5 Reasons To Join A Writers Group

Okay, there are probably many more than five, but these are my top five reasons why writers should belong to a small, but active, writers group. In person or online, a good group can be a critical element to successful writing.

1. Regular feedback and support of your peers. Writing in a vacuum is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Having a group of people you meet regularly with gives you an opening to bounce ideas off of each other. You encourage each other and that is probably one of the most motivating things you can experience. It’s one thing to have your best friend gushing at how wonderful your writing is and quite another to have your peers cheering you on. They’re in the same boat. They understand the process. They’ve either already been there, are there now, or see they are going to be there – someday. They want you to succeed in the same way that they want to succeed. When it comes down to it, they have your back and you have theirs. At the same time, they will tell you honestly when they feel something needs fixed.

2. It’s a formidable tool for improving your writing skills. When you ask for feedback on a story, or a part of one, you are getting experienced feedback. They write too and, while they also make mistakes, other writers are much more likely to catch things that need to be fixed early on. Likewise, in giving feedback, you will also gain additional insights into your own work and sometimes see your own mistakes boldly mirrored in the other writers efforts. Of course, helping each other is what such groups are for, but it’s nice when you help someone else and yourself at the same time. Sideways as it were :) Editorial services can’t even come close the team work of a good crit group.

3. You have access to a wider range of experience you can call on for advice. In my original group, we had a diplomat who worked for the State Department. There was also an anthropologist and we had two spouses who were happy to help on technical issues, an aerospace engineer and an ex-military sergeant with some special forces experience. There were others with varied, though perhaps more ordinary, skills that were just as valuable. Since most of us wrote Science Fiction or Fantasy, these were a great asset. We had a pool of talents and experience to call on when questions arose. Even if we didn’t have anyone in our immediate group, there was usually someone who did have an outside contact we could ask.

4. They are with you for the long haul. It makes a huge difference when the same people are around from the beginning of your story, particularly if it’s a multi-book situation. If you need feedback on a scene in book two or three, you don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to get them to the point of understanding where you are in the story. They already know. They know you and your writing. Bouncing ideas off of them is easy. Any time I’ve tried it with others, it has seldom helped very much unless it was narrowly technical. Ultimately, they have time and interest invested in your writing, as you do in theirs and it’s in everyone’s interest to see a piece succeed. It tends to validate the group as a whole, not just the individual writer.

5. It’s more fun this way! Writers, like any other group, get more enthusiastic when they hang out together. You have fun. You challenge each other in small, sometimes silly, ways. Laughing together is a magnificent way to help overcome writer’s block. Discussions that take strange, totally off the wall directions free your imagination and often stimulate new story ideas.

So, what are your reasons for – or against for that matter?

I am starting up a new group soon, hopefully with some of the old hands coming along too. Comment if your interested. Where you are in the process doesn’t matter. Love of writing does.

Blueberry Tarts

I started making these tarts when I had lots of sour cherries to work with, these days it’s blueberries. I wanted a homemade version of toaster pastries. It works with any fruit, really. You need to vary the spices, the sugar and sometimes the corn starch to the fruit used. Apples and peaches generally need little sugar, sour cherries take more. I spice the way I would pies.

You want to make the filling ahead of time and chill for at least 4 hours. I prep and chill the pastry, except for adding the water, ahead of time as well. Not only does this significantly cut down on prep at breakfast, it helps keep the filling from leaking out.

Filling:

2 1/2 C Blueberries, fresh or frozen (or other fruit)

1/4 – 1/2 C sugar

2 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients together in med. saucepan. Add fruit and about a tablespoon of water to start. Cook over low heat until fruit begins to release juice, then increase to medium heat. Bring to a slow boil and simmer till quite thick, stirring often. This will take from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on fruit, longer if frozen. Chill

Pastry:

3 C All Purpose Flour *

2 teaspoons Baking Powder

1 (scant) teaspoon Salt

11/2 tablespoon Sugar (do not omit!)

1 C Butter, softened (I would not recommend margarine in this recipe)

1/3 C water

*If desired, you can use half plain flour and half self-rising flour, then omit baking powder and salt.

