Help Your Fellow Writers

It’s Friday and I’ve declared it Help Your Fellow Writers Day. Everyone did such a terrific job earlier this week, sharing their advice on “How do you learn to write?” that I decided to keep it going. I’ve received several questions on the blog lately that YOU might be more qualified to answer than I am. So this weekend, feel free to answer any or all of the following questions:

1) It seems like everyone agrees that a critique group is vital. Can anyone offer insight as to how to find one?

2) How many blogs do most blog readers read? And which ones?

3) What’s the value of entering writing contests?

4) I’ve heard writers’ conferences are necessary, but what if we can’t afford it, or are otherwise simply unable to go? Are we sunk?

I look forward to reading your answers. Hope you have a good weekend!
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

51 Comments

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  4. Roxane B. Salonen on May 24, 2009 at 11:21 AM

    >1) Critique groups: I believe it’s possible to receive a similar exchange/benefit online through staying close to writing friends. I am in two faith groups right now and as a mother, would have a hard time fitting in a writing group, but what I’ve gotten from my writing friends from near and far online has been vital. In other words, there are different seasons in our lives as writers and people, and we find our critique groups where we are. The important thing: the connection and exchange.

    2) Blogs: Love them, but I think it’s important to find a balance with them (in terms of reading them) because they can distract us from the important work of actually writing. I keep a blog, however, and have found it’s a wonderful way to keep the flow of writing going, to keep the writing channel open and fresh: http://www.roxanesalonen.blogspot.com/

    3) What’s the value of entering writing contests?

    Again, to keep the writing channel flowing, give us a specific goal to work toward.

    4) Cost of writers’ conferences: As has been mentioned, there are scholarships. For me, a scholarship to a well-known conference led to connecting with someone that led, in turn, to the publication of my first book. I live in North Dakota, which is fairly isolated, so it’s triply important to make those out-of-my-world connections however I can.

    The best way to learn to write, though, is to read, read, read, of course! Then, BIC (butt in chair).



  5. Rebecca Woodhead on May 24, 2009 at 3:55 AM

    >1/ My critique group is my blog. http://frombrain2bookshelf.blogspot.com I encourage my followers to critique my work and they never let me down! There are many writers on my blog too so they invite me to guest blog which gives me a new readership to critique me. It’s sometimes bad for the ego but it’s great for the writing!

    2/Read too many blogs to mention but I’m not sure if I’m typical. I follow some visibly and others I just subscribe to the feed. I scroll through the highlights on my dashboard and click on whatever looks most interesting.

    3/You get feedback. There’s a short story on my blog that I submitted to a comp. It didn’t win but I got a really good grade and thorough critique which made me think about international spacing and gave me food for my next blog post!

    Also, I entered a haiku comp and was contacted by a PR agency to say a big paper in London wanted to do a feature on me! If it goes ahead, it will be out next week but even if it doesn’t, I’m on first name terms at a really swanky PR agency!

    4/I’m asking myself just that question right now. Hay-on-Wye festival is on and I SO want to go but can’t afford it. I’m following their twitter feed.



  6. Dancingirl on May 23, 2009 at 4:59 PM

    >Great questions and exactly what I wondered after I read the earlier blog entry and following comments. I followed many of the suggestions (found the websites, wrote down names of books, noted that critique groups are recommended). Then I promptly got overwhelmed! So before I slosh through these comments and do that again, let me say thanks to you and all those who took the time to respond with constructive suggestions. I’m paying attention.



  7. katdish on May 23, 2009 at 4:21 PM

    >I am not a writer – well not really. I have a blog, I post almost every day, but I certainly would not consider myself anything over mediocre. Most of my posts are silly to down right outrageous. But I know good writing when I read it, and based on my Google Analytics my regular readers agree with me. Many people come to my blog and use it as a jumping off point to find other blogs via the blogs listed on my sidebar. I have stepped aside 2 days per week and allowed other bloggers to guest post for me. Most notably Billy Coffey, who writes a regular post for me every Monday. My numbers have shot through the roof since he’s been writing for my blog, and guest posting has exposed his work to a much wider audience.

    I’m sure conferences, and contests, and contacts are all very helpful, but it is the talent of the writer and the effectiveness in which he conveys his concepts that should be what separates the very good from the very great.

    So, not that my advice is worth very much, but it would be this: If you find a writer that you believe deserves to be published based upon the quality of the work, encourage them; support them; use whatever platform you happen to have to help a fellow writer.

    In my opinion, while there is no shortage of good books out there, there is a shortage of great storytellers.



  8. K. A. Cartlidge on May 23, 2009 at 3:23 PM

    >For critiques I have one friend who is self-published, but other than that the only group I’ve needed is the SciFi section of the Online Writer’s Workshop. We each post and critique, and there’s enough people that you often get a totally new viewpoint.

    As for blogs, I read probably no more than around 10 a day. Much more than that and it eats into writing time too much. Plus, rich food can make you sick when eaten in too large a quantity at one sitting.

    Incidentally it’s mostly blogs of authors and agents or writing resources like Writing Excuses or the Writing Show. I have other interests, but need to limit my online time.



  9. Kristen Torres-Toro on May 23, 2009 at 10:41 AM

    >Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! It has been so helpful and I can’t wait to go back over it carefully and check out all the awesome resources that were listed!

