Monday, December 17, 2018

Three Ideas To Inspire Your Writing During The Holidays and Christmas Wishes

At certain times of the year, it can be more of a challenge to get into a productive frame of mind. Here are three tips to keep you on top of your writing during the holidays.
Travel as fodder for sparkling settings
Whether you are driving or boarding a flight to a holiday destination, there are hundreds of ideas to help with the setting of your story. Tap into your surroundings, engage your senses and always have a notebook ready.
Use family relationships for character development and dynamic scenes
During the festive season, unresolved family disagreements flare up. Use the opportunity to play the role of keen observer of both the verbal and non-verbal aspects. Complicated relationships in families is great fodder for a story and dinner table conversation can yield interesting information.
A Twist On Morning Relaxation
If the opportunity arises, make mention of your desire to 'sleep in' so as not to be disturbed. Then put in an hour or two of solid work in the privacy of your room, before you appear at the morning table.

Hopefully, you'll find time to write over the holidays and if not, indulge in some reading.
And most of all, find peace and joy in the season.
And believe.
Believe 2019 will be great.
"May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp, and peace in your heart." Eskimo Proverb

The IWSG Administrators would like to thank you for your support. We wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. We will see you again on January 2nd for IWSG post day when we announce the winners of the 2018 IWSG Anthology Contest.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Guest Nicola Morgan: Five Things to Know about Being Published

Photo © Rebecca Morgan
For clarity, by “being published” I mean by a trade publisher. That is one who takes on all the cost and financial risk and aims to make a profit by actively selling your book. In trade publishing, the author is asked for NO MONEY AT ANY STAGE and it is the publisher’s duty to market and sell the book. Authors do also join in promotional activities (see Point 4), may choose to buy extra items such as postcards and are expected to do a couple of unpaid events (always expenses-paid) but no financial input is ever requested.

However, four out of my five points also apply to self-publishing. I’ve done both and have had good and bad experiences of each, but I strongly prefer being published by a trade publisher, with a good publisher taking a big cut for doing a fantastic job, covering the costs and, crucially, selling so that I can devote my energies to writing.

Here are five things to know about being published.
There is no typical story of being published and no right way

Each author has a different experience, or even many different experiences, as the more books we write the more possibilities there are for successes and frustrations. We may have more than one publisher and write more than one type of book. One of the mistakes inexperienced (and some experienced authors) make is to hear a few stories that fit their beliefs and believe that reflects normality.

You hear things such as, “You need to know someone in the industry, otherwise you don’t stand a chance.” “Most authors are disappointed in their publishers.” “Publishers do nothing but keep almost all the money.” “Authors have no say in their cover design.” “Publishers don’t use editors/copy-editors/proof-readers nowadays.” “Authors have no control.”

Every one of the above a) is inaccurate but b) sometimes happens.

All books are different, all authors are different, all publishers are different, all genres are different, and the book fairy is wholly unreliable. You can do everything the same and still get a different result. This is more art than science and long may that remain true.

Every “successful” author is hiding failure and disappointment

We are all invisibly bruised and scarred. All bar none. We’ve had rejections and continue to get them, usually secretly. You’ll hear that so-and-so-superstar had umptymillion rejections in the past but you won’t hear the current failures, the times they were overlooked for an award, given a bad review, not invited to a festival, undermined in some painful way on Amazon or in a bookshop. To tell those stories publicly either undermines our own career or someone else’s, so we suck it up and moan in private.

The problem is that lots of you will be going round thinking everything is rosy on this side of the fence, to mix two metaphors. Sometimes it is: I’m in a rosy period. But I know that ups precede downs and it may be ages before I win another award or have some other esteem-boosting experience.

I know massively best-selling authors who have angsted and lost sleep over sales figures dipping from the previous stellar ones, their editor sending back their manuscript with huge changes requested, not being shortlisted for prizes, fearing that they won’t get another contract; and not getting another contract. Twitter and Facebook are shouty with successes and prizes and every success or prize for one author can trigger angst and fear for hundreds more.

OK, so being self-published avoids the stress about contracts, but s-pubbing has its own stresses and failures, believe me. We all need thicker skins than we have; we all have to strive for success.

A successful book does not mean a better writer

Forgive this value judgement about “good” or “bad” books but let’s face it: shit often sells and diamonds are easily lost between floorboards. Being successful as an author doesn’t mean writing a brilliant book (though I hope we’re all trying to do that). It means writing the right book, at the right time and having it published by the right publisher at the right time and in the right way and reaching the right readers. And the book fairy not having stomach-ache.