Blend dry ingredients. Use pastry cutter to blend in butter until close to the consistency of cornmeal. Chill.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Blend in water, a little at a time until all dough is moist. It should be slightly moister than standard pie pastry, but not sticky. Check it by squeezing with your hands, it sometimes will look drier than it is. When well blended, take about 1/3 of the dough and press into a even rectangle on floured board. Roll dough to 6 X 12 inches, 1/8 in thick. Cut into 8 – 3 X 3 squares. They won’t be exact, don’t worry about it. You can roll each a little more as you fill, if needed. Moisten two adjacent sides and place a large spoonful of filling in center. Gently fold pastry over filling into a triangle joining dry to moist edges and seal the edges. This is why you must chill the filling (and thicken it). Be careful not to let the filling get on the edges. Do not overfill. Make sure your edges are well sealed.

Place on greased cookie sheet and use a sharp knife to cut slits in the top of the pastry. This is as important as sealing the edges and not over filling. If you don’t, steam will cause the pastry to separate and you’ll have filling on the pan instead of in the pastry.

 

 

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the pastry is just starting to brown at the edges. Cool slightly. The filling will burn your mouth faster than hot pizza. They reheat in the toaster nicely and the pastry will tolerate being packed for travel. I make these for camping trips.

Makes 20 – 24 tarts

 

Let me know, if you think of any creative variations. I am always looking for new ideas in the kitchen.

Some Resources For Writers

Navigating the web looking for information is not something I like to do. It takes time. It can be difficult, but there are some really good resources out there. Here is a list of some useful sites for writers. Note, these are in no particular order.

The Writer’s Daily http://paper.li/eandtsmom/1330524591 This is a newspaper with a good mix of articles on writing, industry news, etc.

Absolute Write http://absolutewrite.com/ This is a Large writers resource site with articles, forums, etc. for every genre and pretty much all writing levels.

Writer’s Digest http://www.writersdigest.com/ This group has been around for a very long time – before internet. This is an excellent place for market research, including lists of publishers, editors, agents and what they are looking for right now. They also have good articles on the craft of writing, publication tips, and other items of interest.

Preditors and Editors pred-ed.com As the name suggests, this site is devoted to exposing publishing scams of all kinds and keeps lists of good/bad publishers/editors/agents. I highly recommend checking with them before signing anything with anyone.

This list would not be complete without mentioning the many genre professional organizations, many of whom have a lot to offer non-members visitors. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America are two examples. There are as many as there are genres in literature. These days, they all have websites.

I am not including in this list any of the blogs or indie book promotion sites, simply because they are too many and I would be sure to leave out someone important.

Happy Writing!

Worldbuilding Consistently

I reread Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall, (published in 1941) last night for the first time in years and was impressed – and reminded of something that occasionally happens with authors in worldbuilding. Especially when dealing with a different belief system than the author really wants to give credence to. I encourage you to go back and read that short story. Asimov does not intrude with his own commentary anywhere in the story. All differing viewpoints are held and expressed by the various characters in the story. He keeps all those viewpoints consistent with what the society both knew and believed. He kept his own opinions out of it.

There is another author, that I won’t name here, who is not quite so honest in her writing. The stories contain a certain belief system and a certain degree of actual spiritual power and influence. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, when you build a world that way, you need to stay honestly in the world that you’ve built. Just because you’ve written about a world where magic is real, does not mean you believe in magic as you write it. If you, as the author, happen to want to question the validity of the magic, or any belief, then it should be done by the characters in the story. Not ever, not even once, should the author inject narrative commentary to throw doubts on the belief system. If you feel the need, write a disclaimer as an afterword.

This is critical for Science Fiction and Fantasy worlds, where we are dealing with societies that don’t exist and their belief systems (and abilities) are limited only by our imaginations. I don’t go into depth on the religious beliefs of Sorth because it isn’t necessary. Their psychic abilities give them perceptions beyond ours. What is a matter of belief for us is closer to established fact for them. Within the story, I accept that.

Tolkien built a world where magic existed, mostly as a more subtle force, and he stayed consistent with it. He established the background of how that world came to be and what the rules were there. He stuck to it. Any questioning of how that world worked could only come from characters within that world.

The same thing is true of StarWars. Lucas allows scoffing at the Force from the very beginning by characters within the story, but he doesn’t let that change the way he designed that universe. He also does not intrude any thoughts, opinions or beliefs from outside the world he has built. They either are already there, or simply don’t exist within that context.

