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Deborah Ratliff: I Went to this Writing Seminar

Writing is an endless learning quest.  In search of answers to our questions about grammar, structure, point of view, and all the components of writing, we join writing groups or search the internet for answers. We also attend writing seminars.

One would think that with assembling a collection of “experts” on writing it would be highly informative. However, remember the old idiom, “Never judge a book by its cover.” That phrase is very telling when attending a writers’ conference.

My expectations are always high when I attend seminars. I admit to being one of those people who love to learn regardless of the subject matter. With my passion for writing, attending a writing conference is an inspiring event for me.

Until I go.

Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy attending, but I often come away feeling very short-changed. I expect, especially if I have paid money, to be informed, engaged, and to a point, entertained by the speakers. I am not so naïve that I expect all speakers to be entertaining. I do expect them to be informed and organized when giving their talk.

In another article, we discussed what to expect when you search the internet for answers to your writing questions and how to judge the information given. There are considerable differences of opinion because much advice is subjective. Writing is a craft, not a science, and even the most rigid component of writing—grammar—has rules that can be bent. Our perception of what is correct when writing comes from our likes and dislikes within the general framework of the “rules.”

Which brings me back to the subject of seminar presentations. I do not expect to agree with the opinions or objectives of each presenter, nor do I expect to learn new things—a review of knowledge is as valuable as exposure to new ideas. What I do expect is that the presenter is organized, professional, and informative.

What happens in reality?  Some presenters, especially those at smaller seminars, tend to be unprepared. A recent workshop I attended opened with an author who entitled her presentation as one subject. Then after a rambling introduction, off-topic and incoherent, she announced she was only discussing a portion of her announced topic. The presentation went downhill from there.

Another presentation was a frantic attempt to generate interaction with the attendees about creating characters. The presenters assembled the audience into small teams and assigned a task. The exercise was “describe a character” and their first question, “What color are his eyes?”

While the color of your character’s eyes can be an essential part of your plot, most of us are rather adept at giving a physical description of a character. We also know the pitfalls of providing that description in a tell-versus-show manner. In a group presentation, wouldn’t delving into the deeper attributes of character development be a more challenging and informative exercise? I tend to think so.

As authors, we should relish the opportunity to share our knowledge as well as promote our brand by speaking before diverse groups of people. While the opportunity to talk to fellow authors may arise more often, we should seek out presentations before non-writing-related groups to broaden our audience.

Before speaking in public, you need to prepare. Let’s look at the steps you should take to develop a presentation.

Steps to the Perfect Presentation:

Who is your audience? 

  • Determine the demographics of those who will be listening to your talk. If writers, how skilled are they or will there be a mix of novice and experienced writers? Is this a group of genre writers as in a mystery or romance writing group?
  • When speaking before a community group, be confident that you understand the focus of the organization. Tying your message about your writing and your novels to their interests will strengthen the connection between you and your audience.
  • For instance, if you are speaking to a community club with a charitable focus, mention their efforts and provide a book or two for their next fundraising event. If possible, tie your theme into their work. Keep it short and straightforward but make the connection. If it’s a group of entrepreneurs or a corporate audience, you can talk about the business side of writing or the process of writing as opposed to the nuances of creating a story.
  • The goal is to give your audience what they need to hear.

What is the subject of your talk?   

  • Choose your subject based on your audience demographics. Your topic should be interesting to your target audience and appropriate to the event where you are speaking. Discuss your intended topic with the event planner so that you don’t replicate someone else’s presentation. You can complement another speaker but not imitate.
  • You should stay within the framework that you have expertise in. If you do not write in deep-POV, don’t talk about it unless you do extensive research and understand it.
  • Audiences ask questions. You do not have to have all the answers, but you should be prepared enough to know when you don’t know and say so. You can follow up with the questioner later.

Develop Content.

  • Preparation is the key to a successful presentation.
  • Use the 4-1 rule—spend four hours on every one hour that you are presenting. Most of us will rarely be giving a talk that lasts more than an hour, most will have approximately twenty to forty-five minutes. Regardless, spend the hours needed to gather the information you need.
  • If presenting to fellow writers, keep in mind, most know the basics. Think of your talk in the framework of what obstacles writers commonly encounter and how to overcome them. Be personal, share your issues and how you resolved them.
  • Collect the data relevant to your points and then prepare your presentation.

