Turn! Turn! Turn! – A Writer Group Evolves

I could practically hear The Byrds harmonizing to McGuinn’s twanging 12-string, doing their famous rendition of Pete Seeger’s song adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The morning of our annual June retreat, our writer group received the news that one of our own would not be joining us for the weekend. In fact, she was leaving the writer group altogether.

Her note was moving and heartfelt. Good things in her life were superseding her writing in importance. I knew this to be true. I shed some tears and thought about how different the weekend was now going to be. So much depended on the four of us who remained.

I felt optimistic, because we already had some experience with changes. We got started back in 2011, when four of us attended a fiction class at WriterHouse , our local writing nonprofit, and decided to continue as a critique group. We adopted – and then adapted – the critique guidelines from Luke Whisnant that our teacher had recommended to the class, and established a reliable monthly schedule which we all observed.

Gang of Four

We thrived as a foursome for a number of years. We wrote, published, funded our projects, promoted them, and all the while sent in monthly segments of new work for discussion. We grew as writers, and as a group. We even did a series of public presentations on the benefits of committing to a writer group.

the first BACCA logo (2011) with four berries on it

Our original logo, for the four-writer membership

Then one of us made some big changes to her life. She got married, accepted a new professorship at a university far from our base in Charlottesville, and had a baby. The combined distance, responsibilities, and changed focus meant she could only meet with us sometimes, and via Skype, not face to face in the usual coffee shops, offices, and living rooms where we congregated.

Changing Numbers

So, in effect, we were a more often a group of three than four. Undaunted, we put out the word that we sought a new writer to join us. A few interviews later, we wound up with not one but two engaging new voices to join the chorus.

The six of us rallied for one final retreat, all together, last summer in Virginia. Then our far-flung writer announced that it was unlikely she’d be able to join us in future, even by Skype, what with teaching, the baby, and a forthcoming academic book in the works.

It made total sense, and we helped where we could, beta-reading portions of her book, and cooing over photos of the new baby. We missed her, each in our own ways, and welcomed the two new writers to our circle. We evolved.

A new five-member vibe emerged. Then another of our original writers let us know she’d be withdrawing for a time. She had exigent priorities, related to the events of 12 August 2017. Those of you not in the Charlottesville, VA area may not have felt the urgency that the day created among many of us to do something in the wake of the horror and violence. In the aftermath, our writer was drawn to investigate, and withdrew for a time from the rhythm of sending in several thousand words per month to our writer group. We supported her decision, needless to say. In fact, many questions remain, almost a year later, about who did what – and did not do what – to and for whom on that day, not to mention what factors led to the conditions that resulted in so much harm – to individual people and to the community.

So we were, temporarily, four. Knowing that our fifth writer was likely to return, we left an extra seat at the table for six months or so. Sadly, at the end of her leave of absence, she had found no resolution. Like many Charlottesvillians, she discovered the answers to her questions remained stubbornly out of reach.

She rejoined active participation in our group, once again a circle of five writers. It felt good. The number gave us more flexibility. If one of us were out of town, we still had a satisfying foursome at the monthly critique. I remember reflecting that our writer group had its own life force, its own reason for being. In addition, we each demonstrated our care for the group itself, tending to it with kindness and intelligence.

Life went on this way for a little while. Earlier this year, we all anticipated the retreat, scheduled for mid-June. As in prior years, we’d rented a place, planned shared activities, along with ample solitary time, and looked forward to sharing dinners assembled in the kitchen, enjoyed by all.

Then on the morning of what was to be our first day together, we got the email. Our instigator, the person who in 2011 first invited three other writers to do a critique, had come to the end of the road with BACCA. Just as had happened a year before with the new mother / academic transplant, her reasons were overwhelmingly positive and beyond reproach. As I re-read the email, I saw how happy her life had become. A new career, marriage, a home in the country – all these developments were worthy of celebration.

Now We Are Four – Again

When the remaining four of us met up at the retreat, we all had some adjusting to do. Now half of us were old-timers – around since 2011 – and half of us had been involved for eighteen months or so. What effects would that new balance have on our equilibrium?

It didn’t take long to find out. By the next day, at our scheduled critique meeting, we found ourselves already functioning as an effective, collegial, purposeful, compassionate, and committed group of four.

Happily, as do the other BACCA writers, I remain connected to the two writers who have departed from active involvement with the group. It is a great pleasure to know both of these fellow writers, now friends, and to enjoy the conversational styles and senses of humor unique to each of them. I am filled with admiration for the ways each of them has designed a life that gives them joy.

cropped-bacca-6-olives-purple980pw.png

We’re keeping the six-berry logo.

Turn, Turn, Turn

And as for BACCA, once again, our shared intention to serve the group overcame the uncertainty. As the song goes, to everything there is a season. Once again, BACCA reconfigured itself and evolved. May your writer group do the same.

— 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. Decks of 52 FLOAT Cards for Writers are available from Baine’s Books in Scottsville and Appomattox, VA, at the Chenille Books website, and on Amazon. Anne’s writer handbook, 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 

 

 

 

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.

Kickstarter For Writers

Most Kickstarter publishing category campaigns fail to raise even a fifth of their funding goals. Data nerds like me may want to visit kickstarter.com/help/stats for the full post-mortem. Suffice to say: raising money to publish your book is really hard.

Failure Rate

But it’s not impossible. I have produced successful Kickstarter campaigns for writers, ranging from a gritty New Jersey mob memoir with a ten-pin twist, to a gleefully adorable children’s picture book introducing entrepreneurship. Their successes were not a coincidence. Despite their very different audiences, their paths to success were nearly the same.

