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Writers Groups

What is a writers group?

Well a writers groups or workshops come in many forms, but the idea behind them is the same.  A writers group is a group of writers (yea no kidding the name sorta implies that).  The group learns from each other, practices writing skills with each other, and share resources.  The overall goal is to better the writing abilities of everyone in the group.

The fear of mockery, rejection, and stolen ideas

Before we talk about writers groups, I have to bring up why a lot of aspiring authors avoid them when they start out.  Its not a good reason, but we all fear rejection and mockery.  And new authors often think everyone is out for their ideas.

For years no one but my wife knew I wrote.  I hid the fact I wrote as if I was part of some illegal underground organization.  I would close all my blinds, darken the house, and then write.  And if anyone saw me I would minimize the window and say I was just reading the news.  That’s a little dramatized, just a little, but I hid it for one reason:

I didn’t want people to make fun of me.  I had it in my head that people would laugh and say “You write!  HA!  That’s such a joke.  Who does that?” or worse “You don’t have what it take so to be a writer.”

After I passed the fear of being mocked, I still worried I wasn’t good enough.  Perhaps I wasn’t then, I don’t know.  But, I do know that I will never know if I was good enough or not because I never shared with anyone else.  A fear of rejection is natural, but if you can not face that fear you won’t do well in this business.  Rejection is the name of the game when it comes to trying to get published.  The reason is, every editor has a different style.  The fact is, everyone has different tastes.  I am sure you have read a book or two that was horrible, but your friends loved it.  It suited their style and not yours.  Same goes with our fellow authors and even editors.  I don’t know of a single author that was published on the first try.  It is just the name of the game.  It doesn’t mean you are a bad writer, just that editor didn’t like that particular story.  Writers groups help you work out the kinks in your writing so you become confident in your prose.

So now I told people I wrote, and expected rejection but was okay with it.  I worried one of the people in a writers group would steal my ideas.   There are many ideas out there, so odds are someone will think of something similar to yours.

I had a great idea for a story in which investigators were sent back in time to try to try and stop a terrorist attack from happening.  Then three weeks later, as I was still trying to formulate the story in my mind, I see the previews for Source Code (2011).  I cursed, yelled, and told my wife someone stole my idea.  Truth is no one stole my idea.  It just happened that they had a similar one.  I still intend to tell my story, because I will tell it my way and therefore make the idea my own.

Of course, I would be lying if I said no one has ever completely stolen an entire story from someone else.  Your writers groups should have strong rules against that.  I am no expert of copyrights either, but I have been told your works are yours when you lay it on the paper.  Stealing it is unacceptable, but it can happen. It hasn’t happened to me yet.  I have, on the other hand, heard of very talented writers’ careers being ruined because they stole a story from another person and go it published.  When it was discovered he stole the story he was effectively black listed as a writer.  Not the best way to go about realizing your dreams of being published.

You will find that over 99.99999999999% (statistics not guaranteed to be accurate) of the authors out there want to be published for their own ideas, not yours.

Knowing all this it dawned on me:  Worrying about someone stealing your ideas is a lot like worrying about death.  You should do the correct things to protect yourself from it, but you can’t let it rule your life.

Why do you need a writers group?

So you are not scared anymore of rejection or mockery.  But, you ask “Why do I even need a writer’s group?”

Well frankly you are not perfect.  Sorry if that was a news flash, but none of us are.  Writers groups give you a chance to learn from other people and them a chance to learn from you.  Each member has something to offer the group.  The group works together to learn something, prompt writing ideas, and look over each others work.

I have learned more from critiquing fellow writers works then getting my own works critiqued.  I have also learned more from writers groups then I have from any of the writing books I have read.  Don’t get me wrong the books are great but nothing beats practice.

Writers groups will share resources with you as well.  It could be a good article they read, the opening of a new market, a good book to read, and much more.

To be a good writer, you need the help of other writers.  Not just professional authors, but writers of all levels.

How to find a writers group

Writers groups come in many shapes and forms.

First, you have in person writers groups.  These groups meet in person and usually follow some schedule.  They may meet at the local library, the college campus, or Starbucks.  Personally I prefer in person groups that meet some place quiet.  Finding in person groups is easier then you might think.  First, ask other writers in your local area about their groups.  Check listings on websites for writers groups.  But the best way I found was asking around the college or my local library.

Next, you have the forum type of writers groups.  I have been a part of one for about a year.  The biggest thing with these is it requires some discipline on you part.  There is usually no scheduled meeting time, so you have to make sure you regularly participate.  Otherwise you won’t get any benefit from them.  We have a number of people who join our group (its fairly open to join), they post a segment of their writing for us to review, then we never hear from them again.

Last, and one I just recently tried, is what I will call an eGroup.  Google+ is great for this, but it can be done in a variety of ways.  This is where writers meet up virtually at a scheduled time.  Web cam meetings are best, but it could simply be in a chat room.  These work a lot like the in person groups do, just over the net.

The advantage to the forum and eGroup is that you can get people from all over the world.  You would be amazed how the different perspectives of the world will help you write.

What to look for.

You need to look for a couple of things in a writers group before you join:

  1. Will this group be able to help you in your genre of writing?  If you write SciFi like me, a romance novel group will do you little good.
  2. The group needs to have hard rules and someone should be designated the moderator.  There has to be be rules that are understood by all members of the group.  These include rules about how the time will be used, how critiques will be done, acceptable writing content, how much of any one work is allowed to be shared at a time (especially true of electronic forums because of first electronic rights ect), and other rules.  It should be up to the moderator how to handle rule violators .  There has to be rules.
  3. Is the group civilized?  Critiques should be limited to the work in progress not each other.  Any group that allows personal attacks on fellow writers should be avoided.
  4. Does the group’s schedule work for you?  If you will miss a lot of meeting because they meet on a day that doesn’t always work for you, then you should find another group.  If you have a schedule that in odd or fluctuates a lot, I suggest a forum group because you can sign on when you can.  But remember you need to be on regularly.
  5. What does the group do with it’s time?  Is this more of a research group that talks about the craft, or is it a group that spends most of its time writing?  I suggest finding a balance between the two.  Most follow a pattern of 15-30 minutes talk, followed by 45-60 minutes writing.  They may repeat this a couple of times before a final discussion and calling it a day.  With forums, the writing time is up to you.
  6. Are you comfortable there?  If you are not comfortable with the writing group, you won’t learn much from it.  Make sure these are people you are comfortable with, but not too comfortable either.  If you are all friends it won’t work either.  Which leads to my next topic:

When is it time to leave a group?

You should leave any group that attacks other writers or you become uncomfortable in.  But you may also want to leave a group, or at least find other groups, if your group starts to become friends.  Sure, you may still hang out and discuss writing.  But friends eventually may not critique your work as hard as they should simply because they don’t want to hurt your feelings any more.

Think of it this way.  Watch the try outs for American Idol or America’s Got Talent.  They always show that singer who is horrid and makes you cry in desperation for it to end.  What made them even think they could try out?  That they were ready for big time?  Their friends and family who where to afraid to break their hearts and say “YOU CAN’T SING, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF MAN KIND STOP SINGING!”  Of course, a writers group will help you learn to be a better writer versus tell you to stop, but the point in the same.  Family and friends will always soften the blow.

Don’t abandon the friends you make in these groups, but seek a second opinion if you feel friendships are effecting the critiques you get back.

 

In the end, writers groups are the most effective way I have found to share ideas and learn.  I have never been disappointed with any group I have worked with.  Your results may vary.

 

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Writing and Family Life

I didn’t write a blog post yesterday.  I had every intention of doing so, but I also have a great family and they needed my attention yesterday as well.  My two older boys had their first ever soccer practice, the wife and I had to meet with some people to talk about Life Insurance.  Then of course I had to have play time with the kids and cook dinner, and on and on and on.  Not exactly exciting stuff but it all piled up into a nice pile of excuses (valid ones) to not write anything.  No blog post and no story work.  Opps!

My fellow writers out there with kids know exactly what I mean.  So last night as I was laying in bed, kicking myself for not writing, I thought this would be a great topic for today’s post.

Writing with Kids!

When I first started writing for my own fun, I had no kids.  I would write for hours into the wee hours of the night.  I would put down thousands of words a day, easy.  Then my first son was born.  Having a child is one of the best things that can ever happen in your life.  My beautiful wife did all the hard work giving birth to all three of our children.  I was working so she even took care of most of the late night needs of a baby each and every time.  She is an amazing woman.

Well something else happened with the miracle of becoming a Dad.  The days suddenly got shorter.  There was not longer 24 hours in day, I am pretty sure time accelerates.  I would wake up in the morning with every intention of getting all my daily tasks done, including writing.  And then I would eat breakfast, and just like that it was time for bed.  I am sure something happened in between breakfast and going to bed, but it was all a blur.  Two years later, my middle child was born, and two years after that my youngest.  Time had now sped up exponentially with each child.  I no longer ate breakfast.  I woke up, did a bunch of things all related to child care (none of which I remember) and then I went back to bed.

Needless to say, writing never seemed to happen.  Days turned to weeks, weeks to month, and next thing I knew my oldest son was five years old and going to Kindergarten.  I know what you are thinking, I thought it too.  I can write while he is in school!  Well I have a two other sons, who need my time.  And you would be amazed how much of my time they need.

But I needed my writing time too.  My craft was for me, and I needed some me time.  At the same time I had some other epiphanies at the same time and really began to look into writing.  My passion for writing had bloomed, but now I needed to find the time.  The great people of my writer’s group has a lot of great ideas.

Some get up early before the kids and get an hour in that way.  The problem is, I am just to damn lazy to get up any earlier then I have to.  In most cases, laziness beats determination especially when you have three young boys who never stop sucking the energy from you.  So that option was out for me.  It may work for you, and if you want to try it… go right ahead.  I will pass.

Some suggested waiting for the kids to go to bed for the night.  But my wife works twelve hour days and the only time I get with her is after they go to bed.  Did I mention she is a beautiful woman?  So the last thing I want to do is spend time with my keyboard over her.  She is fully supportive of my art and would likely let me write to my hearts content, but I am a man too.  And as a man I want to spend time with her too.

Others simply wrote while their kids play around them.  I am a paranoid Dad.  The second the house in quiet, I panic.  My house is never quiet.  And as soon as they see me distracted they find something they should not have and they get quiet.  They think they can get away with it because Dad is busy.  Well when I write, I can’t have distractions.  The words come to mind far faster then I can type them (and I type at a decent speed).  Stopping every few minutes to put on the black and white stripes to referee the latest toy dispute distracted me to much.

Of course there was nap time.  In the early years that did not work.  When all three kids are asleep I was playing catch up on the house work.  The stuff you don’t want to do around kids because the seem to some how ruin it.  You know the toy the never play with so you pick it up and now they want to use it.  Or the dishes they see you doing, and now they need a snack (three boys always need snack).  And now, my two older boys don’t even take a nap.  So, that takes a lot of work.

Any of these tips may work for you, but not for me.  But I still needed to write.

So what did I do?

The idea actually came from my mom.  As she so often does, she has ideas for everything.  I suppose its her nearly thirty years of Mommy experience.  She suggested that when my little one goes for his nap, I impose “Quite time” to help the older two relax.  So we did that.

It wasn’t to long into this that an idea came to mind.  I should share my writing time with my kids.  I hear you all yelling at me right now.  “YOU IDIOT YOU JUST SAID YOU CAN’T DO THAT!!”  First, don’t yell at me.  Second, I mean to actually share the quiet time as art time.

So, I put my little one to nap.  Then I start the two older children on their homework.  This is when I work on picking up the house, doing the dishes, and helping with my kids homework.  After that we continue quiet time with “art time.”

They color, draw picture and read books.  I write.  For two hours we do this.  We stop and share with each other.  Mostly they show me what they draw or tell me what they read.  But sometimes we work together.  My oldest boy and I put together a children’s story.  And I am working to have it published very soon.  Its like a writing group with my kids.

Share in the passions you have with your kids.  Art is to important and too many kids don’t get it in school anymore.  I have completed a lot more writing sharing the time with my kids, and they are enriching their minds with books, arts, and crafts.  They need the time away from the TV.  You never know what they may become in the future and the art time may be what they need.

Family is always first, that will never change for me.  And it should be the same for you.  But, family time does not have to trump writing time.  It can be shared.

Does this work for me?  Yes.  Your results may vary.

