To Contest or Not To Contest…that is the question

Do you enter contests for your writing?

Over the last couple decades, I’ve entered many contests, both for full-length novels and short stories. I belong to RWA (Romance Writers of America), which includes multiple chapter contests in their monthly magazine, both for unpublished and published authors. I think most genres have something similar, or you can easily find them on-line. RMFW has an annual contest for unpublished authors. Writer’s Digest and other publications and on-line sites have contests for short stories. There are a couple different reasons for entering contests, and your decision may hinge on where you are in your writing career.

If you’re unpublished, contests can:

  • Help you identify problems with your writing that you’ve become “word blind” to.
  • Educate you on craft (one judge highlighted each point of view in a different color, which really helped me to understand why I kept getting comments on staying in POV).
  • Get your work in front of published author judges and, if you final, agents and editors who are actively looking for books in the genre they’re judging.
  • Give you a low cost way to get more input on your writing.
  • Generally you’ll get 3 preliminary judges so you get 3 different points of view on your writing; usually they’ll post comments on the judging form, as well as on the manuscript.
  • Some contests will send you graphics you can use on your website/social media if you final/win.
  • Finaling or winning is great to include on your query letters or during your pitch appointments; it might be the final push to get someone to request pages or a full read.
  • Most contests post their winners in multiple places, getting your name, and your book title, out into the world – priceless publicity.



Contests are great for Published Authors as well because:

  • Winning a contest looks great on query letters and in pitches, as well as on your website and author platform.
  • Finalists and winners get free publicity in genre newsletters, writing group social media, etc.

Contest negatives:

  • Some judges may not read, or even like, the genre they’re judging – resulting in unhelpful comments.
  • Judges have varying degrees of expertise, and may give you poor or incorrect feedback.
  • There is some cost involved (usually $10-$30, with from 1 to 50 pages judged).

No matter if you’re unpublished or multi-published (Nora Roberts STILL enters RWA contests), you can get something out of contests. But as always, it’s YOUR story. Don’t make changes just to please a judge. However, to get the most from judge notes:

  • If you get more than one judge commenting on the same issue, pay attention, especially if those comments are similar to ones your critique group have mentioned.
  • Read the comments, but if you don’t agree with them, give it a day or two. Don’t be hasty to toss the judging sheets out, or make a lot of changes.
  • If more than one judge is saying the same thing, and/or echoing critique comments, copy the pages into a new document and see what happens if you make the changes/start in a new place, etc. Sometimes what seemed like an impossible job, or a horrible idea, ends up making a much better manuscript. Don’t discount the comments just because you don’t like them at first blush.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking everything the judges say must be correct. One of my first contests had a judge telling me all my chapters had to be 12-13 pages long. Because I didn’t yet belong to a writer’s group like RMFW, and didn’t have anywhere else to go for information, I turned that manuscript inside out trying to make all the chapters come out at that length. I later found out the judge had one self-published family memoir as their sum total of writing experience. That doesn’t mean the judge couldn’t contribute good suggestions to help me improve my work, but they weren’t familiar with my genre, and probably didn’t read enough fiction to know chapter length is one of the most variable parts of books these days.

Whether or not you want to enter contests, consider volunteering to judge. You’ll get educated on the judging process, and you’re likely to make great contacts, as well as networking with other writers/judges interested in your genre. Judging can help you find your herd/tribe and possibly friendships that will last forever.

So, happy contesting, and Write On!

Never Give Up

Whatever you're writing, wherever you are in the writing process or in your career, I have two pieces of advice for you:

  1. Finish the book
  2. Don't ever give up.

Nobody said this writing life was going to be easy. I don't need to tell you about the obstacles – you already know what they are. Only you know how strong your personal demons are and how much energy it takes to overcome them every time you sit down to write. Only you know how hard it is to summon up enough faith to send out one more query. Only you know how deep and dark your doubts are when you're wide awake in the middle of the night.

Don't let any of this stop you. If you have the passion, if writing is the one thing that makes you feel fully alive and present in this world, then you must keep on.

Write on the days when the words flow as easily as water. Write on the days when it feels like every word has to be dredged up from your toenails. Write on the days when you feel like the painted ship upon a painted sea, when words are sludge and hope is gone and you know for certain that nobody in their right mind will ever read this tripe you're smearing on the page.