The Script.

  • Think of your talk as a script.
  • Your goal is to be prepared and not leave out important points.
  • Start with your main points, then fill in the finer points you want to emphasize.
  • Keep your content clear, concise, and focused on the subject. Provide an introduction, your message, and a conclusion.
  • Include anecdotes of your own experiences and examples of your points.
  • Do not attempt to do your presentation without notes. Have your script with you in whatever format you feel comfortable using. If you use multiple pages or the infamous index cards, number them in case you drop them. It happens.

The Visuals.

  • Technology is a beautiful tool to use when presenting. PowerPoint presentations add color and focus to your message. Do consider attention spans when preparing slides. Keep your slides simple and easy to read.
  • A successful venture capitalist by the name of Guy Kawasaki developed a plan for doing PowerPoint in his talks called the 10/20/30 rule. “…A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” It is not necessary to follow this rule explicitly, but it is a great reminder to keep your slides to a minimum and be readable.
  • You should use visuals as an asset to your message but not to convey the message.
  • Create handouts to accompany your talk. Whether the full outline of your speech or bulleted points of the highlights, a handout can provide information and you can also brand with your website and other contact information.
  • If possible, print your handouts in color for impact.
  • Determine the number of people who will be present and print enough copies plus extras. Do not interrupt the flow of your talk to distribute handouts. Give the handouts to the audience at the beginning or end of the presentation.
  • Remember—technology fails. Be prepared to give your talk without technical support.

The Presentation.

  • Be yourself, do not try to adopt a persona that doesn’t match your personality.
  • Dress professionally. Casual meeting? Dress in business casual. Image is important.
  • Speak clearly and slowly. Nervousness causes rapid speech.
  • Humor is an excellent way to connect with an audience. If you have an amusing anecdote about your writing, tell it if appropriate to the topic you have chosen.
  • Make eye contact with the audience.
  • Move around a bit—wander the “stage” area if not tethered by a microphone. Movement will help keep the audience from focusing on one spot, and they will be more relaxed.
  • Take time for questions, and answer concisely. If you don’t know the answers, say so. Do not try to cover something you do not know.

While you may have a bit of stage fright or feel uncomfortable, if you are prepared, you will do well. Remember, you are talking to people, your writing peers and those who are interested in talking to you, so enjoy the experience.

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About the Author:

Deborah Ratliff is Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published shortly with a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 43,700 + members from around the globe.

Resources:

https://www.slidegenius.com/blog/102030-rule-powerpoint-pr

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Deborah Ratliff: Rules. Rules. There Are Too Many Rules!

Have you seen them? The myriad of articles posted on the Internet explaining all the things you must do to write the perfect story. Perhaps, you have seen the equally extensive list of articles telling you what you should not do. The problem? Not every article agrees on what is the correct or incorrect way to write.

What is a writer to do? How do we decide?

After years of writing business-related manuals concerning policy and training, newsletters, and research papers, I decided to return to writing fiction. My story construction skills were rusty, as was my grammar. In the corporate world, I was fortunate to have an assistant who proofed my writing. I was not so lucky in the private world. I knew I needed to hone my craft, and what better tool to use than the internet. I fired up Google and began to search for everything I could find on writing, and well, it was overwhelming. No matter the topic — how to write an opening line, how to create memorable characters, when to use effect and affect — the results of my search returned more articles than I expected. Faced with so much information, I wondered how I would manage to wade through and find what I needed to write “the great American novel.”

I am not alone. A member of Writers Unite! posted the following after receiving conflicting advice on how to write:

“Help! I’m a new author and have been networking with writers and editors. I’ve become so confused by all the different pieces of advice, I’m struggling to write a simple sentence. In the recent past, I’ve been told so many rules that I can barely keep them straight.”

The member went on to list examples of the rules as they have been explained to her.

  • Do not use descriptions
  • Show versus tell
  • Never make any cultural references
  • Do not give backstory on characters
  • Vary sentence length
  • Do not use adverbs.

Let us examine these rules.

 

Do not use descriptions.