If you have kids you have to fit your writing (or other art) around, please comment bellow on how you do it.  I would love to know.

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Grammar Police

My rant on Grammar Police in Social Networks

I have always found it a bit aggravating to run across the Grammar Police during my adventures on the Social Networking sites I frequent.

First of all, compared to the vast majority of what I have read in status updates and news feeds, the mistakes I make do not come close to warranting the attention of Grammar Cops.  Many of these people, especially the generation coming up behind mine, post words (and I use that term loosely) that are not recognizable as English.

But secondly, and most annoying to me, is that fact that this is social networking.  It is not a college dissertation and type0s are to be expected.  I don’t know anyone that proof reads their tweets, calls in an editor for a Facebook entry, or scrutinizes their Google+ feed.  The fact of the matter is this is Social Networking, it is more about the exchange of ideas and thoughts (and more commonly the way you tell us all that you finished breakfast).  So be happy I didn’t tell you about my last toilet break instead of worrying about my use of punctuation.

Grammar and the Writer

So I can already hear the Grammar Cops saying: “Mr. Flores, you are a Author you should have more respect for the grammar law.”

Well, sorry Officer.  Good grammar is not necessary to be an amazing Author.

I will give you a minute to catch you breaths and pick your jaws up off the floor.

Think about the greatest stories you have ever read.  For me they include many great works by undisputed story telling superstars.  What made those stories good?  Was it the fact that the Author knew the right location for a semicolon?  Or was it the life-like characters, the vivid scenes, the compelling dialogue, and the intertwining plot threads?

If you are any of my English Teachers you probably said the semicolon.  If you are a true fan for reading and story telling, you likely chose the second.

It takes imagination to write a good story.  It takes skillful character building to make them real people.  It takes a skillful world builder to make a planet you have never seen seem like its your favorite vacation spot.  It takes a special talent to develop a plot that does not seem like it was developed at all.  It takes a whole different breed of person to then selflessly hash apart your work to make it reach a publishable word limit.  To remove scenes you are in love with because it doesn’t really move the story forward.  Or to ruthlessly murder your favorite character because his time had come.

The grammar errors can even be put in on purpose, to illustrate a point.  Words may be spelled wrong because as you desperately click away the keys on your keyboard you might miss a letter, or hit the wrong one.  It is part of the writing process.

Grammar Police do have a place

My spelling is not the best, my grammar can always use work.  But, that is why all my stories go though checks by other people.  I even have my own Grammar Cop that looks at my works in progress just to catch grammar mistakes and ignores the prose.  I need them, but when the time is right.

When I have gotten the story just right.  When it is just about to go out to those pesky (but necessary) editors.  I hand my work to my Grammar Cop and she writes me a boat load of infractions.  I pay the fine, fix the mistakes, and send it out.

But when I am on the social networks, writing in forums, or posting on this blog the Grammar Cops can move along.  There is nothing more to see here.

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I have entered the world of Blogging

Well that is not entirely true, I used to blog when I was running for Vacaville City Council in 2010.  But that was a different kind of blog.  It was a kissing babies and bragging about my community involvement.   Of course, I love the City of Vacaville and still remain active in my community both as a Volunteer and in my shopping local pledge.

This blog is my entrance into blogging about those items that come to my mind.  People think the hardest part of being a writer is thinking of new story ideas.  I contest that.  Thinking of the ideas is the easiest part.  Almost anyone can do that.  Taking that idea, turning it into a story, crafting the world in which it takes place, and then getting that all down on paper that is hard.  Getting it in front of an audience of readers, well that is even harder.

This blog allows me to do three things.  Write, write and write again.  Writing is a craft and like any craft it needs practice.  The best way to continue to improve myself is to keep writing.  That is what I intend to do.

Now, if you would help getting it in front of an audience, I would appreciate it.  First, subscribe to my blog by clicking the link to the left.  You can also follow me on twitter and Facebook with those links to the left as well.  Second, recommend my blog to everyone you know.  Sure most of them will just get annoyed at you for sending them something they don’t care about, but a few of them might follow my blog, my Facebook page or even my Twitter feed.  In the end, I don’t think I am asking for a lot.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts and blogs.  There will be sarcasm, things I find funny (but you likely won’t), and of course the topic of writing.

Enjoy, Richard

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