Good publishing is a partnership based on mutual respect

The times when I’ve had the best publishing experiences – like now – have been when there’s brilliant two-way communication between me and my publisher. This works best when it works in the old-fashioned way of the editor being your conduit to everyone else, or at least always copied in. My publishers consult me about everything, including the cover. They respect what I say (or seem to!) and I respect what they say. It’s a genuine team effort. And my latest book, Positively Teenage, was reprinted several times before publication, because of all that and because the book fairy didn’t have stomach-ache.

Every story I know of dissatisfaction has come about when that mutual respect has been eroded. When a publisher forgets who actually wrote the book or forgets what publishers are supposed to do or the author forgets about the vagaries of book fairy stomach-aches and expects too much too fast.

The happy published writer is knowledgeable; hard-working; realistic and more

Knowledgeable: we all start not knowing how much we don’t know and we gradually learn more and more. Always keep learning.

Hard-working: it doesn’t necessarily get easier. But things that are worth doing aren’t easy. Where would the sense of achievement be if it were easy?

Realistic: book fairies…

But the happy published writer is one thing above all else: a writer. Our job as authors is to be writers first. Write the books we set out to write in the best way we can. Don’t get caught up on measuring success or counting contracts or prizes or sales figures or rejection emails: keep writing.

Copyright © 2018 Nicola Morgan
Photo © Rebecca Morgan
Nicola Morgan is a multi-awarding-winning author of over 100 books of fiction and non-fiction, including Write to be Published, and the self-published ebooks Write a Great Synopsis and Dear Agent. Most recently, she won the School Library Association’s Outstanding Contribution to Information Books. She is mainly published by Hachette, Walker Books and HarperCollins. Her feisty advice to writers earned her the nickname Crabbit Old Bat, via the blog Help! I Need a Publisher!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

IWSG Day December 2018

It's time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world - or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you'd like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the December 5 posting are:

This month's optional question is: What are five objects we'd find in your writing space?

Our Twitter is @TheIWSG and hashtag #IWSG.

We got so many phenomenal entries for the anthology contest. Look for the announcement of the official Table of Contents in January!

Don't forget, the next Twitter pitch event is in January! It's a great way to get noticed by editors and agents.

This month's WEP theme is Ribbons and Candles. You can sign up now, and even get your post up early, as some are doing due to the holidays. We can't wait to see what you create!

If you've got Instagram, you can participate in our daily questions. Here's December:

For those on Goodreads, we have a book club. For great books and discussion, check it out!

The December/January selection is Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The discussion begins January 23.

Those who participated in NaNoWriMo are hopefully breathing a big sigh of relief right about now. Even if you didn't complete the full 50,000, any words down "on paper" are worthwhile!

How did you do for NaNo? Did you reach your goals? Have you read Big Magic, or will you be doing so for the book club? Will you be doing WEP? Have you tried out the daily Instagram prompts? Will you be doing the Twitter Pitch?

Monday, November 26, 2018

How To Build A Rocking Character Profile

Another Rockin' post by Reedsy for our IWSG crew.

It’s pretty indisputable that your book is going to fall a little flat without vivid, alive characters. So how can you go about writing characters that don’t make readers drop your book in disinterest? A tried and tested technique is to fill out of a character profile.

In this post, we construct a sample character profile for Roald Dahl’s Matilda to show you how you might go about it. Often cited as one of the favorite book characters of all time, and an easy source of inspiration for NaNoWriMo, Matilda is the perfect example of a character who’s easy to hold up to the light.

Hopefully, this will also show you how even a simple character profile can provide you with a springboard. If and when you start writing your book, you’ll have the solid starting point that you need to create a character that your readers will love.

Start with the basics

You won’t get very far if you don’t have these details.

Name: Matilda Wormwood!

Age: Nearly 5 when the action of the book begins.

What do they look like?

Having a firm idea of your character’s appearance will help you (and readers) visualise the character when necessary.

Eye colour: Blue.

Hairstyle: Dark and down, or tied with a ribbon.

Build: Small.

Glasses? No.

What do they sound like?

How a character talks and sounds is as much a part of their personality as their appearance is. Details like this can really flesh out your character and make them feel real, even if you don’t explicitly bring it up in every paragraph.

How do they talk? Articulate, honest, childlike.

Do they have an accent? English.

What about childhood?

Hurts, disappointments, and hopes from childhood may not filter directly into words and actions, but they will certainly color a character’s reactions and attitudes in later life. Since Matilda is a child for the entire novel, this is all the more important.

