A Few Things I’ve Learned About Writing

Reflecting on recent lessons learned, I made this list of highlights, all to do with being a writer.

If…

• If the passive voice were to be used along with conditional or subjunctive or some such mood, and if I were to be given material from a client that happened to include such longwinded and painstakingly constructed language, it might be possible that, as the person being compensated for simplifying the client’s material so that a stranger to the topic might be able to comprehend it, I found myself reducing a lengthy sentence into one declarative statement of few words.

How long?

• Varying the sentence lengths in a long-form piece rocks.

Teacher, teacher!

• My clients and the writers in my writer group are excellent at teaching me how to improve my writing.

• Also, the fictional Emily Starr, protagonist of Lucy Maud Montgomery‘s trilogy, reminds me to keep at it. Emily’s writing career can be a great example of persistence and doggedness, traits that can get the work done, done well, and out the door.

I noticed three copies of my book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, at a local bookshop last week.

Bookstores

• As rewarding as writing is for its own sake, it is also cool to see a book you wrote on the shelf of a local bookstore. [Hazard of visiting my books at the bookstore: Now I want to read all the other books on the shelf….]

• It’s also even cooler to be paid for books that sold off that shelf.

Funny

• Humor comes in lots of flavors and strengths. It’s often just the ticket (even in nonfunny writing).

An invitation, or a rebuke?

Joy

• Writing can be a pleasure, and a blank page an invitation. When it isn’t, it can be worthwhile to explore why that is. Sometimes even a small change can switch it back into something that feels OK or even good.

Connection

• Writers have a lot to learn from their readers. Sending out the completed book or story or article doesn’t need to be the end of a writer’s (one-sided) connection with readers. Some readers want to know more about – even get acquainted with – the author of that thing they enjoyed reading. And in non-creepy ways.

For me?

Gifts

• Beta readers are generous. When someone volunteers to read your new work before it’s released or published, and then gives you structured, useful feedback about it – that’s pretty much the ideal gift. At least for a writer. Well, online reviews are pretty wonderful, too, now that you mention it.

Like water

• A writer group can make a wannabe writer into a legit one. So can a writing coach. It’s like water on a stone. Slowly, over time, edges are delineated, and rough surfaces polished.

• There’s always more to learn.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and manuscript development services to authors. Her first nonfiction book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Central Virginia booksellers and on Amazon. #becomingunstuck 

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Becoming Unstuck for Writers Who Write about Becoming Unstuck

I recently published my first book. Well, the first book that I actually wrote. For work, I help authors get their books published on the regular. This was my own book though, which made the experience slightly different. Noting the differences between my experience of other people’s books and my own was meta enough, thank you, and yet there was a further complication.

fbuw-frontcoverv8-161118-4bowkerThe book I wrote is called FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers. Which presumes that I know a few things on the topic. That’s true. I’m glad to report that I still feel competent to have written it.  The difficulties came when the process of launching this book encountered, well, stuckness. You know, the stuff I’m supposed to know about extricating from.

Things Happen

I want to paint an accurate picture. And to be sure, wonderful things happened. Some great opportunities arose, surprising me with bounties of time (a client needed to postpone our work, due to a personal emergency) and space (a last-minute chance to hide out at a writer’s retreat one long weekend enabled me to put the finishing touches on the manuscript before sending it to the copyeditor). Beta readers were generous and attentive and incredibly helpful. I rejoiced. This was going to work out fine! Even with a full-time job, I was going to be able to stick to my production schedule and get this puppy out in October, as planned.

Then the copyeditor also had an emergency. It was a critically serious one, and needed to be honored. As long as it took for things to get back on an even keel, that’s how long the delay would be.

Politics

Then the US political environment took an unexpected turn and I found myself grappling with past trauma I had not expected to need to look at any more in this lifetime. Time, effort, and therapy were required to deal with the reawakened monsters in the shadows. As long as it was going to take, I realized, that’s how long the delay would be. No negotiation was possible with myself on this stuff. I needed to feel safe walking down the street again before becoming capable of glad-handing strangers about the merits of my new book.

Releasing the book in October simply wasn’t going to happen. OK. I readjusted my sights, and planned for early- to mid-November.

More Politics

Speaking of the US political scene, during that timeframe, the news reported that a candidate had won the national election. Suddenly, releasing a book about becoming unstuck felt ridiculously insufficient. And besides, who was going to want to buy such a thing? As if a craft book for writers was going to make a difference to anyone. More reflection, more therapy, more conversations with trusted friends. A growing sense emerged that we each need to focus on doing what we do well, as the best form of resistance, to become forces for positive change. I wrapped my brain around that notion and decided to publish as soon as possible.

Indie Publication and Amazon

Independent publishers like my company often rely on the combined forces of CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing – both parts of the Amazon empire – to take the completed book files and turn them into paperbacks (CreateSpace) and Kindle-compatible ebooks (KDP). So when CreateSpace delayed my publication date, and KDP refused to accept my formatted ebook file, a great welling of frustration, a sense of stuckness, you might call it, once again invaded my happy plans for book launch. In neither case was it a serious problem. Eventually, the paperback did become available (there had been a backlog of orders at CreateSpace), and the ebook file was accepted (KDP had changed its web form, so I needed to re-start the ebook setup process).

Launch!

signing-at-wh-161204-p1040023

Four local authors: A M Carley (left) signs her book for Zack Bonnie (right) while Mary Buford Hitz and Bethany Carlson talk about publishing.

