Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Planning a Writing Retreat

I have written about writing retreats here in the past. Last month, I was on vacation and made that into sort of a writing retreat, but since I can’t do that again for awhile, I started thinking about other things I could do instead. And then it came to me: a one day writing retreat for my local writers group. I suggested the idea to them and was asked to start planning something.

For this first time out (maybe it could become an annual event), we are going to stay in town to keep costs low. I picked a part of town where there are restaurants, outdoor seating areas, a walking trail, public library, hotel and a university. Plenty of places to use for a day-long or half-day writing retreat.

The first thing I did was to make a list of things that might be important to a group of writers. This list by no means is complete. There may be other things that are important to you or to your group. You may use my list and add to it. Perhaps brainstorm with some other writers.

  • Goals – What do you want to get from the retreat? Write a chapter of your novel? Complete a book? Start a book? Write an article? Try out some new writing prompts.
  • Location – Do you want to stay local or go out of town? If spending at least one night away from home, where might the group want to stay? Hotel, bed and breakfast, cabin by a lake?
  • Length – Will it be for one day, a weekend, a week or longer? What about a particular day, week or month?
  • Writing time – How long do you want to write? Maybe the entire retreat, half of it, a few hours a day? Are there other things you would like to do besides writing during the retreat?
  • Work area – Will you be sharing your work area or will you be working alone? Indoors, outdoors, table, bench, library, café. Are there a number of cafes on the street or neighborhood where you plan to go? Try café-hopping while you write.
  • Social activities – What other activities and sites are available? Walking trails, shopping, museums, theaters or spas might be nearby. Get some exercise, do something besides writing, relax, have fun.
  • Meals – Will you eat together as a group or separately? Share the cooking, dine at restaurants, pack a picnic lunch, have some snacks. And don’t forget beverages, including wine.
  • Writing kit – What do you need to bring with you to help you write and to provide inspiration? A tote bag filled with items such as notebooks and pens, laptop, books, magazines, photos/art, music, etc.
  • Conversation – What will the group talk about? Bring a book on the craft of writing to discuss, an experience you want to share, suggestions on how to overcome writers block.
  • Online or offline – Will you forgo email and social media? It might be ok to do some research for the book or article you are working on, but for most of the retreat, try to stay away from the internet.
  • Types of clothing - What kinds of clothing do you want to wear/pack? If you wear a literary or writing t-shirt when writing, would that make you work harder? Perhaps it’s a shirt you got at a writing conference, ordered from NaNoWriMo or purchased from another source. You might get some compliments and comments on it when you are out and about!

I have a kit which I will use during the planning and at the retreat. The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration & Personal Expression by Judy Reeves is a boxed set of cards and a book. This set covers the planning of retreats and includes lists of writing prompts. It’s full of ideas that writers will find useful, whether the retreat is far away or at home.

What would you like to do on a writing retreat? Have you been on a retreat? If so, what did you do? Feel free to share your ideas and experiences here.

Debbie A. Byrne has a B.S. in Mass Communication with a minor in History. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is working on her first children’s book.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Taking a Break from Writing: Finding Inspiration in a Summer Writing Hiatus

My critique group usually takes a break during the summer.  With all the summer activities, it’s hard to find a time that fits our summer schedules, and even harder to find time to write.  I usually try and keep writing during this break, but not this summer.  

This summer I’m giving myself a “hall pass” to escape from my writing room.  I normally schedule my weekly writing time on my calendar.  It almost always includes Saturday mornings and a few other sessions during the week.  For July and August, I’ve decided not to pre-schedule my time and not worry if I don’t write. 

Instead of writing, I’m travelling and getting out into nature.  I’m working on those house projects I never seem to get done.  I’m visiting the local museums and catching up with friends and family.

AND… I’m looking around for inspiration.  I use my phone to keep notes on writing/subject ideas.  For me, summer is a fertile time to germinate ideas for future projects.  Three of my projects this year, were ideas from last summer.  By September, I hope to be re-energized and ready to sequester myself with my computer. 