What type of childhood did they have? Sheltered, but unhappy. Grew up in an unloving environment.

Describe their education? The library and Miss Honey’s class are the most formative influences on her life.

Who were their role models growing up? Fictional characters from the books she read and loved — until she met Miss Honey, her first teacher.

Family details?

Family (or lack thereof) has a significant impact on a character’s attitude, development, and sensibilities. In Matilda’s case, for instance, her family shapes her worldview and informs many of the actions that she takes over the course of the book. As a writer, you should be completely aware of your character’s background.

Father: Mr. Wormwood is a dishonest car dealer who Matilda hates. He regularly deceives his customers and prefers TV over books.

Mother: Mrs Wormwood has a very distant relationship to Matilda. For five afternoons a week, she goes to bingo 8 miles away and doesn’t do much else.

Siblings: Michael, a brother who’s older than her. He takes after his father’s love of crooked business and picks on her often.

Friendships and relationships

This might be one of the sections that’s more obvious in the actual text of your book. Understanding how your characters function in the context of their relationships will help you nail the rest of your character’s biography.

Who are their closest friends? Miss Honey and Lavender, a girl who Matilda befriends when she finally goes to school.

Enemies? Miss Trunchbull is certainly an antagonist who makes life very difficult for Matilda.


Now it’s time to go deeper inside your character’s mind. While these questions might seem quite simple, they will help you work out their motivations, fears, and general demeanour towards the world. Most importantly, this is the section that will hold the most important part of your character in the context of your story: your character’s story goal and motivation.

What do they do on rainy days? Read in her room with a hot drink like hot chocolate, Horlicks, or Ovaltine.

Are they:

  • Street-smart or book-smart
  • An optimist or pessimist
  • Introverted or Extroverted

What makes them angry? Injustice and laziness.

If they didn’t have to sleep, what would they do with the extra time? Read even more books!

What’s their story goal? To find a loving family.

As you can see, in a very short space of time we’ve nailed down some key information about Matilda: from her physical appearance to deep cuts into her personality like her primary motivation for being part of a family that cares about her.

This exercise shouldn’t take longer than 15-20 minutes, which isn’t so much considering it’s the starting block for your characters. Character profiles are often for the author’s convenience just as much as the reader’s enjoyment — especially if you’re writing a fantasy novel with complex heritages or even doing a major rewrite — but they don’t have to be overly complex to be effective. If you need additional questions, you can refer to this character profile template or create your own questionnaire for your character. Just remember to probe deep so that you can really get to the heart of who your protagonist is!

Think of this as a springboard with which to really jump into your characterization. One step and you’re on your way to building a solid foundation for a memorable character, which will make for a memorable story.

Connect with Reedsy.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Write Tomorrow

(Did you just make a similar expression?)

There are so many articles on so many sites telling you that you should write. You are told how to write, how to schedule, and how to one of a thousand other things, each with a thousand variations on every topic. The tried and true "write every day" sure pops up a lot because, let's face it, even 5 words adds up over time. 

Now what does it all have in common? You just gave that expression again, huh? Yeah, it is an easy answer. Writing!

Everyone wants you to write in one form or another. Challenges such as so many words per so many days demand it. Tips from best selling authors demand it. Writing prompts demand it. S...There is that facial expression again. Demand? Such a strong word. They don't. They wouldn't. Now you're getting it.

Nudge. Suggest. Recommend. Propose. Offer. (All I got at the moment. Feel free to go back to the above face.)

What do the above have in common besides a thesaurus? They don't have anything to do with demand. You and your face were right. No demand. Now think about that.

Have to write. HAVE to write. HAVE TO write. HAVE TO WRITE.

How many times have you progressed like the above? From nudge to demand? And who brought forth the demand? The man in the moon? Nope! The Easter Bunny. Wrong again. Santa Claus? Strike three. There is no joy in Mudville.

YOU! Now you got it. You brought forth the demand. You made it exist. Yes, there are deadlines to contend with in many cases, but you decide how much of your time they demand. And in a lot of cases, you made/make the deadlines. You demanded them on yourself.

Now you're in demand's grasp. Now you're stressed. Now you've missed out on moments with the kids, parents, spouse, friends, pets, events, or just taking care of your health. All of this because of the demand you've imposed on yourself.

What for? Are you planning on croaking tomorrow? Is the world going to end? Are aliens going to blow us up? 99.99% not going to be the case.

And this all means? (Pssst. Go back and read the title.)

That's right. Write tomorrow. Or even the next day. Heck, a week from today. 