    I don’t really have anything to say other than what’s already been said. Happy Memorial Day weekend, Everyone!



  10. Kristen Torres-Toro on May 23, 2009 at 10:41 AM

    >Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! It has been so helpful and I can’t wait to go back over it carefully and check out all the awesome resources that were listed!

    I don’t really have anything to say other than what’s already been said. Happy Memorial Day weekend, Everyone!



  11. Dr. David and Lisa Frisbie on May 23, 2009 at 10:39 AM

    >1) Join a national or local writers guild; they will have critique groups available. Our local guild (San Diego Christian Writers Guild) has groups that meet in many parts of the metro.

    2) The Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild (national) offers an annual “Thick-Skinned Critique” which is extremely helpful — if you do, in fact, have thick skin. Want to refine and refocus?

    3) If you’re in a small town or far away from resources, look for a community college. Almost every community college will have instructors who teach writing. Take a course, network with those who show up, and start a group on your own!



  12. Richard Lewis on May 22, 2009 at 11:50 PM

    >”Have yet to face-meet” Sheesh.



  13. Richard Lewis on May 22, 2009 at 11:49 PM

    >Oh, by the way, since I live in Indonesia, all the crit and agenting and editing work has been done via the Internet. I have to face-meet my agent and editor.



  14. Richard Lewis on May 22, 2009 at 11:47 PM

    >Crit groups: I write novels. I’ve had my novels critiqued with the chapter by chapter method, and also (more rarely) by the sit down and read the whole thing method. The latter is for me much more valuable because the problems I have with writing novels are with big picture issues, not page/scene craft.

    From time to time, at my writers’ groups and online sites, I will offer to read an entire ms. as my way to contribute. You’d be surprised how few take me up on this offer. This isn’t because I don’t know what I’m doing or because I’m too harsh — I’m fairly insightful and definitely respectful — but I think putting one’s “baby” in the hands of a relative stranger is like trusting the kindly man in the park to take Junior home for the weekend.

    Contests: I won 3rd place in the Writer’s Digest 2001 contest, the story was published, and an agent got in touch with me. Four YA novels published (as of July this year … now I’m moving on to adult, which is starting all over again as an unknown). So, just as lightning must strike, contests do help. I wasn’t expecting this route at all.



  15. Barbara Early on May 22, 2009 at 7:02 PM

    >1. Groups. Many writers’ groups meet in book stores or libraries, so check there. I’m in three right now. A local group is good because it can help you network with area writers and may alert you to workshops and other local resources. A genre-specific group is also helpful, even if you have to find one online.

    2. Blogs. I read a LOT of blogs. Too many to name. To me, they are the quickest way to learn about the business end of writing in little digestible pieces.

    3. Contests. I’ve entered a couple contests, and would do it again, but only if the contest offers a critique. Consider it paying for a good crit, and if you final or win, even better.

    4. Conferences. I have mixed feelings. I recently attended my first, and despite a social phobia, had a really good time. It seems like most editors will not look at unagented work unless they see it at a conference. And many more agents are closed to submission, except by recommendation and at the conferences. So while it is certainly not impossible to get published, you limit your opportunities. It really makes you consider how much you can (and should) invest in your journey toward publication.



  16. christa on May 22, 2009 at 4:58 PM

    >1. Finding a great hairdresser and finding a great critique group vie for first place on my “more difficult to find than a spouse” list.

    The hairstylist/critique group analogy works for me because I’ve found talented stylists whose eyes glaze over and morph into Edward Scissorhands when they see hair longer than Simon Cowell’s. Then others yammer on about how lucky I am to have such thick hair as they razor into thinness.

    So, finding a critique group involves more than just finding critiquers. It’s finding the ones that mesh with your needs, and figuring out if it’s going to work.

    Some people work well with large groups. I’m overwhelmed by them, especially during the school year. I don’t want to be the slacker critiquer. ACFW has been my network for finding a group. One advantage if you read the loop regularly is that you can get a feel for writers by reading their posts.

    2. Too many. I read writer blogs, agents blogs [primarily Rachelle’s since she is my agent!], editor blogs, teacher blogs, teaching writing blogs, education blogs, totally random blogs that amuse me. . .

    3. Contests were the sandpaper I needed to smooth my rough edges and to toughen my surface. They’re where I learned one judge can gush over your work, while another–reading the same entry–pukes all over it. I won second place in one contest; never finaled in any of the others. They’re “rejection boot camps,” but with feedback! I think entering them prepared me for submitting later to agents.

    One caution about contests is that I can see how seductive they are in terms of recognition and encouragement. But three chapters do not a book make.

    4. I’ve been fortunate in being able to attend conferences. My problem is limiting myself to one because I’ve found quite a number of them I’d like to attend! Ordering the tracks from the conferences provides the information, but-eventually-the schmoozing and the face-to-face with other writers are important.



  17. Horserider on May 22, 2009 at 3:23 PM

    >1) I don’t agree that a critique group is vital, but some kind of critical reader is. I belong to one and they’ve helped me immensely with not only my novel, but my writing in general. Mine is online though, and I found it through a referral of a writer friend that talks to me through a forum.

