Saturday, November 28, 2015

Critique Groups Do's and Don't's

Take the Leap
The purpose of a critique is to sift out what's wrong. Showcased is your polished masterpiece, ready for publication. Explore your options until you find the most effective, longest lasting way to vet your work.

While working as a freelance writer, my family moved frequently. Luckily, through membership with organizations such as SCBWI, I found a writing group at each juncture. The information gathered here comes from my own membership in different types of groups.

Join a Critique Group or Start your Own
Gather interested prospective members. Make sure each writer is:
  • Serious: willing to devote time studying her craft while practicing it.
  • Dependable: can be counted on to come to meetings and review members' work.
  • Honest: willing to let members know where she stands, as a beginner, intermediate or advanced writer.
  • Open: lets members know ahead of time what type of writing she would like to have reviewed.
  • Communicative: gives her input on everything from critiquing to helping to run the group.
Rules that Work
  • Establish a leader.
  • Decide how many members are desired.
  • Decide the type of writing preferred, if any. For example:   
  • Open Group: Allows all kinds of writing at any level. The advantages are many.               The variety of different types of writing gives the group widely varying points of view. One of the groups I belonged to had a poet, three article writers, and an adult novelist. The group expanded my world.
  • Closed Group: Offers members who write only in your genre and are at about the same level. Advantages include powerful know-how in your genre. Potential for longer critiques is possible. Partnering among members is possible for more frequent and indepth critiques. Also, members can help each other stay abreast of conferences, webinars, informational books, etc. When I wrote biosketches for Biography Today, I had deadlines which weren't easy to keep because of my daughters' activities. My writing partner spent one entire day helping me crank out one of my assignments so I could meet the deadline. Whew!
  • Agree on one of the following:
  • No Homework: a writer brings a chapter, a section or a few pages of a work to be read on the spot. The writer can read her own work or ask another member to read it. During the reading, each member takes notes on a separate piece of paper. After the reading the members go round- robin to share their notes then give their note paper to the writer to take home.
  • Homework: each piece of writing is emailed to members by an agreed-upon date, no exceptions. Members critique the work at home and share their results at the meeting. Members' copies are then given to the writer to take home. Writer brings her own copy of her work so she can follow along during the critiques. Critiquer is given a specified amount of time to explain her critique and the writer is given a specific amount of time to ask questions or comments. I've belonged to both types of groups and really have no preference. I found both Open and Closed Groups effective as long as they were run productively.
  • A timer: members agree on the amount of time given to each critiquer. Enough time is given so that no one feels rushed. There can be exceptions, along as everyone agrees, if a writer needs more time. However, this is an important rule, especially if the group is large. Everyone deserves a critique. There is nothing worse than having one person take up so much time that the meeting either lasts too long (and everyone gets exhausted, which can weaken enthusiasm), or there isn't enough time for everyone to share their work.
  • Cut the Chit Chat: be firm about saving chit chat for later because it's easy to fall into this trap and lose the main purpose for meeting.
  • Food or No Food: meet at a public place, if possible, such as a room at the library. Meeting in people's homes can be way too comfortable. These kinds of meetings can incur a serious loss of productivity. One of my favorite groups solved this by having two pot luck meetings a year, summer and winter, at lunchtime. We still worked but relaxed and visited. We even brought white elephant gifts for our winter get-together (in someone's home) during the holidays.
Parting Words of Wisdom
Here is a sprinkling of "focus" notes I keep on my bulletin board as reminders of what I am about as a writer.
  • Show, don't tell: spend one (or more) entire revision sit-downs combing your ms for "telling" statements. Turn those into "showing" your readers what's going on.
  • Nonfiction articles: one editor's advice was simple. Answer the W's in the first two (or three) paragraphs. Then the rest of your article is the How.
  • Nonfiction articles and books: Before embarking on your idea (and spending time on it), make sure you have acquired the photos.
  • Write it plain, then make it pretty: I heard this during an editor's talk and have followed it ever since. It's a great tool. The first time(s) "getting it down" you can't possibly expect your writing to shine. All you're doing is pouring your soul onto paper. After you're sure you've written everything you want to say, put your ms for a rest. When you pick it up again, make your writing more interesting; splather your personality all over the page; give it your all.
  • Entertain your reader: Just like being a host at a party; if you're having fun, your reader will have fun.
  • When in doubt, research: if you're stuck (have writer's block) it might mean that you need to do more research. Fiction and nonfiction alike both have to be accurate, so perhaps you need to spend some time looking something up to learn more about it. If you're stuck on a non-research-type problem, then you might need to rest a bit and do a THINK. One of my writing instructors talked about BIG THINKS a lot. We all keep pen and paper with us at all times. Who knows, you might solve the problem by suggesting what you need before you go to sleep at night. The problem could be solved in the morning or in a few days, depending on the size of the problem. If you can identify the problem as a plot problem, a characterization problem, etc., then study the area in question. You might find your answer there. I think we all know, too, that often our answers come while we're sewing, doing a flower arrangement, or on a walk. So sometimes it's best to do something else that's creative to relax your mind. It often kickstarts your imagination into doing wondrous things.
  • Sit your reader down across the table: and talk to him. Tell him your story. You can try this out loud if you've come to a snag.
  • Write while sitting on the edge of your seat: that's how you want your reader to be, so engrossed in your story that their eyes light up and their super excited about your story.
  • Remember this wisdom from Robert Frost: No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
Watch for next month's post: "You, the Writer; You the Critiquer."
Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Navy
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction courses, picture book course and mystery and suspense course. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