The book was available from Amazon by the last day of November, and I had plenty of copies on hand in time for my first book event, a soft-launch celebration as part of the twelve-author local writers holiday reception and signing at WriterHouse in Charlottesville, VA. And people bought copies of my book!

Instead of being bummed out that I missed my October launch date, I decided to focus on the New Year, and appeal to writers who need a boost so they start off January with energy and focus. I decided to offer a free course for writers who buy the book. That way, they can create their own accomplishments and a-ha moments during the first month of 2017.

Lessons Learned

What have I learned from these periods of stuckness?

  • Stuckness happens.
  • “Circumstances beyond our control” can be affected by our behavior and attitude, anyway.
  • Sometimes the schedule must change. Accepting that reality can create new opportunities.
  • Putting one foot in front of the other, being doggedly purposeful, will often see you through to completion of the next step.
  • There’s always a next step.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, provides creative coaching and book development services to authors. Her first nonfiction book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is available for purchase at Amazon and other booksellers. #becomingunstuck 

 

 

 

Becoming Unstuck for Writers – Two Tools

It happens to most everyone. From time to time, the words just aren’t there. You may have set aside time for writing, you may have a good idea, even a supply of your favorite food and beverages for writing. No matter. You’re just making false starts. It feels bad. You’re stuck.

Becoming unstuck is a topic I’ve given some thought to this year. My book-development clients face down stuckness now and then, as do my fellow BACCA writers, and, oh yeah, I do too. In fact, I’m writing a book about how writers can become unstuck.

Here, I offer you two tools – one larger, and one lower-impact, for your consideration, the next time you feel that stuckness in your vicinity.

The Big Idea

One of the tools I recommend is — dum – ta- dum – dum — The Deadline.

And not a fake deadline that only you need to pay attention to. For this to be effective and more likely to be resistance-proof, you need to set up a deadline where you’re responsible to others. A deliverable to a third party. A date certain. An event. That sort of thing.

Fake deadlines – for instance, putting an event in your Google calendar – can be persuaded to postpone themselves. Don’t ask me how I know this, but it’s super-easy to grab one of those quiet little fake deadlines and slide it over a day or two. Or month. The possibilities are limitless, really.

Courtesy Pixabay

Courtesy Pixabay

To make the deadline strategy work for you, do yourself a real favor. Make a plan with someone else, someone you respect. Make a solid promise to them. Did the odds just increase greatly that you’ll deliver something good, and on time?

Here’s a not-so-random illustration of how this can operate: I’d been planning and drafting this book for a while. And maybe I’d been sliding over my self-imposed soft deadline dates in my online calendar once or twice. No one would know the difference, I told myself….

Now, I’m leading a workshop on the topic next month at Andi Cumbo-Floyd‘s writer’s retreat in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains. And when I agreed in March to do this, I committed to having in hand a beta version of the book in time for a late-July event. See how that works? It’s simple and powerful. (And check out this retreat!)

The Littler Idea

Sometimes, all it takes is a walk around the block.

Do this for real, on ‘shank’s mare‘ (as my dad used to put it), or more virtually (standing up and stretching, your favorite deep breathing routine, a journaling break, and so on). A simple refreshing change brings you back to the same place, only it’s so barely recognizable that it has become a different place.

Ah, words don’t do justice to the beautiful simplicity of this concept. Check out the illustration to get a clearer idea of how brilliantly this can work.

(Courtesy MediaGiphy.com)

Here’s to becoming unstuck.

May all your stuckness be resolved. May you scratch your right ear and get on with your work.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, helps nonfiction authors develop their books. Her first nonfiction book, FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is forthcoming in 2016.

Write at the Library! An Interview with Hayley Tompkins

 

Photo of Hayley Tompkins

Hayley Tompkins, Jefferson-Madison Regional Library Reference Librarian

Hayley Tompkins is a Reference Librarian at the Central branch of Central Virginia’s public library system, the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. She sat down with me to discuss the free writing opportunities offered at the library.

Their critique group operates under different circumstances than BACCA’s, and, as with our interview with Elizabeth SaFleur, proves again that there’s no single correct way to conduct a critique group.

Describe the writing opportunities that the library offers. I understand you host both creative writing groups and critique groups.

The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library offers a lot of activities for writers of all ages. Last year I began a Creative Writing Group at the Central Library in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, which meets the third Wednesday of each month at 6pm. It’s a great group. Adults can come and stretch their creativity with writing prompts and activities that I provide each month, and we dedicate swatches of time to writing. After each prompt, you can opt to share it in a non-judgmental environment. It’s been a lot of fun.

Our Writing Critique group grew out of that – as a way for writers to come together and get feedback on previously written work. That group now meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at 6pm. Just recently the Northside Library’s Reference Librarian Abby Cox has also started a Creative Writing program on the first Tuesday of the month at 6:30pm. That means that collectively, the Library offers a free writing program for writers in the Charlottesville area every week.

Every week, the Library offers a free writing program for writers in the Charlottesville area.

And for younger writers, there are teen groups: Crozet Library has Musings – a writing group for teens that has been meeting for several years. I started a Creative Writing group at the Gordon Avenue Library in 2012, and that has continued as well – it’s now called the Teen Writer’s Guild and it meets monthly on Thursdays in the summer. Teen and children’s events on writing and cartooning have also been offered as one-time workshops.

Are there other activities for writers at the library?

