Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Writers Coffeehouse in Willow Grove

Guest blog by Dawn Byrne

Can you believe there's a group of professional writers who are available to the public the last Sunday of each month? They talk about their claims to fame, share marketing information, and answer questions from the audience about anything related to writing life and its craft. Can you also believe it's free of charge?

The Philadelphia Liars Club hosts this monthly gathering called The Writers Coffeehouse at the Willow Grove Barnes & Noble in Pennsylvania on Park Avenue from 12 noon to 3 pm. The Liars are fiction writers who volunteer their time to inform and encourage networking with other writers.

November's meeting was led by Kathryn Craft, author of The Art of Falling. She blogs at where you can find out about her and her novel, which is launching January 18th in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Kathryn talked of patience with publishing and shared the reality of waiting almost two years for her book to debut. She told us that the time of publishers sending limos for authors to speak at events the publisher arranged is over. Marketing and promotion is mostly the author's job. Authors who do, and have an online following, are more desirous to publishers.

Liars suggested bringing translated versions of your work to the book sale if that applies to your work or audience. And if you're an introvert, invite to the book sale a PR pitch friend who has a personality to talk and will schmooze with customers.

Everyone introduced themselves and any writing related information. If you have a business card, bring extras to pass out during the Writers Coffeehouse. You'll surely have an opportunity to receive others. Shameless self-promotion abounds here. This helped us identify others in the group whom we could talk or network with after the meeting. I enjoyed chatting with three other inspirational writers.

The Writers Coffeehouse, photo from Liar Jon McGoran's blog
Kathryn also led an activity she used in workshops she's given in libraries. During a break in the meeting, she suggested everyone choose a book from the Barnes & Noble's shelves that struck their interest. This demonstrated how important certain elements are to sell a book: book cover; where the book is located in the store; if it's faced out or spine out; the blurb on the book; first paragraph in the work. I surprised myself with my choice. My preferred reading is inspirational. I selected a book that appeared inspirational but wasn't yet piqued my interest. Some people bought the book they used as their example.

November was National Novel Writing Month. Audience members and Liars talked about this and about editing their NaNaWriMo novels. Bernie Mojzes, Liar and co-editor of The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, mentioned a call for submissions for April. Check this out at and Jim Kristofic praised Liar Marie Lamba who is his editor for his memoir, Navahos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life.

The Coffeehouse doesn't meet in December, but join them on January 26th 2014 and you'll be introduced to writers from a plethora of genres who are eager to inform and encourage newbies, as well as seasoned writers. You can check them out at To get updates on the Coffeehouse, go here and subscribe.

The South Jersey Writers Group plan a roadtrip to the next Writers Coffeehouse event, if you want to go, click here. Speaking of the SJWG, the above-mentioned Kathryn Craft will be our guest in February, details can be found here.

About today's guest blogger:

Dawn Byrne, a grandmother, writes inspirational and fictional stories about families from her New Jersey home. She's a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group, facilitates the Juliette Writers' Group, and teaches Sunday School. Dawn strives to leave a small carbon footprint, reads classical literature, and has stories featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives: 101 Daily Devotions to Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire You and Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!: 101 Joyful Stories about the Love, Fun, and Wonder of the Holidays. Her website is, and her blog is here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Some Writer Humor

Our own Gregg Feistman passed this along to me at the last monthly meeting.

It's something all of the first time Amazon authors, or the online holiday shoppers, or for some of us, navigating the MeetUp website (kidding kidding), might appreciate.

Click to enlarge.  Enjoy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Writing 2.6 - What to Write About

Guest Blog by Rich Voza, originally presented on his blog, Brainsnorts: Trashing Today for a Better Tomorrow. You can see it here.

Preface 1: I started this post thinking it would only be about three paragraphs, maybe 300 words. Not so.

Preface B: I am not writing this to criticize anyone’s blog or suggest that anyone should do anything any differently than what they’re happy and comfortable doing on their blog. I’m writing this because I’ve been asked a similar question, and I’ve seen similar questions posted on other blogs, so this is an extensive answer either to those bloggers who have asked or those who are thinking of the same question but haven’t yet asked it. I’m not suggesting that I’m any kind of a blog authority or writing lord. I’m nothing of the kind, but I like questions, both asking and answering, and I like being thorough. Sometimes. Also, these are my thoughts only. Every other blogger in existence might disagree with me, and that’s not only okay but probably good.