Some of you are doing Nanowrimo this month. Maybe you're blazing trails and have left that 50k word count goal in the dust. Maybe what you're writing is sheer brilliance and you are riding a writing high. But if you happen to be three weeks into Nanowrimo and your word count is falling behind, don't give up. Keep writing. If you can't quite make the word count, focus on making a word count.  If the end of November comes along and you've only got twenty-thousand words, or ten, that's more than you had at the beginning of the month. Keep going. Don't let some airy-fairy idea of failure make you stop.

If you're above ground, if you're still writing, you haven't failed.

And when you finally finish your draft and you read it and you're sure it totally sucks, see if you can make it better. Then move on and write another book. And then another and another. Focus on making every new book better than the last.

I'm not saying you shouldn't revise the sucky draft. You probably should. Most first drafts are wormwood and despair. They need a lot of work to turn them into masterpieces. By the time I'm done revising and rewriting, I generally have as many words in what I call my "Darlings" file as there are in the finished novel.

But there is a danger in getting fixated and stuck on one novel. I see writers working on the same book forever and ever, like they're Sisyphus pushing that damned boulder up the hill, day after day after day. The energy leaks out of the book, or it becomes a convoluted mess. The writer lives in a state of desperation and despair. This is not good for either book or writer.

Sometimes you have to step away for a bit. Find a new idea. Write another book. And then another one. Every book will teach you something new about your craft and lead you closer to mastery. And then, maybe, one day, you'll go back to that sucky Nanowrimo draft and realize you now have the skills you need to fix it.

Look what I ran across the other day:



Notice the date. Yep. Dead Before Dying was written five years ago, and is just now on its way to publication. Since the time that draft was completed I've written four other books and three novellas. Dead Before Dying had to wait its turn until I'd figured out what it needed. That first draft was a mess. The POV was all wrong. It didn't fit any genre category known to humanity. And Maureen, my feisty lead character, wasn't even in it.

I didn't know any of that. All I knew was that something was wrong with it. I never abandoned it - I always knew I would come back to finish it. But I had to go build some writing chops on other projects.

My point with all of this is exactly what I said at the beginning. Whatever you're writing now? Finish it. And then write something else.

Don't stop.

Don't give up.

Writers write. You are a writer. So go do the thing you're here in this world to do, and don't let anything or anybody stop you.


Ten Tips for Staying Healthy

Writing is never easy, but when you're sick? That sneezing, sniffling, aches, pain, and fever thing is death to eloquent words and brilliantly devised plots. Your brain gets stuck on thoughts of, will I ever breathe again? and I want my mommy. You take a pill or swallow some nasty tasting liquid out of a bottle that promises to make you function like a rock star, but all you get is a medicine head and, if you're lucky, a nose that drips instead of flowing like a garden hose.

I don't know about you, but the only things I excel at when I've caught a bug are whining and moaning. Well, and maybe sneezing. I'm a fabulous sneezer.

It could be said that the experience of illness will allow you to write this state more realistically if any of your characters are taken sick, but I'm willing to guess you've already been there, done that, and don't really need to do it again.

The good news is that there are things you can do to bump up your immune system during the colder, darker days of winter, so that you are less likely to play host to the tiny, evil, opportunistic organisms swarming around you.

  • Don't rely on the flu shot. I'm an RN in a clinic, and I often encounter patients who are shocked, appalled, and even angry that the flu shot did not prevent them from getting sick. Here's the thing: the flu shot will only provide protection from the flu, and only from certain strains of the flu. It's not going to help you out at all with colds and other viruses and bacteria. It's important to know that the flu shot only provides immunity to whatever strains the experts predict will be most prevalent during a particular year. Last year, the formulation was way off target and pretty much useless. I'm not saying don't get one, I'm only saying don't rely on it as your only means of protection.


  • Wash your hands. I can hear you saying, "Yeah, yeah, we know." Well, I'm telling you again. Wash 'em. Frequently. Colds and flu viruses can be spread through tiny droplets that hang in the air, but you are much more likely to catch the disease by touching an object covered in viruses and then transferring them to a mucus membrane (eyes, lining of nose, mouth). Objects that are reservoirs for the bugs that can make you sick—doorknobs, for example, and little kids—are known as fomites. (I figured, as writers, you would like to know this word.) Somebody with a cold blows their nose, then opens the door. An hour later you come by and put your hand, all unsuspecting, on the doorknob. Then your eye itches. And bingo – you've provided a colony of little viral immigrants with a new home. You could do the Howard Hughes thing and never go outside your door without gloves and a mask. You could scrub the skin off your hands and spend all of your free time sterilizing every possible fomite you encounter. But then you wouldn't have time to write. Besides, a healthy immune system does an amazing job of fighting off intruders, and there are things you can do to help out.