In addition to writing groups, Central Library also hosts a Regional Author Series in the Spring and Fall. Published authors come to the Library to discuss their books and writing and it’s a great opportunity for writers to talk with authors about writing tips and their experiences with publishing. We have had some great local authors, most recently Corban Addison (A Walk Across the Sun) and mystery author Andy Straka (Frank Pavlicek series).

I decided that I could better reach people who weren’t already using the Library as a place to write by creating a group on Meetup.com.

How did you go about telling people about the JMRL creative writing group and the critique group? How did people find out about it?

At first, we started with flyers up around the Library and on the Downtown Mall. I decided that I could better reach people who weren’t already using the Library as a place to write by creating a group on Meetup.com – an online community that connects people with groups through common interests. Now there are 115 people in the Meetup group, from all different backgrounds, although we haven’t had more than 18 in any one writing session. Some are professional writers, some are just beginning. All levels are welcome, and it’s really helped us diversify the types of people who come to the meetings. You can find that group online.

What do you write? How long have you been doing it, and how did you begin?

Fluvanna County High School Logo

Fluvanna County High School – Go Team!

I don’t have just one thing that I write. I have been writing pretty sporadically since elementary school, but a creative writing class at Fluvanna County High School really sparked my interest (thanks, Mrs. Calhoun!). I wanted to bring that same love to teens at the Gordon Avenue Library when I did teen library programming, and when I started doing adult programming at Central Library, I knew that I wanted to create the same space for adults who wanted to find and keep up with their own writing voices.

How many of you are in the creative writing group? Has the membership stayed the same, or do people come and go? How long have you been together?

It varies each month. The most we have had is eighteen. The fewest we have had was two! We have several members that come regularly, and a lot that come and go. I started this group in July 2014, and it’s been meeting monthly since then.

In the critique group, what are the ground rules? Do you have guidelines, or have you collectively found your way with these matters? Do you write up formal critiques, or is it more conversational?

In the Writing Critique Group, everyone brings in a short sample of his/her work – usually two pages or less. You give a copy of your writing to everyone, and then read it aloud, and the group discusses it. You get feedback on the piece – how it conveyed to the audience, what worked, and what could use improvements. You give similar feedback to others during their turn. There aren’t specific guidelines about how to critique, or how to structure comments. It’s a relatively small group – with the highest attendance being six people. They are informal and conversational – but very constructive.

Don't let this blank page stare you down. Join a writer group!

Don’t let this blank page stare you down. Join a writer group!

Linda Kobert is a fellow writer from the Creative Writing Group, and she helped set this Writing Critique, and attends regularly. She’s got great advice, so if you are new to the group, she’s good at helping you understand what to look for in the piece, and what kinds of comments to make. I wasn’t able to attend for the first few months, and I was really nervous – I’ve never really had peer feedback on my creative pieces. This was very new territory for me, but all of the feedback really helped me see my work in a new light, see some great things about it, and also what could get better, and where to focus my energy. I left feeling exhilarated and ready to get back to writing.

Is someone the leader, or is it more collaborative?

With the Creative Writing Group, I organize it and create a handout for it. I introduce writing prompts or activities (all loosely structured so that if someone wants to go in a different direction, then that’s great too), and keep us on track so we get the most out of the time that we have. For our July 15th session, Linda Kobert will be leading a special memoir-writing workshop. I like to introduce various styles of writing, and since Linda has had experience with memoir-writing, she was the perfect candidate to tackle this. I would definitely consider other people who were interested in taking the lead. The Writing Critique is very peer-oriented, but Linda Kobert set it up initially, and is a good go-to person for questions about the Critique sessions.

Life does get very hectic, and it’s nice to know that this block of time each month is carved out specifically for this, and it forces me to just do it.

Have you developed friendships with members of your group, or is it important to you to maintain a separation from the rest of your life?

I do consider myself to be friends with these writers, although since the Library is also my place of work, I think sometimes it takes a while for the worlds to mesh.

How has being in your writer group changed your writing? Your attitude about writing? Your identity as a writer and your plans for the future as a writer?

Being in a writer group has dramatically improved my writing – it’s more inspired, more deliberate, and knowing that other people will be reading it really encourages me to do better than I do on my own if I’m not sure it will ever be seen. My attitude is also a lot better – I’m much more confident and excited about my writing. Life does get very hectic, and it’s nice to know that this block of time each month is carved out specifically for this, and it forces me to just do it.

Do you have recommendations for other writers?

Just keep doing it! Use the Library and its resources to help you – we have a group for you, and books to keep you inspired. We also have quiet spaces for you if you need a space to write without the distractions of your own home.

If you could change anything about your writer group as it is now, what would you change?

I would love to have more consistency in the numbers of writers each month! It’s hard to do some of the more fun activities with just a handful, and I love new blood, so I’d really like to encourage new writers who want a dedicated group to come out.

We also have quiet spaces for you at the Library, if you need a space to write without the distractions of your own home.

What are the next steps for you in your writing career?

NaNoWriMo CrestWell, I am a Librarian full-time, so writing is a lovely diversion for me. But, for my next trick, I am definitely going to do NaNoWriMo in November. I started last year and didn’t finish, so I think that’s my next step. I also have a lot of pieces of stories – mostly things that started here at our Creative Writing Group, and I would like to bring those to more fully-realized works.

How do people find your creative writing group? Are you accepting new members? When and where do you meet?

We are always accepting new members! Find us by stopping by the Central Library on the third Wednesdays of the month at 6pm, or find individual events at our Meetup page. If you have any questions, you can reach me, Hayley, at the Central Library at 979.7151 x4. We typically meet in the Madison Room at the Central Library.