Someone recently asked why I blog. That wasn’t easy to answer. In a way, blogging can be like a comedian testing jokes in a small comedy club before going to Vegas or Atlantic City, but that carries the suggestion that I’m “going somewhere” after this. Not likely. My blogging originally stemmed from something at work. I had to send out daily, boring e-mails to about a hundred people. I knew those e-mails would be annoying, stupid, but necessary information.

So my goal was to make it a little entertaining and perhaps make someone smile a little. I admit that it gave me a little extra boost when someone with whom I worked a long time would reply to my e-mails and tell me how funny I was or that they never realized this other side to me. I tend to be very boring and monotonous in person until I get to know someone well enough to unleash the demon known as – Rich. After enough people said, “You really should be writing for a living, or writing comedy, or host a game show or something,” I agreed, but I still wasn’t sure what to do about it. So far, this blog is all I’ve done about it. But this post isn’t about me, although it certainly seems to be going that way. This is about you. Well, not you personally, but those of you who have asked me or posted questions about blogging.

Over the past two weeks I’ve seen more than the usual amount of blog posts in which someone did one or more of the following:

  • 1. Apologized for not posting often enough and promising their lovely readers that they will get his or her or both asses in gear and start producing more.
  • 2. Acknowledged that they just couldn’t think of anything to write about lately.
  • 3. Promised not to let that blog fizzle out and die like a previous blog.
  • 4. Asked readers to help decide what they should write about next.

  • I’ve also seen blogs on which the author posted a poll asking readers to vote for a favorite topic on which the author should mainly focus. Movies? Television? Music? Books? And I’ve also seen the blogs on which an author begins a story and asks readers to make suggestions on which direction the story should take. Now that I’ve made you read through about 600 words, I’ll get to the point, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

    If you’re not sure what to write about, most people say, “Write what you know.” I disagree. I say, “write what you feel.” If you see a movie you love – write about it. If you read a book that bores you, or turns you on, write about it. If a driver on the road next to you does something that pisses you off and you’re thinking of giving her a flat tire, write about it. If you love to cook, take pictures of the process, sketch the details of the recipe, and write about it. If you love sports or political debates, park your laptop in front of the television, take notes, and write about it. And if you find yourself strangely attracted to the female news anchors of CNN, well, maybe you should keep that to yourself. You shouldn’t just write about things or topics without specifying how those things affected you. I don’t need you to tell me what the movie was about. I need you to tell me how it made you feel. If all I want are the facts, I’ll watch the news. No, not Fox News. Duh, I said “facts.”

     Every one of us has probably heard the words “write what you know.” Well, if I’m an electrical engineer, and I know electrical engineering, but I love hockey, then I’d said it’s better to write about hockey than electrical engineering. One particular blogger I know used to write great posts about lists of all kinds. Movies of the 60’s, breakfast cereals, sexy commercials, all kinds of things, all kinds of lists of things with his opinion on why each deserved to be anywhere from #10 to #1. After a while, he thought perhaps he should only write about one thing – movies, food, sexy things? So he asked his readers to vote, and I politely told him that was not a good plan. His readers were not there because they loved movies or commercials. They were there because they liked the combination of his style, attitude, and opinion. Readers did not care if he made a list of oatmeal flavors or golf courses, they just cared that he was entertaining in his presentation.

    He had a counter argument. “But blogs with specific topics have more readers than blogs that don’t have a specific focus.” Yeah, he’s right, but that’s because there are people out there who only want to read about food or cars or a guy pretending to be a girl and writing about “her” promiscuous exploits. So those readers had searched for blogs about food or cars or sex, and then those readers follow those blogs. True they might have more followers and “likes,” but that doesn’t mean those readers are enjoying it more. Those topic-specific blogs will likely have more views per day, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have more comments or a more interesting and rewarding conversation. I’d rather have 20 comments than 100 views because I’m not really about the numbers as much as I am about the interaction and conversation. I’d rather have two people give me their opinions on my book or movie review than 20 people just click on it and go away.

