Save the Date Writing Butterflies, This Year’s Armadillocon Writing Workshop is Friday, August 3!

 Crack your knuckles and warm up your keyboards, it’s time to polish up your short story or first chapter for the annual Armadillocon Writing Workshop!

 Submissions are DUE Friday June 15, 2018

This is an excellent, low-cost workshop for writers who want to:

 Work with professional writers and editors familiar with speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. 

  • Learn how to give and receive critique in a small-group, face-to-face setting
  • Find out if workshops and in-person critique groups are useful to their writing progress
  • Find their tribe and make connections with others that will serve their writing year round.
  • Take their writing to the next level.

The workshop will be Friday, August 3, 2018 

We will spend the morning in panels on the craft and business of writing and doing a writing exercise or two. Then, lunch with the professional writers and fellow students in your breakout critique group. The afternoon will be spent in in-depth, collaborative critique sessions where you will be both giving and receiving critique. 

Just $90 gets you the full-day workshop and a full convention membership to attend all of the activities for the entire weekend. ArmadilloCon is an excellent regional literary convention, which means there will be lots of great panels about writing, reading, and the state of the genre (there are also panels about movies, tv shows, gaming, and everything geek). 

Sponsored seats for writers of color!

We are committed to promoting diversity and access for all workshop attendees. Writing in a genre centered on exploration and encountering the Other must include voices and visions from writers and readers of all kinds. The Workshop actively seeks to include students, faculty, visiting scholars, and volunteers from a variety of backgrounds including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, and ability. 

To that purpose we are offering a limited number of sponsored seats to the workshop for writers of color. To apply for a seat, follow the link on the workshop page.

 If are interested in sponsoring a seat for a writer of color, contact me at

ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop T-Minus 36 Hours: Letting Go

The aphorism, “A good conversation never ends, it’s only interrupted” comes to mind. I feel the same about the stories I write. Creators, artists, and writers are always striving to improve their craft. Reaching for perfection, always falling a few inches short. This is why it can be hard to determine when to call a piece you’ve struggled over finished. For me, it’s more about knowing when to let it go.
Creating something is its own reward and its own punishment. Every story starts with some nugget of inspiration, a character, a mood I want to capture, a moment I want to bring to life. It’s this vision that compels me to create the first draft. Invariably, after writing it out, and working through however many revisions, what I end up with is NEVER what I originally imagined. I won’t say it’s better or worse, but it is different. Even when I am happy with the final result, there is always a tiny nagging feeling of missing the mark.  
If you keep writing and working to improve, you will look back at old stories, even the ones that are published and see ways that they might be improved. I remind myself that that was the best story I could produce last week or last year or three years ago. M. Rickert says her old stories are like snapshots of the writer she was at the time she wrote them.
It’s important to strive for excellence, at the same time once you feel you’ve made a story the best you can – let it go. It may be flawed, have some element that you wish you could manage more astutely, but if it’s viable (i.e. has a plot with a beginning middle and end, a character who changes or comes to a realization, etc.), then it’s time to let it go (today, that might mean sending it to the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop). Submit somewhere for publication and move on to the next story with the goal to make that one better.
Whether I see you at the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop or not – I hope you go forth and write story after story. I look forward to reading all of them out in the wild! 

Writing Workshop Survival Guide

A week from today, writers from far and wide will be gathering in Austin for The Armadillocon Writers’ Workshop. I’m excited to take my place among the pros this year. This is my hometown con. I have been a student of this workshop for several years and have learned a lot about the craft and art of writing from the wide range of professional writers that make this workshop so special.

I know workshops can be a daunting proposition. Since I started writing seriously, I’ve gone beyond the Writers’ Workshop. I attend my local in-person critique group and participate in online critique communities. These activities have both improved my writing, and thickened my skin a bit when it comes to presenting a brand new piece of writing to a group of people who I’ve implicitly and explicitly tasked with finding its faults.

It’s hard, after investing so much in a story, to hear about all the ways its not working yet. It’s like finding out my beautiful baby is a Frankenstein’s monster after all. (But fear not, after some excisions, new body parts, and some clever suturing, my readers might just see a thing of beauty after all. And with luck, they’ll love it as much as I did when I struggled to create it.)

Workshopping is not for everyone, but you’ll never know if a workshop or critique group is valuable to your process until you try it, so here are some thoughts to get you through the experience. Many workshops (including Armadillocon) use the Milford method of critique, or at least the essence of it, which is:

“The author whose work is being critiqued has to sit in silence through the first part in which each participant in turn is allowed an uninterrupted four minutes to deliver their critique. Then the author gets an uninterrupted right to reply. Following that a general discussion ensues.” 