What about the critique group? Can new writers join? If so, what are the steps, and the schedule and location of meetings?

Again, yes! New members always welcome. Find individual dates listed at Meetup, and more details are posted there as well. All you need to bring is an already-written piece, a pen, and yourself. We’ll make copies for you at the Reference level of the Central Library just before the meeting if you need. The Writing Critique generally meets on second and fourth Tuesdays at 6pm at the Central Library.

Thanks so much, Hayley, for taking the time to tell us about what the library offers local writers. Like you, BACCA loves to encourage writers to get in touch. Anything else before we close?

Nope! I think that about covers it – thank you so much for interviewing me and helping me get the word out about how the Library can help writers in our area!

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, helps nonfiction authors develop their books.

BACCA’s Back! Virginia Festival of the Book 2015

BACCA Literary Is Back at VaBook!

Virginia Festival of the Book 2015Yes, we’re presenting again in 2015, and on PubDay – the best day of the entire festival. Uh-huh. (We’re a bit biased.)

Come spend Saturday morning with us in the James Monroe Room at the Omni Hotel in Downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. We start at 10am on Saturday, 21 March 2015. As I write this, there’s snow on the ground, but odds are overwhelmingly in favor of a charming spring day when you visit with us at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

What will we be doing this year?

Glad you asked. We’re coming to talk about writer groups – how to be in one, and how to find or create one.

When we did our session last time, we chatted with the Festival guests before and after our remarks about writer groups. It was a lot of fun, and good ideas came up. But there was something missing: More interaction with the Festival guests.

So, this time, we’re creating opportunities for Festival guests to meet one another and chat briefly, right in the middle of our session. Visitors to our session may possibly meet the future members of their new writer groups. And everyone will definitely have opportunities to learn more about writer groups, and what they can do to hone writerly and analytical skills. And cat-herding skills. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Where is The James Monroe Room at the Omni?

It’s easy to get to. From the hotel’s central atrium, turn toward the ballrooms. Catty-corner to the last ballroom entrance is our room, The James Monroe.

Map showing BACCA session

Shy, Introverted, Both?

Arrgh. So are some of us.

I know, I know. A Festival session with “activities.” The blurb for our session actually includes these words: “BACCA will guide Festival-goers in a fun and educational, hands-on mixer that will break the ice and start the process of building a writing community.”

It’s enough to make you run for the hills, isn’t it? Reconsider, please. Get an extroverted writerly friend to join you, and come join us. We’re gentle, promise. You might enjoy yourself. We look friendly, right?

The members of BACCA Literary

BACCA Literary Founding Members: Carolyn O’Neal, AM Carley, Bethany Joy Carlson, and Claire Elizabeth Cameron, after planning BACCA Literary’s 2015 VaBook session.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, helps nonfiction authors get their books completed, polished, and out into the world.

Some Tech Tools for Writers

calendar of Oct - Nov - Dec 2014

What’s Left of 2014

It’s fall. Everyone’s back at their desks, and signs of the November->January holiday madness are still faint enough to ignore. So in other words, we’re all on the brink of overwhelm. If, like me, you are juggling writing projects with other work, you want to feel you’ve got the materials you need, wherever you happen to find yourself when the time opens up to work on your writing projects.

Lately, I have found a few tools that really help keep overwhelm at bay, particularly in collaborative environments.

Tracking Shared Projects

To keep track of shared projects (in my world, that usually involves 2-5 people), I used to make a table in Word of the topics and tasks within each topic that were to be managed. The parties involved each received a copy by email, and wrote back happy emails about how organized we all were. That part usually went pretty well. Then the ugly part began when it came time to update it, and keep track of version numbers, and revision dates, and who had received an emailed copy of the latest version, and on and on. It became a minefield, not a helpful tool. So many accurate and true things in that table could become wrong and out of date, so quickly.

Now for shared projects I encourage my book coaching clients and other project collaborators to use Trello. It’s a web-based tool, free for basic use, for listing items and adding comments, files, checklists, calendared deadlines, images and other media, and more. A page, known as a Board, in Trello’s default format, which is easily edited, shows three vertical lists headed To Do, Doing, and Done. One oddity: You can’t delete items from Trello, but you can archive them so they aren’t on your screen.

Sample Board in Trello

Sample Board in Trello

Search is nice and fast. It works on devices with a web connection – which includes computers, tablets, smartphones, and so on. And it’s always up to date. When people add their two cents, or a new task, or check a box in a checklist, everybody involved will know about it the next time they visit the Trello board. The ugly part from the old days of tables build in Word just pretty much disappears.

Floating Research Library

It’s true what they all say about Evernote: You really won’t need to keep those scraps of paper any more. It’s amazing to me how readily I adapted from “Where the $%^& did I put that stick-it with that book title / idea for subplot / phone number / song fragment?” to “Oh yeah, I’ll just look in Evernote. I bet I put it there.” Like Trello, Evernote’s search is super-fast and thorough. Also as with Trello, you can make categories and sub-items, here called Notebooks and Notes, subject to annotation, media attachments, live URL links, etc. For me, Evernote is my great reference library in the sky. Nothing is too small to put up there.