Friday, November 27, 2015

How Reading Can Make You a Better Writer

guldfisken / / CC BY
Once again, Hillsdale College is offering another Great Books course, Great Books 102

And it's free!

Here is an opportunity for great writers to learn from great authors. This 11 week, non-credit course covers the Renaissance to Modern fiction. You will read great works from authors such as Shakespeare, Austen, and Twain. It is a great source for writers who are deliberately practicing their craft.

Studies reveal there is a benefit to reading literary fiction. The reader connects with the complexities of characters and their situations.  Inferences are made since more is left to the imagination, resulting in strengthening cognitive skills and empathy.

But you don't have to only read literary fiction. This author suggests reading anything and everything:

Writers need to read. A lot. Magazines. Books. Periodicals. And so on. They need to grasp the art of language, to appreciate the finer points of words. As they read, they should jot down ideas and capture thoughts as they come.
Here are 5 ways reading helps you become a better writer:

1. Broadens vocabulary - Reading books exposes us to an abundance of wonderful words that will hook your reader. Using just the right word will make your writing shine!

2. Inspires - Reading can trigger a memory or idea for your own writing.

3. Increased knowledge  - Reading brings us to other times, places, and experiences. Learn to love learning. It provides greater understanding of the world around you.

4. Motivates - Reading may get you back on track with your own writing. Have you ever read a book and thought, "I could have written that!" Reading can stir your own passion and get you moving.

5. Exposure to various writing styles - What books do you like? How does the author hook you? Are the characters interesting? How so? Study and take notes. Then let your own style take shape.

By all means, enjoy reading. Don't get lost in over analyzing. Just read! Very naturally, you will be learning and growing as a writer.


After raising and homeschooling her 8 children and teaching art classes for 10 years, Kathy has found time to pursue freelance writing. She enjoys writing magazine articles and more recently had her story, "One of a Kind", published in The Kids' ArkYou can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at 
When It Hurts

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Writers: Do you wake up smiling? Feeling no pain?

Contributed by Marlene Hibbard

If you can’t say yes to the title questions, I have some reminders of ways to help eliminate aches and pains that can be associated with sitting at your computer for long periods of time.