    The other question that comes up is how often to post, which, although it’s a matter of personal preference, I can at least give not a writer’s but a reader’s perspective. In the almost 500 bloggers I follow, there are some who post several times a day. Sometimes it’s all photography, each picture as a separate post. For me, that’s overkill. For photog fans, it’s a mother lode. After a while, I’m breezing through because I don’t have time to study them all – but I know I’m not the target audience. I also follow blogs on which there might be three or four new poems a day, each in a separate post. Having studied poetry extensively in college, I love reading and interpreting poetry, especially when I can sometimes leave a comment that lets the poet know that I can feel exactly what they were thinking. I love when that happens, but most readers don’t have time for careful reading of everything that we all post every day. Conversely, there are other authors who post only once a week or less. I wish they’d write more, but those carefully crafted, well-researched, and very entertaining posts just can’t possibly be produced on a daily basis.

    Please remember, neither me nor any individual is important enough for you to aim your blog at us. Those writers and photographers do not need to care one bit about what I have to say. They only need to care about how it makes them feel to write and post what they’re writing and/or photographing. So, if you’d like a one-sentence answer to sum things up, it would go like this:

    Instead of “write what you know,” consider “write what you want others to know.” And I want others to know how I feel about the movie I saw, the book I read, the mouse I accidentally stepped on, etc. And if I write it well enough, then you will know exactly how I feel because I will have chosen the right words so that you feel it too.

    About today's guest blogger:

    Richard Voza Voza has been writing since 4th grade when he forgot about a summer book report and created a story called Carrot Top Mr. Mouse, about a mouse ridiculed for his red hair. After accidentally becoming an English teacher for 25 years, he now takes writing seriously.

    The first volume of his short story collection, When the Mirror Breaks, has been accepted by Whiskey Creek Press. He is currently marketing a suspense novel called Woodbury Avenue, about a stalker in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Two other finished novels are Lizzie’s Journal (paranormal) and Room 317 (suspense).

    Most days he drinks coffee and wonders if anyone will read his blog, Other days he sits on the beach, listens to baseball, and watches the waves with friends and a cooler nearby.

    Saturday, December 14, 2013

    Editing is Everything

    Guest Blog by Patti O'Brien

    Editing is a funny business. As an editor, I am basically telling writers that I can present their own thoughts better than they can, which sounds silly, right? But that’s what I do, and people pay me for it!

    It’s not that we can do it better, of course; it’s just that we can do it…better. Let me explain.

    You are a writer, a storyteller, a litterateur, a scribe. You have characters to think about, action to perform, verbs to choose, plotlines to plot. You type away, thinking about everything that’s going into your story, agonizing over dialogue, trying to get your hero to the climax before he dies, or is bitten by a rabid wildebeest, or quits the team. It’s a lot to deal with.

    So you do the best you can, then you read it over and it sounds pretty good—or not. If not, you dive back in, saving your hero from the depths of the ocean before he drowns, along with your story. Even if you like it as is, you keep rereading, or give it to your mother/best friend/wife/husband/garbage collector to read and when they return it with rave reviews (for what else can they do?), you declare it well and good.

    But is it ready for publication? Probably not, and that’s where an editor comes in. No matter what you or your good-hearted reviewers say, your story needs work. It just does. Trust me.

    Your readers are not professionals and YOU are no judge of your own work. You read what you think you wrote: you know what it’s supposed to say, and so you read it that way, oblivious to the fact that other readers will not know what you’re talking about. You’re the only one in your own head; you’re the only one who truly knows what it all means. The rest of us? Sometimes, we just have to guess.

    And that’s not what you want. You want a piece that is clear, consistent, concise and correct. You want the reader to be mesmerized by the story, not distracted by errors, or inconsistencies, or—gawd forbid—out and out plot flaws! “What the hell is going on here?” is not the question you want your readers to ask. “What is going to happen next? I can’t wait,” is what you’re after.

