Too Many Critique Groups?

critique groups

Drafts & Revisions

Are you a in a critique group? I am – actually three critique groups! I think critique groups are truly invaluable to any serious writer and not just for works of fiction.

I meet regularly with a friend I met through NaNoWriMo (coming very soon!) to discuss non-fiction queries, article ideas and fiction ideas. We also discuss whether certain writing contests are worth the effort. Having a writer friend as a sounding board is a great asset, and it helps when the writing friend has a different approach than you.

In addition to meeting with my friend, I also meet regularly with two formal critique groups but both have different vibes.

Last summer I learned about the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Editors and attended their summer “critique-nic.” This picnic plus critique group combined my love of food and writing perfectly and following that event I joined an SCWBI critique group in Cranberry. This has been my most successful, continual critique group ever. We have a great chemistry and really work hard to help each other produce our best work.

Joining this SCWBI group has kept me on task and provided good moral support. This group was especially helpful after I had a negative experience at a writing retreat and was accused of being a rude, harsh, inexperienced critiquer. (I’ll have to share more about this story later.) After the retreat, I returned to my familiar group and shared my unhappy story. They reassured me it was probably a misunderstanding or a just a really negative person. This group is a great mix of writers with diverse experience, too. I definitely want to be in this group.

After attending – and loving – my first Penn Writers conference, I learned about a critique group very convenient to my neighborhood and requested to join. I was pretty surprised to learn I had to audition to join this group! I sent off my writing sample and felt very lucky to be accepted. They keep a strict six-person membership limit and while the group meets for an epic 5 hours once a month, they work very hard to give detailed feedback and stay on topic.

I’ve had one meeting with this group and found it to be really engaging and informative. I’m excited to bring my MG novel “Dare Club” and work on revisions with the help of this group. Each person is writing something so different, I also feel like I will learn a lot from each of their works. I definitely want to be in this group, too!

There’s a third critique group that’s still in the growing stages trying to meet every other Wednesday at  Coffee Buddha, a coffee shop also in my neighborhood. Growing a critique group can be pretty hard when people haven’t made the commitment to clear the space on their calendar and prioritize being there. New critique groups are always working out who the leader is, how many people are needed to meet, how often to meet and working to build a comfort level with each other. This is probably the hardest one for me to commit to, since it’s still growing. But I feel responsible for it some reason!

I think two critique groups plus a writing mentor is enough, but three is too many. But I can’t let go of the guilt of abandoning a group of writers looking for support in their community!

Do you belong to one or more critique groups? What’s the best part? What’s the worst?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Banned Books – Is it ever worth it?

How do you feel about banned books? I’m pretty opposed to banning books. I don’t think every book should be read, but I don’t think anything good can come of trying to ban books. In fact, I have a lovely coffee mug from Book Riot via Quarterly featuring the titles of banned books.

I’ve heard Ellen Hopkins speak at the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference and her books have been banned. I read her first one, Crank, and it stirred a lot of uncomfortable feelings in me as a parent. And I’m glad I read it.

My mom sent me an email recently about a book that was taken off the reading list for high schoolers in Delaware. The book is The Miseducation of Cameron Post Emily M. Danforth. The school board voted 6-1 to take the book off the summer reading list for incoming freshmen because of the F-word in the book. The school board also claims it removed the book from the summer reading list but did not ‘ban’ the book or remove it from school libraries. Other groups claim the book was removed because the main character, a young woman, is gay. Opponents to the ban (let’s just call it that) say other books with similar language weren’t taken off the list – just this one about the lesbian.

In response to the removal of this book, free copies are being given away to any high school student in Delaware with proof of identification! A free book – a free award-winning, critically-praised book! Oh to be young and in high school again!

There’s also an essay contest sponsored by local libraries on the theme of “what school board members should know about this book.” I can imagine some heartfelt personal essays.

I’ve read books that were at some point banned. I’ve read great books that were banned, and stupid books that should have been banned because they made me dumber.

I, too, am a little freaked out at the thought of my 13-year old reading the F-word. But I know he’s already heard the word. And he’s going to hear it many, many more times in his life. I want to protect my kid, too. But I don’t think I’m protecting him if I hide books – or real life – from him. I think I’m best protecting him by helping him process the difficult things he’s going to encounter in life.

But in my opinion, banning a book just makes it more exciting to read the book. That kind of reverse psychology works all the time with my kids. And it works with adults, too! Make something illegal (Prohibition,anyone?) and everyone wants it!!