The holidays are coming. Moments with those in real life are important. Sometimes more important for your writing than actually writing. If you try to go too many ways, everything will suffer, writing may become a chore, and you may come to dislike it. All thanks to the demands that you put upon yourself.

So the next time you sense demand creeping up on you, take a breather. There is no harm in writing tomorrow. Just don't use it as an excuse to never write again and procrastinate. The world isn't going to end if you don't write for a day. In fact, sometimes your day and your writing may benefit.

Pssst...if you like to play in traffic forget all you just read. You are the 00.01% and better get it down before your untimely demise.

Have you ever put unnecessary demands on yourself? Do you take a day when needed and enjoy life a bit? Do you fear the world is going to end? Should I ask if you play in traffic?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Guest Stuart Horwitz: Using the Theory of the Iceberg

You have likely heard about Ernest Hemingway’s Theory of the Iceberg. In brief, Hemingway thought you as a writer should take out seven-eighths of what you know about a subject; the top one-eighth is the tip of the iceberg, what the reader reads. The catch is, the reader knows if you don’t know the other seven-eighths. Then they feel that your writing is not solid or substantive enough to enjoy, but rather just an ice floe on the loose.

Hemingway’s Theory of the Iceberg is also called the Theory of Omission. He even went so far as to believe that the quality of a piece could be judged by the quality of the material the author eliminated. That may mess with your target word count in a particular genre, but it’s more likely to mess with your faith. Can something really be gone and still be here at the same time?

I’ve seen it. I recently took a 3,000-word essay down to 1,700 words, while also adding some new material (always an option for a polished draft). I read it the other day, and I didn’t actively miss any of the good stuff that hit the cutting-room floor. What was there was everything I wanted to say.

To get there, you have to trust the process of revision, the same one that guides you to raise the best parts up a level. Those other parts, that weren’t the best parts—you don’t need them. Or rather, you don’t need them anymore. It might be difficult to part with those pieces that started a fire somewhere inside of you, and led to other discoveries that were closer and closer to the heart of the matter.

We can probably agree, though, that to do more than one draft of something is based on the understanding that we are not going to just use everything we thought of in the first place. Given this, when you embrace the Theory of the Iceberg it changes the way you view revision. You don’t have to agonize so much about whether something is in or out; now it’s more a question of whether it should be above or below the waterline.

This approach to revision takes a certain discipline. You might find yourself continually putting something back into the text, only to experience an ensuing uneasy feeling… and then remove it again. This restraint is the iceberg at work. What you are leaving is the clarity of the subject, its essence. This is no less than the difference between flow and sludge for a reader, curiosity and impatience, sparkle and doubt.

Iceberg-based decisions can cover everything from what words you use to how you understand your theme. On the most basic level, some words push other words further up towards the usable surface. You might start with some common ones that form your foundation, and then new ones arrive to rest on top of them and subsume the visible place in your text. On the other end of the spectrum, an iceberg-based approach can influence how you tackle an entire work by, say, writing the middle body of the chapters first, and then drafting an Introduction and Conclusion after what you are truly writing about becomes apparent.

Writers can engage in iceberg-influenced preparation activities. These might include drafting a 2-3 page character study of which you only use a paragraph’s worth of words, or semi-extensive research—not to stuff what you now know into a piece—but to be able to breathe life into certain passages with the perfect detail. The maxim here seems to be, “Use it, don’t include it.”

Finally, working with the iceberg requires patience. You have to really want to create a work of art as opposed to just be done. You have to want to create something solid, complete, evocative, and powerful. I know you do, I’m just elaborating on one conception of how to get there. For my part, I can’t help but smile at any decision whereby one tone of voice, scenic twist, or structural decision is submerged in favor of one I like better—but that I would never have gotten to without what came before it.

Oh that’s very icebergy, I think…

As founder and principal of Book Architecture, Stuart has spent nearly twenty years helping writers become authors, signing with top literary agencies, sealing deals with coveted publishing houses, or forging a successful path through indie publishing. He has written three highly acclaimed books which together comprise the Book Architecture trilogy: Blueprint Your Bestseller, Book Architecture, and Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two daughters.

*Iceberg image from Wikimedia Commons: By AWeith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

IWSG Day November 2018 and The End of Another Contest

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the November 7 posting are: Ellen @ The Cynical SailorAnn V. FriendJQ Rose and Elizabeth Seckman!

This month's optional question is: How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

The submission period has closed for this year's anthology contest and it looks like we are shaping up to have yet another awesome collection on our hands. We are in the final throes of choosing our top picks to send to the judges and this is no easy task. The standard is extremely high this year and it is a thrill to read through such a diverse and exciting bunch of entries. Well done to all who entered!