If you’re struggling to write this summer, consider taking a hiatus from writing for a few weeks.  It might just be the antidote for a stalled writing project.

Mary Jo Guglielmo is writer and intuitive life coach. For more information check out:  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gracious Acceptance - 8 Ways to Deal with Critiques.

Last month we saw 10 ways to improve the way we critique. Let's now take a look at the different ways we may respond.

Say you have submitted an article to your critique group, and you've received several responses. How do you react?

Here are eight possible scenarios:

1. "I love it when Jane critiques my work. She enjoys my writing so much she rarely corrects anything."

Jane is not critiquing your work. She's patting you on the back. This is of no value to you as a writer.

Don't you need encouragement? Certainly, but not to this degree, especially from a critique partner. Surely there should be some encouragement in the crit as well? Yes, there should. And hopefully she has given you some along the way. But telling you you're good will not improve your writing.

2. "I dread opening Jim's critiques. They usually resemble a blood bath."

Hmm. It could be that Jim is over heavy with his corrections. It could also be that he's the best critic you have. Don't be put off by the amount of corrections. Look for a bit of encouragement, but definitely look to see if his comments are justifiable. In which case, give thank for his dilligence, and tell him you appreciate his help.

3. "I find Mary's critiques difficult as I don't feel happy with the changes she insists I make."

You don't need to feel happy. You need to see if it improves your writing. If you don't like the changes she suggests, don't follow them. She is not telling you that you must make them. It's not Mary's article, it's yours. Ultimately the acceptance or rejection will be yours. Don't feel you have to follow every suggestion in your critiques. Absolutely not!

4. "I get indignant with Geoff's critiques. I often end up challenging him which leads to a healthy debate."

No, no, no! You should never enter into a debate when someone critiques you work. If you don't understand a comment, by all means ask for clarification so you can be sure what they mean. Then just say "Thank you for your time" and move on. If you agree, follow through. If you don't, disregard what doesn't resonate with you. But do not argue. He will never critique your work again--rightly so! Even trying to explain what you meant say is not the correct approach. You're not going to be next to your final readers to explain. So if he hasn't got it the first time, perhaps you do need to follow his suggestions.

5. "I get confused when four people tell me to change the same thing, but in different ways."

Of course you do. Take a good look at the comments and decide which suggestions you prefer. Which are closer to what you want to say? When I work through a critique, I do it paragraph by paragraph. I belong to a big critique group and often have 5 or 6 crits of the same article. I look at the first section and check all the comments, then edit accordingly before moving on. Just this last week, I received two suggestions for the same paragraph. I liked them both. Which to take? I copied both sets of comments to my working copy and continued with the article. By the time I reached the end, it was clear which of the two suggestions would work best for me.

6. "It doesn't seem like my article any more, now that I've worked on all the critiques."

This can happen. You've lost your voice. This you definitely don't want to do. Go back to the original and take a fresh look at it. (Never save over your first draft.) Check your critiques again and if necessary start over using less of the suggestions than before. Won't this take a lot of time? Yes. But do you want to be published or don't you?

7. "I often read critique points and choose to ignore the suggestions because I don't agree."

That's your prerogative. Take a good look at what they're saying though, before you decide to ignore them. But let me say it again—it is your article. You know what you want to say. You'll find this especially relevant if you've written in British English for an American market. American spelling, punctuation, grammar, and even words are often different. If only one says, "We would say XXX" and the others don't comment, you're probably safe to leave it alone. But if they all say, "Your comma should go here . . ." listen to them! Don't take the attitude of "I'm writing in British English." If you're writing for an American market, you shouldn't be! Learn from the Americans in your group.

You will always find suggestions you don't like, and that's fine. Analyse what they're saying. Be sure you understand their suggestions. Make sure your work says what you want it to. Then feel free to ignore them and move on. But above all . . .

