Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

Category: accountability

Some Free Advice

“There are no monsters under the bed…

I’ve been having some difficulty with critiquing. Please don’t misunderstand. All writers—whether aspiring or accomplished need critique partners.

It is not easy to find what works for you and to identify what will work for others as well. Over the years I’ve been involved in multiple groups, where the support and assistance are invaluable. The people who are willing to tell you what’s wrong, and help you figure out how to fix it, are like a cool spring in the middle of the desert.

Sometimes, even constructive criticism is hard to hear.

The inability to perceive the construct in the criticism is typically due to our unwillingness to listen. So, here are a few tips that may help if you’re having difficulty getting to the heart of making the writing you’re working on saleable.

When you receive a critique don’t plunder into the material without thought. The person who provides the critique has spent their time, normally their writing time, to help you with your work. Typically to receive service in kind. So be thoughtful when you provide a critique as well.

Begin by setting aside time to review the work and do nothing else. Turn off the phone, shut down the internet, and focus on this task.

Be sure you’re open to new information. You may have planned exactly what happens next, or already written it down, plotted it out. Take this opportunity to be open to new ideas. Remember, writers are also readers. Be willing to let go of the old ideas and form some new ones. See if those are better.

Be in the moment. Think about the information offered. Do you need to ask questions? Is there something more to be accomplished with the give and take critiques require? Are you open to the discussion on improvements or clarifying points in the work?

Approach the critique with the positive intention. If you find the criticism confusing, or it seems odd, clarify. Make sure you and your critique partner are both speaking the same language.

Be persistent when working on your critique. Do not let your mind wander, or race ahead to parts plotted but not yet written. Push through and consider the advice you’re given. Sometimes it’s difficult for writers to see the tree in the forest. Occasionally others bring better ideas to the table.

Take the lead and thank the critique partner for their time. Be specific. “I appreciate your suggestions and am considering some minor rewrites.” Or “I need to set up the next event more clearly. Thanks for pointing that out.”

  Respect the time and energy the critique partner put into making the MS readable, and well-paced. Their writing may be meant to elicit emotions other than those you’ve targeted. But their input is always valuable.

When critiquing face to face, remember to look for body language clues that your partner feels underappreciated, or insulted by your “blow off” of their suggestions. Read the language you incorporate into your characters to avoid demeaning the work they did for you.

Remove ego from the communication. Be humble about the information you receive (and with the information you provide). You can pay attention to the details of the work if you do not equate ego with success.

Remember, stress or tension, such as that of first-time participants, can get in the way of effective communication. Stress affects the ability to listen. Again, read the body language if you’re given the opportunity.

Mirror the others communication skills. Being in sync with their style make it easier for them to listen and understand. Choose a similar rhythm to communicate effectively.

When you ask for help with a newly completed work, such as a beta read or a critique, the most important thing is to narrow your focus to what’s at hand.

Sometimes self-awareness means biting your tongue.

Happy Critiquing!

Traveling, Friendship, and Touring America…before it’s too late

It’s been an interesting summer. Fun times catching up with old friends and revisiting favorite places. My DH (darling husband) an I now travel full time in our 5th wheel and are striking off the places we need to see on our bucket list, before–I hesitate to say it, but before someone kicks the proverbial bucket.

So today, in the RV park of iffy wifi, and bad weather I’m resurrecting an old post about friendships and their true values. I’ll keep you posted as I catch up with friends around the country and see the sites.

Women and Friendship

Date: July 22, 2013

Author: Ane

“And life is what we make it. Always has been. Always will be.”

– Grandma Moses

Here’s a thing I know from my heart: value the women who are your friends for they are worth their weight in gold.

Ane Ryan Walker

I do value my women friends. I am still in touch with the girls I grew up with, my best friend from first grade who was still my best friend at high school graduation, and with whom I am still friends today. Ditto for my best friend from college.

I just returned from a long weekend at the beach. It’s an annual event, a three-day weekend cherished by all of us, spent at the beach house of a mutual friend.

Now these ladies and I have been friends for a very long time, sometimes old friends and sometimes new friends. Some 20+ years, and one who just joined us for the very first time. There isn’t a lot of exclusivity to the ”Girls Club” just a few simple rules.

1) Cardinal Rule: Girls Only, no children, no spouses, no boyfriends, no pets. We’ve only violated this rule once, for a two-year old male toddler whose Mom really needed a “girls weekend”.

2) If you get up, you lose your chair, and if you leave the room, we will talk about you. This requires no explanation.

3) No makeup, no bras necessary. (As we age, we make this bra thingy optional. Some of us really need the support.)

4) What happens at the Fish Bowl, stays at the Fish Bowl. We are a little upset that the marketing people stole this for Las Vegas, but we’re not gonna’ press it.

5) No criticism of others situations or behaviors. The truth of it is, everything else in your life may change, but the Girls Weekend is Sacred. We tease, cajole, and tell stories and secrets of our own and others bad behavior over the years, but since those stories never leave the Fish Bowl, the purpose here is to bond with the new, entertain the old, and to put in perspective who we are in this moment. It’s all about how we went from lean, lanky, single, hot girls to the sometimes Grandma’s of today. We know you, and we know your history. This is the place where you come to be your absolute true self. And they keep showing up.

So another year has passed, I took a poll, and if you weren’t in the room, too bad.

No names, the innocent are protected, always.

These are the women I’d trust with my life, share my “bucket list” with, and give my last dime. They are consistent, caring and crazy. They are a reflection of who I really am and I am proud to know them all.

I love you guys!

Thank You Kelli, for the recent visit to Guadalupe River State Park, as always it was great to see you.

It breaks my heart that I will miss Girls Weekend, but I will catch up with Y’all as I can while traveling.

 

Courage

  “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

― Anais Nin

Seriously, do you know what constitutes courage? Some people think of it as the absence of fear. Some people say it is the ability to face the very thing you fear. But I often wonder if the ability to face fears can sometimes be a foolish pursuit.

When it is not in your best interest to buck the system, fear can become embedded in the operational psyche.

I don’t believe this. I am of the school of thinking where facing your fears reduces them, allowing you to overcome obstacles in your path enabling you to eventually move on.

Assuming this take on the things you fear is the expansion Anais Nin is referring to, then the inability to face our fears must cause our personal universe to contract. Not good.

Sometimes fears are not meant to be dealt with in so cavalier a fashion.

Who will decide which fears are worth facing, and which should be circumvented?

Like most writers, if you are introverted, you avoid walking into a room of people you do not know, it’s too scary. Even when you seek a group of like-minded people, you can still find a situation like this paralyzing.  Seeking out other aspiring writers, or accomplished writers in pursuit of a mentor is a challenging task. If shyness (fear) prevents you from joining such groups or even seeking them out, how your attempts to join such a group are received are critical to how you deal with these situations in the future.

Most of us, as members of RWA, are often assured a welcome in each chapter of the overall parent group. But that is not necessarily the case. Even chapters which claim to promote aspiring writers by mentoring, and use that as their basis for excellence, often forget that common courtesy is everything.

Recently I attended a chapter meeting for an RWA chapter where I am not a member. I have been a member of RWA since 1993, and I do know the “rules.” You should greet new people and make them feel welcome. This is a hallmark of a chapter that aspires to excellence. It certainly should be a given for a chapter that RWA claims are “excellent.”

But no matter, I attended with notice by emailing and letting them know I planned to attend. I confirmed the date, place and time. When I arrived on site, I made myself known by introducing myself to the first two people I met. They gave me their names and shook hands. Then turned away to speak with friends and others they knew in the arriving group. In the meeting, a woman I’ve known for many years, who belonged to another chapter and who I had hosted numerous times in my home was present. She did not speak or acknowledge me until I was on my way out of the meeting.

Now, I could be wrong, but this behavior does not constitute either the principle of RWA’s inclusion or excellence. Sound like they pissed me off? They did. I have belonged to numerous chapters. I have gone out of my way to welcome those not known to the group or still new enough to not be recognized by other members. Making it my business to make time to answer questions, help the newcomers find a seat and get comfortable. At the very least, introducing them to at least two additional people.

This type of isolation and poor reception by a “peer” group could be enough to keep some writers from joining, or even encouraging them to leave RWA. Me, I’m not that dainty. But I will never forget the shabby treatment by this group and I will not recommend them to any writer, aspiring or otherwise. I will not attend any meeting or presentation for or by them in the future. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Something we should never forget.

 

Self Doubt

Doubt is a virus that attacks our self-esteem, productivity, and confidence. Faith that you and your life are perfectly unfolding is the strongest vaccine.
― Sean Stephenson

Sometimes I question whether or not I should continue to pursue a writing career. I have so many stories to tell, but I get distracted so easily. I wonder if I’m serious about writing, and that is not a good feeling.

Maybe, I thought, I just need a little time off. You know how it goes. Thinking I’ll take a little time, ease into the next phase of where my life journey is taking me and determine how serious I really am about this writing thing.

First I think, NANO is coming up and this is the perfect opportunity to establish a new habit, i.e., writing every day. Oh, wait! I had that habit and for some unknown reason, I stopped writing every day. Even now, I wonder why.

Was it because things didn’t go exactly as planned?  Because I failed to get my butt in the chair and just do it?

Some people believe you shouldn’t try to write every day. There I said it, and if you believe it fine, and if you don’t, that’s okay too.

Right now I’m not sure. I know that I made a commitment to turn in critique pages today. I follow through on the promises I make. I always try, an I’ consistent.

Also, through this last hiatus, I realized the value of time off from writing. Some times writers, like stories, need a rest.

Sure it was surgery and drug-induced vacation that got me into the “not writing” mode. Enough to make me wonder if going back to writing was worth the energy. I did doubt it on many days.

This morning I woke up with a whole new attitude. I do want to write, I do have stories to tell, and I find storytelling a pleasure. But, at a different pace.

We are now nine days into NANO, and I’m not there. SO what I’m doing is looking at reviving abandoned stories. Yeah, that’s the reason I decided writing is worth it. So many stories, so little time.

Happy writing, and keep the commitments you make. You’ll be happier for it.

Where does your story start?

There’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

I know many authors in various stages of their careers, and not a single one willing to say, “I know exactly where my story begins.”

Once in a rare while we know where to start the story, but not often, and certainly, not always.

As writers we have so many things to agonize over, such as “who does the story belong to?”, and “who will be the primary character?”

We need to decide so many things when we start a new story that we often overlook the obvious when we decide who will tell the story. For Romance writers, we know the story must be told by both sides, the “he said, she said” that keeps romance readers coming back. They love (no pun intended) a gripping story and so of course, they want to know why she behaved that way, and what he thought about it, and why he put the time and energy into winning her back. Did she make it worth his time?

If you have an audience that comes back again and again, you know you’re probably telling the story correctly. But how much do you agonize over the very beginning of the story? How do you decide when you’re just starting out who the story belongs to and how it should be told.

A general rule of thumb is when things change, the story begins. Always a good place to start. Change brings conflict. Conflict and its resolution or lack thereof, is often what keeps readers reading. But, unless we can identify and sympathize with the primary character, then you, as the reader are not likely to buy in for the long haul. And believe me, 400 pages is the long haul.

You must create and open with a character we love, or at least can identify with for the duration of the story. This simple direction is indeed a tall order.
How do I make you love my character? Or at the very least, how do I get you to accept him for who he is, like you but not like you, and still make him interesting.

In a word, backstory.

All of the things I, as the writer know, about the character, who he or she is, how they came to be in the moment fraught with conflict and change, and I must make you care about him and want to know why that happened.

You can love him or hate him, but he must arouse your curiosity, make you ask why? and also wonder, what happened next?

If you fail to incite this interest, you haven’t found the the right character, or the true beginning of your story.

Writing Rules

“Habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them either. They keep you.”

― Frank Crane

That’s the truth. Anyone who has been writing for a long time, and hopefully some of those writing for a short time know this to be true. There are no real rules.

Well, maybe a few. In Romance, you always get a happily ever after, and when you don’t get that, you get a happy for now ending. NB, Nicolas Sparks doesn’t write romance. He does write wonderfully compelling stories about love and redemption, but those stories are technically not romance.

There are a host of ways to produce the story which will provide a satisfying “Happily Ever After” but that’s not what we’re talking about today.

Today we are going to talk about the writing habit.

This is a double up opportunity for me to tell you i don’t believe in writers block. I have never heard of any other profession which claims to have a “block”. No surgeons block, no plumbers block, no salesman’s block, or any other profession.

I do believe in laziness, not wanting to do your job today, needing to take a holiday, needing a mental health day, and finally “I’m just not going to do that today”.

I also believe you should write according to a schedule of you own devising, which after some thought a planning tells you how much you can writer and how often. For example, when you still go to a “day job” that presumable pays the bills, you need to schedule not only “write time”, but down time. I’m pretty sure you all know what down time is; time to do what you want or need, to rejuvenate, recharge and rebuild strength.

Make sure you order your life to allow for a reasonable amount of time to pursue your writing dreams. When I still had to go to the “day Job”, I was much more productive. Because my time was scheduled, and I knew if I wanted to accomplish my writing goals, I had to stick to a schedule. The schedule can be whatever works for you–let me repeat–what works for you.

You can schedule as little as 100 words per day, or as much as a single chapter, upwards of 5,000 words or much more. Do what works for you. I also would schedule the “down time” to maintain the balance. I do not write on the weekends even today, unless I miss a weekday writing goal.

Join a group. Others will keep you honest, and on task, if you all have the same commitment to writing. The group can be a professional one, or an local amateur group. Accountability is what you’re looking for, because most of us don’t bother to keep the promises we make to ourselves, but that’s another story for another day.

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