    2. I follow 18 different blogs. Some of those are writer friends’ blogs that I follow. And then there are my learning blogs. Nathan Bransford (love his blog), BookEnds, Janet Reid’s, Pub Rants, Query Shark, and Writer Unboxed are several of them.

    3. Well…I haven’t entered many writing contests, but I think the value comes in getting your name out there and perhaps getting some publishing credit for the bio section of the query. That’s always nice.



  18. Jody Hedlund on May 22, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    >Finaling in a contest can be an excellent way to jump to the top of the slush pile. I recently finaled in the Genesis, it gave my manuscript a push to the top of the pile, and landed me a wonderful new agent!

    But I will second Daniel Case’s comment above: a contest winner still has to produce the goods. Having a winning first 15 pages does not always equal having a winning book. However, I’m holding out hope that my whole book will deliver!



  19. Peter P on May 22, 2009 at 12:25 PM

    >1) Critique groups are few and far between here in hickville, California… maybe I should start one.

    2) I read fifty or more blogs regularly and try to comment as much as possible. I find it a great way to network and to build a platform (as well as reading some great posts). Too many to mention, but Billy Coffey is an awesome writer: http://billycoffey.blogspot.com/

    4) I don’t think you are completely sunk if you can’t or don’t go to a writer’s conference. However… I was pretty skeptical going to my first one and I came away having learned so much and made so many great friends and contacts that I would recommend you do anything you can to get to one!



  20. Stephanie Reed on May 22, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    >”1) It seems like everyone agrees that a critique group is vital. Can anyone offer insight as to how to find one?”

    Susan Marlow and I answered a similar question for our tag-team writing biz blog:

    http://bookbait.blogspot.com/2009/02/critique-groups-fishing-for-compliments.html

    Feel free to refer writing questions to us for our take on being a couple of minnows in the publishing pond. Just ask your question in the comments and we’ll take the bait.



  21. Kristina on May 22, 2009 at 11:01 AM

    >Oh boy do I understand about the expense of writer’s conferences! First, make sure you really can’t afford them; take a close look at your budget and see where you can cut back. Even cutting out Starbucks makes a difference in the long run. But if you’re truly only making enough to pay for the essentials and you can’t take on another job…take heart. I’m in that position. Yet I’ve had 16 nonfiction books published.

    Focus on the basics. Read TONS of books on writing (join paperbackswap.com, borrow from the inter-library loan program, whatever it takes), read Writer’s Digest magazine, read books in and out of your genre, join a critique group, work on your platform, etc. Publishers really do care about these things!



  22. Cindy on May 22, 2009 at 10:58 AM

    >1) I have been writing for years and just finally found a critique group. These are a group of ladies I came across through blogging. I read a lot of other writer’s blogs and after reading about their writing journey’s and some of their life for a while, you get to know them as much as you can through a computer. One of these ladies mentioned she was looking for a critique group, so I e-mailed her because I was, too. A few others e-mailed and now we’re all together. Try ACFW, too!

    2) I follow agent blogs and publishers blogs, but mostly other writer’s blogs. I have learned so much from them and they really support me and I them. I probably follow way more than I should but it also gets your name out there.

    3)Writer’s contests can be so beneficial. Not only for the feedback but for the exposure. I have heard of a few people who have entered large contests and finaled, which has helped lead them to agents.

    4) I’ve never been to a writer’s conference, and though I hear that they are wonderful, don’t feel as though I am missing something vital. If you can’t afford it, use the resources you do have. Critique groups, other writer’s, helpful blogs and websites (there are so many out there).

    Hope some of that helps!



  23. Shannon Vannatter on May 22, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    >1. Join American Christian Fiction Writers. When you fill out the application, you can request a critique group. It might take a few months for them to set you up, but according to your questions, they put groups together, consisting of writers who are on the same level. I think God had a hand in the group ACFW put together for me. We each contribute different specialties and have all grown tremendously. I can tell such a difference in my current projects as opposed to things I wrote before I joined the group. I truly believe I still wouldn’t be published without ACFW and my critters.

    3. Contests give great feedback. It’s not really whether you win or not. Enter contests with published writers and editors or agents as judges. The comments you get are invaluable. Yes, contests are very subjective, but if you get two judges who say the same thing, you probably need to revise.

    4. I only planned to go to one ACFW conference, using a bond my grandmother gave me. After that I was hooked. Each year, God has unexpectedly provided the funds, seemingly out of nowhere. Denver will be my fifth. Even if you truly can’t go, buy the conference CD at a fraction of the cost. It’s not like being there and enjoying great fellowship with people who get you, but you can learn so much from hearing the workshops.

    That’s my plug for ACFW and they didn’t pay me. I owe them.

    Shannon Vannatter



  24. Myra on May 22, 2009 at 10:06 AM

    >1) I don’t think a “group” is better than one or two “partners.” A CP needs to be someone you trust who is somewhat close to your skill level. A mentor who is way above your skill level isn’t a bad idea either. Some people are all about giving back – just be respectful of their time.

    2) Which blogs to read depends on where you are in the process. Craft in the beginning stages, Query Shark and posts on queries are vital when you’re ready, and it’s never a bad idea to know how to speak to an agent if you get the chance. No shortage on those posts. Google it! And for the best blogs out there, look at Rachelle’s side bar.