8. "I accept the critiques with grace and appreciation, even though I may not use all the suggestions." 

The person has taken time off that he or she could have used for their own writing, to help you. Do not argue with them. Do not point out they are wrong. Just accept their suggestions gracefully, and move on. If you don't understand what they mean, by all means ask for a clarification. But appreciate their suggestions, and use what is helpful. Then move on.

Over to you. Any comments, or additional questions you may have in connection with the above? Do you have any examples of times you've reacted in any of the ways mentioned?

Further Reading:
How to Tread Lightly - 10 tips on doing a critique by Shirley Corder.
Critiques are Essential by Karen Cioffi-Ventrice
Finding the Right Critique Group by Linda Moore Kurth

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer contains 90 meditations based on her sojourn in the cancer valley.

Please visit Shirley's Write to inspire and encourage website or at, where she writes to inspire and encourage those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or FaceBook

Friday, July 18, 2014

When is Too Much Social Media... Too Much?

In this era of technology and social media, marketing, and getting an author platform built have you ever wondered when too much is too much? A quote above my desk by famous author William Faulkner reads: Don't be a "writer"... Be writing. Note he doesn't say marketing, selling, promoting, or any of the other social media activity that an author must do to get noticed but the simple quote does cause me to ponder.

And this is what I ponder.
  • What do I promote if I haven't written a word?
  • How do I market myself as a writer if I haven't written?
  • Can I develop a platform if all the words are in my head and not on the page?
And most important, do the writers from years ago have more to offer authors of today in the way of mentoring and teaching us how to be writers then we take the time to learn? Can it be that we must sit and truly write?

I believe that marketing, selling, and self promotion are all absolutely necessary to being a successful author. Without a doubt social media has taken an important role in getting an author platform built around the talent of any author. But I also believe there must be words on the page before the hype or the author will be seen as less than substantial and their platform will be weak. To be an author with integrity and one that your target audience will love and follow you must write and continue to write.

Many authors write a blog, small filler pages, and short articles at first. These small steps are what you start with to build a strong platform and to keep your target audience interested in what you write next. These small efforts many times lead to building a strong book project or instructional products for your target audience. In the fiction arena, short -short stories may lead to longer stories that draw your audience in. All of these efforts are action steps necessary for the social build up you seek.

 Regardless of the type of writing you do, social media will be a part of the process but keep in mind it can also be too much. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when deciding if social media is taking too much of your time.
  • If your time online socializing keeps you from writing, then think about what it is you are trying to accomplish. Social media sites can  be very distracting and be a huge time waster.
  • If you check your emails for half a day, eat lunch, and check Facebook until dinner and find yourself still in your pj's,  you may be spending too much time socializing and not enough time writing. Make your time on social media directly relate to your current writing project or promoting a published work.
  • Use an egg timer or alarm to limit your time on social media. Another way to keep your time on social media in check is to schedule one or two days a week for marketing and social media tasks and reserve the other days for only writing.
The best way to keep  your writing first and social media second is to practice discipline. Success is sure to follow. Treat your writing like a business. Don't cheat yourself out of valuable writing time by letting social media take over your time.

How do you rate your writing effort? If William Faulkner would show up at your door would he recognize you as a writer because you are actually writing or would he mistake you for a wanna be?

Terri Forehand is the author of The ABC's of Cancer According to Lilly Isabella Lane and The Cancer Prayer Book for adults. She writes from her home in the hills of Brown County, Indiana. Visit her website at or

Thursday, July 17, 2014

As a Writer Are You Constantly Starting Over?

If you want to build a successful freelance writing career or become a published author, but you haven't been able to build your business or write even one complete book, do you find that you're constantly starting over?

What do I mean by that?

Well, do you get motivated and ambitious from time to time, then post to your blog on a regular basis, get some queries and maybe even a few short manuscripts out circulating with publishers, or even start writing a book, but then you get discouraged and distracted and end up taking an extended break from your writing?

I see this happen all the time.

