I am in the middle of teaching a six week writing class in fiction and nonfiction. The participants range in experience from newbies to published authors. There are six of them…and me. I am learning so much!
Seriously, I learn so much from the people I teach. For one thing--and this is soooo important—with each new class I teach, I am reminded of how vital it is to be enthusiastic about our writing.
Other lessons over the last few weeks include:
*How empowering it is to claim to the world, or at least to our friends, that we are, indeed, writers!
*How rewarding it is to look at solid examples of each technique or method presented. (I have discovered so many new books I need to read based on the examples my students provide for each concept.)
*How differently we can each see the same visual.
*How differently we can each respond to the same stimulus or prompt.
There are so many more take-aways from the classes, but I think two of the most valuable are:
*There are many ways to tell the same story
*Each story is important.
Happy writing (and reading) !
Inspiring Adults to Write
For the past 5 years, I’ve worked in the background helping our guild writer wannabes advance on our journey. I have produced 27 anthologies of our collective work, books for 5 of us. It all happened online; never in a meeting. Some contributors live in other states; 2 in other countries. Although we tried a lot of things, I can identify some factors that led to these results.
Clarity. A writing journey involves knowing why you want to write in the first place (guilt? duty? joy?) describing the writer you wannabe (from novice to World Class), and figuring out where you are on that journey. One of our challenges was to write essays on these things, and our writings became content in book chapters.
Making it happen. It happened for most of us. And that meant
Ø Prepare – Invest. Get a good computer, pads, pens, reference books. Have a place for your reference materials and work areas. Commit to support and encourage each member. Ask for support at home.
Ø Read – It’s as important as the writing; give it equal time. Do it daily. Reading drafts shared by our own members were inspiring and motivating.
Ø Start – In aircraft and sea craft, launching is the hardest part. Gift yourself 10 minutes a day (5 for reading; 5 for writing) to advance. I send out prompts and challenges: images, words, themes, questions, etc. Responses in poetry and/or prose are invited. Find a routine that works for YOU then build on it. Protect it like lunch with your best friend.
Ø Imitate – Gain confidence in finding your own voice by imitating fellow writers and favorite writers. Musicians, athletes, artists, etc. cut learning time by imitating the style, training, and discipline of their role models.
Ø Expand what you read. Include many genres, by many authors – contemporary and classic. Read on the craft of writing. Share recommendations online with others.
Ø Expand what you consider writing time. Include editing, polishing, outlining, revising, making character sketches, plotting, brainstorming, transcribing notes; journaling. Use letters and note cards to include your own verses and text.
Ø Leverage – This piece will be used for a blog, a handout in a presentation, an essay in a book, and portions as a dialogue reference for a murder mystery.
Ø Deadlines – Set them. Use them. They work.
Reward – Writing contributions appearing in print build confidence for all involved.
Self-publishing services and the internet make this possible and inexpensive. It works for us.
Jay Wright lives in Anderson, SC and is the immediate past president of Foothills Writers Guild in Anderson. In addition to the anthologies he has published for his guild members, he has published four books of his own work, teaches poetry classes to adult learners, and is a freelance writer for Anderson Magazine and Fair Town Times. Jay’s work also appeared in Wild, Wonderful ‘n Wacky, South Cackalacky: True Stories about Life in South Carolina.
My critique group meets next Monday, and I’ve just completed my responses to the work submitted for comments. We allow a week for reading up to sixteen pages submitted from each of us and then writing a detailed critique to give to the writer at the meeting. There are three of us in the group. Each of us published. Each of us working on long-term projects. Each of us serious about producing the best work we can. We work hard. For ourselves, and for each other.
The piece I just finished critiquing was a chapter from a novel. This particular chapter has been sent for review three times now…that’s right…three times. No, we’re not tired of reading it. No, it’s not boring. It’s fascinating to actually see the chapter growing and changing, becoming the best version of itself that is possible. Three seems to be the magic number for my group: three of us, three revisions each piece of work. At least that’s the way it seems.