Descriptions are the soul of writing. Not limited to location or characters, descriptive writing should include the five senses. Written images of a room may not be as crucial as whether it was hot or cold, what aromas did the character smell, did light spill into the room, or was it dark and eerie. A writer can easily bore their reader by droning on about the wallpaper or the carpet fiber or the tea cozy, but there are times when it is imperative to set a mood. How a person lives or the environment around them can be very telling as to who the character is and provides a great deal of depth.

The key here is to not overdo. Pay attention to what your story needs and nothing else. If you do write descriptively, pare down those words to include only what you need.

Avoid a litany of characteristics. “She was young, her hair long and blond, athletic build…” Instead, weave those characteristics into the story, “Preparing for her run, she pulled her blond hair into a ponytail…” and be certain that her “run” was essential to the plot.

 

Show versus tell.

The bane of every writer’s existence is this rule. Writing “experts” pound this rule into us at every opportunity. The fact is, it is a great rule and one that I fully believe in following. Anton Chekhov’s famous quote is the quintessential example: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

This rule harkens back to being descriptive. Allow your reader to feel, taste, hear, smell, and see, so they become fully immersed in the world you have created for them.

Should you always show versus tell? Yes, however, there are times when it is acceptable to move your story along and tell the action, instead of showing it. Remember to keep those moments very rare. “Jack, his face reddened, hands clenched, spun and left the room, slamming the door behind him.” You have set up that Jack is angry, describing the sound of the door slamming is not necessary.

 

Never make any cultural references.

Ask someone writing historical fiction not to make a cultural reference, and they will laugh at you. This is a specific rule. If you are setting your story within an exact timeframe, then cultural references of the era are vitally important to the credibility of your work.

The obvious reason for this rule is a cultural reference will date your work. Again, you need to keep the context of your story in mind. There may be times when a cultural reference is integral to the plot. I think the mention of social media, cell phones, or Instagram, among other references is acceptable providing they remain general.

 

Do not give backstory on characters.

Really? Exactly how do we bring depth to our stories if we do not provide pertinent backstory? Once again, this rule harkens back to the use of descriptive prose and show vs. tell. Do not write copious paragraphs about your character’s backstory but show by intertwining the information within the events and dialogue.

 

Vary sentence length.

Again, I agree with this rule in general. You need to vary the length of sentences and paragraphs to keep your reader from being bored and to maintain the pace of the story.  Sentences that are too long can cause your reader to lose interest. Short sentences can make your work seem rushed and choppy.

However—and there is always a however—when writing a scene with high tension, short sentences convey that sensation to your reader. Short, powerful sentences describing fight scenes mimic the action. Longer sentences express your character’s thoughts and reflections and help slow the pace of the story when necessary. While this rule is one I believe writers should adhere to, it is also one to suspend when the story calls for it.

 

Do not use adverbs.

Short of a lesson on the use of adverbs, which could be extensive, let’s agree that too many adverbs are not a good thing. According to my go-to grammar guru, Grammar Girl, verb modifiers are often “redundant or awkwardly placed.” She quotes master writer Stephen King who complains about them in his book On Writing, saying, “’I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops,’ but he doesn’t shout it loudly. He likens adverbs to dandelions. When one unwanted weed sprouts up, more follow.”

Grammar Girl suggests that you use adverbs in dialogue if appropriate to how the character speaks. Otherwise, she proposes to “use them wisely and only occasionally.”

 

I return to the original question. What is a writer to do?

As I worked my way through the copious amounts of advice I came across, I began to focus on the advice of only a few “experts ” and to rely on grammar references like The Chicago Manual of Style and Grammar Girl for practical advice. Listening to too many voices will create chaos and fail to provide direction.

The reality is that these rules are guidelines. They can be bent or broken depending on the creative needs of the author. As you write, keep the “rules” in mind, they are designed to keep your work coherent and consistent but do not be afraid to go against the experts. Only you know what your story needs.

About the author:

Deborah Ratliff is Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published shortly with a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. A few of her short stories appear in the Writers Unite! anthology Realm of Magic, published on August 1, 2018.

Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing group, Writers Unite! which has 42,000 + members from around the globe.