I have also done some role-playing over the years. This is similar in that whatever you have determined the rules of your world to be, the story has to stay within those bounds and you’re own, real world view points must not intrude. If you are not comfortable with the rules of your world, change them. It is your world, after all.

Mountains Of Thyme

Thyme. Thyme. Thyme. I really do have mountains of thyme, or at least a mountain of thyme. I love growing my own herbs. They are so superior to anything in the store that they aren’t even the same critter. The work to dry and store most of them is small compared to the return. Both flavor and nutrients are more potent. This year, the herbs have exploded while the rest of the garden has struggled.

Sage is extremely easy. Oregano, mint and lemon balm only require removal of any bad leaves. Basil can be a little more difficult, mainly in cleaning any soil off without bruising the leaves. Parsley is quick to snip. All these I harvest several times during the summer.

Thyme is the most tedious, though it also dries the quickest. I grow the old fashioned thyme, which has the best flavor, but also the smallest leaves. Separating the leaves from the stems is taking hours. The stems break easier than the leaves come off and can be too small to see easily. It’s driving me slightly nuts. I can feel my eyes crossing.

When I’m done though, there will be enough for a year with some left to share. It helps if I keep reminding myself I only have to do a serious thyme harvest once a year.

 

Laughter Is The Best Medicine!

“A merry heart doeth good like medicine,,,” The ability to see humor in an otherwise stressful situation lightens our heart. It’s crucial to reducing that stress. Find the humor in making a mistake and you’ve taken the negative away so you can focus on the solution. We do this every day.

But how about our writing? Do your characters find the humor in the little things they encounter? Do you spice things up with humorous description of something common place? One of my favorite humorous tidbits is in Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor in describing a low-level insertion flight as “like being in the womb of a woman addicted to disco dancing”. He accomplished two things. I had absolutely no trouble getting his point and I laughed. Laughing breaks the tension a tiny bit to keep the story from getting too grim. The serious things are still there, but the characters face them with a good heart.

Ah, but you are writing a serious book, maybe even non-fiction. Humor is a great way to identify with characters and get a point across. No matter what you write, a bit of humor now and then will make your reader come back for more.  Nearly all of the books that I consider favorites are books that have a touch of humor to them. The humor is not the object of these books and the stories often deal with serious situations.That does not keep these wise writers from realizing that humor, just like love, is a part of life and we should allow our characters to express it – or cause it. That touch makes them human (even when they’re alien).

In one of Barbara Hamby’s books, The Witches of Wenshar, she opens the book with Starhawk thinking it was her misfortune to travel with a man capable of putting his foot in his mouth to the knee and still able to speak intelligibly. * If I had never read the author at all, that line would have sold me. It conveyed both conflict and a character with a sense of the ridiculous.

In Warrior Song, there is a serious scene discussing the activities of a probable traitor. Serious stuff. Shazir makes a comment about reality eventually biting his (the traitor’s) tail off. Now, the traitor doesn’t have a tail – but Shazir does. It would be a perfectly natural way for him to describe his thought and all the more amusing since the subject is human.

If you find your writing getting bland, tensely serious, or even depressing try finding a bit of humor, either in what’s happening, or how the character perceives the things around them. Let them do the human thing of laughing at what is troubling them. Your readers will love you for it.

Laugh in the best of times and in the worst of times.

 

* This is not an exact quote as this is one of the many books I lost in a fire.

Writer’s Groups and Crit Teams

I find myself in a slightly terrifying position. I’ve worked with the same writer’s group that was also a cooperative crit team for years. The numbers dwindled  over time, as some had dry spells and drifted away, or fell by the wayside, for whatever reason. One of my most important writing partners seems to have dropped off the face of the earth these last few months. This is not good. These folks, several of whom became good friends, have been a part of the development of the Talmanor trilogy from the early days. Who am I going to find to argue the plot points that may need changing in the third book? Help me to see what I have over looked? Anyone else is going to have to play catch up, at the very least. Of course, they’d get the books already published in the deal, but still….

No book ever comes to market by the writer alone. Somewhere, there are others who support, encourage, call you out on errors and generally help you stay on track. You do the same things for them. It is – and must be – mutual. I see now that I should have made more of an effort a long time ago to get new blood in the group.