I’ve been at meetings with only my phone, yet equipped to answer questions, back up my assertions, illustrate ideas, and keep the ball rolling because I’ve got Evernote on my phone. And when you come across that brilliant idea or crucial piece of info while you’re out and about, you can email it to your Evernote library with your special dedicated email address (that you remembered to stick into your smartphone’s contacts directory, of course). It works on most devices. Unlike Trello, the Evernote software is not web-based – you download an app, free for basic use, from the company’s website and it resides on your device, while sharing the contents of your library with other devices you authorize. There’s a username/password gate to pass through, securing access to your stuff.

Facebook Groups

I feel a little tacky admitting this, but you know what? Facebook can be a useful collaboration tool. Protect your privacy, of course, as you would with anything at all posted there, but within bounds, a Closed or Secret Facebook group can become a terrific tool for shared projects. Keep one another up to date, ask questions, post calendared events, share files and links. The biggest downside? You have to go on Facebook to access the good stuff your colleagues are sharing with you inside your walled garden. Time sucks lurk just outside the garden wall.

Image of a garden wall

Beware what lurks outside. Image from HGTV.com

Again, it’s free of charge, web-based, and platform-independent. A web connection is all you need. We BACCA members rely on such a group for keeping in touch between meetings.

Google Calendar

The interface is unbeautiful, old, and clunky, admittedly, and privacy is, uh, dubious, but inviting people to meetings, setting aside the time for them, linking to an agenda document, and other such administrative tasks can be handled pretty well from within Google Calendar. By the way, you can invite people who don’t have a gmail address. It’s web-based, platform independent and free of charge.

File Storage

When I have the chance to get some writing work done, I’m not always at my home office with access to the files stored on the server there. I switched a while back from Dropbox to Sync, as the place to keep drafts of works in progress. Truth be told, I prefer to use it only for temporary storage. (That’s probably my 60s-era bad attitude showing up, as it is wont to do these days.) Like the other products mentioned here, it is free for basic use. Sync says it uses encryption and otherwise is better at protecting my privacy than the competition.

Backup Is On You

With Trello and Evernote and Facebook and Google Calendar and everything else web-based, backing up your data is your job – not theirs. Procedures and file formats differ, so be sure to find out the ways to save copies from the cloud down to something local under your control. Then – and this is important – slot the time into your regular routine actually to DO those backups. It’s the old umbrella-toting-rainstorm-averting theory – if you make backups you’ll probably never need them. So make them.

Privacy

Yeah, not so much. I recommend assuming, at a minimum, that what you put up in the Cloud is or may be subject to anonymous data-mining. In addition, personally, I wouldn’t use any of these tools to store usernames and passwords, Social Security and other such valuable identifying numbers, large address books and contacts directories, valuable intellectual property, and confidential documents. Sync’s website includes a blog post itemizing some of the more egregious privacy policies out there.

The Monster in the Shadows

Okay, I admit it. Not covered here is a recommendation for the tool that facilitates easy collaboration on an actual document. That’s because I’m still looking for something better than Track Changes in Word. Please understand, by that I mean I really really really want to find something better. I have been known to wail, curse, stamp my feet, sigh, and otherwise demonstrate my utter frustration with that inadequate, inelegant, outdated tool. One that I’ve read interesting things about is called Draft. Here’s its info page about version tracking and revisions.

PS – In the day since this blogpost went up, I’ve come across a few more things on this topic. Two colleagues and fellow BACCA-ites chimed in: Bethany Joy Carlson mentioned Google Docs as a useful alternative to Word for some purposes (although I’ve also seen negative reviews of it for security concerns, for example), and C E Cameron is checking out Scrivener (as I am). And then I recalled having seen mention of Poetica for online document collaboration. And then I realized that Jane Friedman’s recent blog post about alternatives to Word may have been the place I learned about Poetica.

What do you think? Do these and other tools help you keep the overwhelm at a manageable distance? Please tell us in the Comments below.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, is a founding member of BACCA, and is CEO of Chenille Books which provides editing and coaching services to authors.

 

Variations on a Theme – A M Carley Interviews Elizabeth SaFleur Part Two

a red rose

Elizabeth SaFleur’s avatar is a red rose

The erotic romance writer ‘Elizabeth SaFleur‘ and I sat down this spring. Although we have been acquainted for years, we discovered something new in common – we each are active in a writer group. Elizabeth agreed to answer my questions, which I emailed to her, about how the “cp’s” (critique partners) in her writer’s posse operate. The group differs in many ways from what I’m used to as a writer in BACCA. And yet, both Elizabeth and I benefit greatly from our groups. Just goes to show!

In this, this second part of the interview, Elizabeth shows how crucial the message ‘stop futzing’ can be, explains what to do when all the members of your group use pseudonyms, and looks at the valuable contributions the other writers have made to her progress. In the first half of our interview, we learned how these critique partners began working together, discussed how they exchange work, and discovered the title of Elizabeth’s very first novel (written at age seven). 

AMC  You write under a pseudonym. How has that affected your relationships with the other writers in your group? Have you met face to face? Do you know one another’s real names? Do you think this has an effect on your sense of security in the group? Did you all agree to protect the confidentiality of the group – “What happens in Vegas…” sort of deal?

ESF  I know two of them by their real names. And, a third by her pseudonym only. After about six months, I told them my real name. But, basically we call each other by our pseudonyms just to ensure the anonymity “sticks.”

These writers know what’s at stake, and have to deal with it in their own lives. So I feel 100% safe with them.

