing that her ex-fiancé Jason Crickett would come back into her life. But when he finally does, he comes with a request that puts them both--and all of humanity--into jeopardy. Jason only wants two things: to bury his brother properly and to convince Ceri to trust him again after he jilted her. But when Ceri agrees to help him get his brother back, they end up fighting for their lives as the second zombie uprising threatens them all. Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo For more information on Michelle and her books, please visit her on her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Goodreads.

* Seriously, if you ever need help writing essays or term papers, or have kids that need that sort of help, Michelle's Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers in the way to go.  And her fiction rocks, too.  Her historical romance - To Trust a Thief  - was a wicked fun read.  I can't wait to read Wish Upon a Star.  =o)