I believe that the single most important reason that this method works so well is that it forces you to:

No speaking up while receiving your critique. This is more than just good manners, it is a crucial skill that every writer should hone. You may feel like you, or your work, is on trial. You are not. It is not. When people are engaged in a debate or a conversation they tend to spend the time when the other person is talking formulating a response. When you are thinking about what you are going to say, you are not listening. Regardless of the stated rules of any particular workshop or critique group, practice not only shutting your mouth, which will give you the appearance of polite propriety, but also opening your mind so you can really hear. This is hard, I think because it is hard for us to truly receive anything, say nothing of critical notes on a piece of our own writing.

Your group is a collection of writers trying to improve their craft, but it’s important to remember that you are all readers, too. Listen for the ways these readers go astray, look for patterns. Is everyone getting hung up on a certain detail, wondering what a character looked like, or how the knight’s horse got from the stable to the field? More than once I’ve been rewarded for really listening. Even the person who is entirely off base regarding what I am trying to accomplish with a particular story, will often have valuable insights embedded in their feedback, little gems that I would have missed if I wasn’t giving that person my full attention.

You will hear multiple opinions on your story. This is a great opportunity to compare your intention, your vision, to what others are actually receiving when they read it. Until telepathy becomes a reality, what you are trying to communicate with a story, and what your reader gets will never be the same thing.

Be kind to yourself. In the heat of creation I’m investing myself in the story, sometimes the drafts come easy, sometimes they come hard. Either way, I’m often riding high when I finish. Sometimes, I’m even convinced that this piece is pretty damn good; sometimes it is, sometimes not so much. It can be hard to tell when I’m still so close to it.

More than once I’ve gone in to my crit group thinking I’ll just get their stamp of approval, they’ll catch a couple typos, and I’ll be sending it to editors tomorrow. It hurts to find out that my story isn’t quite working yet, that there are confusions and problems that still need to be solved. That it will take more time and hard work before this story will become all that it can be.

If you are pushing yourself you will have some brilliant successes, but more often you will fall down, will write something that has moments of brilliance but is also deeply flawed – this is a good thing. Achieving excellence is a long hard road, but that’s the road you’re on, right? Be kind to yourself. Catch your breath. Set your story aside for a few days. When you pick it up again, read all the positive comments first; fluff up your ego a bit before taking the next step.

With most groups, you will be sent home with half a dozen copies of your manuscript riddled with notes, some of which will agree, others will directly contradict each other. This is the tricky part. You want to keep your ego somewhat intact, but there’s no point in workshopping a story if you’re not going to consider any of the advice. At the same time, it is important not to rank everyone else’s opinion over your own. As a writer, one of your greatest assets is your voice, and I think the quickest ways to destroy your unique voice is to try to implement every note given. You have to assess all these notes and opinions and decide what to take.

Before going through the notes, I believe the best thing you can do is sit down and really think about what you’re trying to accomplish with this particular story. What is your goal with this piece? If the first draft is about figuring out how to write it, this draft is about the Why. Why did you tell this particular story in this particular mode? I will usually work this out in my journal. Once I have the Why of the story, I can better see which comments to use and which to disregard.

Reading other people’s stories critically is one of the best exercises by which writers can learn their craft. When critiquing, I read for comprehension, plot and flow, marking the manuscript as I go. I note places where I’m confused, phrases that seem out of the idiom for the setting or characters. I write questions that pop into my head as I’m reading.

Afterwards, I think about the story as a whole and make a guess at what the writer is trying to accomplish with this particular piece. When I give feedback, I usually say, this is what I think you’re trying to do here and these are the things that worked/didn’t work – for me. Using phrases like “I think” and “for me” are not capitulations or ways to soften the blows of a critique – it’s an acknowledgement that I am one reader. The things that bother me may not bother the next person.

Be kind to others. Receiving critical comments on something that I worked very hard on, something that I may still have deep emotional ties to is hard. So when giving feedback I want to be kind. It is not kind to refrain from pointing out the weak spots in a manuscript because you don’t want to upset a fellow writer. On the other hand it is not kind to shred someone else’s work in the name of artistic perfection.

In a regular critique group, you will get to know your fellow crit mates and may be able to be more frank in your feedback. But often you may find yourself in a group – like The Armadillocon Writers’ Workshop – where you are meeting your workshop mates in person for the first time at the critique session. In either situation is always a good practice to find the positives of any given piece. I like to lead off with a couple specific examples of things I enjoyed. In the middle I’ll bring up the elements that were problematic, confusions, and anything that pulled me out of the story. After talking about the weaknesses, I like to finish on a high note with my impression of what the strengths are for the piece in particular or aspects of the writing that are working well in general.

And with those thoughts, I wish you happy writing, happy workshopping, and happy revising!

The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop is just around the corner!

