Monday, September 21, 2015

Craft Chats and Prompts for Critique Groups

In the last few blogs I've been talking about starting and running your own Writer's Group, whether at a local library, your home or Panera's. Doesn't matter where. The point is, focus is needed to be productive.

During every 2 or 3-hour class, you should encourage Craft Chats -- sharing tips and tricks for better writing. I usually bring 1 or 2 pages of such tips, on any writing topic, such as self-publishing, useless and vague words to avoid entirely, character development, scenes, plots etc etc. There's hundreds of sources for these. 

One caveat: Writers and companies and colleges own the rights to their work. It's okay to print a page say from a Writer's Relief blog, or SubmitNow blog or any blog or articles or college writing sites like Purdue's OWL etc. But you can't make 10 copies and hand them out UNLESS they state its okay to do so. You can print one copy for yourself to read from, or even read aloud round-robin, and to highlight important points etc. But you can't hand out 10 copies. that's illegal. If you wrote the article yourself, you desreve remuneration for its commercial use. And so do they.

However, under Fair Use copyright law, you CAN copy and reprint for an educational purpose, but only if you can prove it in a defense if someone calls you on the carpet for abusing them. So be careful. If you really want to hand out copies freely, write the source permission, even tho I can tell you it's difficult to find out WHO to write to, exactly, for said permission. Start with the publisher.

And always, always, a;always, cite and make the source and the link well known, whatever you use.

Another thing you can do is remember that this is a writing class. So give them writing prompts! Not every single week necessarily, but at least one a month. Have them do an acrostic poem, or write four paragraphs on their first kiss, or how they felt when Grandmom died etc etc. There's books full of prompts. Besides from my own head, I bought my friend and poet Peter Murphy's book of prompts titled Challenges for the Delusional ($14) available at

I've also been attending Peter's annual January Writers and Poets Getaway Conference at Seaview resort in Absecon NJ to hone my skills and hobnob with 100 writers and 100 poets. Here the registration link for January 2016:

Bottom line: To be a good Critique Group keader, you need focus, diversity, flexibility, timing, dedication, education and sharing. And you need to write, write, write and learn, learn, learn. 


Running a Critique Group for Writers

In the last blog I showed how to start your own critique group, for free (and your "free" time), at your local library. Let's talk about its components and your role.

Your role is to facilitate and educate. You need a few rules to guide the session because you'll have limited time in a 2 or 3-hour group. Depending on the number of pieces to be read, the main goal is to give everyone an equal chance to share and receive feedback. And, when time allows, to share your piece. As a general rule, I limit pieces to 12-1500 words or fewer, which takes10 minutes, and then 10 minutes more for feedback. 

Here's my basic rules, which are flexibly applied and interchangeable (definitely NOT rigid questions):
1. If not obvious, ask "How did the piece resonate with you? Did it reach your mind as well as heart? 
2. Did it hold your interest? Did it flow naturally and believably?
3. Did the piece raise unanswered questions or did it satisfy your need to know? For example, were the characters motivations clear?
4. Can you give SPECIFIC examples of what worked well? Or that might improve the story, such as content, phrasing or word suggestions?
5. Would you want to hear more? (Especially of part of a chapter.) 

Often, before a reader reads, I'll ask, "Do you have any questions for us? Things you want us to know or things you want us to look for?" (For example, often the writer needs a better title.)

The keys to success are:
Accepting all levels of writing from shitty first drafts to fully polished. Accepting other forms, like poetry. BEING FLEXIBLE BUT FIRM.

By firm I mean holding up a Timeout signal when speakers digress and get distracted in their own experiences of the same event or emotion, even tho, initial reactions are great for seeing the impact of the piece on listeners.

There's more you can do as well, such as assigning writing prompts and sharing craft chats, which I'll share next.


How to Freely Use Google Search Effectively

My quickest and easiest source for facts and quotations, history, and reference, is Google search first. I'm on it with just a few words typed in the "Get Lucky" box. What you type there is key to your successful hunting, so here's some tips:
Write a question without the question or question mark, as in these examples:
quotes of Einstein not "what are quotes from Albert Einstein?"
Or Rumi's books not "What are works of poet Rumi?" or battle of bulge not "What happened at the Battle of the Bulge?"

However, if you really want to get specific, use operators. What are they? Bracketed quotation marks will find the exact word or terms used, or site: to find a site and find others here:

Another tip you already know is that there's no need of caps unless necessary, for example, in abbreviations or acronyms (which actually won't need caps unless you want to be sure. Another? Use "US" for the United States when searching, not lowercase us, but america would be okay. Don't leave your term open to wide interpretation. 

Titles will pop up first, and their blue link under it.
VERY IMPORTANT: Scrutinize the blue link before you click it!
Is it a recognizable site/source? Or an obscure mixture of a name or numbers?

What's reliable you ask? Look at the blue link. What's the website source? What's the name before ".com," or ".biz," etcetera?
Are you itching to click the link because it looks like a perfect answer, but still not sure? Then enter the ,com name into your browser and check its About page. Peruse it and decide. If there's no "About Us" page or no "Contact Us" page, I won't trust it, in fact, I don't trust any site without those two elements.

The very best thing you have going for you is Google or Firefox searches, with their good spam filters.  Also, if you paid for McAfee or Semantec products for Internet Security, they will also help. But I think common sense is most valuable regardless. 