    Your editor is your friend. She will find the problems and help you fix them. Because she is not in your head, she will ask the questions future readers will ask; she will point out what is confusing so you can fix it before you send it out to publishers or agents who are way too busy to sift through a problem-riddled manuscript. I am willing to bet the farm that many good manuscripts have been overlooked because overwhelmed agents just can’t get through the first few paragraphs without throwing up their hands in disgust. The story might be great, but they’re never going to find out because they can’t get past the mechanics.

    Yes, we’re talking mechanics here, the English class rules that you’ve forgotten. Most adult writers cannot punctuate, that’s a fact. And hardly anyone knows when to use a semi-colon. But I do, and people like me do. We are blessed—or burdened—with the ability to see errors wherever they lurk. We are the folks who call you out if you dare to misspeak, or put a comma where it clearly doesn’t belong. We are trying to help the world with our gifts, but more often than not, we just tick people off. Sigh.

    However, we are the people you want to read your ms, your college entrance essay, your letter to the mortgage company, because we are the ones who will make it shine, get you in, promote your cause. We can do it when you can’t because we know how. Good editors are born, not made. Like piano tuners…and Steven Spielberg.

    Yes, we are the Spielbergs of the writing world. We know exactly what we want, and how to get it. And it’s not that you don’t: it’s just that it’s really hard to see it clearly when you’re in the movie, or writing it. We’re behind the camera; we see it all because we’re not in it, we’re just watching. Really closely.

    And because we’re not you, but we’re working for you, we want your story to be the best it can be—just like you. We want the plot to work, the characters to be engaging, the dialogue to sparkle. When you’re writing dialogue, you’re thinking about moving the plot along. When we edit dialogue, we’re thinking of that, too, but also we’re making sure that it’s believable, interesting, sensible, and not in contrast to something that was said on page 42. Consistency is hard for the writer, but it’s one of the things editors focus on.

    How can we focus on your work better than you can? Because we’re not writing the dialogue, we’re just adjusting it. Ever hang a picture on a wall? It’s hard to get the nail just right, level it, hang it just so. Know what’s easier? Standing across the room saying: “a little to the left.”

    Now, you may be thinking, at this point, that I’m wrong. You may think that you have taken everything into account and have written a damn good story, and maybe you have. But I assure you there are mistakes, inconsistencies, punctuation errors and tense problems. Most assuredly, actually, there are tense problems. I see them in every ms, every essay, every everything I read. Tense is a tough one; nearly every writer has trouble with it. But your editor will not. Your editor will fix all that, and make sure that singular subjects have singular verbs; that there are no errant apostrophes in your plurals and “its;” that you don’t say a kid is five years old on page 432 when you said he was only three on page ten.

    It’s hard work editing someone else’s story, but it’s impossible to edit your own. Every story/magazine article/newspaper column/published book that’s ever been has been professionally edited (don’t get me started on self-published authors who don’t use an editor!). So why should yours be any different? Why shouldn’t your story get the same star treatment as JK Rowling’s do?

    You’re a writer? Great. Finished a story? Get an editor.

    And pay him well, because you want him to do a really good job. You want him to care about your story as much as you do. You want him “on your team” because he’s good at the one-yard line and will help you get into the end zone (you know, onto a publisher’s desk).

    Writers write; editors edit. Focus on your story, and let an editor fix your grammar so you don’t have to worry about stuff like that while you’re creating a zombie apocalypse.

    Here’s how it should go: Write. Revise. Get an editor. Revise. Send it back for a final edit. Reread. Submit.

    You shouldn’t skip a step when your goal is publication, just as you shouldn’t skip a step when making a soufflĂ©, because in either case, you could end up with a flat, dead thing. And ain’t nobody got time for that.


    About today's guest blogger:

    South Jersey Writers' Group member Patti O'Brien is an award-winning writer and editor extraordinaire. Be sure to check out her excellent editing service Editing Is Everything, Follow her on Twitter, find her on LinkedIn and Facebook, and read her always entertaining blog, A Broad Abroad.

    Tuesday, December 3, 2013

    Merry Jones at SJWG

    Guest Blog by Victoria Marie Lees.

