Shenandoah Writers: May 18 Meeting

Last night, at the May 18 Shenandoah Writers (IRL) meeting, we covered several topics.

SWO LIVE CHAT

  • May 25—9-10P.M. on Shenandoah Writers Online
  • I’m open to topic suggestions.  If you have any, please let me know ASAP.

CRITIQUING

  • Changes to the critiquing schedule
    • We are going to cover one person’s work at each of the next several meetings, instead of two. This is because we don’t want to short-change the second person being critiqued at a given meeting (by rushing it, etc.)—plus, we don’t want to spend the whole time critiquing, when I’m sure there will be other things to discuss.
  • Page limit for critiques
    • When you’re up for critique, submit the first two chapters, not to exceed 20 pages.  For essays or short stories, just send the whole thing.

Awesome cartoon by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, from Inkygirl.com

  • How to send
    • Person being critiqued must e-mail the group a copy of his/her critique submission no later than one week before the next meeting (so, you have up to a week to get your crit submission together and then the rest of us have a week to read it/comment)
    • When you send your crit piece, make sure you are sending a .doc file, so we are all able to open it.
    • E-mail being sent to all members with everyone’s email addresses
  • How to critique
    • Dave brought in some awesome handouts of not only constructive ways to critique but also areas in which to critique.  When he sends me the files, I will post them in the forum on the SWO network, so we can all access them.
    • We agreed that all critiquers need to have a hard copy of the critique submission printed out & brought with them to the meeting. This means each person will need to print out his/her own copy prior to coming to the meeting.
    • Ideally, you will have read and commented right on the submission before each meeting.

    • At the meetings, either the author or someone else (I don’t mind doing this for everyone) will read the submission out loud, so the author can hear how it sounds/catch awkward or unwieldy sentences and so everyone can have the piece fresh in his/her mind. This will also enable critiquers to write down more notes as the piece is being read.
    • Each critiquer will discuss positive comments and constructive criticism on how to improve/clarify/etc.
    • At the end of the critique session, each member will hand in his/her hard copy to the author so he/she has something concrete for reference when revising.
  • Openings assignment
    • After we hammered out the details, we spent some time going through various novel openers and what we learned about the book from them.
    • This was a little awkward to do with just three of us, but I think it went OK over all.
    • I will post my handout to SWO, for anyone who wants to take a look.
  • Next meeting
    • The next meeting is June 1 @ Barnes & Noble (7PM)
    • Dave is up for critique
    • I would also like to discuss journalistic writing & freelancing a bit after we critique because I will be putting together my class on that subject for the Southeastern Writers Association at the end of June.
      • Anything you think I should include, I’m all ears.
      • I would also like to know what writers unfamiliar with or new to how to approach journalistic writing & freelancing NEED TO KNOW—so bring any questions you have as well.

Shenandoah Writers Hosting a Write-In Saturday, May 15

For any writers in the Harrisonburg, Va., area who are interested, I am hosting a write-in at my humble abode this Saturday, May 15, from 11 A.M. – 5 P.M.

THE GIST

Because this profession has the propensity to be such a solitary one, I find I sometimes need that extra boost that camaraderie provides (hence Shenandoah Writers, Shenandoah Writers Online, SheNoWriMo, etc.).  While the act of writing is individual, I think it might be neat to feed off the energy of others.  That’s why I think, although I would have done SheNoWriMo myself if I’d had to, I have been staying on top of my word count (for the most part).  It makes one accountable.

It has worked for some of my favorite authors (John Green, Maureen Johnson, E. Lockhart), so perhaps it will work for us as well!
I have never been to a write-in or writers’ retreat before, but I envision this as a way to force oneself to get the writing done.  We all have crazy things going on in our lives, I’m sure, and we don’t always make as much time to write as we intend – so this is kind of an organized way of taking that time and being accountable to others – butt in chair and WRITE, as they say, the whole time.  

We will each be working on our OWN projects.  It will likely be a largely quiet day.

WHAT WE’LL HAVE

We have plenty of comfortable spaces to set up little “Internet cafes” as well as places to get a little bit of distance—no need for anyone to bring card tables or chairs, like we discussed at the meeting.  As well, we have outlets all over the place as well as two power strips, so we should be set in terms of power, no matter where people set up camp.

In addition, we recently acquired a 30-cup coffee pot, so we will have plenty of fuel to keep us going!

WHAT TO BRING

  • Laptops
  • Power cords for your laptops
  • Pens/Notebooks if you think you’ll be writing/outlining by hand
  • Your favorite writing snacks – we intend to do dinner at 5PM with anyone who wants to go, but if you’d like to snack throughout the day, pack yourself a little somethin’ somethin’ 🙂

RSVP

Please let me know if you can make it. Even if you’ve never been to a Shenandoah Writers (IRL) meeting, but you’re in the area and interested, we’d love to have you—I just need to be able to plan for it, so it would be nice if you’d let me know.

As well, if you aren’t sure you can commit to the whole time, that’s totally fine.  You can certainly come and go as you please.

Please contact me for directions.

FINALLY

I think it will be a neat experience.  And hey—if it doesn’t work out or we hate it or something, that’s okay, too.  We’ll find out!

If you have any questions between now and Saturday, please feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

Looking forward to it!

If You Missed the SWO LIVE CHAT . . .

. . . you weren’t alone.

For those new to the blog, I just had to move my online writing group from Ning to Grou.ps, and the new network is buggy: I tried to send a reminder about the chat to all SWO members today to no avail (I found out that feature has been defunct the last two days—grr!), one of my regular attendees couldn’t access the network at the time of the chat, as well as a host of other wonky things with the new site.

Eeeeeeeeh - the site is buggy, Doc!

Overall, I’ve been impressed with Grou.ps.  After all, it can’t be easy for them to accommodate the Great Ning Exodus of 2010.  They have a tech support group for administrators, which has been helpful to me, and they seem to be actively taking care of buggy things as people report them.  However, don’t mess with my chat!

I suspect they’ll have all the kinks worked out before the May chat.  (I hope! I hope!)

THE GIST

If you missed our chat on revision and rewriting tonight for whatever reason, here are the highlights:

  • Re: Revision & Rewriting: What’s Your Process & How Do You Know When to Stop?
    • We discussed a method of editing I use: editor Bobbie Christmas’s “Find and Refine Method” as outlined in her out-of-print book, Write in Style: Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing
      • In the book, Christmas discusses how to tighten your writing and lists words and phrases you can search for within your manuscript to quickly find the problematic areas—all using your word processor’s “find” function (i.e., passive verbs, adverbs, certain words and phrases writers often overuse, etc.)
    • One member mentioned a CD called Writer’s Mind, which is designed to engage patterns of your own EEG and stimulate your creativity
    • We talked about reading your manuscript aloud
      • Doing this not only makes others think you are strange, but it also enables you to catch spelling/grammar mistakes as well as pinpoint problematic syntax, etc.
    • We touched how allowing space/distance between yourself and your manuscript is key
      • If you are too close, you’re not going to catch as many errors—your brain kind of fills in missed words, etc.
      • We debated how much space one needs—how much distance—and this, of course, is subjective
        • Some felt sleeping on it and revisiting the manuscript the next day was sufficient
        • One person suggested you not live, touch, or breathe the MS for at least a month before editing
        • Some mentioned sending the piece to beta readers and working on something else to get your mind off said manuscript
          • By the time the betas have read it, you should be sufficiently recharged

    Make like Michael Strahan's front teeth, and get some space between you and your MS!

  • This led to a discussion about beta readers—Re: where to find them and how to know if you can “trust” someone to give you constructive feedback
    • Some places suggested to find beta readers included: listservs, online writing groups, writer friends you make at conferences, etc.
      • One of my favorite comments of the chat: “Beta readers = fellow writers. Avid readers. Not Mom, Not Dad. No one you’ve slept with.” 🙂
    • Re: How to know if the betas are going to be any good
      • We pretty much agreed that it’s a crap shoot
      • You want to be on the lookout for someone with a “good eye”
        • You might establish this by getting a feel for the person through e-mails, chats—get to know them—see if they’re a good fit—research them.  THEN, make your decision.
        • One member said he has his betas complete a questionnaire so he can elicit constructive feedback—a very interesting way to guide the beta reader to focus on whatever you need them to focus on!

You could also pick up a beta at a pet store for, like, a dollar.

  • Re: How to know when to stop editing
    • We pretty much said it can be kind of a gut thing
    • My rule:  When you’ve revised so many times that you hate yourself—and your manuscript—and you feel like you might physically die if someone made you look at it again, then you *might* be done . . . but you should probably still have someone else look at it at that point.  Get that distance we mentioned.

Rappers from the '90s have surprisingly good advice for revising. (It was a toss up between this and one with "Stop - Hammertime" spray-painted on it.)

  • Re: Miscellaneous
    • We discovered that the new chat has awesome—but random—emoticons that we just stumbled upon
      • For example, by typing “(rain)”, a raincloud appears in place of the words—WHA?
      • This distracted us several times.
    • We discussed light versus edgy YA, as a few of us learned we had been hearing similar comments from agents about our MSS.
    • Marice decided she’s going to host a writing conference at her place Down Under. 😉
    • I invited myself to Australia, Los Angeles, and Macon, Ga.

Now, it’s your turn.  Anything to add to the conversation?

This Week’s SWO Live Chat, SheNoWriMo and Write-In

As most of you probably already know, we moved Shenandoah Writers Online from Ning.com to Grou.ps.  Click here for more information about it.

In a lot of ways, this new home is a bit more streamlined than our original place on Ning, and I’m already excited about the increased amount of activity among members so far.  Hooray!

If you’re a member but you haven’t come over to the new place yet—OR, if you’re not a member yet but would be interested in joining this writing community, click here to get started.*

SWO LIVE CHAT TUESDAY, APRIL 27

I’m hosting a live chat this Tuesday, April 27, from 9-10 P.M. EST.  Our chats sometimes run over, if we feel so inclined , but the “official” time for this event is from 9-10.  Even if you can only stop by for a few minutes, it’d be good to have you poke your head in and say hello.**

This month’s topic: Rewriting & Revision: What’s Your Process & How Do You Know When to Stop?

SHENOWRIMO

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, so now it’s official: May is the time for SheNoWriMo.

The rules:  There are no rules.

Well, that’s not entirely true—but, let’s say, you make your own rules.  Just write something.  Every day.  For the month of May.  I want SheNoWriMo to be like NaNoWriMo, but a little more accommodating.  Otherwise, no one’s going to do it!

For traditional NaNoWriMo, folks set out to write 1500 words a day—and then, at the end of the month of November (National Novel Writing Month), they have a 50,000-word first draft of something.  For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, click here.

For SheNoWriMo, let’s be more flexible.  Just set a goal for your daily word count.  For instance, if you think your schedule will only allow you to comfortably write 500 words/day, fine.  That’s your goal.  Post it on your “wall” and have at it.

You can write one continuous piece or a lot of smaller pieces—or, heck—even just writing prompts.

Repite, por favor?

Just set a goal for yourself and DO THE WRITING.  And keep us posted about it.  Ideally, I’d like all participants to keep a daily record (on their SWO walls) of their progress.

However, I realize there are all kinds of writers out there.  My husband, for instance, won’t be writing fiction—he’ll be pulling stuff out of his (*ahem*) dissertation and creating articles for publication in his field of mathematics education.  God bless him!

So, while he won’t be writing a novel, he could potentially set out a writing goal of 500 words per day—because I’m sure there will be a fair amount of research he’ll have to do and, you know, that whole professor thing getting in the way of his writing . . .

If you’re wondering about word count, as a general rule, 250 words=1 page.  That should help you gauge the amount of words to which you think you can commit.

Don’t be too aggressive; you don’t want to make it impossible to reach your daily goals, or that might discourage you from continuing the whole month.  However, don’t be wimpy either; this is supposed to be a challenge.

Essentially, tailor SheNoWriMo to your lifestyle as well as your writing tastes/purposes.  I do hope a lot of peeps will consider taking part in it.

Because . . . there could potentially be a fabulous priiii-iiiize *if I have enough participants.  I’m looking at said prize right now . . . (and, no, it’s not Molly!)

WRITE-IN

Last, but not least, I am going to be hosting an SWO write-in here at Château Schultz one Saturday in May—I haven’t decided when yet, but details forthcoming.

I know that most of you are not within driving distance of McGaheysville, Va., and therefore won’t be able to make it IRL (in real life), but that is OK.  It would be great to do a “virtual” write-in with us—especially for SheNoWriMo participants.  After all, I have iChat and Skype.  And, at the very least, we can use the “chat” function on SWO to talk to one another.

*For more information about SWO, click on “Shenandoah Writers” in “Categories” in the right-hand side bar.

**You must be a member of SWO to participate in the chat.  Not a member yet?  E-mail me or click here to get started.

In the Blogosphere: 2/8-2/12

“In the Blogosphere” is a weekly series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week.  Most posts will be from that week, but if I find some “oldies but goodies,” I’ll throw those up here as well.

I never find as much time to read blogs as I want, but here are a few posts that struck me this week.

RESOURCES

If you’re entering the editing stages, this post by YA author Natalie Whipple is for you.  On her Between Fact & Fiction blog, Whipple discusses different ways to edit.

Stuck on structure?  Aspiring sci-fi author Andrew Rosenberg has a great series on story structure at The WriteRunner—and here, he’s begun another one on scene structure.

Need help with your synopsis?  The good people of Writer’s Digest have provided this checklist for your perusing pleasure.

There is a serious drought of boy books in young adult fiction, but before you try your hand at breaking your way into this area, check out this post over at YA Fresh.  In it, Tina Ferraro shares tips on writing for guys, as outlined by YA authors Michael Reisman and Ben Esch at a recent bookstore appearance.

This isn't the kind of boy book I'm talking about, but it's good too. 🙂

LITERARY AGENTS

If you’re in the query stages and you’re not getting any bites, see how your query stacks up against a really good one.  Here, Caren Johnson Literary‘s Elana Roth analyzes a query letter that grabbed her.

I know I’ve been linking to her a lot lately, but WordServe Literary‘s Rachelle Gardner keeps writing terrific posts!  In this one, she talks craft, story and voice.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

In a world where real journalism is dying and blogs are taking over cyberspace, the folks at Hyper Modern Writing remind us of the importance of fact checking.

As well, at Ragan’s PR Daily, Christine Kent says short, snappy subject lines might be the key to freelancing success.

If you’re thinking about joining a writing group, Australia’s Marsha Durham gives you a few things to consider before making a commitment, over on her Writing Companion blog.

IN THE NEWS

I just added this link so I could post a picture of Taylor Lautner (just kidding).  In The New York Times, director of the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California Angela R. Riley opines about Twilight saga author Stephenie Meyer‘s use of the Quileute Indians.

Someone get this poor boy a towel!

INTERVIEWS

Over at Writer’s Digest, check out what 179 Ways to Save a Novel author Peter Selgin has to say about agents, writing and the publishing industry overall.

As well, The Knight Agency‘s Lucienne Diver had an interesting little chat with The Naughty List author Suzanne Young over on her blog, Authorial, Agently and Personal Ramblings.

In case you missed my post earlier in the week, I interviewed fellow Southeastern Writers Association presenter inspirational author Emily Sue Harvey.

Also, Shenandoah Writers Online member Katy Doman conducted our first Author Spotlight with nonfiction writer and poet Dana Wildsmith. You must be a member of SWO to access this interview, but e-mail me at ricki@rickischultz.com, and I’ll send you an invitiation on the double!

GRAMMAR HUMOR

Hehehehehehe.

FACEBOOK FUN

Think your Facebook etiquette is decent?  Better check, using this cartoon at The Oatmeal as well as this YouTube video.

How to Write Full Time & Stay Sane: 5 Tips on Dealing with Rejection

How to Write Full Time and Stay Sane is a series that offers advice to full-time writers about how to stay productive and in good spirits.

Staying sane is something I’ll admit I haven’t been doing very well the past week or so.  Although I’ve had some exciting successes in that time (sold my first piece to a magazine, landed another gig teaching a summer workshop), I’ve also received my first few query rejections for my manuscript.  Because of this, I have assembled some tips as well as links from industry professionals to help you deal with this agonizing process.

Now, no one is more self-deprecating than I—nor will you find more of a realist (although, some might use the term “pessimist”)—so I’ve mentally prepared for this time of literary limbo.  In fact, more than one writer and loved one has scolded me for referring to the query process as “the rejection process” before I’d even received one.  But I can’t help it: I’d much rather be pleasantly surprised than sorely disappointed.

Which are you?

But even with that in mind, and even if you get the nicest, most personalized rejection (and I’ve gotten two of those so far), rejection still sucks.

You know getting rejections is normal; you know how subjective this is; you know how pertinent finding the right agent is; you know you must locate someone who falls head over heels for your work; you recognize how tedious of a task that’s going to be . . .

. . . but you also know you’ve put tens of thousands of hours into the writing and editing of this thing, and you’re doing the most vulnerable thing you’ve ever done by sending it out into the world—and then someone doesn’t want it for whatever reason.

So, yeah, rejection sucks no matter how ready you are for it.

HOW TO DEAL

Tip #1: File It & Forget It

In a recent Shenandoah Writers Online LIVE CHAT (let me know if you want in, BTW), a friend of mine—whose manuscript has been rejected 28 times—said that every time he gets a rejection, he files it and moves on to something else.

That’s great advice.  And if you can do that, more power to ya.  I think the more seasoned you become in this business and the more irons you have on the fire, your skin can definitely thicken—but we’re not all there yet.

As well, I am lucky enough to be able to do this full time, and believe me: news of my first story getting accepted to a Virginia magazine alleviated some of my I’m-going-to-die-hopeless-and-penniless-and-20-lbs.-over-weight” (Thank you, Stuart Smalley) attitude. However, I fully realize that many of you reading this have day jobs.  The only thing you’ve got cooking is your manuscript, and you don’t have time to distract yourself with other writing endeavors.

So, although filing and forgetting might sound good on paper (or on screen, as it were), I realize it’s easier said than done.  Which brings me to . . .

I'm good enough, I'm smart enough - and doggone it, people like me.

Tip #2: Send to a Friend

During the writing and editing process, we are discouraged from showing our work to loved ones because so many amateurs make the mistake of thinking that if their mother or spouse loves the book, it’s bound to be a New York Times bestseller.

Along that same vein, I am not suggesting you appeal to family and friends for a critique of your manuscript, but now is the time to revel in their bias toward loving it.  Print out a few copies and send them to your biggest fans.

While it’s gut-wrenching (no matter whose eyes scan your pages), if you include a close circle—those who’ve been rooting for you all along (your buddy from work, who always asks about your progress; your parents, who are eager to see what you’ve been doing all this time, etc.)—you are sure to get rave reviews.

As long as you take their glowing assessments for what they are and don’t let them cloud your realistic attitude toward the query process and the publishing industry, this praise can be just the ticket to convince you not to jump.

After all, regardless of whether or not your book will ever get any agent to want it, regardless if the book is even publishable, remember: completing a manuscript is a huge accomplishment. You deserve to have someone stroke your ego a bit.

 

Your manuscript is GRRRRRRREAT!

CONFUSION

When my first rejection rolled in, I scoured every resource I knew to figure out how to respond.

First of all, don’t get me wrong: I know you aren’t supposed to respond.

But the rejection was not just a personalized version of a form rejection letter.  As well, a YA author friend of mine had given me a referral to this agent because she represented said YA author friend, and the agent had mentioned our mutual acquaintance in the e-mail, so it wasn’t as though this was a cold query.

While I knew not responding at all would have been perfectly acceptable, and while I wasn’t going to lash out at the woman, I went back and forth about sending a “thank you.”

Agents are flooded with e-mail daily, and many are quite vocal on their blogs and on Twitter about not wasting their time, but in doing a little research, I found several well-known agents with conflicting information.  (Wait, agents don’t all agree on everything??)

HOW TO DEAL (AGAIN)

Tip #3: Seek Professional Help

When in doubt, turn to the rejecters themselves—agents and editors.  Many have blogs and other Web sites dedicated to everything from their personal preferences to typical response times.

Here, Curtis Brown Ltd. agent Nathan Bransford lists acceptable etiquette for rejection follow-up.

For a different perspective, see this post by FinePrint Literary‘s Colleen Lindsay on what not to do after a rejection.

Over on her blog, Lindsay’s FinePrint colleague Janet Reid describes how to cut down on your anguish over unanswered queries by making sure you haven’t sent something that isn’t a query.

Tip #4: Gain Some Perspective

Once you’ve gotten a few rejections and you’re feeling like a hack, it’s important to put it in perspective and remind yourself that it’s normal.

Rabbit or duck?

On her blog at QueryTracker, YA author Mary Lindsey discusses how to handle rejection at arm’s length.  Her article is good on its own, but Lindsey references Hal Spacejock series author Simon Haynes‘s post, “Rejection of the Literary Kind,” which is also worth a read.

As well, on his Web site, sci-fi writer, photographer and Web designer Jeremiah Tolbert offers an editor’s perspective on rejection.

To round out this area, over at Streetdirectory.com, award-winning romance and nonfiction author Dana Girard categorizes rejection into seven levels and suggests ways you can decode what each kind of rejection means in terms of your manuscript.

Tip #5: Commiserate

For those days when you feel like you’re the only person who sucks this bad, check out the following sites for a little misery-loves-company.

Want some company?

At Absolute Write Water Cooler, you can find several conversation threads where people share their rejections stories, but here’s a link to one where some poor schlubs compete for who got rejected the fastest. Can you beat 30 seconds?

If you’re looking for a gold mine in terms of rejection, bitterness and hilarity, check out Literary Rejections on Display.  The person running the blog—Writer, Rejected—actually says in the About Me profile, “I am a published, award-winning author of fiction and creative nonfiction—but whatever. In the eyes of many, I am still a literary reject.” Writer, Rejected posts his/her own rejection letters (as well as rejection letters sent in by others) and analyzes them—in a sane and fair way (usually).  There are several good posts, so definitely make time to poke around in the blog, but here is an example of a rejection analysis.

And here’s a cranky little rant by freelancer Chris Rodell titled “Reject Me, Please” over at his Media Bistro blog.  If you’re especially pissed off and cynical, this is the post for you.

PEP TALK

This last post (from Nathan Bransford’s blog by guest blogger Jon Gibbs) isn’t directly about getting rejection letters, but it discusses how we reject ourselves at times—how we make excuses for why we can’t do this and that.

Use this when you’re in need of a little pep talk, and it’s sure to snap you back to a state of sanity.

If you're seeing the old lady, you definitely need a pep talk.

Shenandoah Writers: January Writing Prompt

This series is for everyone following along with us while we read Brian Kiteley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction.

This month in 3 A.M., Brian Kiteley discusses characters and ways of seeing.

For those of you following along with the group, please either do Exercise 25 or 26or both, if you want to see the contrast. (I think I do!)

Since the actual written assignment calls for half the usual word count, it might not be that terrible to do both—but there is a little bit of leg work for each.

Basically, both exercises are kind of like anagramming…and kind of like the game Boggle.

See for yourself:

Names.

Take the full name (including middle name) of someone you love.  Write down as many words from this name as you can.  You can repeat letters from the name as many times as you wish.  Treat the letters of this name as the only letters in a new alphabet.  You cannot use any worlds containing letters that do not exist in this name.  Because this is so difficult, you’ll probably be able to come up with only about 200 words for this exercise—that’s okay.  When you have built a sufficient list of words (maybe breaking the list down into nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.), write a fragment of fiction that has to do with a fictionalized situation this person, or someone like this person, would be involved in.

300 words

Kiteley goes on to say:

As an example, for Geoffrey James Kiteley (my brother, who died of AIDS on Christmas Eve, 1993), you could come up with the following list of words: frog, klieg, a, fray, make, mar, leek, jag, fog, kilter, legal, illegal, glee, flag, fay, gay, jail, fillet, oyster, aioli, fritters, fry, gel, jelly, oft, soft, satay, etc.  You may notice, as you’re creating this list, a pattern develops that relates to characteristics of this person you’re making words out of: In my brother’s case, frog and leek relate to both his career as a cook and his love of things French.  Because he was gay, you can see other relationships to the words.

If you have built up a strong relationship with a fictional character in your long story, you may simply use that character’s full name in place of someone you love.  But it would better to use someone you love, because this exercise can otherwise be a little bland without the added spice fo affection for the words themselves.  This exercise often yields unexpected results if you are patient.  I discovered this once myslf.  I worked very hard at the exercise over a few weeks and then gave up, happy for the difficulty and the experience but convinced I’d failed at a proper piece of fiction.  I put the very brief story in a file and it stayed unmolested in my computer for several years.  I rediscovered it one day and printed it out to look at it. To my surprise, it was much easier to revise a couple of years after its original composition (whereas when I first wrote it, the writing felt unnatural and impossible to mold into anything like narrative).  Be patient with this exercise.  Let it gestate in a quiet file of drawer.  You might find a voice in which you never thought you were capable of speaking.

This is a variation on an Oulipo exercise by Harry Mathews, author of Cigarettes and The Conversions.  Oulipo stands for Ouvroir pour litterature potentielle (workshop for potential literature), a group of writers and mathematicians who have been meeting for over forty years in Paris to dream up demanding and sometimes impossible restraints for writing.  Members who have gained fame include Harry Mathews, Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, and one of the founders, Raymond Queneau, who described Oulipians as rats who build the maze from which they plan to escape.

Here is Exercise 26, should you choose to do this instead of or in addition to the previous one:

Exes.

An alternative to the previous exercise would be to use the letters of the first names of four or five ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends as your only alphabet for a very short story.  The effect of this change, when I tried just the list of words (not the exercise) myself was electric.  See if you can look back to earlier failed relationships with something like affection—or at least some balance.

300 words

In Names (Exercise 25), you play with an Oulipo exercise that could be a bit chilly without the instructions to use the name of someone you love as the source of your new alphabet and language.  This exercise turns an affectionate search for words into a possibly bitter quest.  But, despite my suggestion you try to be mature and balanced, you should also let your emotional response to these names (and the words you create from the) carry you as far as autobiographical situations, something we make up whole cloth, and yet it strikes a chord.  This exercise may allow you to write a parallel universe history of these failed relationships.

Nerd as I am, I am SO excited about these prompts!  In addition to anagramming and Boggle, they are also taking me back to certain games girls played at recess, where you write out the full names of people, somehow convert them to numbers, do the same with your own name, and determine the percentage of a chance that you’ll date them.  Anyone else do that in sixth or seventh grade?  No?  Okay…

ONE LAST THING

If you choose to do any of these, please send them to me at ricki@rickischultz.com – OR – if you are a member of Shenandoah Writers Online, please post them there.

Incidentally, if you *aren’t* a member of Shenandoah Writers Online, why not??  In short, we are a brand-new online community of writers—from all over the country—on Ning.  Click the above link or e-mail me for more information.

Enjoy!

Shenandoah Writers: Jan. 5 Meeting

Shenandoah Writers is a writing group, based out of Harrisonburg, Virginia, which meets the first Tuesday of every month at the Barnes & Noble at Harrisonburg Crossing at 7pm. Stop by!

MINUTES

We welcomed new member Kathryn Williams to the group.  Kat is a graphic design student with a creative writing minor, and although she’s written and published short stories, her current focus is on poetry. We’re thrilled to have you, Kat!

We also discussed the online component to our group, the aptly-named Shenandoah Writers Online (SWO).  I ran some of my ideas past the gang, and they gave me some of theirs, including:

  • “Write ins” in the style of Twitter’s #amwriting or #writingparty
  • Scheduled chats
  • Contests
  • Writing-book reviews
  • Book reviews
  • Author spotlights
  • A mini NaNoWriMo (ShenWriWriMo)

These are all great ideas and all things I plan to implement in the coming months, so stay tuned!

FOR THE FEB. 2 MEETING

Keep plugging away with the third chapter of Kiteley’s book.  It’s on characters.

I’ll post the prompt by Monday, Jan. 11, so check back—or if you’re a member of SWO, check there.