  • Cut back on your sugar intake. Sugar is an immune damper and leaves you more susceptible to invasion by the microscopic barbarians. I know this is a tough one for writers – most of us love to snack while writing, to keep the words flowing. We use treats as incentives and to honor goals completed. We comfort ourselves with ice cream and chocolate when we're faced with bad writing days, rejection, and low sales numbers. Candy. Cookies. Pie. I'm drooling over here. I'm not suggesting to cut these things out all together – they are delicious and life is short. But make a choice to cut back and choose a healthier snack when you can.


  • Get some Vitamin D in your day. If you're pale skinned and live in the western hemisphere, chances are good that you're Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D plays an integral role in a healthy immune system, so you might want to consider getting a good supplement. D3 is better than D2. Of course, if you can get plenty of sunshine that works, too. But winter days, for most of us, are short and dark.


  • Manage your stress. Chronic stress has all sorts of negative effects on the body, and I'm not going to begin to address all of them here. Suffice it to say that the primary stress hormone, cortisol, can negatively impact your immune system when there is too much of it floating around. The life of a writer is full of stressors. All of us are balancing writing with a busy schedule, hitting deadlines, and dealing with rejection, and this takes its toll.  Anything that relaxes you and calms the stress response (except for alcohol, unfortunately), is good for your immune system. Take a leisurely walk, preferably somewhere in nature. Get a massage. Read a book – for pleasure. Critique reads are often stressful in one way or another. Soak in the bathtub. Engage in music or art. Try Yoga and meditation, as these are both fabulous stress reducers. Think you don't have time? Think again. A recent study indicated that just 3-5 minutes a day of meditative breathing dramatically lowered the stress hormones in the body.


  • Get a reasonable amount of sleep. I know, I know. You've got word count goals. Deadlines. Nanowrimo. But if you get sick, you're going to lose a ton of productive writing time. Writing is usually a marathon, not a sprint. Conserve your energy. If you suffer from insomnia, make sure to consider stress management, since that is one of the major culprits in a sleepless night.


  • Consider immune boosting supplements. The jury is still out on whether taking Vitamin C, Garlic, Zinc, Vitamin B, Echinacea, and other supplements is helpful to the immune system or not. It's possible we'd just be better off eating a well-balanced diet rich in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I'll admit, research evidence or not, that the minute I start feeling a tickle in my throat I grab a bottle of Sambucol Black Elderberry and slug it straight out of the bottle. I'll also argue vehemently that it works.


  • Exercise regularly. We all know that a healthy body is more likely to have a healthy immune system. Exercise also happens to be a fabulous stress buster and one of the best defenses against depression. It's easy to not have time for this - trust me, I know. My schedule is crazy and I totally understand that a lot of us do not have time to go to the gym everyday. But I'm suggesting that you walk when you can. Park in a spot on the far side of the parking lot instead of searching for a space close to the door. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Do what you can.


  • Laugh. If nothing funny is presenting itself, go look for things. Watch funny clips on YouTube. Seek out the Twitter and Facebook people who post things that make you laugh. Watch funny TV. The old saying "laughter is the best medicine" came to be for a reason. Laughing has all kinds of crazy health benefits, actually, and one of them is a boost to your immune system.


  • Tend to your relationships. Recent research shows that the health of our relationships has an enormous impact on our immune systems. Like a lot of research, I read this and said, "Well, duh." There is no greater stress than a relationship that is all in tangles. Sometimes the solution is as simple as walking away from a toxic friendship. Often, it's not so easy. Important relationships often demand - and deserve - hard work to sort things out. To which I say, do the work. Your body will thank you for taking action.

The Game of Writing by Guest Kara Seal

So you successfully defeated the boss on level three and achieved a high score. You think to yourself, “that wasn’t so hard, this game is easy.” Level four is a little more demanding, but thanks to your well-honed skills, the dungeon is soon in sights and victory is inevitable! Only this boss has moves you’ve never seen before, and after three hits it’s game over. Sometimes, this is it how it feels starting a new writing project, except the game’s not over unless you give up.

There are several ways to write a book, and every writer has their own process. But what happens when your tried and true method fails? What worked for one book might not work for the next. To date, I’ve completed four manuscripts, all of which were written chronologically and all of which I employed the “edit as you go” approach. The method was golden. Or so I thought. Enter current project, which after four false starts still didn’t feel right. Things weren’t clicking. This story refused to let me write it in the way I thought was MY process. Somehow my book decided it wanted to be written out of order and without much fixing before moving on to the next scene or chapter. When I lamented my trouble, several writer friends expressed similar frustrations. Just as no two writers create in the same way, every book is a different game.