I was even guilty of this type of behavior when I was first started freelance writing.

But I soon discovered that in order to have a successful freelance business and writing career, I had to treat my freelance writing AS a business.

I had to show up for work every weekday (or at least several times a week), whether I wanted to or not, if I was to become a published author and a successful freelance writer.

I had to look for new assignments and complete current assignments (including book manuscripts) on a regular basis.

Avoid Constantly Starting Over

If you're constantly taking extended breaks from your business or your writing, is it any wonder that you don't really have much of a business or a full-fledged writing career?

The good news is, there's a way to avoid constantly starting over.

All you need to do is stay focused on your business and your writing and treat writing as the business you want it to become.

To do this, plan ahead when you need to be away from your business.

Write your blog posts and newsletters ahead of time, then schedule them for publication at the appropriate times.

If you're trying to write a book, plan your book first – so you know exactly what to write – then schedule specific times to write specific sections of your book until you complete the entire manuscript.

You'll never create the momentum that will sustain your business or your writing career if you're constantly starting over.

Plan now for ways to keep moving forward on a regular basis.

Try it!

Need help building your freelance writing business or writing career? Register for this free 5-module e-course, Jumpstart Your Freelance Writing Career and The Morning Nudge now at

Suzanne Lieurance is an author, freelance writer, certified professional life coach and writing coach, speaker and workshop presenter. She has written over two dozen published books and hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines, and other publications.

She can help you write your first or next novel. Find out more about her Quick Start System to Writing Novels at

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Creating 3D covers in Microsoft Publisher

Over the last week or so, I've been exploring my Microsoft Publisher program (it's part of the Microsoft Office group) to try to get some covers made up for my compilation and one other cover that I needed made up.  For a boxed set, a 3D cover makes sense.  It feels you are getting a box with four to six to even ten books, which you are, even if the stories are short stories. 

I've created two separate covers for my boxed set since iBooks doesn't accept 3D covers.  I don't like the flat cover for a boxed set because the titles just have to be placed randomly on the front and it doesn't look like you have several stories in there. 

So how do you go about creating covers?  It took several hours for me to figure out what I was doing but I've got it down to a small science now. 

First, open your publisher program (this is only for Microsoft Publisher as I don't know much about the other cover designer programs); open a new blank document.  It almost looks like a Word document but it's not.  Publisher was designed to be a picture tool.  If you have a picture you already are wanting to use for your cover, open it.  Once opened, you can stretch it to fit the page or make it whatever size you want it to be.  Add your text boxes (there is a tool on the home page that says "draw text box"; play around with your fonts, sizes, colors, until you get the look you want.  After you are satisfied with your text boxes, click off to the side of the page so no one particular item is highlighted.  Go to you home page and click on select (the drop down will ask if you want to select all objects or another choice); click on select all objects and then the box to the left of where the select button has a group, ungroup selection.  Click on group.  What this does is fuse all the items to make it one picture.  Right click on your picture and click on the line that says "save as picture".  Name your picture and go to the drop down menu below and save it as a JPEG file or whatever type is accepted where you are publishing your books.  Usually JPEG files are the most accepted, so it's pretty safe to save them all as JPEG files.

Now, open a new blank document.  Insert a template for a 3D book.  These are the two I've used for the covers I've created:

The boxed set obviously because I had four stories I combined into one.  The other because I was just playing around with single story covers.

After you pull up your template, then go back to insert and recall the picture you created of the cover.  Stretch it so that it matches the bottom and one or two of the "page" side corners.  Go to picture effects and scroll to the 3D section, play around to see which fits the angle of the book.  For the single story book, the perspective left works well.  Once it slants to the 3D look, adjust your picture until all the edges and corners line up.  Again, go to the select all objects and group them together and then save that file as your 3D cover.

Once you play around with your Publisher program and have the templates, you can do any cover you already have on file as a 3D cover. 