Starting a "Free" Critique Writing Group

Nothing is "free," but sometimes they are. The one thing every free item costs is your time, the most precious commodity on the planet, from your short life. Whether signing up to a new free email blog on writing, or submitting your email to HGTV's Sweepstakes for a home, it takes time to do those things, even tho, depending on your keyboarding skills, it may be only seconds.

Business monetized this idea, just as they do everything, calling it "lost opportunity costs." Bullshit. You do what you do because that's your choice, decision, need, at that moment in time given your situation and circumstances.

Well, with a sacrifice of some of your time, you can become the better writer you can be by starting your own Writer's Critique Group, for "free."  This is an opportunity you shouldn't miss. It will look great on your Writer's Resume. Here's how I did it and you can also:

Search online for your nearest local public library. The library, besides public works, the police, sewer treatment etc, is a terrific investment and resource, because it's all about education and learning. "It's not just reading anymore," says I, it's much more, including speaking and writing. If I had time I'd offer a class on public and performance speaking also, I would, not just just two writing groups weekly.  Yes, I host, or co-host two groups weekly -- at Public Libraries.

For my Hamilton Library weekly class, in 2012, I composed a proposal, sent it to the director, he agreed and classes started in three weeks. Been goin' strong since. I have learned more as facilitator, reader, listener, critiquer, sharer, writer, speaker etc. than any of my students, mainly by listening to their pieces and the following comments. So will you. To be a good writer you need your wits sharpened; this is one way to guarantee that.

Here's what you write to the Director:

Dear ____________,

Hello. I am a resident of ___________ and have an idea for engaging your patrons and our citizens in learning to write better. I'd like to offer the library a no-cost program on (Creative Writing - Fiction or Non-fiction, Memoir, Poetry etc - whatever you know best), beginning in (month) if free room space is available.  The sessions would last two hours, and I am free on either Monday or Thursday afternoons for 2-3 hours to prepare and facilitate these free writing and sharing sessions with positive critique by participants. 

I anticipate that such a program open to all ages and levels of would-be writers will fit the Library's Mission to ______________, and once time and place are agreed to I will publicize sessions locally, with your permission.

My background in the community and as a writer consist of (list stuff you've done).

If interested, please contact me at (phone and email and address).


That's it. If the library has a room, I can almost guarantee that if you are an upstanding citizen, you'll get the gig.

Next blog will talk about class format.

Using Funds for Writers or CRWROPPS.

As a writer your goal must be to publish. No publish, no award, no reviews, no recognition, no success. 

At least, as a first step, share your piece in a writing group, receive critical feedback and edit and polish the hell out of it. Definitely do that before ever considering submitting for publication, and if you don't attend a regular Writing Group in your area (or start one), then have your Ideal Reader critique it, as wife Tabitha and friends do for Stephen King. 

To find opportunities to submit to, I use these, both free by email subscription:

The first and hardest to use, but most fruitful, is CRWROPPS, which stands for Creative Writers Opportunities List. It's a daily Listserv. That's its' glory and downfall: they're so many opps, you'll receive a dozen daily. But it's worth going thru them, deleting the non-applicables, and red star or note the most promising ones. Heck, you may even find a teaching job! Then go back and select the one(s) that absolutely fit you, and Submit! (And don't spend more than $15 per entry unless you're wealthy. See my earlier Post on what to look for and what to avoid.)

Sign up by joining YAHOO! Groups at

The other excellent method is signing up for almost daily updates from Funds for Writers Blog and website by C. Hope Clark. Here's the info they put out about it:


Grants are the free money everyone wants. Here you'll find ...

FundsforWriters newsletter

Originally designed for the serious writer, FundsforWriters provides ...


We never close the door to submissions, but we are very ...


Now you're seeing what we are known for at FundsforWriters ...


Writing contests provide steps up for a writer – especially a ...

About FFW

About FFW. FundsforWriters is an online resource for writers. You ...

Best, Rod

When to Submit Your Piece(s) to Journals

Here's an example of a writing contest that sounds legit (scan then read below):

"Lascaux Prize in Poetry

$10.00 USD
Ends on 9/30/2015

Poems may be previously published or unpublished, and simultaneous submissions are accepted. The winner receives $1,000 and publication in The Lascaux Review. The winner and all finalists will be published in The 2016 Lascaux Prize Anthology.
Submit entries at
Two copies of the anthology will be supplied to every poet appearing in it. Entry fee is $10. Poets may enter more than once, and as many as five poems may be submitted per entry (please paste all poems into a single document). There are no length restrictions. All styles are welcome. Submissions close 30 September.
Entry fees are dedicated entirely to prize money and operating expenses. Editors, judges, and other staff at The Lascaux Review and its sister sites are unpaid volunteers."
Reasons I will submit to this are:
1. 5 poems for $10 or less is the average submission cost. I stopped submitting if costs are greater. When your book sales are making thousands of dollars, submit all you want.
2. "Entry fees are dedicated..."  Look for this phrase on submission sites. Otherwise you're just making the journal etc profit from your hard work.
3. Always follow submission guidelines to the letter.
4. If it accepts previously pub'd or unpub'd, that's ideal, as well as simultaneous subs.
4. I will receive a copy of the publication if selected. If you receive payment, so much the better. 

But the goal, always the number one goal, is TO PUBLISH!!

Choose a contest per month to submit too, focus on that, and submit. Don't get lost in the hundreds of contests, getaways, stipends etc. found in Funds for Writers or CRWROPPS.

Best Rod