    At the South Jersey Writers Group monthly meeting held on November 2l, 2013, writers and friends welcomed Merry Jones, an established novelist and writing teacher at Temple University. Merry has a master’s degree in Communications from the University of Pennsylvania and an impressive array of writing credentials from humor to non-fiction to mystery, including her latest release, Outside Eden.

    Merry opened her discussion with a surprising fact: The average writer earns about $3,500 per year.

    “So why do we write?” She asked the assembled writing group.

    That’s a good question.

    Merry informed the group that some people have a need to communicate. Writing is a communication process. “Writers are writers because they can’t help it. If we don’t write, we feel guilty.”

    The process of writing is a lifestyle for the writer according to Merry. It’s a part of their personality, a basic fundamental aspect of their lives.

    One of her grad school professors felt that creative people must create. If they didn’t, there would be physical symptoms to deal with. Merry finds she becomes grouchy and agitated if she doesn’t write regularly.

    While some writers at the meeting agreed, some writers felt that they needed to wait for inspiration or a reason to write. This brought up a very real obstacle for many writers: incentive. With no agent, no book deal, why am I writing? Why write if I’m not getting paid to write. I should find a real job and make money.

    Merry understood their quandary. She had it at the beginning of her career, too. She informed the group how the publishing field has changed since she wrote her first book, advances are much smaller, no paid tours by the publishing house. Editors don’t promote writers like they used to. They don’t help writers much.

    “In publishing no one is your friend,” Merry said, “not your agent, not your publisher. Sales numbers are how you acquire your next book deal.”

    Merry was cut by St. Martin’s Press because she was a midlister, as that publisher eliminated all midlisters at that time. Her agent cut her off too. She was lucky, though. Through some writing friends she acquired another agent about a year later, and because she continued to write, Merry had books to give her new agent. Small presses are a good alternative to the big publishing houses.

    Writing groups are essential for both the budding writer as well as established writers. “All writers need writers to share experiences, energy, and the drive to continue writing.” Merry said.

    And she’s correct.

    Do people really decide to become writers or is it instinctive? What do you think? Why do you write?

    About today's guest-blogger:

    Victoria Marie Lees has been a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group for several years, maintains blogs at Adventures in Writing: One Woman's Journey, Parenting Special Needs Children, and Camping with Kids, and she can be found on Twitter.

    Wednesday, November 27, 2013

    Giving Thanks for the NaNoWriMo Win

    The perfect noveling set up
    It's the end of November, and I'm feeling like I do every November. Worn out, run down, a little (or a lot) overwhelmed and a just a tetch grouchy, probably due to too much caffeine and staying up too late to write.

    I've been putting myself through this every November since 2005, with slowly increasing success. I didn't win for the first four years; I fell short of the 50,000 word minimum every year until 2008. This was probably due to the same writers' block that had stopped me from ever really writing anything, aka "perfectionism." So in 2009 I gave myself an ultimatum: write 50,000 words this year, or never do this again.

    But I couldn't help it, the wackiness is addicting. The write-anything-just-get-the-words-out mentality. The complete strangers (and sometimes friends) you write with who throw out a character name or the right turn of phrase when you need one. I was finally able to break through the hangup of "I'm too good of a writer to write a story with bad grammar" and just emptied my brain on paper. (Pun intended.)

    Now, I can't imagine a non-noveling November. So with the self-imposed ultimatum, I won in 2009, and I've won every year since. And I'm 12,000 words behind, but I'll win again. (Thanks to having a no-travel Thanksgiving and Black Friday off!)

    Of course, the "winning" is arbitrary. What do you win? You win a cheesy certificate that you can type your name in, and it's signed by the NaNoWriMo people. I did win 50% off Scrivener, so that was nice, but when non-noveling friends ask me what the payoff is, I inevitably feel a little silly. It's just the accomplishment. It's a deadline, a reason to put your life on hold and prioritize your big, scary, pie-in-the-sky dreams for awhile. And it's the one time all year where you don't have to worry about grammar and punctuation and spelling and even things like quotation marks and capital letters. Freedom to write, freedom to scribble and scrawl whatever I can think of to continue moving the story forward in whatever way I can.