The truth is, revisions are made many, many, many more times than three. Not full revisions, of course. But tweaks and pinches and bits added here and there, and soon we have what I like to think of as “purty-nigh-perfect” pieces of writing. Of course, other readers, agents, editors, may have a different opinion as to how “done” each piece of work is when they read it, but for our group, we are so much in sync, we can fairly well all agree when it’s time to let something go. When it’s time to say a piece is “purty-nigh-perfect,” and move on.
I love that about us. I love that we can be honest, candidly so, at times, but at the same time, we can feel the love, friendship, and true helpful desire that underlies each suggestion made. We are not competitive in the least. There is no need, nor is there a place, for competitiveness in our group. And frankly, there shouldn’t be any in any writers’ group. But that’s a topic for another day.
Today, I just want to say thanks to my partners. Thanks for helping me continue my dream. For encouraging me when I need it most. For keeping me grounded. For demanding my best and giving me your best. I couldn’t do what I do without you.
So, thanks Peg and Sherry. Thanks.
Yes, Please Write That Review
By Guest Blogger Brenda Remmes
Kindle Unlimited has a nifty little pop-up that comes at the end of any book you read which asks how you liked the book. On a five star rating with one being “not at all” to five being “excellent read,” all you have to do is click a button. Then it asks you to write a comment…not a thesis, just a comment.
If you happen to have a hard copy of that book, unfortunately, you don’t get a similar reminder. Instead you have to make the effort to go into Amazon books and under the title of the book scroll down to the Reviews section and click “Write a customer review.”
Too much trouble? Please reconsider. If you happened to like the book, please take the time to do it. It means a lot to the author. If you didn’t like it, I suggest you ignore the process. That’s the author in me speaking. Why? Here’s why.
Marketing books is a major factor in selling books. Selling books online includes getting connected into the algorithms that are computerized to advertise the book by attaching it to other popular books of a similar genre. “Customers who read this book might also like….”
Every author wants to have their book cover get viewed as frequently as possible. There are numerous estimates of how many reviews a book has to get in order to get kicked into the algorithm advertising. I’ve been told fifty, seventy-five, and a hundred. What matters is not as much what you say, although compliments are always appreciated, but the overall average the book gets in the reviews. Anything below four or five stars is not good.
After every book I read and enjoy, I write a review. My reviews are simple—two or three sentences. Books I choose to write reviews for are all four or five stars. If I can’t give the book at least that, I don’t write a review at all. I know it takes a lot of work to write and publish a book, and I respect every author who manages to do so. Just because I didn’t like the book, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. We all have certain genres that we prefer. I think it’s unfair for me to judge the quality of genres I rarely read unless the book has unexpectedly captivated me.
A low rating on a book brings down the overall average, and many publishers look at how the books were rated by previous readers plus how many books were sold when determining whether or not to publish the author’s next book. It takes a lot of fives to upgrade an average after someone throws a one into the mix.
Be gentle. Be kind. As my mother taught me, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. But by all means, if you enjoyed what you read, give the author a pat on the back and take a few minutes to tell them in a review. They notice, I promise.
Brenda Remmes is the author of the bestselling novel The Quaker Café and two other Quaker Café novels titled Home to Cedar Branch and her most recent release, Mama Sadie which is a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist. Her stories and articles have appeared in Newsweek as well as southern publications and journals.
She currently lives with her husband in an old family home near the Black River Swamp in South Carolina.
Learn more about Brenda and her books at https://brendaremmes.
Not long ago, my dear friend Sherry paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. She called me her “Barnabas.” In its Greek origins, the name means “the encourager,” and taken from the Biblical book of Acts (4:36), the word translates as “son of encouragement,” or in a linear translation, it roughly describes “calling people closer together and giving stronger comfort.” The Hebrew word translates to “son of exhortation” or “son of comfort.” I love any of the meanings and am truly humbled that my friend thinks that of me.
