Archive for April, 2011


Let’s see, you’ve had this great idea for umpteen years, and now you’ve decided to start writing! Or maybe you’ve been writing for a while and you’d like to get your story, poem, article, or book published. Will you qualify as a beginning writer who will never see any work published or as an experienced crafter of words who will definitely see his/her name in print?

If you can say “yes, that’s me” to any of the points in the list below, all I can say is “uh oh.” Go ahead; read the list and see how you do:

1.  Never read any books in the same genre in which you are writing. After all, you don’t want to steal another author’s voice, style, or story!

2.  Write when you feel like it, even if the radio or TV is blasting or your family is demanding supper.

3.  Without trying to publish anything else, start writing the Great American Novel that has plots, subplots, foreshadowing, and complicated characters.

4.  Start your fiction manuscript with five pages of narration and description from five points of view. Have 600 pages in your manuscript.

5.  Develop a boring plot with no climax, characters with no depth, and dialogue that is flat and the same for all your characters.

6.  Don’t seek any help from anyone or anything like a critique group, “how-to-write” books, or writers’ conferences because God told you to write, what to write, and how to write it.

7.  Send your manuscript everywhere without querying first. Buy the Writers’ Market Guide, start on page 1, and don’t stop until you get a sale!

8.  If you decide to write a query letter, write one that is “unique.” Smother it in chocolate or perfume smells and start the letter like this: “Dear Editor, this is your lucky day. My family has read this, and they absolutely love it.”

9.  Send your very first draft of your very first manuscript to a different editor once every six months, then go into deep depression when it’s rejected.

10.  Throw away all rejection letters, including those who suggest changes or  editors who would like you to submit other work. After all, if the editor didn’t like your first manuscript, he/she won’t like any of your other stuff, and if you make suggested changes in anything, the manuscript won’t be “your” work anymore.

Perhaps you should take up basket weaving or bowling instead!

Next time we’ll discuss how determined you are to be a writer. What will make you quit?






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On Writing: How to Start and Maintain a Local Critique Group

 The most valuable tool you’ll ever have to become a better writer is the local critique group. If you are not involved with one, please seriously consider starting and maintaining one. Here are the guidelines to help you get started: 

    1. Contact any local writer you know. Post notices in grocery stores, mini marts, and post offices with contact information.
    2. Have a set time and date for your first meeting. It can be at your home or in a local restaurant, library, community social room at a mall, etc.
    3. Pick one person to be the leader of your group—it probably should be you since the group is your idea—or rotate by having a different leader every time you meet. Choose a central location to meet. (Our group, average of five members, meets at a local Starbucks inside a Target store.)
    4. Several days before the meeting, email or call everyone to find out who’s bringing something to critique. The leader then plans how much time will be allotted to each writer at the meeting. Example: we have a two-hour meeting once a month. If five of us bring something to be critiqued, we each get about 20-25 minutes total time for the critique. It’s best for the leader to have a timer. We usually limit our pages to about five typed double-spaced pages, but that depends on how many writers want to be critiqued.
    5. At the meeting, open with the sharing of news, i.e. someone has been accepted for publication, someone is speaking somewhere or having a book signing, writers conferences, etc.
    6. Each person who has something to critique should bring copies for all members. The author has a choice to:


            a.    send his work to each member via email attachment ahead of time to have the other writers critique his work and bring a printed version to the meeting

            b.   have his/her work read aloud by another member while the group critiques with pen

           c.   have the work read silently while the critiquing is being done.

      7.    After the reading, each person, other than the writer, discusses the manuscript.  The leader should “control” the input by giving each person at the table a turn to speak, going clockwise or counterclockwise. The author is encouraged to offer his/her input. Also, the leader should prevent discussions and personal trivia that chase rabbit trails and have nothing to do with critiquing the manuscript. Then the critiqued copies are handed back to the writer. Fellowship and sharing can take place before or after the entire critiquing session is over.