    3) Contests – depends on why you are entering. Feedback? Attention from publishers or agents? Choose the ones that serve your needs.

    4) Writer’s conferences…I have had the most amazing “luck” with connections made at writer’s conferences. I attended Killer Nashville last year even though it wasn’t my genre. It was close and reasonably priced. Awesome editing workshops, first class panels, etc. They *just happened* to have a YA panel at 8:00 on Sunday morning. I attended. Four panelists. Two attendees. BEST personal attention EVER. http://www.killernashville.com/



  25. Dara on May 22, 2009 at 9:31 AM

    >1) I was rather lucky in finding my critique group. I found them during NaNo; a group of them were already meeting and I joined up. There’s only about 8 of us and we meet at local restaurants every week and go over two member’s submissions.

    I think to find one, I’d go looking on Yahoo Groups. There are quite a few that look to be promising, but as someone said, you really have to commit to it. I’m not sure it’s “vital” to be part of one, but I think it’s vital to at least get a beta reader once your book is done. (Absolute Write is a great outlet for this). Other readers’ often find errors that I would’ve never caught myself.

    2) I read about a dozen on a regular basis (this one included!). Most of them are agent blogs, like Nathan Bransford, Kristin Nelson, Jessica Faust and a few others (they’re all on my blogroll list). I also read blogs of my fellow writers; I find it’s a great system of support by establishing friendships through the blog.

    3) Not sure on this one; I haven’t entered any. Although I do have a few writer friends who have finalled in the Genesis contest as well as others who have finalled in RWA contests. I think it’s opened doors for them by entering these contests; what I need to do is try it myself šŸ˜›

    4) Unsure on this one; I don’t think we’re “sunk” if we can’t afford them. I think they are a valuable part of the writing life, especially with networking. It’s one of those things that I say try for but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for a writing career, although I believe it does help.



  26. Alexandra on May 22, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    >I have very, very little experience here, but I’ll share what I’ve learned as someone who is very new at all this.

    -I’m looking for a writer’s critique group. Really think it will help. Right now I have friends who enjoy writing and we have an informal group…we send each other chapters as we write. None of us are professionals, but we can look at something and say, “That just doesn’t sound right.”

    -Writing blogs…Kaye Dacus’ blog is my lifeline. I found it two years ago and it’s what got me started in serious writing. Camy Tang’s Story Sensei, Susan May Warren’s Book Therapy, Novel Matters, and Rachelle, of course. šŸ˜‰

    -I’m still in post-production in my first WIP, so I haven’t entered any contests or anything. I think it would be a good way to get out there in the writing world.

    -Same way for conferences. Finances and schedule keeps me from going to any right now, but I would love to go to ACFW’s next year, perhaps. As soon as I actually join. šŸ˜‰ I don’t think that I will be unable to publish my book just because I haven’t gone to one…I don’t think that my craft is totally lost if I don’t go, but I think it would be a) a great experience, b) a great encouragement, and c) great to get some classes!



  27. Marla Taviano on May 22, 2009 at 9:09 AM

    >Either my answers are going to be really un-helpful, or they’ll encourage someone who hasn’t done any of these things.

    I’ve had 4 books published, and

    1. I’ve never been in a critique group. (But I’ve been advised to let 2 people see my next manuscript, and I know it’s going to be a big help.)

    2. I have about 50ish blogs in my Google reader. Less than 10 are writing-related. Most are interesting, funny women I know personally or would love to.

    3. I entered a mandatory writing contest in 5th grade (and won), but that was the last time.

    4. I’ve never been to a writing conference. (but would really like to someday)

    Happy Memorial Day, Rachelle!



  28. lynnrush on May 22, 2009 at 9:06 AM

    >Great questions.

    I found two fantastic crit groups. Both with unpubbed and pubbed authors in there. I found them both through ACFW. I know the RWA (Romance Writers of America), which I just joined last week, has some too. Haven’t figured out how to join any there, yet. But I will.

    Contests…A MUST. Next to attending conferences, I’ve learned the most from the feedback given in contests. Heck, even managed to final in a couple.

    I know, shocker…LOL.

    Yes, they are subjective; however, if a couple contests have judges saying some of the same things….then it’s time to listen!

    One of my projects tanked in a few contests, then finaled in two other ones.

    And what’s even funnier…a month later, I got asked for a full MS from a publisher on the same project that had just tanked/finaled. So yeah…subjective, indeed–but you have to put it out there for the feedback, that’s for sure.

    Great advice here. I’ll be back to read more. Happy Friday, everyone!



  29. Daniel F. Case on May 22, 2009 at 8:48 AM

    >On the value of Writing Contests:It all depends on the contest.

    I have entered a few contests that cheerfully took my entry fee and, several months later, the winners were announced online/in a magazine/wherever. No feedback, no critique, and for me, no real value.

    On the other hand, there are contests like the ACFW Genesis, where the emphasis is on growing in the craft. Genesis judges are expected to offer feedback (some do it more than others), and if scoring a particular aspect of an entry below average are required to explain. After winning Genesis last year, I was asked to be a judge this year, and I can tell you from my experience that it can be a lot of work on some entries–but most Genesis judges are dedicated to helping writers grow, so they don’t mind.

    If a contest offers detailed feedback and scoring, it’s worthwhile. Some conferences even include one-on-one critiques with contest entries, and those are even better. Consider the entry the cost of a paid critique. If a contest offers no such feedback, I’d say keep your money and spend it on a good book about the craft.

    How about winning a contest? Any value in that?Of course there’s value, but no guarantees.

    Winning a writing contest is like winning American Idol. Taylor Hicks took the top spot in season 5, his first album tanked, and now he’s “Taylor who?” in the music industry. Chris Daughtry took 4th place, aqnd his debut album just hit a whopping 3 MILLION sold worldwide. In season 3, Jennifer Hudson took 7th place. Today, she has an Oscar on her awards shelf, right next to her Grammy, Golden Globe, and dozens of lesser awards.

    After winning the ACFW Genesis last year, I can testify that winning is a wonderful thing. Bragging rights, peer recognition, and professional affirmation that come with that distinction are empowering, but when the ink hits the paper, editors don’t really care about the plaques on your wall. You’ve still got to deliver the goods, compete with all those other new writers, and contend with the bad economy just like everyone else.

    Want to be a real winner? Keep writing and growing in your craft, and never, ever quit. On those days when you feel like giving up, read this: http://tr.im/m6cPD.



  30. Matilda McCloud on May 22, 2009 at 8:46 AM

    >1. I would love to be in a novel critique group, but haven’t found one yet (at least one that is free). I live in the NYC area and it would seem like this shouldn’t be so hard, but I think many may be “underground” or something…

    2.I read Nathan Bransford, Janet Reid, Kristin Nelson, Bookends, Editorial Ass, Query Shark, Editorial Anonymous, The Rejecter, Jenny Bent, Jennifer Jackson, Colleen Lindsay, and click occasionally on those agents who update their blogs once in a while.

    3. Writing contests have caused me too much angst! I know RWA has lots of contests, so if you’re writing romances, take advantage of this (same, I think, same with mysteries and sci fi).

    4. I can’t get myself to go to a writers conference…not sure why, and I have access to lots in NYC. Perhaps I worked in publishing for too long…I kinda want to keep a little distance from it all…I think you can get published without going to one, though it does make a great intro to a query letter to say “I’ll enjoyed your panel at so-and-so conference.”

    One note related to the above. If you write children’s books, join the SCBWI. They have online query groups and conferences all over the country. I urged a friend in Wisconsin to join her local chapter, and that was the key to getting her hooked into conferences etc. She’s now an award-winning children’s book writer. RWA seems to have conferences all over the country too.

    If you are a literary type and don’t have an MFA, I suggest you seriously consider going to lots of literary-type conferences where you can hobnob with well known writers etc. and perhaps get a choice quote for your query letter.



  31. Sharon Ball on May 22, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    >Before I started blogging, I only read the occasional blog and rarely posted comments. Now that I’m a part of the blog universe, I tend to read a lot of blogs. I especially like blogs with good information for writers, inspirational messages about our Lord and Savior, and blogs with quirky interesting things to say.

    I’m also becoming a fan of entering contest. While I don’t want to be a contest chaser, I do see value in entering a few here and there to test the waters and gauge how close I might be to writing at a level that is publishable.



  32. Anna on May 22, 2009 at 8:35 AM

    >I second Sharon A. Lavy’s first sentence, completely essential to whatever your writing is to become…

    2) I think there are three different styles of writer’s blogs.

    a. writing and life (my personal faves)

    b. particulars of writing; craft, technique

    c. craft and critique; book reviews, sometimes with life details sprinkled as well. can be great for links to articles!

    besides Rachelle’s, I read Nathan Bransford, then a host from as close as my proverbial backyard to faraway New Zealand. too many to list, but ones with a background in NANOWRIMO figure prominently.

    3) and speaking of NANO… how I got started and while to some it might not be termed a ‘contest’, it really gets a fire lit! I recently participated in Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards 2009, which could be deemed my first ‘real’ contest; a great experience, very interactive in that you can review excerpts of other entrants, be involved in the forums, and having gone as far as the semi finals, I enjoyed getting to know some really talented people. that might have been the best aspect; again, as Sharon pointed out, friendships with other writers is truly precious. we are a strange lot (ha ha ha) and while our families have to love us… :))) sometimes understanding this writing life takes a like mind…



  33. JStantonChandler on May 22, 2009 at 8:30 AM

    >Rachelle, thank you for this post!! As always, it has been enlightening and educational.

    Thanks also to all who have commented. While I’m not new to writing, I am new to following blogs so this has been a treasure chest of places to check out.

    I used to be apart of a writer’s group and it was amazing. Not only did it keep me grounded in my work, it gave me wonderful friendships. It also made me write. I knew that if I showed up at my friend’s house without something new, she’d chew me out! Lovingly, of course, but it was enough to motivate me to put my butt in the chair and write! My friend as since passed away and I am currently searching for a writer’s group. Another dear friend of mine acts as my critique partner. She and I exchange manuscripts and I always get valuable feedback from her as well as the joy of being one of the first to read her works. We write in completely opposite genres, but that doesn’t matter: story, content, grammar, structure, all the basics are the same no matter what genre. And it broadens my scope of reading as I tend to gravitate to books in my genre.