Bowling For The Mob  Camila's Lemonade Stand

I’m looking forward to teaching an afternoon workshop at WriterHouse on February 16, 2014, to walk through these case studies and what we can learn from them. For now, I’m happy to share three of the ten essentials for Kickstarter success for writers.

  1. Tap into your extrovert and PROMOTE. This is conjecture, but perhaps the reason book campaigns fail disproportionately is because writers tend to be introverts. We want that loophole whereby our work will be found without us having to tell anyone about it. Nope. The Kickstarter campaign is excellent sales boot camp. For both Bowling For The Mob and Camila’s Lemonade Stand, we had a month of promotion prior to the campaign before launch. The goal was to make sure everyone relevant heard about the campaign at least 10 times during the 30 days before launch, through the 30 days up to close.
  2. Map out the money in advance. The occasional Kickstarter campaign goes viral, even books. However, all 125,000 campaigns in the history of Kickstarter have not. In all likelihood, yours will not. So you need to know both exactly how much money you need to produce your book, and exactly where that money is going to come from. After learning the nail-biting hard way on Bowling For The Mob, for Camila’s Lemonade Stand we went through a detailed Kickstarter Estimator process before the campaign launch. This was like a wedding guest list, but with the added columns of how much money the invitees were likely to pledge, and for what kind of reward. Then we applied the 65% rule – because not everyone we invited to the campaign was going to show up (they didn’t).  So let’s say we need to raise $6,500 to produce a book. We sit down and tally up all of our friends, colleagues, family, and fans, and what they’re likely to pledge. That comes to $10,000. We multiply by 65%, get $6,500, and voila, this is a campaign that has a chance to succeed. If, on the other hand, we need $20,000 to produce the book, and then we tally up our likely pledges and that comes to $5,000, well… we don’t even need to bother with the 65% rule. This campaign is almost certainly going to fail. 65 Rule
  3. Shoot a decent, short video. Kickstarter makes a big deal about having a video – any video. People want to see and hear from you. Good light and good sound go a long ways towards making a homemade video watchable. For Bowling For The Mob we had Bob sit directly under a skylight and used a microphone and an iPhone propped on a soda cup; For the Camila’s Lemonade Stand video we used a bright floor lamp with the shade removed behind the camera and a Samsung Galaxy phone with a tripod and microphone. Neither of these videos will win any awards, but they are watchable, informative, and they are SHORT. Don’t underestimate how brief attention spans are. Keep it under 3 minutes.

No Oscars. Successfully funded.

These 3 are the tip of the iceberg. At the seminar we’ll be covering how to tap into the extrovert and promote, how to map out the money in advance, and how to shoot a decent, short video. We’ll also be covering how to pick rewards and at what pledge levels, the (somewhat complicated) mechanics of setting up the necessary accounts for payment processing, some (hilarious!) case studies of what not to do, how to stay within key Kickstarter guidelines so that your project gets approved, what to do when you hit the mid-campaign slump, among other essential elements to success.

kickstarter for writers

If you only take away one idea from this post, it would be “if you build it, they will come” does not apply to Kickstarter. Some lucky folks are salespeople by nature. The rest of us need to practice the steps to master them. And it’s easier to do it with a team.

This creepy crap only works in 80’s Costner movies

If you’ve read this whole post thinking, “what the heck is Kickstarter?!?”, you’re not alone. For Bowling For The Mob, the campaign was the first Kickstarter experience for the writers and a majority of the people who pledged. It’s a fundraising platform for artistic projects which, since 2009, has raised nearly a billion dollars. The best way to learn more is to wander around on Kickstarter.com. Enjoy!

If you’re considering Kickstarter to fund your book, it’s hard – but possible. No hocus pocus required.

Please consider yourself invited to the Kickstarter for Writers seminar at WriterHouse on 2/2/14.

Please visit the successful campaigns for Bowling For The Mob and Camila’s Lemonade Stand.

And, please feel free to stop by The Artist’s Partner for more information on the services I provide – like Kickstarter campaign production – to artists who want to keep a bigger share of the profits by producing and distributing their work.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a co-founder of BACCA Literary, a WriterHouse board member, and founder of The Artist’s Partner.

Don’t worry. You can’t pitch worse than 90’s Farley movies

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

BACCA Literary at Virginia Festival of the Book 2013!

Before there is a book to publish, before the agent, before the copyeditor, there is the intense process of writing. This session is by writers-in-progress, for writers-in-progress, and focuses on the process of becoming a better writer within a supportive community. Learn from the four members of BACCA Literary, a Charlottesville, VA writer group, how to build your own. Co-sponsored by WriterHouse (Charlottesville), where the members of BACCA first met.

BACCA is:
Claire Cameron PhDA M CarleyBethany Joy CarlsonCarolyn O’Neal.

Come join the four members of BACCA Literary at this FREE event at Virginia Festival of the Book.

We’ll talk about Creating a Great Writing Group.

Mark your calendar!

WHEN:  10am, Saturday 23 March 2013.

WHERE:  The Omni Hotel, on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA.
Look for the Preston Room, inside The Pointe restaurant (turn Right inside the lobby doors, if you enter from the Downtown Mall).

  • Want to create your own writing group, or find out how to improve the one you’re in now?

  • Want to learn how to get help with your writing project, in a smart, supportive, ongoing environment?

  • Want to spend some time with other writers at a free event on a Saturday morning in a comfortable, windowed room on Publication Day at the Omni in Downtown Charlottesville?

See you there!

P.S.  If you want to tweet about our event, use hashtag #BACCALiterary