I have participated in the wonderful ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop for several years, last year I volunteered, and this year I’ll be sitting on the other side of the table as a pro! I’m so excited to be giving back to the Workshop, as it has been a staple of my progress as a writer.
ArmadilloCon has always been a writers’ convention, and through the years both the con and the workshop have hosted a variety of excellent writers. I’ve personally benefited from the advice and wisdom of writers such as, Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders, Cat Rambo, Ian McDonald, and StinaLeicht. This year’s workshop pros will include Ken Liu and James Morrow, and Marshall Ryan Maresca.
But, the Workshop isn’t just about the big names. The pros contributing their time to the workshop represent today’s diversity in writing and publishing. These are men and women writing across a variety of styles, formats and genres. There are writers who are traditionally published, and writers who successfully self-publish, and everything in between.
The all-day workshop costs $79.50, which includes lunch and a full (3-day) Con membership.  The ratio of pros to workshop attendees is excellent (usually two pros per three to five attendees), so it’s a true small-group workshop experience.
The workshop isn’t only about collecting critiques on your brilliant work of genius. It’s participatory. Once you sign up and turn in your piece you will be placed in a group of fellow workshop attendees and receive your group-mates brilliant works of genius to read and critique.
If you are new to workshopping, learning to assess someone else’s work is an excellent way to develop your own writing. I’ve learned at least as much from putting together a coherent, constructive critique of someone else’s work as getting feedback on my own . Putting together your thoughts about your workshop mates stories can also take the edge off waiting to hear how your own piece went over. In the end you’ll go home with written and verbal critiques by the other writers in your group along with critiques by at least two of the attending workshop pros.
I enjoy group critiques. I regularly participate in online and in-person critique groups, but it is not for everyone. Some people do better with, say, a single beta reader, some people do just fine without any critique of their works-in-progress at all. The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop is a great way to experience a group critique situation at a fraction of the cost of some of the big genre workshops like Viable Paradise, Odyssey, or Clarion.
So, dust off that story that isn’t quite working or get cracking on something brand new. The deadline to submit a short story or first chapter is June 15. The maximum word count is 5,000 words firm (i.e. they mean it). Go here to check out the specifics.
The Writers’ Workshop will be on Friday July 24th, ArmadilloCon 37 runs from July 24th through the 26th
Watch for my next post: Workshop Survival Guide…

Turkey City Writers’ Workshop

Turkey City 2014
I didn’t blog last week because I was preparing for the Turkey City Writers’ Workshop, which happened Saturday, October 18. I found it to be a useful and positive experience. It is also a ton of work. They don’t call them workshops for nothing.
Turkey City has been around since the early seventies, and its participants through the decades are a who’s who of genre writers, especially cyberpunk. This workshop is geared for advanced writers, and is known for its tough love approach. The expectation is that all the attendees have mastered the basic techniques of writing and storymaking. I found this to be the case for the most part. Even the less experienced participants brought material worth discussing, in my opinion.
For the past few years Chris Brown has graciously hosted it in his amazing home. He also participated with an excellent story that sat right at the intersection of genre and literary and wonderfully captured the gestalt of Austin hacker scene.
This year the word limit was 10,000 words, and with twelve people participating, well, you do the math – that’s a lot of preparatory reading. Not everyone turned in a novelette, but since my regular crit group limits pieces to 5,000 words, I did relish the opportunity to submit something longer.
We were six men and six women, and with strong female voices such as Patrice Sarath and Stina Leicht attending, I found the opinions and insights well balanced along gender lines. Anil Menon and Jasmina Tesanovicalso provided international and literary perspectives to our pieces. All in all there were plenty of fascinating, quirky, and useful opinions to go around.
Corey Doctorow even stopped in at the after party as he was in town for the Texas Teen Book Festival (which is becoming quite a thing BTW).
I was determined to bring something new to my first Turkey City and worked hard to complete a 9,000-word novelette from a previous fragment. It was pretty green. If I’d had all the time in the world, I would have taken it through one more revision before submitting it to group critique. It got dinged on the things I pretty much expected it would. Elements of the story are a little pat; the characters tend toward types. Subtlety and nuance, for me, tends to blossom in revision. The first pass is usually about setting the storyline and expressing the characters basic traits. (I’m one of those weirdos who likes revising way more than pounding out the first draft.)
I also got some excellent food for thought, especially from Bruce Sterling, who was the idea man of the critique group. He threw out all sorts of alternative scenarios for my story and its characters that really freed up the way I was thinking about it. The novelette is taking a well-deserved rest this week. Next week I’ll pull it apart and revise it and get it out there into the world.

When is a Story Ready for Critique?

The last post focused on the usefulness of giving critiques, but what about getting critiques?