In other news, the next Twitter pitch event is in January. Another exciting opportunity to get noticed by editors and agents. Don't miss it!

And for our new partnership with WEP (Write Edit Publish), we're hosting a competition to decide the theme for the February contest. 

Rules: Submit your idea for a WEP February theme by November 12 to admin AT Nothing too U.S. culturally bound. Should have wide appeal.

Prize: Feature in the December newsletter for the winner. And, of course, the winning theme will be the official February WEP theme!

Deadline: November 12. Winner announced in the November newsletter on November 28. 
Are you on Instagram? We run a different prompt for each day of the month. Participants are welcome to participate in comments or on their own feed. While on their own feed, the hashtag #theiwsg is used and @theiwsg may be tagged. Participants may use images, words, or some combination to answer each prompt. Each prompt is explained in more detail on the day of posting. 

This month's prompts could be particularly helpful if you're participating in NaNoWriMo. We're already one week in, so if you're already knee deep or even still thinking about whether to jump in, we're sending some power your way. Good luck!

Did you enter for the anthology this year? Looking forward to grabbing a copy? Interested in Twitter Pitch or WEP? Are you NaNoing this month?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Guest EC Murray: How to Get the Reviews You Want - Ethically

Several months before publishing my memoir, A Long Way from Paris, information flooded my in-box about reviews: businesses selling reviews, authors begging for them, aspiring writers searching for hints on how to get them.  This is what I’ve learned in the years since then.

Tip one: write the best book you can. Write a book which resonates with readers. Write a book that will make readers go out of their way to say, “I loved your book.” Then, you can move forward with a few strategies.
Recognize “review” has many meanings: reviews in newspapers, blogs, and journals vary tremendously from reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Initially, I sent my manuscript to KIRKUS and Book life (a wing of Publishers Weekly) for paid reviews which authors can publish or forget, depending on how positive they are. In my case, both provided stunning reviews.
About nine months later, which was three months before publication with a hybrid press, I reached out to acclaimed authors with whom I was acquainted. I showed them the KIRKUS review and asked if I could send them a copy of my manuscript and, “if you like it, would you mind writing a blurb?” A blurb is another slant on “reviews,” which can appear on your back cover, on the first page, and on your Website. If these authors responded affirmatively, I asked if they would like a hard copy or digital edition.  Most wanted a hard copy. I then put paper clips around sections which I thought would be most applicable.

For example, Langdon Cook, winner of the Washington state book award, writes about outdoors and mushrooms, so I cordoned off the section on mushroom hunting. It may be that he liked the whole book, but if he was too busy, at least he’d read what was most relevant to him. For Carlene Cross, author of Fleeing Fundamentalism, I sectioned off the chapters relating to my spiritual connection with nature. For Theo Nestor, my memoir teacher, I selected areas where I struggled with my personal growth. I sent the whole manuscript to each author, since often times, they became hooked and wanted to read the full manuscript.
Additionally, I wrote to newspaper reviewers, quoted positive reviews I’d received, and asked if they’d like to receive my book and write a review. Most reviewers wanted a print version of my book. I never, ever sent my book to anyone before asking if they’d like to read it. By the time of my book launch, I had several positive reviews printed in newspapers which I could also use on my Amazon page as “editorial reviews.”
In contemporary writer’s parlance, however, “review” often refers to Amazon and Goodreads reviews. As an early writer, I scoffed that writers paid so much attention to Amazon reviews. Then, I asked people how they decided what to read. Some people chose library recommendations. Many readers heard about a book from a friend or radio interview, then went straight to Amazon and Goodreads to read reviews. Having positive reviews, and a lot of them, can make or break your sales.
There’s a general, overarching way to get reviews. That is, make your book available on Bookbub, Net Galley, Goodreads give-a-way, Kindle free giveaway, and Kindle countdown. Those may be good starting points, but I offer a word of caution. You may get some doozy reviews. One friend received a two star review because “It’s in present tense. I hate reading books in present tense.”
There are, however, better ways to get Amazon reviews. I wrote on the last page of my book, “I’d love to hear from readers. My e-mail address is” If they e-mailed me, I then asked if they’d be willing to write –NOT a review on Amazon, but a COMMENT. What’s the difference? Your average reader is intimidated by the word “review.” “I can’t write a review! I’m not qualified! I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Here’s where I help. If someone emailed me to say they like my book, I write them back, addressing the story they’ve told me. There’s usually a personal story (my son was a heroin addict; I was in southern France during the war; I love goats) which surfaces as a result of reading A Long Way from Paris. Then, I ask if they would do me a favor. Would you mind writing a sentence in the review section of my Amazon listing? I paste a link to the review section of my Amazon listing. I say, “Your comment could be just what you’ve written to me” –I quote their e-mail—“or it could be as as simple as ‘I enjoyed this book because ______’” Or, I might give them an example of a “review” that’s already on Amazon.

By reaching out to the readers who I like my book, I’m accruing positive reviews. If someone says, “I read your book,” but doesn’t say they liked it, I don’t ask for a review, or a comment. My goal is to reach as many readers as possible, but my preference is to get comments, or reviews, from people who liked my story. By using the word “comment on” rather than “review,” and by providing a link, readers are far more eager and willing to write a positive review on Amazon and Goodreads.

E.C. Murray, teaches writing at Seattle Central College and is the founder of The Writers Connection.
Her memoir, A Long Way from Paris, was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year.
View of Mt. Rainier (home area of EC Murray and The Writers Connection)

You can find her on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and her Website.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Critique Groups: The Good, the Bad, and Run-for-Your-Lives! 10 Kinds of Critique Groups that Can Drive you Batty

By Anne R. Allen

Critique groups are a great way to get feedback on your writing. But groups can fall into bad habits. I've been in dozens over the years and I've seen how one or two dominant members can change a group’s tone and direction.

Here are a few common deviations from the helpful critique group we're looking for. Some can be helpful in spite of flaws, but often you have to move on.

1) Enforcers

They’ve never met a writing rule they didn't love and enforce each one with zero tolerance. For them it's all about shaming rule-breakers, not improving a fellow writers' work.

They have a search-and-destroy policy for adverbs, and insist the word "was" is taboo. (For a rebuttal, see my post on the "was" police.) They allow no prologues, EVER.

Put up your deflector shields and let most of their “advice” bounce off.

2) Fact-Checkers

Some groups are dominated by detail-oriented people who want a novel to be as close to real life as possible.

Everything must be "realistic" down to knowing when and where your heroine relieves herself when she's running from mutant raccoons on Mars.

One will say your Regency duke would have terrible B.O. after fighting those ruffians, so the kiss the heroine has been anticipating would not be the glorious experience you describe.

Remember your genre’s norms and ignore the noise.

3) Group Therapy

The tendency to slip into psychotherapy is a common pitfall, especially in groups with memoirists writing about divorce, wartime, or health issues.

The line between creating and confessing can blur. Critiquers often give supportive, "attaboy" feedback out of compassion, no matter the quality of the writing.

When you come in with your breezy rom-com, you feel like you're crashing the pity party.

Plus these tender-hearted folks may try to stop your protagonist from making bad choices. She mustn’t dance with that judgmental aristocrat Darcy or accept that owl's invitation to wizard school.

Conflict-free stories are not what you’re aiming for.

4) Golden Girls

A group dominated by an older demographic can have memory issues. (Hey, age happens to us all, with any luck!)

Unfortunately, members often forget what they heard in the last installment, so they’ll ask you to repeat yourself. Often. Which can make for some unreadable prose.

Give them a separate recap before you read your chapter, and DON’T put it in your WIP.

5) Punctuation Police

This happens in online groups or in-person meetings where readers bring printed copies. Critiques can devolve into drawn-out arguments over use of the Oxford comma.

Groups that focus on grammar and spelling will do little to help with big-picture storytelling, but if you want to brush up on basic grammar or need a proofreader, they're fine.

6) Literary Salon

Usually dominated by readers and writers of literary fiction. They may write brilliantly and have a vast knowledge of literature, but their critiques can be…less than helpful.

They tend to be old school, so won't consider self-publishing. They may send out a few half-hearted queries comparing their work to Kerouac or Karl Ove Knausgaard, but probably don't attempt to get published outside of small literary journals.

They can have useful things to say about character and setting, and are fantastic at weeding out clichés. But on plot, structure, and pace, not so much.

7) Coffee Klatches

These groups never get around to more than a couple of critiques because so much time is spent chatting over the elaborate refreshments. Providing snacks can become a competitive sport. If the group meets in the evening there may be some lovely wine.

These groups can be a godsend to a writer who's been holed up in a writing cave and needs some human contact. And wine.

But feedback can be skimpy and useless to a writer on a path to publication.

8) The Literary Death Match

Whether or not the members are poets, meetings can be like a competitive poetry slam. The dominant member (s) want to perform, and tune out when others are reading.

