Tag Archive: writing

Writer’s Group

It never ceases to amaze me how blind I can be to my own typos, even when I am expecting at least some to be there.  I wrote it to sound and be a certain way, so that little voice inside of my head reads it for me that way regardless of what I attempted to write on the paper.  This is one of many reasons that, as a writer, I’ve come to learn the value of peer reviews.  Not only do other people catch mistakes and logic loop holes that I might never see, but they help contribute ideas and ask questions that I might have overlooked or taken for granted.  This is a big part of why I have been workshopping my book in a writer’s group.So what’s in a good writer’s group?  Well, for starters, serious writers who are at about the same stage in their book writing process as you are.  It would be hard for someone just starting fresh to join a professional group, or for someone who only writes for fun to try and join a group that was all about getting down to business.  You will need consistent membership, and probably want at least one person to be from your own genre.  While there are lots of good ideas and great feedback a romance author could get from a horror writer and vice versa, they’re not going to be as interested and knowledgeable about the subject matter as someone in the same genre.  Variety, however, is still of key importance since those other POVs (points of view) will make you think on a deeper level and add depth and complexity to your story that you may not have expected or planned for.

Small membership is also ideal, at least in my case, because time is fleeting and precious.  You want to make sure that you can balance your group with your life, and that you will have time to dedicate equal attention to all members of your group.  Our group has four members that are active all the time, and one or two that pop in on occasion. Consistent scheduling will help with the time factor, too.  We aim to meet once a month on a day we’ve agreed on as a group works out for us.  We chose Sunday so that the procrastinators can have time to scramble together last minute words, and the busy people will get Saturday to read everyone’s submissions.  We also limit ourselves to 25 page submissions, and schedule “special” sessions months in advance for completed novels to give people plenty of time to review.

There are a few key things to keep in mind while participating in a group.   First and foremost, if you’re not having fun, or you feel like everyone else is benefiting from your insight, but you are not benefiting from theirs, start looking for a new group.  You also need to remember to keep writing beyond group or you’ll never get done.  Professional writers do a chapter a week, sometimes even in a day when they get in a roll.  If you do a chapter a month it will take you two years to get those 24 chapters you were aiming for, or perhaps even longer if you decide to resubmit something.  Work life and family balance should never be second place, so don’t go to extremes to get done, but keep up the pace and always strive to be a chapter or two a head of the group. That way even if you miss a month of writing, you won’t miss a month of reviewing.

Remember to keep your criticism constructive.  Sometimes people get stuck or end up on paths that they had not planned on, and it is more helpful for you to provide ideas and guidance than for you to just tell them you don’t like something without explanation or examples of ways you think their writing can improve.  There are many plot twists and direction changes that my own book has taken since participating in writer’s group that have caused me to scrap summaries and skew off on cool tangents that I had not thought of before.  And, the further I get in my novel, the more ideas I have come up with for the master plot that I can weave back through.  Almost all of this came from group members pointing out things they did not like, people being OOC (out of character), or members providing me with alternative solutions to problems and asking questions that make you think.

Remember that the first novel is the hardest, and planning doesn’t always work out.  You’ll get there, it just takes time, and you have to be willing to make the time.  Go ahead and just get through it.  I promise you it is a lot easier to pick that title, find that opening line, and look for that missing plot scenario when you’re done than it is to obsess over the same chapter for months.  Most of all, have fun and be yourself.  Writing is an extension of yourself, and people will judge you for it, but try not to let that rule everything you do.


The Technology Problem

Anyone who’s ever written or read scifi knows about this problem.  Predicting the future is not a simple skill set, simply because humanity is often difficult to predict.  For example, at the birth of the automobile, the electric car was actually the superior model to the steam and gasoline cars.  Electric vehicles had many advantages over their competitors: they were quiet, you didn’t have the scent of gasoline blowing back on you as you drove, you didn’t have to crank them to get them started, and you didn’t have to change gears.  Steam cars didn’t need to change gears either but if you had that car in a cold climate you often had a long time to wait to get it started.  Anyone looking at the vehicle market in the early 1900’s could have easily envisioned a logical progression of electric cars into the future, but they would have been wrong.

As the roaring 20’s approached, roadways improved, gasoline became cheaper, and our good friend Henry Ford invented the assembly line.  This meant that the gasoline vehicles not only became the affordable choice, but since the electric vehicles did not have the superior range needed to travel those fancy new roads between cities, the demand for shorter range electric vehicles declined.  Plus, if you ran out of gas on the way to your neighboring city, no problem: pull out that spare gas can, fill ‘er up and go on your merry way.  But what happens when you run out of charge on your battery?  You can bring a spare battery, sure, but it’s not as easy as the gas can method.  Plus, gas was CHEAP, and to top it all off, the electric starter had come along eliminating that annoying need to crank.

The moral of the story?  If you ever want to persuade someone, you can often do so just by hitting their wallets and appealing to their laziness. 😉 Little cynical I suppose, but people are people and thinking along these lines can help you make reasonable, believable choices as well as inaccurate ones.

So what does this mean to a science fiction writer?  Consider science fact before you write your science fiction and put your world through a logical, fun progression. Would a telepathic race need to learn how to use speech? How would a blind race learn about the stars? Consider your fiction society’s values and goals, and project them on the world you’ve created. Do your end items make sense?  Are you prepared to be right or wrong?  Are you prepared to have a really cool idea and have it get published or manufactured before YOU get published, or have that idea manifest AFTER and be the one who inspired its creation?

In my own writing, I’ve also put together technologies based on other science fiction novels. Many authors do. The Odin panel, which looks remarkably like an iPad, I actually dreamed up about 14 years before the iPad came out because I loved the idea of the computer “desks” from Ender’s Game.  I wonder if the folks from Apple did, too.  And why not?  After all, the cell phone’s birth was inspired by science fiction – star trek to be precise. Star Trek also inspired NASA and social morality in its own way. What will my novel be the precursor for? Who knows. Probably nothing so fantastic. I am no Jules Verne, but I like to think sometimes that if I had actually gotten my novel out there a little sooner when the idea was still young, perhaps I could have inspired something like the iPad myself.

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