If, like me, you find yourself reinventing your process, how do you know if you’re doing it right? After fighting this story for months with very little progress, I realized I needed to stop resisting and listen to my characters. I needed to go where the story took me. Like real people, characters aren’t cookie-cutter creations, so why should I expect the telling of their stories to be a uniform process? This isn’t to say that your method SHOULD change from book to book; some of us are creatures of habit, and if the shoe fits, wear it. But for those of us who thrive on variation, we might find the need to adapt our process with each new idea.

The bottom line is writing is hard no matter how you go about it. The key is to keep putting words on the page and keep improving your craft. And remember, the game isn’t over until you give up, so press start to continue and play again.


Kara SealKara Seal holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Colorado State University. By day, she's a Programming Assistant at a public library district. By night, she's a writer of young adult and middle grade fiction, and an active member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Pikes Peak Writers. Kara was a finalist in the 2013 Colorado Gold writing contest. She lives in Colorado with her husband and two high energy dogs.

Endings and Endings Problems:

By Robin D. Owens

Endings are extremely important. You want the reader to be satisfied, more, to remember that you gave them a good finish and look forward to your next book.

Here are some problems I, as a reader and writer, find in endings:

I had a favorite author (male writing under a female pseudonym) whose work I loved . . . until the end. Many of his/her books felt like s/he just didn't care past a certain point, or had left this particular project until late (the romances) and had to rush. Deeply unsatisfying.

So rushing pace can be a problem.

Or abrupt endings. I have a writer friend who likes to read endings with an emotional wrap-up, even as she tends to write until the action is done and stops.

Or a slow and lingering pace. The hero and heroine have solved the crime, saved the world, fallen in love, and you spend two more extraneous chapters describing how happy they and their friends and everyone else is.

Point of view. I have had books with only hero's and heroine's point of view . . . then, rather like a long camera pan in a film, the point of view changes to omniscient. This bugs me.

For example, I read a treasure hunt romance about a lost pearl (object has been changed). The hero and heroine kiss and go off to bed. The last line went something like: And in the moonlight the pearl softly gleamed. (What?)

Cliffhangers and Setting Up a Series

I would say that unless your next book will is out or will be published within, say, a week, don't do this. It irritates folks that the protagonist remains in danger, or hasn't solved the crime, or the love interest has died/left/been dumped.

A critique buddy recently read a mystery-thriller that began a series that she hadn't realized was the first book in a series. She thought the (continuing characters) cops were stupid because they didn't investigate well and didn't solve the original crime at the end, and the main villain escaped. Though the romance in the book wrapped up well, the mystery was left hanging. She was quite annoyed and would not go on to the next book. I heard about this and we dissected the technique for about two hours.

So watch your set-ups and pay-offs. If you set up an action, especially a main problem in your book, you will have less readers upset with you if you solve that problem instead of leaving it dangling.

For myself, I tend to leave a few threads unresolved in my series, this is usually acceptable for readers and hopefully tantalizes them, and it gives me a longer arc to work on a particular story.

The romance wraps up, the character growth wraps up, but there is a continuing story thread that is not resolved.

For instance: Once a hero was disinherited and this caused major problems for his whole family over the course of 3-4 books. Lately I've introduced a violent and evil political group (heh, heh) and have whittled down some of its members from book to book, but have left one last person unknown . . . to be caught and punished in the next book. This will wrap up that particular thread that's run through three books.

A final note. What I think is most important is the emotional punch of an ending. If you make sure you get the emotion right, some lack of technique can be forgiven. Like the first line or paragraph of your story should hook the reader, so should the last paragraphs or lines evoke enough emotion to linger in your readers' memories.

I've written twenty-five books, four novellas and two short stories, and I've always worked hard at the endings – to tie things up right, leave a good punctuating emotional note that would echo after the reader finished. But I think I've done exceptional endings twice.

My most recently published book, Ghost Killer, has one of the best endings I've done. (And thus why I thought of this topic). That ending is second after HeartMate, published book #1 (which might have helped get me published in the first place).

And here's a fact about Ghost Killer's ending. It came strictly through the historical research as I was writing the book. I knew in general what I wanted, but the research supplied another couple of layers to the moment.