Critiques careen from lavish praise to savage criticism. Somebody will probably order you to write an entirely new plot, which they’ll outline for you in detail. Their goal is to establish dominance, not improve your WIP.

These people can build you up one week and crush you the next—saying anything that comes into their heads.

Find another group. Narcissists are dangerous.

9) The Mutual Admiration Society

Like the Coffee Klatch, this group is all about schmoozing. Also bolstering flagging egos. To give them credit, they’re not focused on the ginger-pear Linzer torte and imported Gewürztraminer. They are actually interested in the work.

Unfortunately, everything brought for critique is always WONDERFUL and worthy of publication. They don't want you to change a thing.

You’re not going to grow much in this environment.

10) The Vicious Circle

This group is dominated by a handful of Dorothy Parker-wannabes just waiting to slip a verbal dagger into your heart.

They may have published a bit—which makes them "experts"—but it was some time ago. Maybe in college. When they got harsh feedback from the writer-in-residence, who used words like "puerile" and "derivative."

Since then, they've been honing their bitterness till it cuts like a samurai sword.

It only takes one or two of these—plus their devoted (and fearful) minions—to turn a critique group into one of the darker circles of hell.

A workshop like this at a well-known writers' conference was the inspiration for my comic mystery, Ghostwriters in the Sky. I got to kill off the workshop leader who created this Vicious Circle.

Run before you resort to real-life homicide.


Anne R. Allen is a multi-award winning blogger and the author of 13 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling Camilla Randall Mysteries. She’s the author, with Amazon superstar Catherine Ryan Hyde, of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE. Her latest book is THE AUTHOR BLOG: EASY BLOGGING FOR BUSY AUTHORS. Her next Camilla mystery, GOOGLING OLD BOYFRIENDS will launch in December 2018 with Kotu Beach Press. You can find her, along with NYT million-seller Ruth Harris at Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris.

Anne’s latest book for writers


An easy-does-it guide to simple, low-tech blogging for authors who want to build a platform, but not let it take over their lives.

An author blog doesn't have to follow the rules that monetized business blogs do. This book teaches the secrets that made Anne R. Allen a multi-award-winning blogger and one of the top author-bloggers in the industry.

And you'll learn why having a successful author blog is easier than you think.

"I’m already a massive fan of Anne’s blog, and this book is written in the same humourous, yet highly informative style as her blog posts. Sharing her own blogging successes and mistakes…Anne makes the whole blogging process seem accessible to everyone, no matter what you’re working on or your level of technical expertise." …. Mark Tilbury

Only $2.99 at Nook, Kobo, Apple, and Amazon.

Monday, October 15, 2018

#IWSG -- Save Your Work! Twitter Pitch / WEP Challenge / Anthology Contest

We've all seen it. An author posting on social media saying their computer died and they didn't save their current masterpiece or that they lost power and lost all their major edits.

It takes seconds for hours worth of work to just disappear and that can be the difference between being a happy author or being a homicidal maniac author ready to pull out their hair.

There are lots of options for saving your work, a quick save to the device you're on, saving to a jump drive, or getting an external drive that can be taken off site.

My favorite way to save? Email. If I make major changes to my manuscript I send the whole file to three different email addresses with a version number and date. This way, I know it's not just on my computer and I can access it anywhere I can access my email.

Now we just need to REMEMBER to actually save!

Do you have any great tips for saving your work?

We have a date for the next #IWSGPit Twitter pitch – January 15, 2019!

Visit the IWSG site for details.

You don’t want to miss it.

Don’t forget that the IWSG has partnered with Write…Edit…Publish!
This month’s challenge - Déjà vu or Voodoo.
Add your name to the list, write your story, post on your blog or Facebook, and visit others.
And there are prizes!
Full details at the WEP site regarding genre, length, etc.
Déjà vu or Voodoo – do you?

Finally, this is the last month to submit to the IWSG Anthology Contest.
Young adult romance is the genre and masquerade the theme.
Entry is free, just need to be a member of the IWSG on some level.
See the SITE for details.
Don’t miss this opportunity to be in a royalty-paying anthology!

Monday, October 8, 2018

More About Cross-Pollination

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with cross-pollination. I’m not talking plants; I’m talking about linking up with endeavors of different kinds. I have a lot of writer friends, and I value their insights and knowledge, but it occurred to me that all of us should be looking at other fields for inspiration and information, too. Why not? I believe there are universal principals that can guide us to success, and maybe we can tap into some of that by extending beyond the writing community. How about looking at successful people in say, the arts, history, or science? What are their guiding principals, their strategies that have placed them at the top of their occupations?