On its most basic level, preparing a story for critique provides me with both an informal deadline and a great intermediate milestone for a work in progress.

If all goes according to plan, getting a story critiqued is one of the last rungs on the ladder to completing it and sending it out for publication. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always come out that way.

So, how do I know when something is ready for critique?

I don’t submit first drafts to critique. In fact, I don’t show my first drafts to anyone. I need the security of “only my eyes will ever see this mess” in order to write bravely and take chances. The second draft is all about the big picture, major character adjustments, and fixing obvious plot holes. In the third draft, I clean things up and attend to style paragraph by paragraph and sentence by sentence.

At this point, I’ve arrived at the place where I feel I’ve taken the story as far as I can by myself. This is when comments from others feel most useful. Sometimes, I know there is some aspect that isn’t quite working, or some element that is out of balance, but I can’t figure out how to fix it. This is where a nice range of comments can really help me get unstuck.

I usually feel that the story is close to being finished, and I’m itching to wrap this project up and get on to the next one. Of course, sometimes my story isn’t close at all. See my post: Story Fail, Critique Win. Yeah, it’s disappointing. Writing stories requires a certain amount of ego, like when an actor takes a part; I really have to commit emotionally to the story I’m working on. It’s tough to find out that I’m farther from the finish line than I thought, especially when there isn’t always a clear fix.

Writing a good story is complicated, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A good set of critiques will not give you a single solution but many. It can be frustrating. Sussing out several opinions and ideas about a broken story is hard work. But finding a way forward and revising it is also a creative act; one that has led me to take my stories to places I hadn’t imagined at first.

And that’s a good thing.


Workshops, Critique Groups, and What Works for You

OK, my writers’ group doesn’t look exactly like this… Dance of Apollo with the Nine Muses by Baldassarre Peruzzi
If you are a writer and are planning to attend Austin’s own ArmadilloCon Convention, this is your heads up that the deadline to submit work and sign up for their excellent Writers’ Workshop is fast approaching. Get your 5,000 word diamond in the rough together and submitted by June 15, 2014!  I have participated in this workshop the past few years and found it to be both inspiring and useful: well worth the price of admission (which, by the way, also gets you into the con).

For those of us who don’t have the time or the funds to go for the big name workshops like Clarion or Odyssey, know that many local consrun writers’ workshops that will give you a chance to read and critique other people’s work and get a critique of your own project.

I’ve blogged about the usefulness of critique before. For me, it is invaluable to get someone else’s eyes on my work at some stage in the process. Also, since I enjoy the chance to socialize with other writers, my regular in-person critique group keeps my daily writing routine from feeling too cloistered. 

I also use the Online Writing Workshop. OWW charges an annual subscription fee, which, I feel, inspires a greater level of commitment and participation. And, in the end, better crits. The site is well run, and I’ve made connections with writers from all over the world trading crits there.

Over the past couple years I’ve built an informal schedule for regularly critiquing and getting my own work critiqued. This has helped me grow as a writer in several ways:

  1. Informal deadlines – Slugtribe meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. I try to bring something in every 4 to 6 weeks. If a piece takes longer to get to a critique-able stage, I can just move that deadline out another two weeks. Still, having a meeting to go to gives me something to shoot for when I’m planning my daily writing.
  2. Regular face-to-face critiquing – Learning to articulate what is and is not working in a piece of writing has taught me more about writing than anything else. Having to think on the fly (at Slugtribe we read the work at the meeting) and put my ideas into words hones a different kind of assessment skill. Hearing what other people in the room think of the same piece of writing is also illuminating!
  3. Regular written critiques – With the online option, I can read a story over twice, make notes in the margins, and then put my thoughts into written form in a more coherent way. I try to put something up online every couple months, too. If, after a Slugtribe critique, I’ve made major changes to a story, I’ll submit the revised version to OWW to get fresh eyes on it. Other times, I’ll submit something new for a critique on the first or third week of the month.
  4. Making connections with other writers – I’ve met lots of other writers in all stages of development. We commiserate about the writing life, and trade tips and techniques about anything from punctuation to how to fit our writing in around kids and significant others.

Wherever you live, check out the resources around you. There may already be a critique group meeting at your local library.  If so, sit in on a few sessions and see if their style suits you. If it doesn’t you can always start your own group. There are also several other online options Lit Reactor is another subscription based site for writers. Critters critique group is free and can be a good place to start (though I found the critiques there varied pretty wildly as far as quality).

The important thing is to find the groups and people and schedule that works for you. You’re looking for a support system that inspires you to write and finish more material. 
In person or online, remember that it’s you who’s auditioning the group, not the other way around. While there is no perfect group (as they are all made up of humans after all), find or create a network that supports you and keeps you moving forward.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly