Clarion West Write-a-thon!

I sure wish a little bird had told me such a thing as the Clarion West Workshop existed when I was devoutly pursuing my English major in college. Now that I’ve returned to writing and embraced genre I would love to go, but I don’t think the hubs, the girls, the dog, the chickens or the guppies would put up with me disappearing for six weeks to bask in writerly whatnot.

No matter, because they each year they host a Write-a-thon for the duration of the workshop. This year I’m going to participate and you can too!

There’s a lot to like about this Write-a-thon:

It’s longer than National Novel Writing Month, six weeks instead of four, and it’s in the summer so it doesn’t intersect with any major holidays (Thanksgiving, I’m looking at you).

Participants are tasked with setting their own goals. I wanted to challenge myself by just notching things up one tick. As I’ve blogged about before. I’m all about setting goals I can accomplish. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m looking to step up my productivity by writing more consistently. I am committing to writing 1,000 words a day -everyday- throughout the write-a-thon. Also, since I consider revising writing, it counts – but in the case of revising I would like to revise 2,000 words or 8 pages/day. So, one or the other or some combination of the two every day. I hope over the course of the write-a-thon to finish the two novelettes I have in progress and write at least two new stories.

It’s not just a Write-a-thon, it’s a Write-a-long. The other participants include many published and established authors! Check out their pages here, and sign up for a chance to rub virtual shoulders with some great writers.

It’s for a good cause: nurturing of great new genre writers, so that we’ll have more fantastic literature to read in the not-so-distant future! For the fundraising side of it, if you donate on my Clarion West Write-a-thon page, I will write a flash fiction story with your name (or a name of your choosing) as the title character.

So, what are you waiting for? Check out their Write-a-thon page and get yourself signed up for the fun!

You can check out my author page here.

Writers Groups & the Value of Critique

The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop was excellent again this year. The morning was devoted to a wide-ranging discussion about different aspects of writing and publishing. Pros who write, edit, publish and review all had great advice and opinions about the process of writing and the business of getting published.

After lunch we broke into separate critique groups. The ratio of pros to students was nearly 1:1. My group had four students and three pros! (Cat Rambo, Liz Gorinsky from Tor, and Stina Leicht) Everyone, student and pro alike, put their egos aside and came to work. I feel like everyone gave and got good feedback for the chapters and stories they brought. I’ll be revising my short story next week and look forward to sending it out into the world.

I have always felt that both getting AND giving critiques are valuable tools when learning how to write. There are so many techniques that you must manage to produce really good prose. When I write I try to get inside the story, the characters, and their world. It’s easy to loose perspective about what’s working and what isn’t. Putting the work away for a few days can help (and I do that too). But getting a critical perspective on a work in progress is often what will help me take it to the next level.

The key is a CRITICAL perspective. It sounds scary, and the endeavor is not without pitfalls. There isn’t really any instruction for critiquing, so most of us just have to learn how to do it any way we can. The world of critiquing is full of trolls and ogres who will tear your work down so they can show how brilliant they are (NOT). There are well-meaning dolts, toadies and yes men (usually relatives) only interested in heaping praise on anything you show them.

Learning how to give good criticism will help you recognize and find good critiquers for your own work. I started out reading slush for the Austin Film Festival‘s annual screenwriting competition. I would recommend looking for slush work. It’s an eye-opening introduction to the basics of presentation and storytelling, and you don’t need that much experience to weed out the awful.

Most of the time the only option is to dive in. Take a workshop if you can, or look for a group in your area. Many people form their own groups after attending a workshop like the ArmadilloCon Writer’s Workshop. With Skype and other chat services it’s possible to have a real-time discussion regardless of where you all live.

Here in Austin, Texas I attend the Slugtribe writer’s group, which is an open critique group. I like meeting face-to-face because it allows for a give and take that can be useful and illuminating. People in the group can ask you questions and tailor their comments to your stated intention. Also, people can disagree, which often generates a discussion about the piece that goes in interesting places.

When you’re live and/or in-person the Milford rules are a good format, which is essentially keep your trap shut – and listen, really listen – while everyone gives their thoughts and impressions on your work. Don’t worry you’ll get your turn at the end. But remember a critique is not about you defending your work against all comers, it’s about problem solving and making what you’ve done better.