    Finally, after eight years of taking on this crazy challenge, I've figured out that November, for me, is writing the backstory and developing the characters. The plot doesn't have to progress, it almost doesn't matter what happens. If you get stuck, just end the scene and start a new one. All the issues that held me back when I tried to write, such as "transitions" and finding the perfect character or place name, giving up because I didn't know what to do next, and because there were other things I could be doing. All that stuff doesn't really matter in the face of such an intense deadline. And with grit and determination, lots of coffee, and some fabulous writing buddy encouragement, I've managed to win every year since 2009.

    So four years of winning means I have four, er, collections of words, loosely gathered under one umbrella of an idea, usually about the same characters from start to end. (And at least three of them end with, "and then the zombie apocalypse happened. The end.") But it doesn't matter what those words say, really. What matters is that I made the commitment and achieved the end result. I wrote every day (or almost). I developed a story idea that I never would have taken the time to write otherwise. Or rather, I took some action on a story idea I would have thought about for years, as I have for several story ideas, but everything else would have gotten in the way of actually writing it. The bottom line though, as Papa Hemingway allegedly declared, "The first draft of anything is s---." So why not just do it in a month and get it over with?

    After NaNoWriMo 2012, four years of so-called victory, I finally joined a critique group, and committed to editing one of my stories, providing a chapter a month to other writers. That was hard too, but it's just another side effect of being a writer. If you want to be published, someone is going to have to read your story eventually, and they'll probably tear it all apart anyway. So why not start with some friendly reviews? (More on that in a future blog post.)

    At any rate, in the past year, I've realized that editing is really what I like to do; editing is where the story really takes shape, and starts to make sense. Fifty thousand words of world-building and character development is not publishable, sure, but it's a great start to a novel. It has occurred to me that the NaNoWriMo draft--or, as Chuck Wendig calls it, "Draft Zero"--is a lot like making the clay that an artist will sculpt with. The NaNoWriMo words are just a starting point. They're a little rough, not very pretty. They might be falling apart a little, maybe need a little more kneading so they hold together better. But eventually, I'll mold them into a story that somewhat resembles my original concept, although hopefully better, more developed, more organized, and even more fun. (Note: Chuck Wendig is very funny, and very useful, but he uses very naughty language.)

    I still have those four unfinished NaNo novels. And they still have promise, and I'd love to revise them eventually too. But for now, I'd better get back to this year's project, still 12,000 words short of a victory. Even if I do fall short with only four days left, my Thanksgiving will consist of noveling instead of football, extra coffee, and giving thanks for chasing big dreams and reaching impossible goals.

    Amy Hollinger writes stories for kids and teens. She has been a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group since the beginning, and is currently the President. She blogs at and tweets about writing and miscellany @thegetoutgirl. She is very sorry that these 1000 words won't count towards her NaNo total. GOOD GRIEF WRITE FUTURE NANO BLOG POSTS IN THE SUMMER #NaNoWriMo #notestoself

    Monday, November 25, 2013

    NaNoWriMo: Through the Eyes of a Novice

    Guest blog by Lisen Minetti

    I first heard of NaNoWriMo only a few months ago, when I finally crawled out from underneath my rock wanting to connect with other writers. Before then, writing was just something I loved to do for myself. I rarely shared my stories, or talked about my writing with others. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was an entire month dedicated to novel writing!

    However, I viewed the idea of NaNoWriMo with a healthy dose of skepticism at first. The thought that someone – namely me – could write 50,000 words in 30 days seemed like madness! The fact that I was seriously considering participating left me questioning what little sanity I claim to have.

    On the one hand, I did have a story floating around in my head, and had just finished work on book one, so I knew I was capable of finishing a manuscript. On the other hand, however, a little voice inside my head kept reminding me that it took the better part of eight months to write that first book; and that my word count of said book was only around 35,000 words. Yet here I was, contemplating challenging myself not only to write 15,000 words beyond that, but to do so in one-eighth of the time.

    But I love a challenge. So I signed up for NaNoWriMo in September with all the same feelings as if I were walking into a particularly scary haunted house: fear, trepidation, and a twinge of excitement. I had no idea what to expect and the possibility that I was going to pee my pants and run away screaming half way through was very real.

    To my delight, once I entered the world of National Novel Writing Month, excitement began to edge out the fear. Despite my pantster leanings, I started to jot down ideas and notes to help me organize my thoughts for the upcoming project. I wrote out a timeline for characters to follow, knowing this would help as the entire story took place over the space of five days. I created note cards describing the powers my little witch discovered in book one, and all the ones I wanted her to discover in book two. I pitched my story to my cat, who really didn’t care enough to be bothered with it, and also to my husband, who was helpful in ferreting out holes in the plot. And when I finished all my prep work on October 1, I was ready to write!

    Unfortunately for me, National Novel Writing Month is November, not October, so my story had to sit. And about a week before November, I realized I wasn’t excited about my story anymore. Panic ensued and I was almost ready to call off the whole thing. I mean, how could I possibly write a story I wasn’t excited about? Well, there’s the rub. I realized that if I only wrote when I was excited about what I was working on, nothing would ever get finished.

    So come November 1, I sat down and just started writing. I didn’t stay up until midnight on Halloween; I didn’t get up early to start writing before work. I waited until I got home from work that Friday and made a commitment to sit in front of my computer until something – anything – came out. And eventually it did come. Within the first few hours, the enthusiasm flooded back and in the first three days I wrote over 10,000 words.

    By the end of week two – November 14 – I had written close to 30,000 words. There were days when I hated every word I wrote. Nights when I felt like doing anything else other than writing. Times where I wanted to do nothing more than delete whole sections of prose. But I didn’t. I wrote through it. And came out on the other side.

    Week three of NaNoWriMo is upon us and I have written nearly 40,000 words. And with a little luck and lot of hard work, I will ‘win’ NaNoWriMo by the end of this weekend, hitting the coveted 50,000 word mark.

    On top of that, I blogged nearly every single day. I continued to help my kids with their homework. I haven’t missed any meals, or suffered from an insane lack of sleep. I worked a full forty hour week every week just like always. And I had the flu.

    So how did this miracle happen?

    It happened because I embraced the spirit of NaNoWriMo at the outset: I sat down and wrote every single day. Writing became part of my daily routine. If I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about plots and character flaws and story lines. During homework time I would imagine how my characters would behave when their mothers’ were helping them study. When I was sick, exhausted and so cold I could barely feel my fingers, I wrote about the misery I felt, which evolved into a new scene I didn’t anticipate at the outset. But it worked.

    When I got frustrated at my story or hit a wall, I wrote some more. I turned to my blog creating a “Dear Abby” format to give myself encouragement and vent my frustrations. I made up stupid songs and skits. I was creative in other ways, and soon my story was back on track.

    Most importantly I didn’t give up. I kept writing, even when I didn’t want to. I didn’t necessarily add words to my WIP every single day, but I wrote every single day. Something. Anything. Just to keep writing. Because not writing is the only surefire way to ‘lose’ NaNoWriMo.

    And if I end up not hitting the 50,000 word count? Well, I am okay with that too. I write middle grade, so my story may not have that many words to it. But even if I don’t hit my word count, I have something to be proud of: A first draft that I didn’t have on October 31 and the knowledge that I didn’t give up. And there’s always next year.

    About today's guest blogger:

    Lisen Minetti really hates writing bios because she feels stupid talking about herself in the third person. She lives, works and writes outside of Atlantic City with her husband, two kids and an evil cat. Her current WIP is a middle grade series, the Cady Martin Witchsteries:

    As if growing up weren't hard enough, twelve year old Cady Martin has to live with a big secret: she's a witch. While she is busy trying to learn her newfound powers and keep her secret from the rest of the world, she also finds that she has a knack for attracting trouble. No matter where she goes, danger seems to follow her - both from this realm and the supernatural realm.

    You can connect with Lisen on her blog or on Twitter.


    Saturday, November 23, 2013

    2013 Fall Writers' Retreat

    Post by Sarah Hawkins Miduski

    Last Weekend (November 15th-17th) the South Jersey Writers' Group held their 2013 Fall Writers' Retreat.

    The retreat took place at the Weisel Hostel, located in Nockamixon State Park, in Quakertown PA; It was a fantastic venue to hold a writers' retreat, as the one hundred year old farm house and beautiful grounds provided a great amount of scope for the imagination.

