Last night, despite the rain, I made it to my writers group. It was the first time I went to a meeting since before the Little Miss was born, meaning since mid-summer. I was a bit surprised at how many new faces I saw there, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been; it is a good group, and after all, I had been away for about five months or so.
The group critiques stories every other week. On the non-critique sessions, there is some other activity planned, a discussion, talk, exercise, etc. Last night the group discussed individual writing goals for 2012. The goals were framed as being specific, measurable, and attainable. It was interesting to hear what different people planned to do throughout the year. Nearly everyone, it seems, is writing or wants to write a novel. Or finish a novel they’ve written. Or query agents for a novel they’ve finished. Thankfully, I have no interest in this. My heart is in short fiction and that is where I imagine it will stay for the duration. Indeed, not wanting to write novels means not worrying about finding an agent. And that, of course, frees up time to focus on other things, like writing more short stories.
The group meets every Wednesday from 7-9pm and usually, a bunch of the group goes out to a bar or diner after the meeting. I frequently join them, but last night I couldn’t. Kelly was home with both kids and I promised I would only be gone for the duration of the meeting and then return home. I was just grateful for the few hours I had to rejoin the group and catch up with some of my friends there. It was nice to be back.
I belong to a few writing critique groups and find them to be incredibly valuable. In fact, I’d wish I’d joined some of these groups before I sold a story. It might have taken me less than 14 years to make that first sale. On the chance that you’ve never been involved in a critique group, they go something like this: you submit a story to the group, the group reads the story ahead of time, then you all meet up and discuss the story in detail. Often times you’ll get written comments back on the story and even line edits.
Since I use Scrivener for all of my fiction writing, I’ve found ways that it makes it very easy to manage the critiques I receive from my various groups. The techniques I use vary slightly depending on the group. In the Arlington Writers Group, which is a larger group, I make use of some custom folders to manage the comments that I get. The group is too large to manage them all as comments in the document. However, for my smaller group (four people including myself) I make heavy use of Scrivener’s snapshot and commenting features.
Let me explain how I do each of these.
Tonight, at the Arlington Writers Group, we are doing an exercise on “beginnings”. The idea is for each person to read the opening page or so of a novel and then the group will discuss why it does or does not work. Being a science fiction writer, I am wont to choose a good science fiction novel opening, but my brain isn’t working well this afternoon. One possibility is Joe Haldeman’s Forever War, the opening of which goes something like:
“Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.” The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn’t look five years older than me. So if he’d ever killed a man, silently or otherwise, he’d done it as an infant.
But I am looking for other possibilities. Another one I was thinking of was Stephen King’s Carrie.
Any suggestions for science fiction novels that have really striking openings? Ones that really grab you as a reading? Help out a fellow having a low brain-power day.
Best-selling fantasy novelist and fellow Arlington Writers Group member Michael J. Sullivan said to me and writer and group member, Jess Stork this evening: “I expect to see blog posts from both of you tomorrow morning.” This said, after a number of beers were consumed by all in the fabulous outdoor atmosphere of the Northside Social in Arlington before going our separate ways. I think he meant is as a dare. I don’t know if Jess will get a post up tonight, but since I haven’t written one yet today, this is it.
With all of you as my witnesses, therefore, I have risen to Michael’s challenge, met his (admittedly low) expectations while at the same time, squeezed out a post (such as it is) all before heading off to bed with a copy of the July 1940 Astounding (I’m about read Heinlein’s “Coventry”).
Good night all. Kelly and the Little Man are back home tomorrow. My relief knows no bounds!
For the second time since joining the Arlington Writers Group back at the end of August 2010, a story of mine was critiqued during the group last night. The story I submitted for critique was a science fiction mystery that I like quite a bit, but that has been rejected just about everywhere I sent it. I got some good feedback from a few of the editors to whom I sent the story, but I thought it would be useful to submit the story to the group to see if they could find out what was wrong with it.
And the group came through big time. How?
On January 12, I will be giving a talk on science fiction for members of the Arlington Writers Group. This is the first time I’ll be doing something like this and I am both excited and nervous about it. We critique stories every other week. On the alternate weeks, we have some kind of discussion or talk. In the past (before I was a member) people have given talks on other genres (Romance, for example). These talks are supposed to be designed to give people an idea of what the genre is about, especially those who are not familiar with it. My talk is blurbed as follows:
Celebrated science fiction writer and group member Jamie Todd Rubin will lead a discussion of his favorite genre.
We’ll examine the history of science fiction writing, the tenets of the genre, and Jamie will introduce us to some favorite works by authors we may know. He’ll also introduce us to writers in the field we’ve maybe never heard of.
And no, I did not write the blurb. Our Fearless Leader deserves credit for that.
I have a rough idea for my talk and I’m beginning to shape it up. My biggest concern is making the talk interesting, even to those who don’t know anything about science fiction–or better yet, those who don’t really like the genre for one reason or another. We’ll see how it goes.
And we may even have a Special Guest in attendance for the event…
If any of my science fiction friends (particularly those who have given talks on the subject before) have advice for me, I would be in your debt and very much appreciate your wisdom.
I mentioned my Wednesday night writer’s group in the previous post, so I thought I should discuss that briefly. Tonight will be the 6th meeting I’ve attended of the Arlington Writers Group and the group will be critiquing a story of mine called “In the Cloud”.
I discovered this group through another writing colleague, Larry Hodges. There are well over 200 members of the group, but there appears to be 30 or 40 active regular attendees. The group meets weekly at a high school in Arlington, Virginia. Each meeting lasts about 2 hours. Every other week is a critique week. Stories are submitted into the queue and selected for critique at the next available meeting. On alternating weeks, there is usually some kind of discussion or planned activity. For example, last week’s meeting centered around a discussion on NaNoWriMo.
I’ve been part of several groups over the year. I am a member of the Young Gunns, for instance, a group of writers who have completed James Gunn‘s online workshop on fiction writing. From this group, I found a couple of fellow writers who act as my “first readers” for most of my stories. But this group is entirely online and while I trust the opinions of my “first readers”, I have never met them in person. We interact entirely online.
The Arlington Writers Group is nice because our meetings are in person. Writing is a lonely business (other writers will understand this, but non-writers might not). What it comes down to is you and a blank screen, and no matter how good your idea, it’s up to you to execute it. It’s nice to come to a group each week where you can discuss the mechanics and challenges of writing with people who know every well what you are going through.
Several of the regulars in the group are published authors, and some of them write full-time for a living. Others are beginners just starting out. It’s a good fit for me because I fall somewhere in between. There is a great mix of stuff to read, from all forms and genres of fiction, to personal essays, to non-fiction. I get to read and critique stories several times a month and this is helpful in learning to look at your own work critically. In a way, it gives you an abbreviated eye into the life of a slush reader and you get a very broad range of stuff to consider and think about.
The members of the group all seem dedicated and fun. I’m glad I found it.
If there is anyone out there interested in the group, learn more about it here.