You may find that learning how to articulate how a story isn’t working, will teach you as much about writing techniques as any book or class. Good criticism requires you to fully engage with the work of others; to think not about how YOU would write this story or chapter but about what this writer is trying to accomplish.

The more you learn how to give it the easier it is to take it. Getting good criticism helps you to develop a thick skin, because you can’t write good stories without becoming emotionally involved, and even if you know they aren’t perfect, it still hurts to have their imperfections pointed out.

Also, it will teach you to be brave. By accepting errors (in a story in particular or your work in general), you reduce their cost. Once you see that the flaws pointed out by a good critique session can be addressed, you can spend less time perfecting your work before anybody sees it and more time being daring and trying new techniques.

There are also some online groups out there for genre writers. Most of them require you to critique other members’ work in order to put yours up for critique, providing both an opportunity to give and receive critiques. The downsides of these groups are the same as with any web-based endeavor of this sort: from amateur or lazy critiques to snark and worse. I still think it’s better than nothing, just gird yourself for the experience. Critters is an open and free group. It’s quite high volume and can be a good place to start. Currently, I use the Online Writing Workshop they charge a small annual fee. I feel that this investment shows in both higher quality work and better critiques.

Just remember to critique in the spirit of generosity. No matter how bad someone’s work is, they were still brave enough to put it out there, so find a way to be both kind and honest. Just remember, it’s about the work and, I believe, about supporting each other on the journey.

ArmadilloCon34 Writers’ Workshop Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop. I am really excited to participate again this year. This convention knows how to do workshops right! It’s all morning and afternoon tomorrow BEFORE the convention actually starts, so I don’t have to miss any panels to participate. I’ve been working all week on my critiques for my fellow workshoppers, who I’ll meet tomorrow. It’s a little nerve wracking to write critiques for people I’ve never met but it’s a good practice. It’s also refreshing to critique work from writers I don’t know.

I attended ArmadilloCon and the Writers’ Workshop for the first time last year and had a great and productive weekend. My pros last year were none other than Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders and Mark Finn. They all provided great advice and insight. This year I’ll be sitting down with Liz Gorinsky (an editor at Tor), Stina Leicht and Cat Rambo!

Manuscript page from J. G. Ballard’s Crash

Okay that page is a revision not a crit, but it was just too cool to ignore! I’ve been putting together some thoughts about why I think workshops and critiquing are valuable and will be posting that soon.


Meanwhile, I’ve been re-reading Bradbury’s collection of essays and remembering that while I’m working very hard to hone my craft, writing should always be fun, more than fun, thrilling. His enthusiasm is truly inspirational.



This morning I watched the long and gorgeous trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.  I don’t know if they’ll pull it off, but that was a beautiful six minutes. It made me want to read that book all over again.

A Story A Day in May

my short story short list

Check out StoryADay.org, where you can commit to writing a story a day for the month of May. I just found out about this a couple days ago via Nicky Drayden, who’s just crazy enough to try such a thing. It sounds like Nanowrimo (which I completed once a few years back), like a kick in the butt with potential for mining several diamonds in the rough while loosing lots of sleep.

I am tempted. I seriously thought about signing up, but I’ve got some other goals and deadlines to pursue this month. Namely, it looks like I’m going to be able to attend both ApolloCon and ArmadilloCon this year, both of which have writer’s workshops. I want new stories to send into the workshops in early June, and they need to be in decent shape since I get the most out of workshops/critiques when I submit my best work.

Then I read Sci-Fi/Fantasy author Marshall Ryan Maresca’s post about the value of reading, and it really got me thinking. He mentions an anecdote that Stephen King reads four hours a day and writes four hours a day (wow, nice work if you can get it). I realized that while I’ve been successful at shoe horning some amount of writing into my life, I have sorely neglected my reading. If I expect to keep returning to the well, I think I’d better get back to that 1:1 ratio of reading to writing.

So, I’m committing to reading one story a day in May (and beyond with any luck). Sounds pretty pithy next to the idea of writing one a day but life is all about balance and baby steps after all.