 

Have you ever opposed a book banning?

What’s your favorite banned book? 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Picture Book Workshop and Manuscript Submission

In June, I attended a picture book workshop hosted by my local SCBWI chapter and led by editors Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. In addition to the picture book workshop, Harold and Eileen provided manuscript critiques and tips on revision.

I submitted my story Mission: Compostable! for critique. Harold gave generally positive critique and suggested I add some factual back matter to the story when I submit it to the several science publishers he recommended.

The workshop was really helpful for picture books but also in telling stories in novel format. And after this workshop, I finally took the plunge and submitted my novel manuscript (Dare Club) to the agents I had met at Pennwriters Conference in May. Wish me luck!

At the workshop, Harold brought up one of my favorite online fun-and-games tools – Wordle – and showed us how it could play a part in manuscript revision. Wordle creates a visual word map from the text you paste into the comment field. For a picture book, you could probably paste in the complete manuscript. I grabbed a few pages from my novel and pasted in the text. Here’s one result:

manuscript revision tool

The larger words are used more often. It would be really bad if your picture book manuscript had the word “said” as the largest word in the Wordle. I hope it’s a good sign that my main characters names’ are super-huge words. It’s funny (maybe in a worrisome way?) that the word “dare” is so small in the bottom-middle-left, in a faint grey color.

Harold and Eileen also suggested some great books for writers, including Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul and Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen, and Writing Picture Books for Children. I have yet to read them, but I do read lots of picture books night after night to my boys.

What fun revision techniques do you use on your manuscript?

What are your favorite books for writers about writing?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writers Rejection Slips

writers rejection slips

Hurts so good?

Do you keep track of your writers rejection slips? Way, way back when I first started submitting my short stories to literary magazines, I kept a big file full of all my writers rejection slips. Since I followed the advice of all the big writers’ advice magazines, I was sending out stories to ten different journals at time, so my collection of rejection slips grew pretty rapidly.

I had better luck with my non-fiction writing back then and landed a stringer position at a small neighborhood newsletter. I took a small break to learn how to manage being the mom of three kids, and then went back to writing full steam ahead. I quit my day job, started my own business and got down to work.

My collection of writers rejection slips is still growing, but now it’s online. For instance, you can see the list of writers rejection slips on my Submittable account to the left.

One of my writing mentors once said she doesn’t even keep track of rejections, she just moves on the next submission. I believe that’s good advice for people who get hung up and slowed down by rejections, but I need to keep track of where I’ve submitted and what stories I’ve submitted.

So in addition to Submittable I keep a small notebook on my desk and jot down queries, pitches and submissions by month. Then I go back and indicate when each submission was accepted or rejected.

Sure, l’m still receiving writers rejection slips. But my acceptances are also growing.

And I’m actually ok with keeping track of these rejections for at least one reason: they are real proof that I am living my promise to myself to be a professional writer. Many people write as a hobby, or journal to keep track of their lives. But I am a professional writer. I make my living on words. And every rejection is a little badge of the bravery and effort it took to think of an idea that might work, put in the time to research it and write it, send it off to the editor, and face their possible scorn and derision – or their surprise and delight!

I really believe it’s true that you are not going to get acceptances before getting a serious number of rejections. And I also have noticed that I’m learning a lot more from my rejections. In more instances, editors are taking the time to note specifically why they didn’t chose some of my works. That helps a lot.

In the spirit of looking for the silver lining around writers rejection slips, I recently submitted a short essay about one of my most painful rejections to Cairn Press. The editors there are putting together an anthology on rejections, and I loved that they acknowledged that they would have to reject some of the rejection stories. Like pouring salt in the wound.

Do you keep track of your rejections?

Have you learned anything from a rejection?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Regional dialect and writing

dialect writing

Porgy

Does your story require writing in a regional dialect? I recently finished reading two books, Porgy and The Owl Service, that I believe were dependent on regional dialect to truly convey the stories and characters.

Last year, I picked up Porgy after I heard an interview on Fresh Air with one of the performers in the current stage revival of Porgy and Bess. I had never seen the musical and didn’t know the story, but the discussion about the various characters in the story intrigued me. The book thrilled me. The characters were fully developed, their needs and wants were clear and the obstacles they had to face were believable. Also, the dialect helped transport me to another world and often helped indicate the balance of power in the story, especially in situations where the blacks in Catfish Row spoke with the white police detectives.