Sources:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/16383-don-t-tell-me-the-moon-is-shining-show-me-the

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-to-eliminate-adverbs

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html

An Anniversary

 
As you know, over the last three years Writers Unite! has grown into one of the largest closed writing groups on Facebook. What many of you may not know since you haven’t been with us the entire three years is that we had a pivotal moment that spurred our growth.
 
When now admin Paul Reeves joined Writers Unite!, he reached out to us about appearing on his radio program out of Detroit. I was chosen to be the voice of WU! for the interview, and on July 11, 2016, I had my first interview on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk.
 
Membership was at 6,600 that day. We began to see an uptick in member requests immediately and had added a thousand or more new members by the time I appeared the second time on the show in August 2016. Again, we saw the numbers begin to rise. Shortly after that, Facebook started to advertise us aggressively. As a fast-growing group, their algorithms picked up the increases and began to market us.
 
Our growth is indicative of what marketing can do. We did nothing different to promote WU! at that time other than appearing on Paul’s show. While not all our growth is attributed to his show directly, some has been by word of mouth, our appearance there was the catalyst that allowed us to grow.
 
Learn a lesson from this. Marketing matters. Do not shy away from doing interviews, go on the radio, do print interviews, do a book signing anywhere you can, send those emails blasts. It can work if you keep trying.
 
Over the last two years, Paul, through his radio program and his desire to contribute to Writers Unite! as an admin has helped us sustain this growth by providing a platform for authors to tell their story. WU! continues to appear on the show to offer writing information and many of the authors Paul has interviewed have become active members of the group.
 
We are grateful to Paul for his contributions to the group. Together, the WU! admin team is striving to offer media exposure, through Dr. Paul’s Family Talk and the anthology series for our members.
 
Without question, thanks above all to the members for being with us. You are what makes WU! successful!
 
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Below is a link to the first interview, WU! did on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk. Then on terrestrial radio in Detroit. The show is now broadcast live on Impact Radio USA. http://www.impactradiousa.com/
 
Writers Unite! on Dr. Paul’s Family Talk July 11, 2016
 

Adam Johnson: My Journey

Hello, it’s wonderful to be meeting you at this point in my journey.

Our aim is to bring people—writers—together, no matter where you are in your journey. With that being said, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Adam Johnson. I’m nearly thirty years old and I have been writing, seriously, for about six years. Since I was a child, I have had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether it was movies, TV, comic books or novels, I was totally engrossed in them. My love for story has only grown over the years.

A few years after high school, a friend of mine invited me to play Dungeons and Dragons and I was hooked. It was all I could think of for awhile; again, totally engrossed in the story. I was so involved that I decided to write a backstory for my character. I sat down to write without high expectations but, it ended up being over fifteen pages long. Much to my surprise, it was actually pretty good too! From there, it was over! I have been writing ever since.

I was lucky enough to find a tremendous group of writers through Facebook. Joining Writers Unite! was one of the best things that could have happened to me as a writer. I have the opportunity to work with the craft that I love with a great group of people. It has been a gift for me and it’s a gift that we would like to share with everyone.

Welcome to Writers Unite!

 

Deborah Ratliff: The Lonely Writer

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Writing is lonely work. At least, that is the opinion of friends of mine who are not writers. They ask, how can you sit at a computer all day and not talk to anyone? Somehow, telling them, I’m never alone and that I talk to my characters would likely not reassure them being alone is good for me.

The fact is that despite the witty or testy or romantic conversations we have with our creations, writing is lonely work.

My career provided a writing outlet. I wrote research papers, training, operations, and policy manuals, newsletters, and media advertising copy.  While necessary within the scope of my work and writing advertising was challenging, I never felt fulfilled. When time to write presented itself, I took the plunge. I started writing fiction.

As an only child, the solitude of writing was never a concern. What I did discover was that the support provided by co-workers, those who possessed proper grammar, or could help with a word or phrase or paragraph was conspicuously absent. While Google is our friend, spewing out all sorts of information about point of view, world building or when to use ‘who or whom,’ bouncing ideas off of Google is not possible, and Siri quit talking to me.

Writers need human contact. We may sit at our keyboards, fighting aliens for control of the universe, playing detective to catch a serial killer or write about a first kiss while lost in our imaginary worlds, but we need each other. We may have a question about the correct verb tense to use, or how to phrase a sentence or redo a paragraph that is driving us to eat ice cream by the pint.