So look inside yourself for your ending, see if it can echo your beginning, perhaps leave a hint of the next story. And be open for the muse or fate or research or an odd comment you might hear to add that emotional note you need to make a reader smile and sigh and close the book, wishing it wasn't over.

May all your writing dreams come true,

Nobody Writes Like You

By Mark Stevens

Can you write like your favorite writer?

I know I can’t.

You might have Ursula Le Guin or Patricia Highsmith or Ernest Hemingway in mind when you write something, but somehow it comes out on the page as, well, you.

Somewhere in all those choices of words, sentences, characters, images, plots, moods, dialogue, action sequences, big finishes, prologues and epilogues—no matter how much you might try to emulate another writer—you show up.

I was thinking about this recently when The New Yorker featured a podcast reading of “The Trouble With Mrs. Blynn, The Trouble With the World.” That’s a story by Patricia Highsmith (who happens to be one of my all-time favorite writers) and it was read by Yiyun Li.

The story is so simple—in a way. It’s about “Mrs. Palmer,” who is dying of leukemia in a seaside cottage in England. She is being tended to by a few people including a “Mrs. Blynn,” a nurse, who has a grating presence and inflicts various petty cruelties on her patient.

Not much happens. It’s true.

But yet—so much happens. Listen to the discussion between Yiyun Li and The New Yorker's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, and you realize how much subtext was going on around this cottage, where all the so-called “action” takes place. Instructive? To say the least.

It’s typical Highsmith. This was stuff she cared about, the needling insults and jagged edges between somewhat ordinary people. Her protagonists (Thomas Ripley, hello) are extremely flawed human beings. She crafted 20-plus novels and many dozens of short stories out of her fascination with warped humanity.

Plotting and Writing - HighsmithEarlier last week, I read a terrific story in The Guardian by Sam Jordison—“Creative Writing Lessons from Patricia Highsmith”—in which he looked at her guide, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. One of Jordison’s many keen insights is this: that the guide itself proves it’s “impossible to walk in Highsmith’s shoes.”

Yes, I dig Patricia Highsmith—but I couldn’t write like her even if the Valyrian greatsword Ice was making its way toward my tender little neck.

I ask: what’s up with that?

Put a hundred writers in a room, give them 40 specific plot points for a novel, the setting, eight major characters and ask them all to write in the style of a noir thriller.

What will you get?

You will get precisely 100 different novels in return.

The best writers, in my mind, have their own fingerprints on the page, a dab of their own soul—sometimes a whole lot more. But unless you are outright stealing a style or lifting ideas wholesale, you will leave your mark on the page. It's part of the process. It's why we write.

What’s my point?

As a writer, I like to remind myself—nobody can tell the story the way I’m going to tell the story.

Nobody can.

Nobody will.

It’s not even possible.

And to do a decent job telling it, I better have a good idea of what’s driving me to tell it.

Patricia Highsmith (from Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction): “There is no secret of success in writing except individuality, or call it personality. And since every person is different, it is only for the individual to express his difference from the next fellow. This is what I call the opening of the spirit. But it isn’t mystic. It is merely a kind of freedom—freedom organized. Plotting and Writing will not make anybody work harder. But it will, I hope, make people who want to write realize what is already within them.”


By Robin D. Owens

"My brain has decided that writing isn't a temporary job anymore," said Laila, a writer I've been sprinting alongside in the mornings lately.

"I'm rearranging my office this morning during our writing sprints. When I started working my day job from home and writing too, I assumed it was temporary. I thought I was going to join an MBA program. But after finishing this manuscript, I've realized that writing isn't a temporary job anymore."

"That's important." I typed back. I spend most of my days with an online group doing sprints. They are motivational and supportive (the people . . . though I suppose the sprints – wars – are supportive, too, and certainly motivational).

Everyone is invited. The ones who stay find this process works for them (it doesn't for everyone). We are published traditionally, published by small press, self-published, published through Kickstarter, and unpublished. Laila is unpublished.

Laila joined the war room (a specialized chat room) in March (yes, I asked her since I'm writing this with her in the war room) "one week into the draft of the manuscript."

The last couple of months have been intense in the war room, with three of us solidly working. I was late with Heart Legacy and turned it in May 8, then jumped on Ghost Talker, due at the end of this month. (Ha, ha, ha).

Jay had a book due to her small press on June 15. Both Laila and Jay finished their manuscripts on the same day last week.

We all celebrated with cheers and virtual champagne. Because we aren't in the same room, you know, or even in the same area.