    I read this blog (of course) as well as Seekerville and Magical Words. I did find a list of the top 100 creative writing blogs during my searching. I haven’t perused them all but it’s worth taking a gander at:

    http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/blog/2009/02/05/top-100-creative-writing-blogs

    As for contests and conferences, I have yet to enter or go to any but I can definitly see the value in both. A contest would give me discipline and I crave feedback. A conference is something I’m researching now for possibly next year. The thought of being surrounded by writer’s, agents, editors, and the like for a while weekend sounds like a little piece of heaven to me.

    Thanks again for all the wonderful feedback!



  34. Rachel on May 22, 2009 at 7:57 AM

    >Awesome post!! I don’t have anything to add but I am grateful for all the free advice and answers.



  35. Karen on May 22, 2009 at 7:51 AM

    >Pam is right The Writers View is a great “mini-conference” every day.

    A caution about contests: When you enter do not expect to win (you can always be pleasantly surprised if you do). Otherwise, it could be self-defeating. Look at it strictly as a way to get feedback and enter those that promise some critiquing–like the ACFW Genesis contest.



  36. Pam Halter on May 22, 2009 at 7:22 AM

    >4) I’ve heard writers’ conferences are necessary, but what if we can’t afford it, or are otherwise simply unable to go? Are we sunk?

    Many conferences offer scholarship help. BUT – if you go to Yahoo Groups and type in The Writer’s View, you’ll get two choices. One for advanced writers and Two for begining/intermediate writers. It’s like a writer’s conference in your computer and it’s FREE. And you don’t have to live in the US.

    Topics/questions are introduced by panelists on Monday and Thursday. You can comment or not. And there’s a ton of archives you can search through. It’s closely moderated and the next best thing to a conference.



  37. Sharon A. Lavy on May 22, 2009 at 7:18 AM

    >For the Christian writer, seeking God’s plan for your writing.

    ACFW has been a blessing in my writing life. Before I joined ACFW I took many online writing courses.

    A writer cannot not write. But we need often need the encouragement of other writers.

    Non-writers do not understand our needs. And that is ok. But find other writers for friendship or you will wither on the vine.



  38. Jen C on May 22, 2009 at 7:15 AM

    >1) I don’t have a critique group, I have one really good editor which is enough for me. I don’t think I really have the time to be critiquing back for a whole group of people! Selfish, I know…

    2) I read Nathan Bransford, Janet Reid, The Rejecter, Moonrat and of course Rachelle Gardner. I normally only comment at Nathan’s though.

    3) Writing contests are good. They help you with deadlines, they help you to commit to a project, and they help in that you learn to deal with the rejection or bask in the glory of winning! Also, publishing credits, if you take out first place, right?

    4) I’ve never been to a writers conference. I’m in Australia so I don’t really know what the deal is here, but I imagine it’s not really the same thing as the ones in the States. And I’m certainly not going to be able to fly those 15 hellishly awful hours out to the States just for a conference! I’m sure I’ll live…



  39. Krista Phillips on May 22, 2009 at 7:02 AM

    >1) Critique Group: Join a writer’s group! There is the ACW, ACFW, many others that I haven’t had personal experience but I”m sure are good, plus MANY local groups. Get plugged in with fellow writers, and chances are you’ll find some great friends and helpmates. I found mine through ACFW.

    2) How many blogs: I read a lot, perhaps too many. I love Rachelle’s blog of course, and there are many other agent/author blogs that are nice to follow. I also follow many unpubed blogs because not only can we SHARE what we are learning, but it’s nice to commiserate with someone who understands you. But, I don’t read them all daily. Just not enough time. In a weeks time, I’d say there are about 20-30 that I read at least once.

    3) Contests: I LOVE THEM. *grin* The value? Obviously if you final/win, it gives some credit behind you when pitching, and many times a finalist ms gets judged by an agent or editor which is helpful! In the end though, the feedback is a biggie. It is a little subjective at times, but wow, you glean some valuable input too!

    4) Conferences: Love them, and am going to ACFW this year. BUT, it is expensive. My advice is to find a smaller one perhaps that is closer to you. My first conference was a local, very small writers retreat that was cheap in comparison to the others, and was in my town so I didn’t have to travel or have lodging. Also, if you can’t go to one every year, START SAVING NOW! Maybe instead of every year, you go every two years.



  40. Amy Sue Nathan on May 22, 2009 at 6:58 AM

    >For me, a critique partner is more important than anything else. I’ve been unable to find a “group” and the partner thing has worked well. The problem with the groups I was in was that with writers are various levels, some did more work than others. In the long run the division of labor wasn’t fair, because the novices held back or didn’t offer meaty commentary. I think finding people with different strengths, but basically at the same level, can be the most advantageous.

    I think unless you’re ready to pitch, a writer’s conference can be a waste of time. It might not be, but it’s something to consider. I went to one conference and found people only wanted to “hang” with published authors. I went to one fabulous workshop w/ another agent that made it worth the price, but I wouldn’t go to another one until I am ready with a full ms.

    Personally, contests don’t appeal to me unless they are run by magazines or publishers or agents. I entered a contest and later realized I was judged by someone with much less experience than me. It isn’t sour grapes for not winning, it just really struck me. The way to find the right contest is to read past winning entries. If that’s a group you’d like to be among, then go for it. But random contests can be great as writing practice and writing prompts – so it depends what you want to get out of it.