We need each other.

The question becomes where do you go to find such support?

I first found a local writing group and was quite pleased with the members and the cordial but targeted feedback. However, meeting once a month and an inactive Facebook page didn’t provide the interaction I was hoping to have with other writers. Having listened to the “experts’ who drilled that a writer needs a social platform, I joined Facebook and searched for writing groups.

Still, I was dissatisfied. The groups I joined either devolved into cliques or arguments. Then I was asked to join the Facebook group Writers Unite! and I found a home. A writing group that focused on writing and attempted to keep discourse to a minimum. A haven for writers of all levels of expertise to share their work, gain constructive feedback and learn from each other.

This is what a lonely writer needs. We need to know someone who understands our struggles and is willing to listen to our questions and give their advice. Someone who will read our work and respectfully provide critique. We may have our characters to chat with, but we need each other to complete our goals.

Thanks to all who have joined us, as Writers Unite! on Facebook has grown to a membership rapidly approaching 15,000 in one year. As we expand our outreach to the web with the launch of the “Writers Unite!” blog, we hope you will join us in our goal to learn and improve our writing.

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Michele Sayre: My Writing Journey, So Far

I started putting pen to paper seriously when I was about eleven or twelve years old. My father at this point had been writing for a couple of years and I used to fall asleep to the sound of his typewriter as his office was in the room next to mine. When I was thirteen I got my first typewriter and there was no going back after that. Since then I’ve gone through two typewriters, one primitive word processor, and several laptops and a desktop computer. I’ve also seen massive changes in writing and publishing since those tentative scribblings of twenty-plus years ago.

But my journey has had its’ ups and downs. I’ve gotten rejection slips. I’ve gone through long periods where I didn’t write a word for days. I’ve trashed manuscripts and had projects wither and die on me. Yet I’ve kept at it.

And how have I done that, you may ask?

I’m not quite sure to be honest. It just seems that I’m always drawn back to the keyboard, to the words themselves. Because no matter what I’ve gone through in my life and how long it’s taken me away from the writing itself, the stories and words still continue to flow through my mind. And that flow of words and stories in my head is the real reason I write: to get those words out of my head.

I’ve always felt I communicate better with the written word than in person as I am the classic shy introvert who still has to work at not being shy. But I will admit to being shy with my writing, too, which is another goal of my writing career.

So what have I learned on my journey so far?

I’m not a bad writer in that I can write in a way that gets a reader’s attention and makes them want to read more.

I’m pretty good with grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Most of all, I’ve learned that no matter how long I may step away from the keyboard, I’ll always go back. And when I go back I’ll be a better writer for it.

 

Welcome to “Writers Unite!” On Wordpress

Welcome to “Writers Unite!”

Following on the success of the Facebook group, “Writers Unite!” the administrators felt it was time to expand the group’s mission. Dedicated to providing a safe haven for writers of all levels of expertise to interact with each other and share information about their craft, the Facebook group has grown to over 43,500 members.

As administrators, we decided to take this step and create a blog to provide more than a haven, but an environment to instruct, share stories and promote writers. We offer workshops on various aspects of the writing process, guest blogs, and interviews by our very talented members.

“Writers Unite!” is committed to the growth and empowerment of its members and wanted to offer the opportunity for the members to experience publishing. WU! has published its first anthology collection, Realm of Magic in August 2018, with the second volume in the series, Realm of Romance due in late 2018. In addition, a third volume, Realm of Mystery is currently in the submissions phase.

 

This site will offer:

  • Articles about writing
  • Guest blogs
  • Feature excerpts from members’ published and non-published work
  • Author interviews
  • Host writing contests
  • Writing workshops
  • And lots of other features as we grow

Join us as we explore the creative craft of writing.

The Administrators

Deborah Ratliff

Adam Johnson

Michele Sayre

Jessica V. Fisette

Paul Reeves

Lynn Miclea

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“Writers Unite!” Mission Statement:

To provide inspiration, instruction, and promotion for writers of all levels of expertise.

“Writers Unite!” Vision Statement:

To provide a safe haven for writers as they hone their craft.

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