In the beginning, we talked a lot about security and privacy. So, it’s been pretty well-drilled that we would never “out” anyone in this group to anyone outside the group. I feel very secure in this group. In fact, they probably understand where I’m coming from regarding anonymity more than my “real life” friends. These writers know what’s at stake, and have to deal with it in their own lives. So I feel 100% safe with these fellow writers.

I’ll meet two of the cps [critique partners] for the first time face-to-face this summer at a romance writer’s conference. I can hardly wait, as I am quite invested in their work and success, and count them as friends.

AMC  What are the ground rules? Do you have guidelines about how to critique, how you structure your comments, how critical to be, etc.? Or have you collectively found your way with these matters? Do you write up formal critiques, or is it more conversational?

ESF  We have no ground rules, except perhaps this: What will make the work better? As I mentioned, we’re self-policed. Generally, we ask each other where we want input – developmentally, line-edits, just another set of eyes, etc. Each person has a unique perspective. For instance, one of our members is a professional editor and published author of sci-fi/fantasy erotic romance. Another writes regency erotic romance as well as contemporary erotica. All three of them are actually published (or it’s imminent). So, I count myself lucky to be working with them.

We have no ground rules, except perhaps this: What will make the work better?

AMC  Is someone the leader, or is it more collaborative? Do you change leadership/administrative roles from time to time?

ESF  There’s no leader, per se. It’s collaborative, where each person contributes where they can. Each one of us has unique contributions to make, not just in the writing craft and critiquing, but in publishing, marketing, social media and all the other things that go along with trying to write books that someone will actually buy. We share the “knowledge wealth” whenever we can.

AMC  Does the group want or have a public identity, collectively?

ESF  Other than calling us the “writerly posse” there’s no name or identity.

We’re completely informal. It doesn’t work like a normal writer’s group, but rather more like four people who thank the stars we found each other.

AMC  Has anyone ever missed a meeting? Not submitted work when it was due? How does that work?

ESF  Since we don’t have meetings, no one’s missed any. LOL Again, we’re completely informal. It doesn’t work like a normal writer’s group, but rather more like four people who thank the stars we found each other. Given what we write (steamy romance), it’s important for writers who see our work, first, not blush from head to toe and, second, understand what we’re trying to do. Not everyone “appreciates” our genre.

AMC  If you could change anything about your writer group as it is now, what would you change?

ESF  If there is anything I could change about my writing life – or this group — is that I’d be engaged full-time. I hope to get there next year. But, in the meantime, I wish I had more time – time to write, time to critique, time to just chat with these authors more.

I wrote my first novel when I was seven: The Mystery of the Bunny. Oh, yeah, a real bestseller!

AMC  Has being in the writer group affected your writing life? Have things happened with your writing career that might not have, otherwise?

ESF  After reading a new opening chapter of one of my books, one of my cps ended her email critique with this line: Now finish the book! There is a strong emphasis in our group to complete the novel. That’s one of the greatest gifts this writing group has given me. I’d still be futzing with the first 50 pages of Lovely – three years later – if this little band of writers hadn’t told me to STOP FUTZING!

Albercht Durer's 'Young Hare"

Does This Bunny Look Mysterious?

AMC  What are the next steps for you in your writing career?

ESF  Later this year I have a short story coming out in a Christmas anthology through Troll River Publications. My first novel, Lovely, is being reviewed by a publisher. Then I have four more books started and plotted in the series. If everything goes as planned, Lovely will be out in January 2015, with the other four novels published thereafter, spaced six weeks apart. After that? Well, I have an idea for a dystopian “vanilla” romance. There is no shortage of ideas! Just time…

AMC  Anything else before we close?

ESF  Thank you for the interview. It was fun to share the immense contributions my writers posse has made to me and my writing. I only hope I’ve adequately returned the favor to them.

Feel free to drop me a line anytime, too. I can be reached through my site or on Twitter @ElizaLoveStory. Happy writing and reading everyone!

AMC  Elizabeth, thanks so much.

— A M Carley is a founding member of BACCA and provides author services at her company, Chenille Books.

Variations on a Theme – A M Carley Interviews Elizabeth SaFleur Part One

a red rose

Elizabeth SaFleur’s avatar is a red rose

The erotic romance writer ‘Elizabeth SaFleur’ and I sat down recently. Although we have been acquainted for years, we discovered something new in common – we each are active in a writer group. Elizabeth agreed to answer my questions, which I emailed to her, about how the “cp’s” (critique partners) in her writer’s posse operate. The group differs in many ways from what I’m used to as a writer in BACCA. And yet, both Elizabeth and I benefit greatly from our groups. Just goes to show! In the first half of our interview, Elizabeth tells us how these critique partners began working together, explains how they exchange work, and reveals the title of her very first novel (written at age seven). The second part of the interview discusses how crucial the message ‘stop futzing’ can be, explains what to do when all the members of your group use pseudonyms, and takes a look at the valuable contributions the other writers have made to Elizabeth’s progress.

AMC  First of all, thanks a lot for doing this, Elizabeth. It’s so interesting to compare notes about how various writer groups do what they do.

ESF It is my pleasure!

AMC  What do you write? How long have you been doing it, and how did you begin?

ESF  I write contemporary erotic romance with a very high heat level. Many of my stories include BDSM elements (emphasis on D/s over S/M) that feature alpha heroes and sassy heroines. For years, my characters “talked” to me, asking me to write their stories. After a while they got hard to ignore (especially the Doms. ;-)). When my professional life reached a “satisfaction plateau” (read: I got bored), I started to write down conversations and scenes that came to me. Next thing I knew, I was writing a novel. Now I have a whole series mapped out – The Elite Doms of Washington.

an old-fashioned thermometer

High Heat Level

AMC  How did you meet your writer group members?