    My favorite writer blogs are first – all the agent blogs out there. Next I’d say the best one that’s about writing and randomness is Erica Orloff’s blog. http://www.EricaOrloff.blogspot.com. She is a multi-pubbed author who offers incredibly insight and advice almost daily.



  41. Katie on May 22, 2009 at 6:51 AM

    >I can jump on top of the contest one. Contests are one of the best ways to get feedback on your writing. This was my first year entering Genesis and I got AMAZING feedback from the judges. I’ve already grown and know exactly what area I need to work on. A relatively cheap way to grow as a writer! I’m for sure entering next year!



  42. Lisa Jordan on May 22, 2009 at 6:47 AM

    >Rachelle, I love the diversity of your blog. Not only do we learn from you, but also, from each other! A true picture of the writing world. Thanks!

    1) Finding a crit group is like shopping for jeans–depends on the size, the style, the cut…can be a frustrating experience. When I joined ACFW, I was placed into a crit group that didn’t quite meet my needs, but I developed a strong friendship with one of my fellow members. We ended up forming our own group. We started out small with four people, and now we’re up to 9. Our group consists of writers of many levels, including two published authors. Our group is a crit/writing support group–a sounding board for those writing frustrations, prayer requests, exciting news, etc.

    When searching for a crit group, consider who your writing friends are and if they’re at the level to help you strengthen your writing. Talk to them about forming your own group. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses and can mesh with others who have different strengths and weaknesses. Also, be open to feedback. Don’t feel compelled to stay in a group that doesn’t work for you.

    2) I have no idea about blogs that most readers read. I don’t read that many blogs as a reader, but as a writer working to strengthen my craft. I like a mix of personal stories with techniques. My favorite blogs are Rachelle’s, My Book Therapy, Seekerville, Girls Write Out, Story Sensei, Fallible, and Kaye Dacus’ blog. Cyberspace is littered with blogs, but those with the most traffic have a distinguishing feature that makes them stand out among the rest. I’m still trying to figure that out for my blog. šŸ™‚

    3) Writing contests present a mixed bag of emotions. Most importantly, entrants need to remember contests are VERY subjective. What one judge loves, another will invariably dislike. Contests are NOT a reflection on the writer, but the submitted entry.

    I entered two writing contests in March. Much to my shock and amazement, I finaled in one of those contests. I didn’t final in the other contest, but received good comments from the judges. I entered for the feedback and to strengthen my writing backbone. I am serious about becoming a full-time writer eventually, but I can’t do that until I get published. I can’t do that until my writing is to that level that snags the attention of editors and agents. So, for me, two of the quickest ways to improve my craft are to belong to a beneficial crit group and enter contests. For about $30-$35, I receive feedback from three judges. One thing you need to keep in mind is these judges see a small portion of your manuscript. You need to weigh their comments and consider how changes will affect the manuscript as a whole. If you receive a low score or defeating comments, don’t give up writing. The publishing world is full of defeats from rejection letters to line edits to reader reviews. You won’t please everyone.

    4) Writing conferences are wonderful ways to have face-to-face contact with editors and agents. You have the opportunity to pitch to them, and hopefully avoid the slush pile. Writing conferences are also terrific ways to gain a wealth of knowledge from the workshops. Talk about brain overload! Conferences also encourage and inspire writers to move forward when they’re surrounded by others of their kind. šŸ™‚

    If you can’t afford a conference, you are not sunk. Story still rules. Those who make those contacts may submit their stories and receive a “no, thanks” in reply. There are no guarantees. If you can’t afford conferences, see if their workshops are available on CDs or mp3s. $100 is a lot cheaper than $1000.



  43. Connie on May 22, 2009 at 6:39 AM

    >1. If you can’t find a critique group, start one. That’s what I did. Get to know other writers from your church, etc., and see if they want to join you. Often, you don’t even have to be writing the same genre. Good writers can spot errors–it doesn’t have to be the same genre.

    3. Contests can get your foot in the door when you’re looking for an agent. But be careful, you don’t want to waste your money because many of the them cost.

    4. If you’re patient and keep your ear to the ground, you can find good opportunities for less. I went to a great one-evening conference (sponsored by a local find arts commission) for $20–and it included dinner!



  44. Sara J. Henry on May 22, 2009 at 6:00 AM

    >Wanted to recommend Squaw Valley Writers Conference – incredible value for what’s offered. It can change the course of your writing career in one short week. Many partial scholarships available and some full.



  45. Adam Heine on May 22, 2009 at 4:30 AM

    >1) [Finding a critique group] Google.

    2) [# of blogs/which ones] I keep up with a lot: 8 agents/editors, 4 authors (or author groups), 4 wannabe authors (like me). For industry/querying info, try Nathan. For query critiques, try Evil Editor and Query Shark. Beyond that, read people you like. I’ve learned a lot from my 16 blogs.

    3) [Value of writing contests] I’d say practice and, if you’re lucky, exposure. But mostly practice.

    4) [Not going to writer’s conferences] That’s my boat (I live in Thailand on support). I’ve heard they’re extremely helpful, but I haven’t heard they’re necessary. I don’t intend to let it stop me, anyway.