 

 

 

dialect and writing

The Owl Service

This past month I finished The Owl Service. It was on the list of 100 books all 11-year olds should read as compiled by Philip Pullman. This book was a challenge for me! While I adore weaving ancient legend into modern life, I admit the ending was a bit over my head. I didn’t quite get it, probably because I don’t know the Welsh legends as well as I should. But I did love trying to come to grips with the Welsh dialogue. It was just as stimulating and challenging as the dialogue in Porgy. And the confusing tenses and vague word usage of the native Welsh also confused the wealthier English characters in the story. Language and dialect again revealed tension and inequalities in power.

Both novels needed that unique way of speaking to be conveyed to really transport the reader into that special world of the particular story.

I’m working on a vignette or ultra-flash fiction story about a teenager in love with a zombie. I’ve received some excellent feedback and critiques, including the fact that I need to incorporate more teenager dialect. Since there are at least two decades between me and my teenage experience, I am thinking I either need to hang out at the mall more (do teens still do that?) or watch more teen tv. The problem is I don’t really have time for either, to be honest.

If you want, or need, to incorporate dialect into your story, how do you find it? And how do you capture it?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writing Your Truth

Back in February, I attended the SCWBI Winter Conference. When people in my critique group, or other writers that I know online ask me how I felt about the conference, I answer that I felt both elated and deflated. I learned a lot, but I was also reminded that I had a lot more to learn.

One session that stood out for me in particular was the late Saturday juxtaposition of Elizabeth Wein’s talk on authorial responsibility followed by Ellen Hopkins and her fight against censorship.

In brief, Elizabeth Wein talked about her books and their reliance on information covered by the Official Secrets Act. She talked about carefully considering what you write and how it might impact readers. She told an anecdote about how a family listening on to her book tape was crying so bad, they were pulled over and the officer thought he had discovered a domestic violence situation. Wein wondered if she had any blame for how readers experienced her stories.

Ellen Hopkins tackled the same question but offered a different answer. “Write your truth,” she stated. She almost demanded it of the audience. She argued that if her stories, and her first book is based on her own daughter’s addiction to meth, saved just one reader then writing your truth was worth it.

These women spoke differently, acted differently. I also wondered if they asked different things of their audience (a roomful of mostly hopeful, some experienced) writers.

I’m against censorship when it’s imposed on all readers, all books, an entire society as a whole, by one small group of people with opinions.

But on the other hand, I personally make selections about what topics and stories I choose to consume. I make choices about what stories I’ll read. No violent horror for me, thanks. Or ghost stories. Not even a big fan of crime mysteries.

Listening to these two dedicated, talented storytellers state their positions made me wonder about what claim, if any, authors have over their readers reactions.

As writers we are asked to imagine the reader we are writing for. Experienced writers, publishers, agents often tell us to have a clear image of our reader in our heads: what they look like, how they spend their day, what they love, what they hate. But what happens to that reader after they read our works?

In March, I attended a meeting at Creative Mornings Pittsburgh and listened to Siobhan Viviane talk about her writing for young girls. In her opinion, her readers explore possibilities, actions and consequences, vicariously through what her books. I asked her if she ever thought about her authorial responsibility, if she should write something, just because she could write it. Since I haven’t yet read any of her books, I didn’t know if the actions of her characters would inspire girls in negative or positive ways. I wondered how/if her writing impacted young women and their beliefs or choices.

And on an even younger note, my husband kind of hates the Junie B. Jones books because Junie B. models bad language and often poor behavior choices. Is she to blame, or is Barbara Park to blame, if our son copies those actions of a character he thinks is pretty cool?

If our story helps a reader, do we get to take credit?

If our story hurts a reader, do we have to assume the blame?

Can you have it one way but not the other? If you accept one way, are you also accepting the other?

I’m truly asking. I don’t know the answer, or if there is an answer.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Word Count

One of my favorite parts of NaNoWriMo is the word count widget. I love feeding my daily total into the widget and seeing the graph jump up, seeing the daily words increase, seeing the decrease in words per day to finish on time.

I lost my first NaNoWriMo back in 2011, but won in both 2012 and 2013. I think that seeing the word count on a daily basis and setting a reasonable goal to accomplish each day makes me a more productive writer. It helps me finish drafts.

So when I wanted to tackle the big idea I had for a rewrite of Beauty and the Beast as a young adult novel, I asked my wonderful husband to help me create my own word count widget in Numbers. It helped me get to 50,000 in the first draft of that project.

word count

Starting off right

I’m at the beginning of a new project now, a middle grade fiction story that I’m preparing for a writing retreat with an editor at the end of April. Of course I pulled out my homemade word count tool and started entering my daily achievements.