     8. Before dismissing, the next date for the critique meeting should be set.


1.  offers a chance to communicate with each other.  First, tell the writer what you enjoyed about the story and its strengths. Be positive about something.

2.  allows review of what you think needs work: boring opening, weak characters, weak plot, unnatural dialogue, etc.

3.  prevents the members not to “over-critique.”  Each writer has his own individual voice or style of writing. Other than correcting obvious punctuation, word usage, grammar, and spelling, try not to rewrite the work (especially poetry).  Too much critiquing will then morph the author’s work into your work, which is defeating the purpose of the critique group.

4.  As the author of the work, you should process the critique comments. Decide if the critique really hit home.  Some writers don’t change anything unless they get at least two or three comments about the same area of work. Try not to be offended. Critiquing is a valuable tool to make you a better writer. To err is human; and we’re all human! Be ready to accept change.

5. Remember, you are the final judge of your work.






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The Value of Local Critique Groups

To Edit or Not to Edit: That is the Question!


You’re excited about your manuscript! You think you have a great idea and you’re finally getting it on paper. You’ve read it and revised it over and over, and you think you’re ready to send it to an editor at a publishing company or an agent.

 STOP!  Yes, I said, “Stop!”

If you’ve had no one read your manuscript except Aunt Lucy or Mom, who think it’s just the most wonderful piece of literature that has ever been recorded in history, then you probably are in for the biggest shock of your life: rejection slips from editors or agents, who won’t read past your first page if it’s littered with grammar and spelling errors and poor paragraph construction, let alone “faulty facts.”

If you’re saying, “Well, I plan to self publish,” then you have all the more reason to make sure your manuscript is something of which you’ll be proud.

I’ve seen too many self published books that are sprinkled with obvious errors, which give the author and all authors of self published books a bad reputation. Take the time to do it right!

With the decline in paper book sales and the scramble to find one’s “author”ity as an author online, every writer must take the utmost care to have a manuscript that is error free. The two best ways to do this is:

  1. Hire a professional editor – expensive (from $20 an hour to $100 an hour; I edit for $20 an hour. It takes me an hour to do an average of 10 to 15 pages, contingent on the quality, or lack thereof, of the manuscript)
  2. Join a local writers’ critique group – free advice


Depending on your level of writing experience, you can consider joining any of three types of critique groups:

  1. One that has a guest speaker every time the writers meet to discuss the ins and outs, the mechanics, and the techniques of good writing, which you then apply to your own writing
  2. One that challenges the writer with a writing assignment every time they meet. You would then work on that assignment at home and bring it to the next meeting to be critiqued.
  3. One that meets for the sole purpose of editing and critiquing your work in progress to help you get it ready for publication.

 I have chosen to be a member of the Susquehanna Valley Writers Group in central PA, which meets exclusively once a month to review works in progress. We can either send up to five double-spaced pages to each member ahead of time via email to be critiqued, or we can bring enough copies to our monthly meeting for each member to edit and critique as we read the work out loud. (Sometimes kind members will offer to have the new entire manuscript sent to them via email to critique over a long period of time.)

My critique group has made me the writer I am today. When I reflect on how poorly I wrote even four or five years ago and how I’ve progressed to finally learn my PUGS (punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling), I can only thank my critique group, which usually averages four to six members. (All the members represent different genres of interest.)

Critique group members catch mistakes to which you’ve become blind. You can read the same mistake in your manuscript a dozen times, but you’ll never catch it because your brain has already programmed in the correct usage even though you’re reading the wrong word, incorrect comma, or whatever.

Also, critique group members can help with vocabulary, sentence structure, research, characterization, and plot development that you will never notice by yourself.

Case in Point:

Several months ago, I took a section of my latest novel, LOVE SONG FOR LOUELLEN. In the book, an Amish couple cannot have children because the man has the problem, not the woman. I had incorrectly used the term “impotence” to describe the problem.

However, at my critique meeting, a gal who is familiar with medical terms said, “If the man could have sexual relationships but had a sperm problem, the term is ‘sterility’ not ‘impotence.’”