  46. Erastes on May 22, 2009 at 3:34 AM

    >1. I used critique groups for a while when I first started out, and I found them on yahoo groups just by searching for “historical” critique. The people there were very helpful, but you MUST put in the work for it to be able to function correctly. Most insist that you critique 2 or 3 chapters before you can offer one of your own. I now use a small band of 3 “beta writers” most of whom I picked up in Livejournal and have “known” for years online. I read their stuff, they read mine and I trust them to be brutally honest.

    2. I read Nathan Bransford, this one (obviously) and a few romance ones such as Romancing the Blog, Dear Author (sometimes, they do seem to have more vituperative readers than ever these days).

    3. I’m afraid I don’t know, I’ve never done it.

    4. We have NO conferences in the UK and it really gets me at times. Why don’t we? We have hundreds and hundreds of “literary festivals” but these are things where “celebs” are invited to read, sign books and give a talk. I’d love there to be a proper writing conference here. As for being sunk, not at all, despite having no conferences I work hard to keep in touch, and have USA publishers anyway. Other than having the opportunity (perhaps) to meet agents face to face, I don’t know what use conferences would be to me until the day I can set up a conference particularly for gay historical fiction – and then there’s the problem that the writers of said genre are scattered all through the world.



  47. darkened_jade on May 22, 2009 at 3:23 AM

    >2) As someone wanting to be published and still honing my craft, I read any and every blog I can find that has anything to do with writing, editing, publishing, brainstorming, creativity, etc. Doesn’t matter if it is about my genre or otherwise. I love finding new blogs from writers sharing their thoughts, and reading stories of others trying to be published. I think that there is some fantastic advice out there and it is a cheap way to expand your knowledge. As far as writing a blog, I try to write at least every second day, usually just ideas or thoughts I’ve had about my own writing or tips I’ve come across, but recently a young novelist posted a guest blog on my site and that has really inspired me to keep the blog going.

    3)The value of writing contests for me is that it keeps me focused. It gives me a new project to work towards, with a reasonable dead line and focus. It encourages me to try new things as I meet the selection criteria, and occasionally I get feedback on my writing, particularly when you don’t win, but you are given a personalised letter stating that you were short listed and ways to improve for next time. Particularly for unpublished writers, writing competition can be quite a rewarding experience, even without winning.



  48. The Procrastinating Perfectionist on May 22, 2009 at 2:25 AM

    >Of course, I also read Rachelle’s blog daily – in addition to the four I just mentioned!



  49. The Procrastinating Perfectionist on May 22, 2009 at 2:23 AM

    >1) I found my writer’s group a few months after arriving in Seattle this past fall. I took a class at a local writer’s community (Richard Hugo House) and a group of my classmates with similar experience/interests started a weekly group. There are similar resources in other big cities: The Writers Loft in Chicago, New York Writers Coalition, LA Writers Lab, etc. The bottom line is … go where your fellow writers are and you will find future critique partners.

    2) I read “A Moment of Jen,” “Nathan Bransford,” “Pub Rants” and “Query Shark” for writing inspiration and education.

    I’m still a neophyte in the world of publishing (my background was writing for PR and marketing) but I look forward to every else’s responses on 1-4.



  50. Patty on May 22, 2009 at 2:14 AM

    >No creative juices left in me tonight, but I can share some practical advice.

    1) Critique groups have been great for me. They keep me writing so that I have something new to share each time we meet. If you can’t find a group, start one. There’s information out there on how to start a group and what kind of rules to lay down. Keep it honest and keep it loving.

    2) I read a bunch of blogs periodically, but as far as regular reading on writing goes… this one, ChipMacGregor.com and Randy Ingermanson’s (advancedfictionwriting.com).

    4) I LOVE Writers’ conferences. I’d go to several a year if I could. It was at my first conference that I discovered I am, indeed, a writer whether I ever get published or not. It’s not just what I do — it’s who God wired me to be. Yes, they can be expensive, but there are ways around that. In the Northwest, we have 3 OCW 1-day conferences every year that are only $8. Eight dollars! Look into regional conferences. They can be cheaper than national ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for scholarships. Volunteer to help out in exchange for a reduction in tuition. Or, at the very least, you can order conference CDs. You don’t get the face-to-face time with editors and agents, but you get hours and hours of great information. (The whole Mt. Hermon set for this year will be $150).



  51. Yamile on May 22, 2009 at 1:35 AM

    >Am I really the first one to comment? Well, I don’t have much experience, but I’m awake anyway, so I’ll answer the questions even though I’m eager for answers myself.
    1) I don’t have a critique group yet, but I’m looking for one. A group that meets in person would be ideal, so if you know of any that I can join, let me know.
    2) I read agents’ blogs and other writers’. I think it’s fascinating to learn about the writing industry, be it the craft side of it or the business side.
    3) I entered a writing contest (Nanowrimo) and it helped me get into the habit of writing daily. No matter what.
    4) I’ll be attending my very first writers’ conference in June, so I can answer this question later. Even though I’ve already written a novel, I’ll be attending the beginners’ section of the conference so that I can learn as much as I can.
    I’ll be anxiously awaiting to see what other writers, more experienced than I am, have to say about this.