by Annie Cronin Romano
Most writers keep a pen and paper handy to record story ideas when inspiration strikes. You see something that captures your imagination or overhear a phrase that causes your writing detector to go on high alert, and you quickly scribble it down. Perhaps you write it a in a small notepad, or maybe you jot it down on a napkin or placement. You may even write it on your hand if there’s no paper available. I have done all of those things. Sometimes I tear out a newspaper article that has sparked a story idea or print out a news story or photograph that made my writing radar start beeping. Eventually, most writers have a folder or notebook stuffed with scraps of paper—a collection of golden story nuggets waiting to be mined for their potential.
But when you finally cull through those ideas, it can be a daunting task. I recently decided to take on my “idea folder.” I took it out of my file cabinet and placed it on my desk. Where it sat. Staring at me. Cruelly. Mockingly, even.
Then one day I was out browsing in a home store and spotted a display of home office supplies. As a writer, desk and stationary supplies are like candy to me, so I walked over to explore. There, on top of the pile of journals, was a hard cover spiral notebook with the words “BIG IDEAS” (typed in extremely small print, ironically) on the cover. It was fate.
I bought the notebook and took it home to introduce it to my idea folder. Big Ideas notebook, meet Idea Folder. Idea Folder, I love you, but you’re a mess. Meet Big Ideas notebook.
I went through my scraps of idea notes and, one by one, began writing those sparks at the top of each notebook page. I left the rest of the page blank. One idea per page with the blank page below for brainstorming. As I have time, I open to a page, read the idea at the top, and brainstorm story thoughts, plots, characters...anything that comes to mind. Sometimes it’s a doodle. Sometimes it’s a list. Sometimes it’s a diagram or several sentences. Whatever it takes to play with the idea and see what potential stories I can tease out of it. This notebook system keeps my ideas in one space, like a folder, but organized for easy access with blank space for development. It has become the garden where I plant my story seeds and then tend to them to see what sprouts.
So go buy yourself a notebook for your Big Ideas--you know you love shopping for office supplies! Maybe even get some colorful pens to add to the joy! Then organize those randomly scattered idea gems into the notebook. Remember, just one per page. And let the brainstorming begin! Who knows where those sparks will take you. You may get a new story blazing before you know it!
~By Amanda Smith
“This year’s felt like
Four seasons of winter
And you'd give anything
To feel the sun”
- Reason (Unspoken)
When I first heard the opening of this song by Unspoken, everything in me cried, “YES! THIS!”
This year brought more unexpected changes and interruptions to my writing life than any before: unexpected travel, lovely visitors, a left hand immobilized for four months due to a broken wrist, and an extended stint as a long-term substitute teacher. Now, it isn’t all bad.
But it is all busy.
I’m not about to throw a pity party (been there, done that), but I do want to address the reality of months, or years, not turning out the way we anticipated when we first set those shiny New Year’s writing goals.
There had been times like this in my life before, where I couldn’t find space for creativity or writing due to The Urgent pulling at me. There had been years where I had walked away from writing. And the return had been slow and laborious.
This year, amid Nor’easters of life pummeling me, I was resolved. This year, unlike other stormy times, I’d kept my one hand on my writing.
In order to do that, I had to adjust my goals. I am not pushing to finish my novel before the end of the year as I had planned. I am working on smaller projects that can endure interruption with more grace, such as querying and research, revisions on picture books, writing poetry and other shorter pieces. I keep moving forward, even if it is at a snail’s pace.
I keep learning, thinking and observing. I spent most of my immobilized summer reading mentor texts, new publications, and craft books.
I keep active in my writing community. The mere fact that I have a critique group expecting a manuscript from me, drives me to write, or revise. Giving feedback on their work, keeps my head in the game. Connecting with other writers at events, invigorates me, and reminds me of who I am amid the blizzards. And meeting with my monthly accountability group, keeps me setting and checking off teeny-tiny-but-moving-forward-goals.
I keep making space to create.
So coming back will be easier.
So I won’t let go forever.
Because Spring will come.
By Kelly Carey
Why do we call our writing groups “critique groups”?
Merriam-Webster defines critique as “an act of criticizing” and notes that the origins of the word refer “generally to criticism” or a “remark or comment that expresses disapproval".
Is this the lens through which I want my writing partners to review my drafts? Is this the mindset I should bring when considering the work my fellow writers present to me?
Lately, I've been skewing more negative in my feedback. I’m taking that word critique too much to heart and letting it be the guiding principle when I structure comments.
My approach starts with the idea that the reviewer is giving me their work because something needs to be fixed. It’s a fair assumption. The work is unpublished. Agents and/or editors haven’t snapped it up yet – so clearly something is wrong.
With the gusto of Bob the Builder and a frenzied HGTV fix-it zeal, I attack the manuscript.
But, I need to hop off the critique wrecking ball (although Miley does make it look fun), put away the hammer, and unplug the power saw.
What are we really asking when we share a manuscript with a group of writing peers?
The answer is less about hunting for “criticism” and more about looking for feedback and suggestions to move the manuscript forward on its path. I want a reviewer to help me find those things in my manuscript that a reader will love. Tell me what I should do more of and help me unleash the unique power of my own creative voice.
This is not to say that I want you to go soft on me or my manuscript. I want to know what is not working, but your first step should be to build from what is working. As my writing partner Annie Romano suggests, “folks reach for the hatchet to chop up a story when they should be reaching for the chisel to shape and transform it”.
Recommendations on how to improve a manuscript shouldn't deviate so far from the original work that they move the writer off their path. A writer hiking along on a mountain path shouldn’t be left swimming in the middle of the ocean. The idea is to encourage and support the writer's original vision, not derail it.
You have probably found yourself on more than one occasion reading a successfully published and positively reviewed book and thought, “this stinks” – what if you did that to the draft before the author got published? And the work never got submitted, or sold, or turned into a book that although may not resonate with you is in fact enjoyed by a multitude of other readers. Do you really want that on your head? That is not your job when a peer asks for feedback on a manuscript.
Your task is not to leave a fellow writer feeling less enthused and less able to hear their own voice. But, that is exactly what can happen if we are too clued into that word critique.
Let’s trade critique for feedback, review, or progress. Take off the Bob the Builder construction hat and grab a megaphone and a pom-pom instead. Cheer loud when you hear a writer’s voice and see a writer’s creativity.
Approach manuscripts with a build it up mindset rather than a tear it down attitude.
After all, it’s a work in progress. Make sure you are helping it progress!
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