I first met Sherry many years ago when she registered for a fiction writing workshop I taught at our local university. She and four other members from that group stood out above all the rest in terms of their writing. I was amazed, ecstatic, awed, and excited for each of them as they fine-tuned and perfected their already incredible stories. It’s not often we come across that many exceptional writers in a random group of workshop participants.
Over the years, Sherry and Peg, another member of that same workshop, became treasured friends and writing pals. We now have a close, supportive critique group that has proven beyond any doubt how valuable it is to have knowledgeable and committed members who care about one another’s goals.
I know, and have heard other writers (even very famous ones) state the same,: that support and caring can be rare in some writing circles. I’ve never understood why that is, but I am certainly not the only writer who has run up against the self-centeredness and competiveness so often at the heart of artists. It’s almost as if some writers fear that if they share information or knowledge or contacts that in some way, their own access to that will be denied them. But if our work as artists is professional, good, and marketable, why and how does helping others damage our own opportunities? I don’t get it.
I have made it a conscious practice to share information on workshops, agents, publishers’ “want lists,” contests, marketing tools, venues for promotion, and any other helpful and encouraging information with any author I’ve made contact with and who might be able to use the information. But so many writers do not reciprocate or pay it forward. As long as their books are selling, as long as they have an agent, a publisher, or know of a contest or marketing venue for their own books, they keep that info tightly held. Again, I don’t get it.
Those kinds of writers are takers. They are not givers, not supporters, not encouragers, not comforters. They are not Barnabasses (not sure that’s a real word, ha!) And they are not the kinds of authors with whom we need to associate.
I urge each of you to search your own vast knowledge of the writing craft and business. Share contacts, contest info, publishing opportunities, agent names, and marketing venues. Write reviews of their books on all available sites. Give books as gifts. Recommend good reads to your friends. Most of all, offer encouragement to new writers. We all have something we can share, something we can pay forward. Share with others who may or may not be able to help you, but who one day may remember the helping hand you offered and offer theirs to another.
Please be a Barnabas.
I've just finished typing up my highlighted passages from Pat Conroy's book My Reading Life. I have not doubt that I will return to read again and again some of these words, to be inspired, comforted, and encouraged by them.
I don't want to share too much of the book. But I want to share a few lines with you now before I leave Conroy and move on to completing a project of my own that is calling. I truly just hope that those of you who love books and/or writing will be encouraged from my post to read the book.
First: a week or so ago, I trolled Facebook in the wee hours and came across a photograph of a beautiful lacquered vase that had lines of gold criss-crossing the body of the vessel. I read that the vase was an example of the "Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold-laced lacquer to illuminate the breakage.” I found the piece breathtaking.
Later when I returned to Conroy's book, I came across this passage: "kintsugi is the Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold-laced lacquer to illuminate the breakage.” ..not attempt to hide the breakage... though I have always known that pain was a ham-fisted player in my novels, I didn’t understand that I had used the radiant lacquers of the language to mark the wounds and fissures I had forced upon my characters. …I never knew I practiced the subtle art of kintsugi until Thomas Meyer let me in on the secret. "
And yes. Isn't that just what many of us writers dream of doing--illuminate the breakage? Turn the pain into something beautiful and breathtaking?
Second: As I completed the notes from the book, I came upon this...stayed with it, even shed a tear over it.
" I’ve always wanted to write a letter to the boy I once was, lost and dismayed in the plainsong of a childhood he found all but unbearable. But I soon discovered that I’ve been writing voluptuous hymns to that boy my whole life, because somewhere along the line—in the midst of breakdowns, disorder, and a malignant attraction to mayhem that’s a home place for the beaten child—I fell in love with that kid. I saw the many disguises that boy used to ward off solitude, hallucination, madness itself. I believe that the reading of great books saved his life. "
That's all for now. Sandy