We are worldwide. Sweden, England, Ireland, East Coast Canada, Central Time, Mountain Time and West Coast Time zones are all represented.

But we are a community, an extremely supportive and motivated bunch. And that's incredibly important to me. By now, I would say that daily support is necessary to me.

I've done the home-from-day-job-start-writing business. I did that for many years, writing alone in the dark every night, writing on weekends and holidays. At that time (and now) I had RMFW critique buddies, the monthly meetings and various get-togethers for support.

For me, the support of writing friends is vital.

I think it is vital for all writers. You aren't alone. There are others out there like you. People who hear characters speak to them or see a scene roll before their inner eyes. Or writers who struggle with character decisions, turning points and plot. Clunky words and learning technique. And if you hang around us, we will motivate you to write.

A caveat: Make sure you find the group that fits you. Ditch the ones that drag you down and suck out your energy and emotions (because, yes, some do).

But if RMFW fits you (and it boggles my mind that it wouldn't), stick with us, your friends in RMFW, your critique group buddies. Your Writing Groups. We will help you. We'll be there. You can count on us.

May you write wonderful words today.

(p.s. send me an email if you think you need the wordwars group -- robindowens (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll get back to you with the chat room url and password. Like I said we're open to everyone, but a lot of people come and go deciding whether or not we work for them. We tend to do days in the U.S. Sometimes evenings and nights. We do have a spec fic slant.)

How To Handle a Bad Critique – Aaron Michael Ritchey Style

BY Aaron Michael Ritchey

So I’ve been in critique groups for nine years now. That’s a whole lot of words being read by other people. You want the math? Oh yes, I know you do.

So ten pages a week, times fifty-two ‘cause there are fifty-two weeks in a year, so that’s 520 pages a year for nine years. For a grand total of 4680 pages. If a book is around three hundred pages, that’s 15.6 books. Roughly. Break that into words, about three thousand words every week, times fifty-two, times nine, and that’s 1,404,000 words critiqued.

I won’t do hours.

So yeah. I’ve been around the block and back. Most of the time the critiques are good, sometimes they are fun, and sometimes, sometimes, the critiques have claws that rip my poor wittle heart to shreds.

A bad critique attacks the very heart of my writing, and I’m not sure how productive that is. But it happens. It’s part of the deal. A good critique seeks to improve or offers a different perspective. A bad critique is destructive. And to make myself perfectly clear, sometimes the bad critique comes from someone who innocently is just offering their opinion. A bad critique can fall out of the sky like hail. Hail doesn’t hate you. It just falls. Sabes?

How do I handle things when good critiques go bad?

I hate.

I don’t sleep. I don’t eat. I sharpen knives and listen to Cannibal Corpse. I plot murder, rebellion, revolution, anarchy in the U.K. I draft long emails defending my work, defending the vicious act of writing words and its difficulty, defending the very purpose of my soul on earth. I print out the emails and eat them, tearing one page off at a time and swallowing them down with cold, cold black coffee from last Thursday.

Or I write letters (not emails) with blood-filled pens on sheets of paper made from human skin. I attack the critique, wanting them to know just how much I DON’T CARE ABOUT THEIR USELESS, STUPID, PEDANTIC OPINIONS. Who are they to question me and my work? What do they know? If they’re so smart how come they’re not New York Times bestsellers? I eat those letters as well, but I use gutter water to wash them down.

I rant. I shake my fists at heaven (literally). I weep.

Alone. So alone.

So that’s what I do. I don’t recommend it, but you can do all those things, just don’t carry out your wicked plans of murder, rebellion, revolution, and the U.K. doesn’t need your anarchy, thank you very much.

So I do that for awhile. I used to do it for weeks on end. Or months. Okay, 2009 was really bad. But I learn. It’s a slow process, me learning, but I learn.

Last time I got a bad critique I spent a bad night not sleeping and doing all the things I said. The next day, I journaled about the experience and got a good understanding of my part.

Because yes, when I’m upset, when my heart is shredded, I have a part. The experienced triggered something in me, and it might have much to do with what actually happened. If I didn’t care about the bad critique, I wouldn’t care. Why do I care? That’s what I have to find out.

Through the inventory process, I find out where I was selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. Generally it’s all four. And yeah, when I’m hurt, it’s all about me and my ego.

After getting a good understanding of why I’m weeping, I then find people to talk to about the experience. Sometimes it’s just one person, but if it’s bad, I find two: one normal person and a writer (who is not normal).

We talk it through because you know what? Humans heal through their mouths. We talk to each other and magic happens.

So I figure out why the bad critique hurt me, I share the secret, and I get free.

And I keep writing, I keep submitting, and I keep editing. Because bad critiques, bad reviews, bad deals, are part of the writing experience. You want the whole buffet, yeah?

Well, there’s always gonna be crap sandwiches in the buffet, but don’t load up your plate with ‘em. Because like I said at the start, most of the time the critique experience makes me excited to revise! That’s what you want. That’s the idea.

And if your critique group is mostly serving you crap sandwiches, week after week, it’s time to find another critique group.

Guest Post – Terri Benson: What’s a Writer to Do?

By Terri Benson

Today’s writers have so many things to think about besides the act of writing. Oh, for the days when you typed up or printed out your book manuscript, boxed it up, sent it to your publisher, then started your next book, certain that the publisher had enough invested in you that they would do their best to get lots of copies sold. I’m pretty sure those days existed at one point – they’re in the movies, anyway, so it must have happened.

These days, the majority of first time writers who traditionally or Indie publish will get a small advance or none at all, and go first to e-book. If you sell enough, they might go ahead with paperback. Publishers have very little invested in new authors. There’s the art for your book cover, but we all know there are thousands of graphic designers out there who can do a nice cover for not a huge amount of money. The quality of printed books isn’t the same as it used to be, especially in paperback. They cram more words on the page to reduce the cost of printing, and you get books that you can’t open the spine far enough to read without breaking the book’s back. And you know there isn’t nearly as much copy editing as there used to be. I rarely find a book—even by the big names—that doesn’t have blatant typos.

Writers are also pretty much required to have a platform with Facebook, Twitter, a good website, maybe a blog, and lots of followers – and they need constant attention to keep them fresh and interesting. We need to attend conferences and workshops to improve our craft and keep up with the ever-changing technology, and network like crazy.

So if you’re doing all that, how are you supposed to find time to write, edit, go to critique meetings, and read? Because you all know good writers read a lot.

If you thought that by the time you got to this point in my blog, I would have answered this question for you, you’re wrong. I don’t think anyone has all, or even a lot of, the answers for this. The state of publishing is evolving on almost a daily basis. There are more and more options for self-publishing, with the result of more books being published. But we all know many of those books shouldn’t have been published, at least not in the condition they appear. But there they are, and our books are mixed in with them, buried within thousands of other books in our genre.

I’d love to hear from those of you who think you might have some answers to the question: What’s a writer to do? For me, I’ll just keep plugging away, putting words on paper, sending queries, self-publishing when I think I’m ready, but still hoping for a call from a traditional publisher (for the simple egotistical reason that I want to say I was traditionally published, even though many writers make more with self-publishing). I’ll work tirelessly to improve my craft, dissect my book covers to see what could make them stand out in the crowd, and keep my on-line persona as visible as I have the time to, and feel comfortable with. And Write On!


Terri Benson 2015As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning - in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She is a multi-year member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer, she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historical romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story with plenty of suspense, is available from Amazon in both e-book and paperback.

The Sane Writer: Nurturing Healthy Expectations

By Kerry Schafer

What is the very first thought that rolls through your head when your eyes open in the morning? Or before they open, if you're like me and try to believe that both morning and the alarm clock will go away if you can just ignore them long enough?

For me it's very often a wordless primal drive. COFFEE. Which is fine, because coffee is a thing to look forward to. And moving into a simple pleasure first thing in the morning is a fine way to start the day. But sometimes, far too often of late, my very first thoughts involve overwhelm or regret.

I'm writing this post on a Monday, and when the alarm went off this morning the first thought that went through my brain was this:

"Where the hell did the weekend go, and how did I get so little accomplished?"

Now, I'll grant you that this first Monday morning thought was not quite so grammatical and articulate. It had more of an, "Mmph, alarm OFF, things not done, don't wanna" construction. But since I speak fluent morning I was was fortunately able to decipher my own garbled thoughts.

A few minutes later, as I plumped up my flattened brain cells with caffeine, I had another thought. And that thought attracted others until a whole flock of thoughts had gathered and arranged themselves into a sort of order. And the gist of them is this:

I don't want to wake up on Monday mornings with regret.  I want to live my life and adjust my expectations so that when the alarm goes off and my eyes open my first thought is gratitude for the weekend past and the next is happy anticipation for the week to come. When my zombie brain resurrects to the sweet tune of a perfect cup of coffee I want it to be able to savor that experience.