The boxed set is a bit different in that you have to do text boxes and turn them so they are like the spine and this was my first attempt at the 3D covers and it took me a few hours to get what I wanted.

My final 3D cover for the boxed set: 

But because iBooks doesn't like 3D Covers, I had to go with this:

For my Zombies story, again - no 3D for iBooks so everyone but kindle has a flat cover and kindle gets the 3D cover.

Same picture just added to the book template to give it that 3D look.

After I created these two covers, I then decided to take my previously created covers and came up with the following: 

That is how to use publisher to create your own 3D Covers.  Hope you enjoyed this article and if you have any questions, please leave a comment and I'll try to answer them as best as I can.

Elysabeth Eldering
Elysabeth's Blog
Elysabeth's email

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Joy of Reading: is it really such a hard sell?

“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.” - B.F. Skinner

In the Chronicle of Higher Education Alan Jacobs raises the old "nature versus nuture" chestnut by stating that it's impossible to teach children to love reading.  Taken at face value, Jacobs may have a point.  After all, by the time a student reaches university, they've already decided what kind of person they are and attempting to "inculcate the practices of deeply attentive reading" or instill a 'love' is no easy task for a teacher, and may be outside the scope of a class built around a specific text or era.  But I have to say that I strongly disagree that genetics are the only indicator of a love of reading and that one either has the reading gene or they don't. Surely if a sense of humour is a learned trait, influenced by family and cultural environment, then a love of reading must also, at least partly, be learned. 

Deep love comes, not only with a natural inclination and innate capability for sustained attention to story, but also with positive experiences, ideally those that happen early.  I doubt that even the most dedicated genetic ("nature") proponent would argue against the notion that parents can influence a child's feelings towards reading.  Reading outloud, early, and with enthusiasm has got to have an impact on how children feel about reading.  Living in a household filled with books, enriched with off the cuff quotations, and where the pre-bedtime read-outloud moments are among the most enjoyable times in the day would have to make a huge difference over one where books are considered solely the province of academia - to be used for learning and not entertainment.  Once children make that all-important connection between 'story' - the magic of narrative and discovery, and texts, then the move to reading becomes a natural one.   

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives ForeverOf course reading will be easier for some children than others, and that may well be genetically determined.  As Mem Fox argues beautifully in her book Reading Magic, it is incumbant on parents first, and then teachers, to share their own passions and help children and students make the link between those moments of joy when you immerse into story, and the 'book'.  Teaching of literacy has to be infused with love - love for the children and love for the books.  Inbue your teaching with meaning, reality, vitality and passion as Fox puts it and children will get it.

I personally started school with an innate great love of reading that was encourage and strengthened by my parents and their early praise of my reading and their own joy of the written text (and I still get that little frisson of pleasure when I read a book like Little Bear, Where the Wild Things Are, or Ping -- books that my parents read to me often when I was very young), but a few great teachers who shared my joy in books strengthened that love considerably.  The opposite also might have happened if I had been thrown into classes with bored teachers who passed on their dislike for what they were teaching.  Fortunately that didn't happen. To suggest that teachers don't have a truly powerful potential impact on children's love of reading is to severely and incorrectly I think, downplay the value of our teachers.  When my sons, both great book lovers, come home from school and tell me that English is boring, it makes steam come out of my ears and a tendency to reach for the phone to call the school.  Sustained dullness in a lesson that should be filled with drama, enthusiam and moments of self-recognition, self-expression and greater understanding (and of course laughter) will dampen and put back many a child's love of reading.  

By the same token, a wonderful teacher can change the way a child (or student) looks at books - enabling a connection between other forms of entertainment (after all, films and television are often based on stories; popular music is often built on poetry), and awakening a desire for more.  So let's not overplay the limitations of genetics and underplay the value of teaching.  A good teacher can indeed teach students to love reading, not by having "reading loving lessons", but rather by sharing their own enthusiasm for books, encouraging children in their attempts, and finding existing loves and linking those to the written text.  

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at