Ergonomics vs. Pain 

2 Major Mistakes and Solutions for Musculoskeletal Disorder

MSD stands for many things but for our purposes it’s musculoskeletal disorder. And it’s all too common, especially for writers. We sit at the computer for hours. I’m as guilty as you when it comes to disciplining myself to sit properly. Do you carry the laptop to the TV table where there isn’t even knee space causing serious muscle strain?

Even my beautiful new desk chair tempts me to lean to one side with its tempting arm rests. I can’t reach both of them with my arms so I lean on one. Next morning, I feel the strain in the opposite side of my back.

Mistake #1

Positioning and Posture Carelessness

Habitually leaning to one side or bending over the computer places the lower back at risk of injury. Ask yourself if you practice good posture? Or is it head knowledge only? To know the right thing and not practice it brings suffering.  

What to Do Instead

An adjustable chair is essential for good health. Raised or lower it for positioning arms and feet properly. Notice the arms in this picture are not exactly horizontal. Arm rests can usually be removed.

Sit up straight with your back against the back of the chair and a lumbar support if necessary. Feet should be flat on the floor. 

Practice makes perfect. Your back will thank you and you’ll save money for therapists and chiropractors. You’ll wake up smiley without pain.

Mistake #2 

Begging for Eye Strain or Disrupted Sleep?

The manuscript seemed perfect until you left it for a day, took another look before sending it to the publisher, and decided to revamp. You’ll be up until dawn. Deadline. Tomorrow. Your eyes are already strained just thinking about it.

Two of the mistakes regarding eye strain that bring this about are mentioned here.

You’ve read studies spelling out that late night screen viewing disrupts sleep. It could be the blue lights from your computer screen.

What to Do Instead

You can change the light/darkness of your screen. Also, do a search on for eye strain. Some users have claimed that a program called F.lux can help eye strain by dimming your monitor depending on the time of day. Your screen will display an orange-ish color in the evening mimicking nature. I haven’t tried it but I think I might. You decide and let me know in the comments.

Another issue with this is eye strain from not having the screen at proper distance. If you are using the laptop keyboard you probably have your arms too high, causing upper limb strain.

What to Do Instead

Most of these things cause you to wake up in pain but simply paying attention to your posture will solve your problems.

With the extra keyboard and mouse lower than your laptop, you may want to raise the screen. You could place a book or cardboard box under it. Whatever it takes to make you wake up smiling, right?

Please leave a comment to let us know any strategies you use to help alleviate strained muscles or eyes from writing.

I’m Marlene Hibbard, coming to you from the mountains of Virginia and the author of Hideous Health Habits. Visit for more health tips.


The Work of Editing
Your Character’s Smirking . . . or is He? Synonym Pitfalls
10 Bad Writing Habits to Break

Friday, November 20, 2015

26 Reasons a Writer Should Blog - Part 7 Final

So we've done it! We're at the end of the alphabet. Typically, the last three points are the most difficult to come up with.

Since April, we've worked through the letters of the alphabet, each month choosing one significant word from the next two or three letters in the alphabet that clarify reasons why a writer should blog.
Now to come up with reasons beginning with X, Y and Z

24. X is for the X-Factor of Writing

During my first lesson in Algebra at school, I learned a crucial fact, that "X" is an unknown quantity. People often talk about the X-factor of various topics, in other words an unknown factor that influences the outcome. A dictionary definition of the term describes the X-Factor as “a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome”. 

The variable is therefore something which can influence the situation. What does this have to do with writing, or blogging in particular? 

I have been writing for publication for about fifteen years. That is my situation. During that time I have learned there are things I do well, and there are areas where I suck. Blogging has the potential to act as my variable. It has brought about some key changes in my writing.

I have seen a significant impact on my writing output. I have two websites, each of which has its own blog. In Write to Inspire, my posts are geared to inspire and encourage writers and readers, and in Rise and Soar, my goal is to inspire and encourage those doing battle with cancer. I aim at producing at least one post a week on each of these.

