17 members joined us for a great end-of-year meeting that almost felt like a party. If you missed it, you missed great food, great fun, and great writing encouragement too. I’ll try to share our discussion in these minutes, but the food has all been eaten!
Since the year was ending, Sunday seemed a good time to look at dreams and goals. And since dreams are less stressful, we started there. We have several members with Hollywood dreams – directing movies, writing screenplays, converting novel to screenplay, and more. One member’s dream is a writing shed – where do you write? Others wanted to finish their life stories, though a further 30 years or so might generate more to be told – a “life sentence” perhaps? We hope our children will tell what we haven’t told and read what we have. We imagine books in bookstores and strangers clamoring for our words. We dream of travel inspiring more words, of poetry, of Viking ancestors. And at least one of us has the private jet picked out for when she’s famous, but who will choose the carpets?
Real life, of course, is more than that. So we opened the box of 2015 goals to see how much we’ve achieved -remembering, of course, that achievement should always be celebrated, even if it started as someone else’s goal.
- 2 people sent off query letters this year
- 10 enjoyed writing more short stories
- 5 finished first drafts of novels, and 3 finished sequels
- 1 completed a poetry book
- 2 wrote newspaper articles
- 4 continued their autobiographies
- 2 finished pieces of writing that they’d started long ago
- 2 self-published
- 8 were published outside the journal and 15 contributed to the journal
- 6 got paid for writing or sold books they’d written
- 7 allowed their writing to be critiqued.
- And 3 entered contests outside the Writers’ Mill. Lots entered our own contests of course. Have you?
New goals were added to the box for 2016, and we discussed what topics we might like to hear more about. These included (in approximate order of popularity – PLEASE EMAIL ME if something’s missing, or if you feel something important hasn’t been emphasized enough).
- Creating believable characters/character development
- Story arc/story development
- Point of view, including distant and close
- Turning fact into fiction
- Historical research and authenticity
- Thinking outside the box
- Book promotion
- Websites (including WordPress , ipages)
- How to get into non-traditional locations – e.g. Starbucks
- Getting published
- How to get short stories published
- Finding a publisher
- How to get poetry published
- Genres and book length
- Query letters
- Self-publishing and Ebook publishing
- How to read like a writer
- Editing fiction
- Editing poetry
- Becoming a productive writer – a chapter a week perhaps
- How do you finish and how do you know you’ve finished
- Difference between novel, novella, short story and other forms.
The genres we are most engaged with are (in order of how many people voted for each)
- Novels and Creative non-fiction
- Memoir, Women’s fiction, Short stories and Flash fiction
- Historical fiction, poetry, childrens chapbooks, childrens picture books
- Science fiction, alternate history
But remember, our contests accept all genres. They’re a great place to practice your writing, get critique, and even win the occasional prize. First place winners get to pick the topic for a contest 3 months hence, and award prizes then, which can range from a simple certificate to pens, paper, chocolate or whatever you choose. This month, Jean handed out yummily seasonal awards for December’s White contest. Out of eleven entries, the top three were:
- Judy with Lost and Found
- Sheila with Love is a White Fickle Thing
- Jennifer with Prescription for White Noise.
Our next contest, hosted by Judy, is, appropriately, One Year. Imagine your protagonist receives some startling news which transforms the year ahead. Write a poem, essay, flash fiction, short story, chapter or whatever comes to mind – no more than 2,500 words – and send it to email@example.com (NOT TO ME) before midnight Sunday Jan 3rd.
For those needing longer to write, February’s contest, hosted by Catherin, revolves around the expression “It’s not what you think,” and March’s, hosted by Sheila, invites you to look at or through whatever Windows come to mind. Find out more at http://portlandwritersmill.org/contests/upcoming-contests/
Catherin’s wonderful snacks gave us time to chat and party, and the book exchange added the attraction of party gifts to take home. I didn’t count the books, but thank you all; there was a wonderful collection and they contributed greatly to the party atmosphere. Thank you Catherin for the delicious party food too, and best wishes to your family as they deal, always so graciously, with floods and other disasters.
Sheila led the critique of Matthew’s fantastic first chapter. We’re hoping he’ll submit chapter 2 for critique soon, as everyone wants to know more. If you didn’t hand any comments to Matthew, remember you can still email them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org And remember, you should each have a similar “professional” email address, courtesy of our wonderful website administrated by Ron.
Things discussed during Matthew’s critique included:
- What sort of details make a time period ring true? References from contemporary publications, language and dialog, politics, attitudes of characters…
- What draws a reader into a story? Interesting characters that we want to learn more about. Promise of change in character as the story goes on. Dialog. Interesting issues (women’s rights for example).
- How does point of view affect a story? The omniscient narrator is a great way to introduce lots of characters, letting readers into their heads, but it has to be handled well, with a believable voice – Matthew does it really well. Eventually readers want to get close to a character, perhaps through dialog.
- What makes characters feel real? The voice (dialog), attitudes, making readers relate to the character’s dilemma… An intelligent child might have intelligent ideas, but will still have childish enthusiasms and turns of phrase.
- What themes inspire readers best? Finding your identity, intriguing time setting, world of change, the rebel learning to compromise…
Ron led a quick critique of his own essay – almost ready to be submitted to a contest – do you have something you want to submit somewhere? Feel free to ask for an emergency short critique session to polish it – any meeting, any time!
Things we discussed during Ron’s critique included:
- How to hook readers in an essay – clear sober sensible statement of what you intend to show, or controversial statement that you plan to turn into sober argument?
- Why should essays be sober and sensible? Want to appeal to readers who may or may agree with your opinion. Best not to reveal too strong an opinion. You might need to remove some paragraphs after you write them.
- What makes something sober and sensible? Clear analysis that works. Clear methodology that convinces readers the writer has done his/her homework.
- How do you convince someone who’s maybe seen different data from yours (e.g. if your article is written in December and published in January)? Maybe clarify your numbers with a date.
- How do you convince a mathematician without confusing or annoying other readers? Might be best to say “60% or more” rather than just 60% if that’s what you mean, but don’t complicate the argument.
- Can you get by without using everyone’s title? Again, don’t complicate the argument – use simple names that are recognizable without going into too much detail.
We have a great speaker lined up for January – Marcia Turnquist has successfully self-published, self-promoted, and got her book into our local Barnes and Noble. Want to know how? It probably starts with writing a really great book – The God of Sno Cone Blue, highly recommended – but Marcia will be here to tell us how she’s written, sold and promoted her book, and to answer any questions, on January 17th. Don’t miss this one!