How do I make this happen?

Some would advise a higher level of organization. Get my ducks lined up, streamline my lists, work smarter and get more stuff done in less time. There's likely some truth to this. God knows I could use a little more organization in my world, although where I would actually come up with the time to do the organizing is a mystery.

But I suspect what really needs to happen is an adjustment of expectations.

The truth is that even though I feel like a slacker this morning because there are a number of items on the To Do list that are still To Do rather than Done, I accomplished a lot. If I was talking to a good friend I would likely look at her weekend and tell her, with total sincerity, that she is a powerhouse and should learn to relax. But my expectation for myself are pretty much unachievable.

Since I do have this license as a mental health counselor lying around collecting dust, I took a minute to ask myself a question this morning. "Self," I inquired, "What is to be done about this situation?" Since I find it much easier to dole out advice to other people, I'm just going to throw some ideas into the ring, since I'm pretty sure some of you suffer from the same problem.

1. If you're continually not accomplishing the things on your To Do List, consider paring it down. I know it sounds outrageous, but it's just possible that you're asking too much of your very busy self. Maybe there are things on The List that don't really need to be there. Take them off. Seriously. Write out the list, and then scribble out the things that don't absolutely have to be done. This works better than trying to let go of them in your head, because your brain tends to stick to things. Gray matter can be sticky stuff, like pitch or glue (except for things you want to remember - those get dropped faster than a bad date). Sometimes when you need your brain to let go of an item it helps to write it down and then take a pen and scribble it out. I think the subconscious thought process goes something like this.

Hmmm. Hand says this job is done. I trust Hand. I like Hand. Crossing item off list.

2. Consider adding new items to the List. Yes, I know I just said to take things off the list. But here's a radical idea. What if we added things to our lists that looked like this?

Read book for pleasure

Take nap

Lie in hammock in the sun

Enjoy a glass of wine with a friend

Laugh a lot

Listen to music

Look at pictures of cute cats on Facebook

And then, after we've done those things, we could cross them off The List with a vast sense of accomplishment. I don't know about you, but I need more pleasure and leisure in my life. These things are healthy, and also serve to refill the creativity well. So why is it most of us will put exercise on the to do list, but feel somehow like we have to sneak in the pleasure items?

3. Add items from other people's lists to yours. This is a tricky one. Boundaries are hugely important. It's not healthy to get so sucked into other people's lives and needs that you have no room for your own self and your own needs. On the other hand, it's immensely important (and right) to give, share, help, and generally contribute to the greater good. This serves to keep us decent human beings and prevents us from becoming insufferable, self-obsessed writing fanatics.

I confess that sometimes when a loved one has needs that interfere with my writing time, I experience a nasty little emotional cocktail of guilt and resentment because I have now failed to get things on MY List done. So what if I add those things to my List as they come up, and even prioritize them? I think we already do this when it comes to our kids and maybe our significant others, but not so much when it involves friends and other people in our world. And I'm not talking about the Big Science Project here, or the Cookies for the School Party. I mean simple things like taking time for a conversation about Life, the Universe, and Everything or lending a pair of hands to a home improvement project important to your spouse but not to you. This step would include items like "resolve point of contention with best friend - preserve friendship." I like this reframe much better than my usual take on fights, which tends to be, "well, that was a waste of time." If the disagreement works toward understanding and resolution, it is never a waste of time.

4. Remember to account for changes. Your list may seem sacred to you, but it is an organic and ever changing thing, not graven in stone by the finger of God. Stuff will come up, inevitably, that supersedes whatever you have already planned to do. This weekend, for example, I discovered that the paperback edition of my Indie book, The Nothing, was out on Amazon. This provided an important opportunity to create a little buzz on Social Media without being spammy. Also, I was excited and just wanted to let people know. So I took the time to post on Facebook and Twitter and to experiment with a new Amazon feature supporting giveaways. I think this was important and time well spent, but I did not allow for it on my list and ended up feeling guilty that other things went undone. Much as we'd all like to be Super Writer, we are human and the hours of our days are finite. I'm thinking that when unexpected things find their way onto The List it's going to be important to cross something else off, consciously and deliberately.

5. Create Another List I know, I know. List proliferation is an evil thing, but hear me out. What if we made a completely different sort of list on Sunday evening. Not things we need to do, or things we are dreading, but all of the little bright spots we think might come our way in the coming week. Then maybe - just maybe - when the alarm went off we'd be programmed to look forward with anticipation instead of backward with regret.