As you can see, it was slow starting but I’ve made up some of the difference and I am currently on pace. There will be days when I’m busy and won’t hit my daily goal of 1667 words a day, but as long as I can keep track of my progress and really see for myself how the word count is building, I’ll keep plugging away and won’t get discouraged.

I think running may have something to do with why the word count tool helps me complete a project. I’ve gotten used to daily workouts contributing to the success of a larger goal. I know that it’s important to put the work in every day and that keeping track of what you’ve done – and not done- helps with accountability and feelings of success.

Do you work towards a daily word count? Does that make you a more effective writer or does it feel like you’re imposing an artificial goal on your current project?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

How to Stop Procrastinating

Just change your perspective.

procrastination

See things differently.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

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Recipe for Success: Working Mom Tips

As a contributor to 30SecondMom, I have connected with interesting, motivated and funny moms across the country. These moms also offer some really excellent working mom tips, and as a working mom myself, I often find my balance shifts day to day, hour to hour.

That’s why I’m proud to share this interview with fellow 30Second Mom and author Marci Fair as she launches her book TILT – 7 Solutions To Be A Guilt-Free Working Mom as a part of my Recipe for Success feature. Marci is a wife, mom of four & friend who has worked in real estate for over twenty years. She founded kares4kids.com, which has served over 15,000 children since 2005.

working mom balance

TILT by Marci Fair

What is TILT?

TILT-7 Solutions To Be A Guilt-Free Working Mom is a practical parenting guide brimming with real life suggestions, tips, and advice for working mothers. It encourages them, as they help their children reach for their goals and dreams, to continue to reach for their own. It is filled with over 70 quotes from the author’s children, over 100 practical guilt-free tips and the wisdom of over 80 other amazing working mothers.

Was writing TILT self-motivated? 

As a working mom of four, I had to find my own meaning and peace within the chaos I had created. And balance was not an option. So, I TILTed instead.

I wrote TILT to cut through the commotion of my day-to-day life and find solutions that worked for our family. As I learned how to incorporate these ideas into our life, I found the answers I wanted to enjoy my mom-journey.

With so many of my mom friends also struggling with mom guilt, I wanted to share my best ideas with them on how to overcome that painful problem.

What are your favorite parts of TILT? 

I have many parts that I really like about TILT – the funny Mom Quizzes, the silly children’s quotes (70+!), and the Guilt-free Tips at the end of each chapter. I also really appreciate the 86 ideas from other moms included in TILT.

As I have matured, I have also realized how much I still need to learn. So I asked other women to share their own hard-earned mom wisdom in TILT as well, to make it an even richer book for the reader.

What was your favorite part of the process?

I have been working on this “heart-project” to write TILT for many years now. It was very challenging for me to put all the parts and pieces together. I had it edited over, and over, and over again to make it the best that I could.

As it’s “construction” was challenging, I would say the most rewarding part for me has been after its publication, to hear and see how amazingly well-received it has been. I am so thankful that it has only “5″ Star reviews on Amazon so far (40) and delighted when a mom tells me how much it has helped her in her life. The strength of the feedback and the conversations with the moms are my favorite parts!

Get your copy of TILT!

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writers Can Learn from Composting

compost for writers

Composting

Composting can teach writers a lot.

 

compost for writers

Trust the process

I am an avid composter and have trained my three sons to compost as well. In addition to being good for the environment, I have recently discovered how useful composting is for writers.

I’ve often sat and thought about the magical process that transforms fairly gross old food scraps into rich, black soil that goes into the garden to create more delicious food that leaves us with more unappealing leftover scraps.

This mysterious cycle made a great topic for a fiction story for a kids’ science magazine, Odyssey. I’m submitting my story this month, so wish me luck. If they decide to publish you can be sure I’ll let you know!

I realized composting can be more than just a topic of a story, though. It can also be a metaphor for the writing process. So I asked on my Facebook page, “What can writers learn from composting?”  I got some great answers! (These will make some excellent tweets for writers, too.)

Composting For Writers

writers learn

Good for the earth, Good for your writing.

Here are the four replies to my post:

Ron said, “They can learn that a portion can be beneficial, but most is just a load of crap.”

Allison said “Something that’s leftover or tossed aside can transform into something you never envisioned.”

Rebecca said “Sometimes good things take awhile to develop.”

Giggi repled, “There’s value in letting things ‘stew.’”

Which is your favorite?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.