In my article about Annie Leibovitz that was posted in ALLI last month, I took a foray into the art of photography and connected it with the art of writing.  I enjoyed that so much that I started looking for other possible connections. I didn’t expect to find exactly what I wanted about secrets to success in the financial world, but I did. I stumbled on Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge-fund firm, and here’s what caught my attention: “Without pursuing dreams, life is mundane.”

What writer can’t agree with that? Well, this one, for sure. But then he talks about what he calls hyper-realism. So, because I’m curious if nothing else, I wanted to know what that means and what that does. He explains it as being a deep understanding, an acceptance and being able to work with reality as it is and not as he wishes it were.

Okay. I got it. And I’m paying attention.

Later he gives what he says are his secrets to investing and managing money and—most importantly—getting through the next 24 hours. I can use all the help I can get when it comes to “getting through” another day and actually accomplishing something, too.

Here are Galio’s Secrets: 

  • Know your goals and run after them. 
Identify and face the problems, however painful, that stand in the way of your goals. 

  • Diagnose the root causes of these problems. 

  • Design a plan to get around these obstacles. 
Execute on your plan, pushing yourself to do whatever is needed. 

Are these secrets to success universal enough?
I see why this man is so successful. He has a philosophy that is overarching, much larger than one that’s about making money. He spoke directly to me here: “You will lose something or someone you think you can’t live without. You might think your life is ruined and there’s no way to go forward. But it will pass. There’s always a best path forward; you just don’t see it yet.”

Okay, now I stop and push back in my chair because the day before I read this article, my Zen teacher said, and I paraphrase, when you’re in doubt about making a decision, give it time. Don’t rush it. Let the right choice come to you. It will.

I’m now feeling as if I’m in a cosmic vortex, and my head’s filled with how I can use this, how others can use this. As writers haven’t you had times the plot won’t work, the agent fails, the book languishes without sales, or you’re undecided about which path to publication you want to take? Have you agonized over what to do? I certainly have, so I’m making notes about this waiting and giving it time and not catapulting into a ill-advised decision. And I’m thinking about what Dalio says about there being a “pathway” to  the right decision when I find, “Unfortunately, you probably won’t like it…”

Well, try me. So I read on.

He calls it radical open-mindedness. Wait. That means I can’t be right all the time. Really? But please continue Mr. Dalio.

“Your deepest-seated needs and fears reside in areas of your brain that control your emotions (I’m inserting the amygdala, you know, the old fight or flight part of us) and are not accessible to your higher-level conscious awareness,” Dalio says. “And because our need to be right can be more important than our need to find out what’s true, we like to believe our own opinions without properly stress-testing them.

“We especially don’t like to look at our mistakes and weaknesses.” He adds, “We are instinctively prone to react to explorations of them as though they’re attacks. We get angry, even though it would be more logical for us to be open to feedback from others.”

I’m all for learning more, not less and I’d love to make some good decisions in just about every aspect of my life, including the writing part. As I read more, I started asking myself if I’m living up to my potential or falling short because I’m not paying attention?

And you, do you shut down when someone criticizes your work, or do you take a look at that criticism and consider it? Do you practice radical open-mindedness instead of shutting down in anger? As a writer, what do you think about cross-pollination, learning from people who are in   different fields?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

IWSG October: We Need Your Stories

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 3 posting are: 
Dolorah, Tanya Miranda, Chemist Ken, and Christopher D. Votey.

Optional Question this Month: How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

The 2018 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest needs your stories!

Guidelines and rules:

Word count: 3500-6000

Genre: Young Adult Romance

A Masquerade can be a false show or pretense, someone pretending to be someone they aren't. It can be a ball, a fancy dress party, it can be a mask. Open to interpretation.

Submissions accepted: September 5 - November 4, 2018

How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (Double spaced, no page numbers), previously unpublished story to admin @ before the deadline passes. Please include your contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group. 

Prizes: The winning stories will be edited and published by Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title.

Our previous IWSG anthologies:
Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime
Hero Lost: The Mysteries of Death and Life
Parallels: Felix Was Here

Gwen Gardner, Jen Chandler, and LG Keltner know what it’s like to have the winning story.

Yours could be next!

Are you on Instagram?
This month, we are prepping for NaNoWriMo (if participating) and staying motivated in our writing lives.

Do you Write, Edit, Publish with WEP?
October's WEP Challenge is:

Do you have a story for the anthology? Are you writing one? 
Write it and send it!