Wow! None of the rest of us at the table knew the difference in the terms. Was I glad that I had taken that portion of my manuscript to the critique group. I was just finishing the manuscript and had an agent patiently waiting for it. With the advice from my critique group member, I corrected a boo boo that, perhaps, no reader might have noticed if the book had been printed that way; yet, the agent or editor might have zeroed in on it and given me a black mark concerning accuracy in my terms and background for the fiction work.

So, let me ask you? Are your ready to swallow your pride and join a local critique group to improve your writing?

If there is no critique group, then start one. Post notices in grocery stores, libraries, and post offices. In a short time, you’ll have a nice writing group that not only will make you a better writer, but you’ll have yourself a whole new group of kindred spirits who think and dream and write because they JUST HAVE TO,  just as you do.



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Writers’ Tips: Writing Your First Draft

For a while, let’s discuss writers’ tips in general. We won’t focus on a particular genre, but we’ll discuss the ins and outs of good writing, which will lead to a published work in your hands.

Okay, you have a fantastic idea, you’ve mulled it over in your head for weeks, months, maybe years! Now, you’re finally ready to launch your creativity into the writing/publishing world and “put your idea on paper.”

First, you need to decide for what genre you will write. Genre, pronounced jaun’-rah, is the classification in which your manuscript will be categorized. There are dozens of genres and subgenres, all which branch from several very broad ones: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, and music composition, to name the most popular.

No matter which genre you choose, there’s a HUGE important step you need to take while you’re writing your first draft. Go to the library and/or bookstore (music store) and read or study as many published works in your chosen genre as you can. If you want to be a good writer, a published writer, then study those who’ve already achieved that goal.

Now, I’m not saying that everything out there on the bookshelves is “classic” and worthy of being studied, but the majority of the published works are. Analyze your genre of choice, take notes, and see what enabled those works to be worthy of publication.

I have pages of notes and samples from tween fiction and Amish fiction novels that show good character description, excellent use of dialogue, and “showing” not “telling” narration. I have several volumes of poetry by famous poets. I have a dozen or so Bible studies, which I’ve analyzed. From time to time, I open my files on my computer and just read through the notes to refresh my memory as to what “good” writing is. Or I’ll get one of those poetry books or Bible study guides and read them. These genres are all ones in which I’ve been published, but there’s always more to learn!

 As you read and study, begin writing your first draft. There are two ways you can work on your first draft:

1.You can write your entire manuscript on paper or on a blank document in the computer without worrying about the PUGS (punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling) until you’ve finished.

2.You can edit yourself as you go, review your manuscript often and revise, revise, revise.

No method is the “best” one. It’s your decision how you want to finish that first draft.

I have several friends who write like crazy and don’t worry about a missing comma or a misspelled word. Me? That would drive me crazy. As a former high school English teacher, I can’t stand a comma out of place. It’s almost like an abscessed tooth. I have to get it fixed immediately! Therefore, I revise and edit as I write so that when I’ve finished the manuscript, I have very little revising to do.

The last and vital step for you to take is to join a local writers’ critique group. If you have none in your area, post some notices on community bulletin boards at mini-marts, grocery stores, libraries, etc. and advertise that you’d like to start one. You only need four to six writers (of any genre) to have a great critique group. Decide if you want to meet weekly or monthly and get started. (Our local group meets at a Starbucks coffee nook in a Target store. ) This writing aid will be the most value to you. To have other writers give you an honest critique (which will be quite painful to you) will make you a better writer. So don’t shy away from this important step in the beginning writing process.

Now, when you have all these facets of your beginning writing career in place, you can officially call yourself a writer. So stop talking about it and get started!

Next time we’ll discuss preparing your final draft for submission to an agent or editor.

 Marsha Hubler

(web) www.marshahubler.com

(horsie stuff) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

(writers conference) www.susquehannavalleywritersworkshop.wordpress.com

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