ESF  My first critique partner (cp) was found through the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which has a fantastic, free online writer’s forum. Writers post stories, and other writers will critique them. I had a few flashers (under 200 word) stories published in their gallery. After about six months of posting work and critiquing the work of others, a writer posted she sought someone to critique her novels off-line. Since she writes very similar stories to me, we teamed up. Then, she introduced me to other writers in our genre. Voila! A writer’s posse was born.

AMC  How many of you are in the group? Has the membership stayed the same, or do people come and go? How long have you been together? Does every member send out work for each meeting, or do you rotate on a schedule?

ESF  There are four of us in this “writer’s posse,” which is the only name I’ve ever heard us call our little band of authors. No one has left yet. But, there’s no formal agreement, either. We just help each other out. And honestly I can’t imagine writing without these folks. We’ve been together for about a year. We have no formal schedule, but rather just share work when it’s ready to be critiqued. But, we also know what each person is working on and “nudge” each other when we start falling behind our self-imposed deadlines. We share everything from snippets to whole chapters, from rewrites to the entire novel at once.

AMC  How frequently do you send new material around for critique? Do you limit the word count for material?

ESF  There’s no limit, though each one of us primarily works on about 80K to 100K word novels. An occasional short story is thrown in now and again. I’d say about every other week I’m sent something to read and crit, and they have something of mine. It really keeps things moving!

a police hat with checkered band

This hat is available on ebay in Australia

Our contributions are self-policed. Each person is responsible for ensuring their own writing time isn’t supplanted by critiquing others’ work. But, when we need help, we ask for it. We’re all pretty honest about what we can do. Sometimes, we even help protect the others’ writing time. For instance, one of my cps is on deadline. So, I won’t ask her to do anything new for me right now. Instead, I keep telling her to send me her writing as soon as she can so I can help! When we need time to work on our own material, everyone honors it. So far, it’s been quite balanced.

AMC  Do you meet in real time: on the phone/Skype, or messaging, or online meeting? Or are your interactions time-shifted, using email or other means?

ESF  We do a lot over email, sending documents back and forth. But, we also have phone chats through conference bridges or Google hangout. When one of us suggests numerous edits or developmental shifts, it’s just easier to talk it out.  We also help each other brainstorm when we hit plot roadblocks or feel like we’re losing our “writerly mojo.” I’ve often been talked “off the ledge” by these wonderful cps.

AMC  When you and I first met, years ago, we were both focused on writing songs – lyrics and music. How have you come to write novels?

ESF  I have wanted to be a fiction writer my whole life. I wrote my first novel when I was seven: The Mystery of the Bunny. Oh, yeah, a real bestseller! But, my well-meaning parents and friends told me I should find a “real job.” Back then I was very good at doing what I was told; I had a very successful 30 year public relations career. But as my business grew more successful, I grew less satisfied. So, after turning 50, I decided to go back to my first love – writing.

Find your own writers group or writer’s posse. But, don’t be afraid to share your work outside it, too.

The songwriting was fun. I also tried my hand at screenwriting about ten years ago. But, in the end, my stories demanded to be “born” via full-length novel. Once I started writing in that format, I couldn’t stop. That’s a pretty big clue in my book (no pun intended).

AMC  Have you developed friendships with members of your group, or is it important to you to maintain a separation from the rest of your life?

ESF  I count them as friends. But, we also honor the privacy of each other’s private life. We don’t go into great detail, but we do talk about our pets, our weekend plans and other little things that crop up. I don’t hide things from them, but I also don’t want to burden them with a lot of personal stuff. Our books’ characters’ lives keep us quite busy in that way!

AMC  How has being in your writer group changed your writing? Your attitude about writing? Your identity as a writer and your plans for the future as a writer? For me, being in a writer group – and having a writing deadline to meet – helped me make the time to keep writing, even when the rest of life got hectic. Have you noticed that happening for you?

I don’t think I could have finished my first novel, Lovely, without them.

ESF  I’d say this group has changed my writing tremendously in two ways. First, my writing is better. Without them, I wouldn’t have grown the way I have. You can listen to podcasts, take online courses, reach craft books and more to help your writing. In the end, the only way to get better at writing it by doing it a lot – and having it critiqued in such a way that shows you what you can do better the next time. That’s what these other authors have done for me.

Secondly, I don’t think I could have finished my first novel, Lovely, without them. I might have given up. I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t see it. They could see plot holes, character shifts and other things that can sink a novel. Their generosity in sharing their time and talents helped me not only write better, but finish.

AMC  Do you have any recommendations for other writers out there?

ESF  I do have a few other people outside this group who have reviewed my work. I’d tell other authors to do the same. Find your own writers group or writer’s posse. But, don’t be afraid to share your work outside it, too.  For instance, a gentleman in the UK read one of my earliest drafts of Lovely. It was great to get a man’s perspective – and from someone completely outside my usual set of crit partners.

Feel free to drop me a line anytime, too. I can be reached through my site or on Twitter @ElizaLoveStory. Happy writing and reading everyone!

AMC  Elizabeth, thanks so much.

A M Carley is a founding member of BACCA and provides author services at her company, Chenille Books.