I also contribute monthly to this blog, Writers on the Move, and once or twice a month to International Christian Fellowship of Writers. That's not counting my many writing commitments. So I have to keep writing. As a result, I'm also writing faster. My ability to do research has grown wings, and my creativity is expanding. 

So for me, it's not a question of finding the X-factor in blogging. Blogging is the X-factor in my writing life. How about you?

25. Y is for YouTube. I had only used a YouTube video clip once on my blog before I tackled the A to Z Blogging Challenge in April. However, when I wrote on N is for N’kosi Sekelel e’Africa, a post about the magnificent South African national anthem, it wasn’t enough to tell my readers the history. Nor was it enough to copy out the words for them. They needed to hear it for themselves!

I searched YouTube and found a stirring rendering of the anthem, complete with the words superimposed on a background of our flag. It was so easy to post this into my blog. 

Don’t know how? 

On YouTube, find the clip you want to use, then click on share. Choose the option, Embed. This will give you a line of code. Copy that to your clipboard. 

Now open your blog. Go to ‘source’ or ‘html’ to find the code for your post. Paste the video clip’s code into the correct spot. It’s as easy as that.

(If you’re new to html code, try pasting it right at the end of the post. Then come out of the code and drag the video image to where you want it.

26.  Z is for Zest. The dictionary describes zest as “Vigorous and enthusiastic enjoyment”. If you are a writer, you cannot only write when you’re in the mood. 

No business man would only go to the office when he felt like it. No nurse can only care for the sick when she feels dedicated. If you’re serious about writing, you need to write when it’s time to write. Not just when you’re gripped by the Scribe Bug.

However with blogging it is good to strike while the iron is hot, to use a cliché. When you’re in the mood, or in the zone as the youngsters would say, sit down and blog. For example, I outlined the majority of the 26 posts for this series with great zest in a few hours one morning. I skipped over any letters that didn’t immediately grab me and came back to them some days later. 

As long as you have something scheduled to go live on your blog on the day you plan, you don’t have to write them literally on the day. (See S is for Scheduling.)

 I hope you have found this series of 26 Reasons Why a Writer Should Blog helpful and informative. It has also included many tips on how to make blogging easier and more effective for you. Please leave a note to indicate what you have found helpful, and don't forget to leave a link to your own blog so we can pay you a visit!

Until next month . . . 


26 Reasons for a Writer to Blog - Part I: A - C
26 Reasons for a Writer to Blog - Part II: D-G
26 Reasons for a Writer to Blog - Part III: H-K
26 Reasons for a Writer to Blog - Part IV: L-O
26 Reasons for a Writer to Blog - Part V: P-S
26 Reasons for a Writer to Blog - Part VI:T-W
26 Reasons for a Writer to Blog - Part VII: X-Z

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer, has brought encouragement and inspiration to a multitude of friends and contacts across the world.

Visit Shirley through where she encourages writers, or at where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Sign up to receive a short devotional message from Shirley in your inbox once a week. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Work of Editing

So you have probably all seen the images showing how much time is spent actually writing. Sad but true, that even when we, as writers are working at our best capacity, we still find ways to be distracted. 

I work in an office that is almost exclusively used for my writing, yet, still I find myself moving containers, getting my tea where it is handy, straightening books, etc. Moving, organizing, and preparing are as much a part of the writing process as actually putting my fingers on the keyboard. 

Of course, I must do a bit of thinking - although sometimes this is done well before I make my way to the studio to work. It is done in a bathtub, hammock or even in bed. Sometimes while walking, doing dishes or making beds. 

Finally, I get words onto the screen.

All too soon, the creative process is over and its time to edit. And that part of the process is exhausting - both in time and intensity of work.

Recently, I was asked to edit an autobiography. The original had been published in Guatemala and now the author was prepared to publish in the U.S. She had searched for an editor, someone who would edit lightly so as to leave her voice. I apparently made the cut and was trusted with the work. 