It looks like I am going to have to start a new one. I hardly know where to begin. Our original group came out of a much larger group where we met often in chat over a decade ago. This has been on my mind for a while now. I believe it’s time to get it done.

This looks like a good place to start. :) Anyone out there interested in starting a new writer’s group with a slight SciFi/Fantasy bias, but open to other genres?

Here are a couple older posts that will give you an idea of what I have in mind.

http://bit.ly/1aLrzRR

http://bit.ly/1hnYCSn

You don’t have to be a published author, just serious about your writing and willing to have a little fun in the process.

The Ones Who Matter Are The Ones Who Care

The ones who matter are the ones who care – and the ones who don’t care, don’t matter.

I guess we all have people we love who don’t really seem to love us back. Friends, even family, for whom our caring is of no consequence. They can’t be bothered to keep us in the loop about things happening in their lives. It’s sad and sometimes deeply disturbing to see casual disregard by someone you should have close ties with. I have reached a point in my life where I can no longer let them matter to me either.

There comes a time when you have to take stock and clear out the clutter in your heart. You still care, but you have to shield your own feelings against the callousness of others. You can’t expend much of your energy on one-sided relationships.

The ones who matter are the ones who care. Those who share their thoughts, their lives with you. They stay connected. They are there when you need them – and when you don’t. If something important happens in their life, they take the time to share it with you. They not only expect you to share with them, they welcome it. They stay in touch.

I will focus my energy on those who are in my life, who stick with me whatever happens to be going on in our lives. Maybe we don’t get to see each other very often. Maybe life keeps us going in different directions most of the time, but the connection remains.The caring remains.

There are a very few who I feel would be there- no matter what. You know, I’d be there for them – no matter what, too. Most of those are not even related to us. That does not keep them from being brothers and sisters of the heart.

 

A Panther In The Yard!

A few years ago, we had four Fainting goats. I happened to look out the kitchen window one Friday morning just as all four of them fell over, as they do when threatened. My instant reaction was to yell for my husband to bring his gun, something was after the goats. I was right – and wrong. Soon, he was in the yard, scanning the edge of the woods and saw a rather large black panther (yes, they do live in the Southeast).  We were somewhat alarmed that his shot missed and changed our plans for the weekend.

Instead of going with the rest of the family on a trip that weekend, he stayed behind to make sure it didn’t come back. Before the rest of us left, he’d already called the local game warden to report it. The game warden said he’d get back to him.

The facts surprised us all. The panther turned out to be a pregnant female that had gone missing from her cage at a nearby truck stop while she was on her way to Florida. Her cubs were to be raised for release into the Everglades. She had managed to get out of her cage, looking for a secure place to give birth. She found what she wanted in a small cave near our house. When she terrified our goats, she wasn’t after them. She had been raised on cat food and had never eaten fresh meat. She had smelled our cats and was looking for a handout!

After they tracked her down and collected her and her new cubs, they stopped by our house to let us know what had happened. Roland even got to pet her and said she was just a very large hearth kitty. Boy, was he ever glad that his scope was off that day!

Our own black cat took one look at the panther Roland was petting and gave him her worst stink eye, as if to say, “You are NOT bringing THAT into the house!”

Our beagle had long since done the prudent thing and hid under the computer desk.

I Can Be Consistently Inconsistent

I hit the walking track this morning for the first time in several days. Walking is good. It’s healthy for your body and gives you uninterrupted thinking time. One thought led to another. Yes, I really do need to make the effort to walk every day, or at least more often. When the word consistent popped into my head, I remembered a statement I heard years ago at a seminar, “You may not be consistent, but you can be consistently inconsistent“. Okay, I can do that.

I may not walk every day, but I do walk. I may not write daily like I should, but I still write. Sometimes, I even get a touch of consistency with my writing, for a week, or a month, or a year before life intervenes and disrupts the pattern. I am consistently inconsistent. Sometimes I’m slow. Sometimes I stall altogether, but words do get written. I haven’t quit.

I even have times where the words flow so effortlessly that I have to depend on my family to make sure I come out for meals. I wish those times were far more often, and I’ll bet you do too. That’s what the Blog Challenge is all about. It helps build habits of daily writing, or restores lost ones.

It’s encouraging, I think, that even when we can’t be consistent, we can be consistently inconsistent and still move forward.

Happy Writing :)