The Stories We Tell

I loved to make up stories when I was a kid. It seemed a simple, easy thing to do, back then. As I grew up, I stopped writing stories. Later, I committed to other art forms, and when I wrote sentences, I wrote nonfiction, not stories. Not long ago, I began again. I dared myself to try making up stories, by signing up for classes at WriterHouse.

Since then, I have slowly gotten more competent through practice, practice, and practice. My writer group, BACCA Literary, is one reason why. We first met, in fact, in a fiction class at WriterHouse.

This writer group has provided me with a monthly deadline for producing – well, something. We’ve been sharing work with one another for at least thirty months. I’ve emailed a Word document out to the others by the late-Friday deadline, every darn month. Well, there was one exception, when my family life was too chaotic, a couple of years ago. So let’s say I’ve been sharing work for at least 29 months and leave it at that.

Good Enough?

Sure, I recognize that I haven’t always sent my best work to the other three writers in the group. “Best” is relative, measured on a sliding scale. Over time, I raised my standards for what’s good enough to send out to the writer group members. After I allocated more time each month to work on writing, I became dissatisfied with my earlier stories. Now I can predict with confidence that the stories I am pleased with now will one day look a little shabby to me.

Your Best doesn't always look the same

Your Best doesn’t always look the same

Meanwhile, I have become less able to turn off the inner voice whispering, “Go ahead. Send something out and see if it gets published.” It was easy the first couple of years to hush that voice. I knew my work wasn’t ready to travel beyond the writer group.

For new-ish writers like me, hushing that voice gets trickier over time. We want to believe we’re improving. We want to believe there’s going to be an audience one day, however small or particularly quirky that audience may reveal itself to be. We want to nourish the creative spirit that energizes our whole enterprise. We want to begin to send work out to people – strangers – not in our writer group. I considered how to start.

The P-Word

To prepare to send work out into the world, I set up a spreadsheet to track my efforts to get published. Then I let the spreadsheet sit for quite a while, untouched. Later on, I added a tab to my spreadsheet with key facts on the publications that most appealed to me – things like deadlines, formatting preferences, lag time before they decide what to publish, method of submission, categories they favor, contact information, etc. The enhanced spreadsheet sat again, for a long break. More recently, I actually sent a few things out and made entries into the spreadsheet. I’ve heard back with two rejections, which I dutifully entered into the appropriate cells. I’m waiting for replies from the others.

I hesitated to send out my work until I felt satisfied enough with it that it didn’t feel too embarrassing. I chose carefully the places I sent those first few submissions – not too grandiose, and yet consistent with who I am as a writer.

And that just begs the questions, doesn’t it?

Questions

Who am I, as a writer, and why am I doing this? Author Dan Holloway, in his recent essay, What Do You Want from Your Writing in 2014 and Beyond? at Jane Friedman’s blog, says:

“If you don’t know what you want from your writing, what on earth are you doing writing anything? How can you possibly tell whether your words do what you want them to?”

It’s actually not that hard a question. It rests on a more fundamental one. Why do you write?”

Please don’t tell me the answer is “I make art because I must.” To me, that feels lazy and self-aggrandizing in a “poor-me,” humblebrag kind of way. Besides it ignores free will.

the words, Why Write?

Oh. THAT question.

I could tell you I write because I’ve engaged with the challenge to improve my work. The challenge is difficult enough always to involve real effort, yet rewarding enough, because of the progress I am making, to continue to motivate me to get better at it.

I could tell you I write because my life with music was altered when hand surgery made playing instruments too difficult. I could tell you I write because I’ve grown old enough to take a longer and more loving view of life. I could tell you that there’s plenty to love about writing for its own sake. Polishing a story can make my day, even when no one else has seen it yet.

Also, the most fun I’ve had with my writing lately was when some visiting non-literary friends asked me to read them a piece after I cooked them dinner. That was a blast. My fellow BACCA-ite, Claire Elizabeth Cameron, touched on this recently when she wrote,

“People are doing work for free, work for fun, work for creativity all over the place, and it’s making this world a better place. Success [in writing] is making a connection.”

So why am I writing? To get better at it. To see how much I can improve. To see if my embarrassment-meter gives me the green light to send out stories to more publications. To see if I receive a green light in return. And, in the meantime, to keep telling stories.

#amwriting

A M Carley

A M Carley is a co-founder of BACCA Literary. She owns and operates Chenille Books where she works with nonfiction authors.

Support WriterHouse Cville and Bid for a BACCA Critique Session

WH logo

BACCA Literary is thrilled to be donating an authentic BACCA experience to the annual WriterHouse Words & Wine benefit Sunday afternoon, October 13, at Glass House Winery (in Free Union, just North and West of Charlottesville, VA). The benefit starts at 1pm and ends at 4pm.

The successful bidder at the silent auction will receive a full 4-member, 30-minute, in-person BACCA critique of up to 3,000 words of their manuscript. The customary value of this invaluable feedback is $100.

We’ll be following the same routine that has proved so useful to the BACCA members since January 2011:

1. Submit Work-In-Progress a full week in advance.
2. Meet to hear discussion of the work, following Whisnant’s code for great critiques.
3. Allow time for author Q&A.

The founding members of BACCA first met in a fiction class at WriterHouse, so it is particularly enjoyable for each of us to come full circle and give back some of the valuable encouragement and critiques that have taken our own writing to the next level. BJC

Be sure to join us at Words & Wine this October 13 at Glass House Winery! Admission of $35 includes food, wine, a gift, live music, and one raffle ticket. The silent auction will be held during the benefit. Full details at WriterHouse.org.

wine glass and bird of paradise