Virtual Write-ins and Critique Groups

In October, I joined a series of virtual write-ins hosted by my Sisters in Crime (SinC) Desert Sleuths chapter president, Denise Ganley. We meet and chat for 5-10 minutes (yeah, sometimes we talk a little longer), then write, regroup and talk about our progress—or lack of it—and write again. We regroup a final time then sign off.

During the chats we discuss what we’re working on and provide suggestions for working through any tough spots someone has encountered. Sometimes we just commiserate. Everyone has one of those days sometimes. The words won’t come. The kids are sick and want Mommie’s attention. The dog’s barking in the background. It’s life.

I added a Monday night session. Three times weekly, Sunday mornings and Monday and Wednesday evenings, we worked this way, discovering that a 45-minute writing sprint worked best for our small group.

This was good prep for November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and we continued through November. I invited some non-chapter New England friends (2 are members of my SinC New England chapter) to the Monday night sessions and, hardy souls as New Englanders are, they came, and continue to come, even though the sprint runs 9-11 PM their time.

With November over and everyone in the group meeting their personal goal for the annual challenge, I’ve continued hosting the Sunday morning Desert Sleuths and Monday night Open write-ins.

Best of all, I’ve made new friends and reconnected with some I left behind in New England.

These virtual write-ins have shown that while writing is a solitary process, we needn’t do it alone. Collective writing sessions provide a certain accountability. We don’t want to strand anyone out there in the virutalscape. We’re there to support each other and our own writing. It’s too easy to put off writing for “important” tasks like laundry and grocery shopping. Except, if you want to be a writer, you must write. And write some more . . . and write again.

Getting it written is only step one. After the writing comes revision, and that leads to critique groups or critique partners.

Critique groups have helped me identify my writing weaknesses. I know, now, what to look for after the writing sprints. Get rid of all those “projections” of what the character is thinking or feeling and just show it. Easy to say. More difficult to do. Comments lead to revisions: “Good story—but what’s the point?” Oh oh, I’ve got more work to do to show motivation. “Why did x do y” Gosh, I thought that was self-explanatory; got to work that in better. And so on.

I’m in a short story critique group through the SinC Guppies (online chapter). I’ve lost count of how many stories I’ve submitted for their comments and constructive criticism. In fact, almost all my short stories have gone through them since I joined the group. Two SinC fellows (we call them misters, as in sisters and misters in crime) assisted me with the rules of craps, so important for “Lucy Seven” in this week’s anthology release Portraits of the Pen: A Collection of Short Stories.

I’m also in a SinC critique group for longer stories—novellas and novels. At the moment we’re only two, but we work well together and have a weekly schedule of submissions and reviews. She writes contemporary mysteries and I’m writing in a medieval period, so our stories are very different. That creates a nice change of pace as we each work through the other’s chapters.

I lost my most valuable critique partner and first listener, Pat, to cancer last year. Because she was legally blind, I’d read scenes to her aloud in the early morning, over our coffee as we both worked at our respective computers. She’d stop me and say, “Read that last part over again.” The she’d tell me to find a better word or rephrase something. An avid mystery and thriller fan, she had a good ear and was a fine writer herself.

If you’re a writer struggling to fit writing in with your busy schedule, I know your pain. I’ve been there. I had the stressful job and 10-12 hour work days. That’s how I became a 4 AM writer. That, and weekends, was my default writing time.

Find your tribe. Whether it’s Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (international, folks, no excuse), Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Western Writers of America, or another, there’s a writing group you can join. If you’re a non-fiction writer, there are many societies for you, too. A quick online search will get you started. For our Canadian neighbors, many equivalent societies exist to help you on your journey.

Writers write to feed the soul.

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