Editing a piece of writing that is being translated is in itself interesting. Verbs are generally inconsistent due to tense issues. Present and past tense met and merged throughout the document and had to be fixed. As she had requested, I was mindful in my editing to her voice as a native Guatemalan. One thing I found immediately, editing lightly allowed me to be less ruthless than I am generally with my own work, especially with word choice and in particular regarding verbs.  

Another challenge was homonyms. These were varied and kept me on my toes. I was also made mindful of cultural differences in how individuals referenced each other. 

As I worked to finished the initial portion of the project, I gave much thought to the amount of time, but also to the final product. Editing is a must, but with this project there was no need to agonize for word choice.

I came to realize that the editing process is really made up of several different evaluations.
1. General grammar:
    Checking for correct spelling, capitalization, and sentence structure.
2. Format:
    Line spacing, font and size type
3. Story or plot line:
    Does the story flow? Does it keep the reader's attention?
4. Word choice
    Strengthening verbs or other descriptions, reviewing metaphors and similes. 

Editing is in itself an effort of love, a love of the process. 

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, House of Glass, Book 2 of The Exodus Serieswas written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole, and Perception.The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at

You can also follower her at or on Facebook.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fuel Your Creativity with a Short Trip

by Suzanne Lieurance, the Working Writer's Coach

Recently, I'd been charging ahead with so many writing projects that I sort of ran out of steam and knew I needed to fuel my creativity by stepping away from the writing for a day or two.

So my husband and I planned a quick trip - not much more than a day trip really, although we did spend the night.

We didn't go far or to some fancy place.

Just to Mammoth Spring, Arkansas.

We knew there was an inexpensive little motel there right on the Spring River and we could enjoy the view from our room. This was our view:

There is also a park right there with a sidewalk that goes around it, so it was a nice place to walk, and we had the perfect weather for doing just that.

We watched the ducks and geese and I felt myself relax and the stress leave my body as we enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of nature.

Here's the park:

On the way home we also stopped to take photos of anything that seemed interesting. Here's one of the huge raven in Ravenden, Arkansas:

This is the mill outside of Hardy, Arkansas:

If you're a writer who needs to refuel your creativity, I suggest you take a short trip, like I did. Here are some tips for making the most of it.

• Make sure the weather will be good for your trip. That way you can easily stop whenever you see something of interest so you can take a photo. You'll also be able to spend time outdoors once you get to your destination.

• Get a motel room (or a room at an inn) with a view. There's just something about a view that lets your mind drift and new ideas start to flow.

• Plan to spend time outdoors where you can commune with nature and get a little exercise and fresh air as you walk in the sunshine. You'll feel yourself start to relax as you forget about all the things waiting for you at home.

• Take lots of photos. You can use these photos later as writing prompts or even blog posts (as I've done here).

• Don't overdo it. The purpose of the trip is to relax and unwind, so don't schedule too many activities.

Do you have any other tips for making the most of a short trip? If so, please share them here as a comment.

Happy trails!

Suzanne Lieurance is a fulltime freelance writer, writing coach, certified life coach, and the author of over 30 published books. For more tips, resources, and other helpful information about writing and the business of writing, get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge at

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

5 Writing Mistakes to Avoid in Your NaNoWriMo Participation

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is here again. Every year in November thousands of writers participate. They each buckle down and write a novel within the month of November. That's a pretty impressive task.

Well, last year during NaNoWriMo, did something unique. They worked with nearly 500 writers from 54 countries to crowdsource a novel. They analyzed the resulting 40,000 or so words and uncovered some writing mistakes that happened time and again, then summarized the top five in a handy infographic:

Five Mistakes To Avoid in Your NaNoWriMo Novel Infographic

Attribution for this infographic goes to:

Want more Free tips on editing your work? Check out Editing Books Like a Pro: