Giving Input to Another Writer

Being in a critique group is one way to add dimension to your writing process. As a participant, you receive or give critiques on ways to improve the story under discussion. But giving input in a positive, productive way is tricky.  Even the gentlest of critique can rub the receiver the wrong way. And the harshest kind of critique can send a writer into a rampage or a self-esteem downward spiral.


Static Cling by Thomas C.

Of course, the best thing for writers to do in a group is put on their rhinoceros skin coats and deal with the input. I call it “taking the hits” ’cause you’re not always going to like what you hear. Keeping that in mind, good critiquing isn’t personal but deals with the words on the page. The writer being critiqued is free to use or disregard the input.



I’ve just joined a group and wanted a method to assess someone else’s writing by which I didn’t rewrite their work or mess with their voice. I looked at my own thinking process. How did I want to go about the business of evaluating? It’s not like judging a contest. A judge receives a finished product. The piece works or it doesn’t. The critique group process is dealing with a piece of writing which is being born and refined and deepened. The story is growing in some places and shrinking in others.

I decided to look at a piece in three ways:

What do I like? A phrase, a description, a detail. The mood. The tension. The title. A unique character, a set-up, a turn of events.  A good story. A fresh, original approach. Use of language. Flow. Pace. Story arc. In other words, I’m looking for strengths. For good stuff. For writing that works.

This is the place I ask questions designed to have a writer dig deeper. What does the character want? What are the obstacles standing in the way? I look for ways to strengthen a scene, use details, use the senses. I try asking the “What if” question. This is the place I suggest a writer clarify or cut or add. Etc.

Nuts and Bolts
This is housekeeping. Tightening the writing. Glaring mechanical problems. Action verbs, active voice. Use of attributions. Use of tags or stage business. Use of transitions. Word repetition. Etc.


Think Again by Tom Fedro

A critiquer, whether working in spoken or written form, needs to by mindful of word choice, tone, and the way things are said. It’s easy to let the critique rip or just say “how it is” in that writer’s view. That’s one philosophy. It’s not mine. The long term goal is to improve writing. It’s an ongoing, open-ended process. A critique group is a place where we are all works in progress, helping each other grow.

My process? I read the selection for overall feel, making margin or mental notes. On a sheet with the three categories I mentioned above I enter my ideas. I find this process keeps me focused on the overall story, keeps me working toward that author’s big picture, and I don’t become a nit-picker or a rambler. I don’t speak in generalities but can give specifics. Hopefully, I’m offering something of substance, something particular, something of use.

I’m currently processing the critiques I received on my own story during the last meeting of my group. The story, among other things, has a POV (point of view) problem. So now I’m going into revision mode.

Finally, the critique group also offers a strange phenomenon. While assessing other people’s writing you discover strengths and weaknesses about your own. What’s not to like? A good two way street.

And a closing word. Whether you choose to write solo or be in a group, keep writing!



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A Writers’ Critique Group at Last

I pulled into the parking lot of the local library a little before 10 a.m., feeling a bit excited. After many years, a writers’ critique group was forming in my locale under the auspices of the Palm Springs Writers Guild and the leadership of two guild members. I’d been in another critique group sponsored by the organization (a perk of membership), but the drive from the far La Quinta outskirts where I live had been a long one. Sadly, I eventually left it. I was delighted to have a group so much closer.

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I parked my SUV, grabbed my gear, and walked toward the entrance where people waited for the library to open. During the wait I met a few members of the group. When the doors opened promptly at ten, we made our way to our meeting room. Other members arrived until we were seven.

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What followed was a round of self-introductions. We told about ourselves and our writing goals. Next we discussed how the group would function. We shared ideas. Then we each passed out our work – short stories, chapters from novels, personal essays – to be critiqued before the next group meeting in two weeks.

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The room was comfortable, the air filled with expectancy. I realized how much I missed the exchange by writers about their work and aspirations. How much I missed writerly input. Being in a critique group isn’t a necessity for a writer. I’ve worked solo for a number of years. I grew as a writer, experimented, took classes, and continued to submit and be accepted by literary journals. I do have an out-of-area Beta reader I treasure who tells me how it is. However, there were times I wanted an exchange of thoughts and ideas, live and immediate. A place to be inspired. Or encouraged. Or aided with a writing conundrum. A place. A writer’s voice.

This new group is composed of experienced writers, male and female. I look forward to good, professional input allowing us all to grow.

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At the next meeting we begin the nuts and bolts of working with our craft and art. And the art of working with each other. Good stuff. Thank you, Danielle Cook and Hani Angelos, for bringing this group together.

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Writing, a Party, GE, and Samsung

Writer’s block is something that’s been ascribed to by writers for years. You know the definition. The ideas aren’t there, the well has gone dry, the muse has left the building, the empty page holds you in a mind-altering stare. I’ve never been much of a fan of the idea. My philosophy has always been to show up at the computer or the notebook, sit down, tie myself in the chair if necessary, go to work, some days more brilliantly than others. Usually, my self-discipline is pretty good.

However, the past two weeks I experienced a writing problem of a different variety. Not really a block. More of a barricade. Well, not really a barricade. More like life being capricious and messing with me.

A Party and Writing

First, I was planning a birthday party for my husband. It was a significant age achievement. Time to bring on the caterers, name tags, guest lists, music. I admit it. My self-discipline gave in to the fun and excitement of a party. When I did sit down to write, my eyes looked at the computer screen, I thought for a moment on the current short story called “The Simian Society,” I tapped a few keys, and then my mind happily tripped off to party land. For example, maybe I should have balloon towers in the colors of my husband’s universities. Balloony Tunes, a local balloon company, to the rescue. Then I went on to logistics. Will there be enough chairs? Will there be enough food?

You have the idea. Which was more fun? Working through a sticky story issue or thinking about a party. Final score? Party – 1. Story – 0. I would have been in real trouble had I had a story deadline.

And then the party arrived. And then it was over. Post traumatic party disorder set in. I felt like the balloons in these pictures. Towers of balloons flying high one minute, saying “Hey, look at me!” and then, slowly, poooooof. Nada.


Post party – Northern Illinois University’s Red and Black


Post Party – Oklahoma State’s Orange and Black

So I sat down to write and I did. Not only was writing a great way to bring myself out of the after-party funk, but “The Simian Society” looked fresh and welcoming, and the words were there. Write on, my friend, and I did. Then one night before dinner ….

Life’s Detritus and Writing

I had two servings of basmati rice from Trader Joe’s to reheat. Into the microwave it went. Poof! When I pushed the tabs, nothing happened. Wait a minute. The micro is only 15 months old. I grabbed the manual and went to the troubleshooting page. Words of wisdom from a microwave manual: Unplug the micro and plug it back in. I did. More words of wisdom: Check the circuit breakers. I did. Then I pushed the tabs. Dead as an old party balloon. (See pix above.)


Title: Microwave-in-Distress (or self-portrait)

In the meantime, the main TV, the big smart one, the one everybody watches as opposed to the TV sets in the bedrooms, had begun to ail but not morbidly so. Over a period of about a week the TV developed a hitch in its git-a-long. At first, it took several clicks of the remote’s on/off button, then it progressed to numerous clicks to turn the TV on.  Finally one night after infinite clicks, the smart one wouldn’t come on at all. With three visits from Spectrum, our cable company, and three changes to the the cable box, the diagnosis came in about the same time as the microwave’s decision not to work. The smart TV? DOA. What about repair? Ah, my dear, probably cheaper and more efficient to buy new.



Well, since we couldn’t watch TV on the big one, I decided to tend to house business. Into the utility room I went and clicked on the overhead fluorescent light to do the wash. A phfffft. A gasp. No lights. Burned out. Now, I must confess, I enjoy romantic lighting, but not to do the wash. Problem – no extra fluorescent tubes on hand.

You have the idea. Life’s tricks. We all experience them. Writer’s vision fogged by daily living. Story ideas and writing time become the victims of mind fog: shop for a new micro or repair it. Shop for a new TV or repair it. Go to Ace Hardware for lights. Get out the ladder and put the damn fluorescent tubes in. Well, I’ve done all I can. The verdicts will soon be known. The doctors are arriving – GE Repair in the morning for the micro and TV Men in the afternoon for the Samsung.

Whether it’s self-discipline or life’s fog, life can play games. Well, life, you can get in the way all you want, but I’ll still write, somedays, as I said before, more brilliantly than others.

Here’s another conundrum. I placed second in the Palm Springs Writers Guild Personal Essay Contest. The check was intended for a personal reward. Shall I put it toward a microwave? A TV? A trip to Chico’s? I’ll have to decide, but I think it’s a no-brainer.

No doubt. Life and Writing are an odyssey.


Odyssey – Courtesy of “Art: Always Resonating Truth”


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The Personal Essay

Basically, I’m a short story writer. I’m used to the conventions and practices of that genre. I’m still growing as a fiction writer and still learning. I keep working. As far as essay format is concerned, I’m used to the academic, expository essay, to its structure and form, whether writing to define, inform, explain, or persuade. When I tried the personal essay, I was a bit flummoxed.

But as I wrote and studied the genre, I learned the following:

1.  The structure is organic. It grows naturally as you write about an incident from your life.
2. The personal essay frames the event from its beginning to end.
3. It uses fiction techniques.
4. It’s often written in scenes.
5. Reflection is woven throughout.
6. An authority may be included to verify a statement or premise, if needed.
7. The incident occurs against a larger world picture.
8. Exploring the important event in your life eventually reveals a deeper meaning you may not be aware of as you begin. Discoveries are made.
9. Your thoughts and feelings are delved into throughout.
10. A theme may emerge.

Number nine was difficult. I’ve found it much easier to reveal thoughts and feelings as someone other than myself – such as with a character in a story or on the stage.

I began a personal essay about a hike into the Grand Canyon. The canyon became analogous to events in my life. I wasn’t sure just where I was going with the writing but I kept going. It became a journey of personal discovery. As I discovered more, I reflected more about a grand decision I had to make, about a crossroads I had reached in my life in my early twenties. The essay became “Inner Canyons.”


Courtesy of Pinterest

Opening paragraph of the essay:

We make our way down into the canyon, alone on the trail, the air hushed, almost eerie. Faint sounds – a human voice, the shuffle of hooves – break the stillness. A ranch hand on a buckskin horse rides into view, urging his train of pack mules up the footpath, their bodies swaying in disjointed rhythm. To make room, Danny and I press our backs against the inside wall of the South Kaibab Trail, knowing the other side of the narrow path drops into the Grand Canyon. Sweat collects under my arms, on my forehead. I push harder into the stony dirt behind me until I resemble a modern petroglyph. I’m scared. I don’t want to be the reason someone or something falls over the edge.

I completed the essay. I’d reflected. I’d revealed feelings. Most importantly, I had discovered things about me and the decision affecting the rest of my life. I submitted the piece to a literary journal by the name of Six Hens. It was accepted. I had a contract and I would be paid.

But then the editor sent the manuscript back to me with comments. Things for me to do. And guess what those comments dealt with? Digging deeper into thoughts, into feelings, into cause and effect. Her questions made me squirm. They made me discover. But I answered them. I also remembered the advice from New York Times Best Selling author Tod Goldberg when he spoke to a class I was in, “Only put out into the ether what you are comfortable with because once it’s out, it’s out.” A writer needs to use judgement in the revealing process.

Another essay I wrote was called “The Modeling Period.” My frame was built around a childhood fear. I remembered my previous essay experiences and dug into myself. I also included an authority to give veracity to my premise. I submitted the piece to a local contest, hoping for a win, place, or show. I came away with a “Place.”


Fear by Ty Agha

Opening paragraph of “The Modeling Period”:

The story behind the brick structure sitting alone at the end of a tree-lined sidewalk wasn’t complicated. The boxy, two-story building with a covered front porch used to be a school, one of the town’s few. Every weekday morning an iron bell clanged high in its cupola. Kids ran through the neighborhood to its door, hoping to be on time. But as the community grew, the town fathers decided to build a bigger, more modern facility. Instead of a hand-rung bell, students now moved to an electric one. The old school sat empty, its bell idle.

From there the essay reveals what happened in the old school that reverberated in my life like the old bell did throughout the neighborhood.

I like the personal essay for where it takes you as a writer. As you write about an event or a feeling, as you peel away the layers, taking the time to reflect and explore, you gain insights into yourself and your writing and enhance the ability to express them. These two essays, “Inner Canyons” and “The Modeling Period,” will be woven into the short story collection I’m currently compiling.

Thanks for stopping by. And special thanks to author/journalist/essayist Maggie Downs for the journey she took me and a group of fellow writers on as we discovered the personal essay.

PS – A personal essay(s) can springboard a writer into the longer work of a memoir.

Posted in Creativity, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, personal essay, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A Writer’s Search for Story Titles

Titles lead unpredictable lives. A lucky writer may have a great title even before the story is begun. Often, a title arrives while the story is underway. On the other hand, it might not appear until after the last sentence is written. It may have to be pulled from its cave. A chosen title can have the right ring but has to be retuned several times.

Why go through all this search for a title? To whet a potential reader’s interest, to entice them to read your work. A book or story title can be the final lure.

No doubt, finding a title can be a bit of a journey, whether for fiction or nonfiction. In my case, several title searches are currently underway. I’m still working with a title for my short story collection, also for one or two stories within it.


Compartment C, Car 293 by Edward Hopper

A title challenge I didn’t expect came with the book’s Table of Contents. I didn’t want to simply list the stories. I decided to group them by theme. This took a bit of sorting and resorting until six groups of stories emerged around the themes of war, opportunity, fate, relationships, loyalty, and looking back. When I was happy with the groupings, I wanted a title for each set, a title that carried subtext for deeper meaning.

First, for the title searches, I played with famous quotes or phrases about each theme. Then I looked at Shakespearean sources. Next biblical lines. Then song titles. I wasn’t happy. Finally, I decided to take a line or phrase or do a paraphrase from one of the stories within the particular grouping. For example, one of the sets has six stories written around the theme of fate or destiny or luck. I chose for a title the phrase the tap of metal on glass from a story within the group called “Funny Man.”

A final step for the contents page is the order of the story groupings and the story order within each grouping. In other words, final touches. Foreword and Acknowledgements pages are ready. The single quote that speaks to the collection is chosen.

Now for the stories themselves. I haven’t read through them in a month. I’m beginning that final process: a stray adverb, an adjective that isn’t necessary, a better active verb, word repetition, a better word choice in a sentence, sentence variety. In other words, something that jumps out at me I haven’t noticed before. I want the feeling that each story rings with its own truth.

Then everything goes to the editor. Did I write with craft and art? I hope he finds at least some. Did I make the reader care? Did each story hold together? Does the story linger with the reader after the last word? What does he think of the title?

I now have to wait on the editor’s scrutiny. Another part of the process is about to unfold.


Automat by Edward Hopper

PS – I chose works by artist Edward Hopper for this post. Writing is often a solitary adventure.

Love to hear your comments and ideas. Thanks for stopping by.

Posted in Books, Creativity, fiction writing, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Our Book Marketing Continues

In the desert we have what is called “The Season.” Its opposite is “The Summer.” What happens during a desert summer? Not much. People begin leaving in late April, early May. Organizations and clubs stop meeting in late spring. Some restaurants close from June through September. There’s no problem making a reservation in the ones that remain open. Snowbirds go to cooler climes, locals take short trips to the beach, to the mountains, to the river. There are just fewer people in the valley and there’s simply not a great deal going on. But then the weather begins to change.

Aha, “The Season” arrives usually sometime during October. The air changes, the weather becomes postcard-like and cooler. The music festivals arrive, the golf tournaments lure people in to tee off or be a spectator, the tennis tournaments pack the stands, restaurants are crowded, organizations are in full swing. People are in a vacation-holiday mood. They have free time. They’re shopping. They’re going to street fairs, art faires, furnishing a second home, relocating to the desert permanently, celebrating. You can feel the energy and activity in the air. Also the traffic on the roads.

0 front cover

This is the time for book marketing efforts that may have been dormant to restart. For our book All Ways A Woman, my co-creator Lynn and I have booked into events and activities to catch this season’s mood.

November 4, 2017, we’ll be exhibiting at The Trilogy Art Faire.



December 2, 2017, we’ll be doing a Reading and Conversation at Solutions for Serenity.




January 23, 2018, we’ll be at the La Quinta Library as one of six programs for the Local Voices Series which runs from October through March.



February 23, 2018, we’ll be presenting for the Rancho Mirage Women’s Club at The Indian Wells Country Club.



March 14, 2018, we’ll be one of the Women’s History Month programs at the Palm Springs Library.

Palm Springs Library


These are examples of venues where we will be marketing our book. After each Reading and Conversation, our books and greeting card line based on the book are available for purchase.

For on-line marketing we have listed the book with Shout My Book. They do social media promotion. Thank you to poet/author Donna Fitzgerald for sharing the information. You can find out more here:

We also have planned an event for some ladies who have shown both their support for our book and belief in us in special ways. But more about that later. It’s a surprise.

We’ll be posting on our All Ways A Woman Facebook page about these and other events. The book is available on

As you can tell, “The Season” in the desert is cranking up, promising to be an exciting and busy one. We started working on these venues as last season drew to a close. Clubs and organizations make plans for the upcoming season during the summer. We made sure we sent out our PR package early to be a part of these planning conversations.

We look forward to a busy season.



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Building a Short Story Collection – The Saga Continues

I fell in love with short stories in my eighth grade English class when Mr. Patti read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug” and “The Masque of the Red Death” to us. I liked the emotions I experienced, the language and its rhythm, the settings, the characters that came to life, the mood. And Mr. Patti had a great voice.

Writing a short story is a challenge. A solitary writer has only so much time and so many words to bring a solitary reader through a complete experience. To give the reader content to reflect on. To have the story linger with the reader after the last word is read.


a solitary writer, a solitary reader …                                           courtesy of Pinterest

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about the short story collection I’m compiling and thought I’d give a progress report. Although I’m still doing final touches to make the stories publication ready, I’m beginning to give thought to other components of the book: table of contents, foreword, acknowledgments, dedication, title.

One of the problems about the Table of Contents is I have to decide on the story order. I’m looking at the stories by thread, by protagonist, by setting. My thoughts wander at times, wondering at the turns and twists my mind took. Where did that idea come from? Where did that sentence come from? Where did that character come from?

To help with the wandering thoughts and story order dilemma, I’ve enlisted the help of 3 x 5 cards. On each card are the story vitals: title, word count, page count, setting, protagonist, log line, thread. The cards can easily be moved around as I decide on the story order without my becoming involved with the stories themselves.

Another little problem is three of the short story titles may still change.

I’m working on a foreword containing a bit of philosophy about the collection. I know I’m not particularly a touchy feely writer nor a romantic. My bent tends to realism. I like good old-fashioned stories – stories with inner and outer conflicts, a bit of drama, inner discovery, an ending which may or may not be happy.

Also I want to thank the people who have been with me along the way – an acknowledgment page.

The Dedication was easily decided upon. Also selected is the quote by a famous writer I feel catches the underlying feel of the stories. I have to check if the quotation is in the public domain.

Currently, the working title is No Unicorns, No Diamonds. This title could change. My stories are not connected so I don’t have the option author Elizabeth Strout had. She titled her collection Olive Kitteridge, after the main recurring character.

I could take the name of a protagonist from one of the stories and use that as a title such as Jingo Sparks. Another option would be to use the title of one of the stories like author Thomas Kennedy did with his collection titled Getting Lucky. However I do it, a title is a big decision.

I’ve sent some of the work to my Beta reader. I’ll have to engage an editor for the final polish.


The writer, the reader, the story connection …                Courtesy Image by Mathias Duhamel

Beyond tending to the nuts and bolts of the above components, there’s also a satisfying reward about putting together a story collection. It’s the reflection that takes place about your work, the understanding you gain about your writing – the insights into what you have to say, into the way you choose to say it – the discoveries you make about both your writing and yourself.

And, as you assemble the book, you hope with each story the reader will experience an emotional connection, an insight, a discovery, a trip worth taking.

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