    The retreat was equal parts productivity and relaxation.  Some attendees worked to boost their NaNoWriMo word counts, while others worked on editing and/or other writing projects.

    It was a great chance to let the words flow freely onto the page without the interruptions and distractions of normal everyday life.  Plenty of writing was accomplished and it was estimated that at least 40,200 were written during the course of the weekend.

    There was also plenty of coffee/tea, snacks and other food consumed, after all writers need to keep up their strength and stamina. There was also time for a s'mores break.

    When a difficult part of a story  needed to be mentally worked out or some fresh air was required, the retreat goers headed outside.  The weather turned out to be pleasant with just the right amount of fall nip in the air.  The hotel's grounds and stone bridge trail offered an excellent opportunity to get some exercise while resting overworked fingers.

    The fall retreat was wonderful and all of the attendees were able to make some writing progress while relaxing and having fun.

    If you are a current group member, keep an eye out for upcoming retreats. If you are not a member, now is the perfect time to sign up and enjoy all of the activities the group has to offer.

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    SJWG at the Maple Shade Library

    Guest blog by Dawn Byrne

    A group of writers and readers didn't let the cold weather keep them from meeting on Novmber 13th at the Maple Shade Public Library in Burlington County New Jersey, inside Maple Shade's municipal building at 200 Stiles Ave. Visitors are encouraged to ask for assistance with information, as you can tell by this sign on the wall above the librarian's desk just inside the library.

    This was the South Jersey Writers' Group's second visit to the library this year to promote their anthology, Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey. Members of the SJWG are preparing to publish a second Tall Tales anthology within the next year, so look for more local tales to come. The SJWG thanks the Maple Shade Library for inviting us back to speak about writing and publishing.

    One audience member shared her sad experience with a publishing company and how the company not only didn't promote and distribute her book after she had paid them, but that she has lost control of her book. Writer Marie Gilbert suggested the importance of being part of a writing community, especially for new writers. The panel also mentioned that information and support from a group, and resources they offer, can help keep writers from becoming prey to dishonest publishers. And, as luck may have it, the SJWG is open for membership until the end of December.

    The evening also featured an opportunity for public readings. Our panel read from their works and then opened the floor to the audience. John Farquhar, author of What To Expect When You're Dead, read his short story "Bad Day For Santa" from our highlighted anthology, Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey. Staying with the holiday theme, Dawn Byrne read her short story, "The Christmas Hostage" from the book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas. Both authors received laughs for their humorous works as well as applause.

    John L. Smith, a retired economics teacher and member of the Juliette Writers' Group, which meets in Moorestown's Barnes & Noble on the third Tuesday of every month (except December), read two of his poems from his self-published book, Food For Thought. His poems, "Dark Satanic Mills" and "Pins In New Shirts" raise empathy and awareness for those forced to work in sweat shops.

    Marie Gilbert, who is up for Skelations' Blogger of the Year 2014 (have you voted yet?), answered questions from the audience and spoke about the value social media holds for promoting oneself as a writer. She explained how blogging can create a brand for a writer, showcasing his voice, style, and type of writing for his readers, which can attract multiple reader audiences.

    Our cold evening continued to warm up at 8 PM when the discussion switched locations. Some of the panel and audience attended a reception at Dawn Byrne's home. They exchanged mutual conversation that moved from general writing and publishing topics to specific issues.

    The South Jersey Writers' Group appreciates the Maple Shade Library, the SJWG panel, and an amazing audience for a memorable evening of the spoken and written word.

    About today's guest blogger:

    Dawn Byrne, a grandmother, writes inspirational and fictional stories about families from her New Jersey home. She's a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group, facilitates the Juliette Writers' Group, and teaches Sunday School. Dawn strives to leave a small carbon footprint, reads classical literature and has stories featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives: 101 Daily Devotions to Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire You and Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas. Her website is

    Sunday, November 17, 2013

    NaNoWriMo: Bump the Slump

    The following was originally written for the Fear of Writing website back in 2010, and still rings true today. Now that the South Jersey Writers' Group is in the midst of NaNoWriMo, I think this might be a good time to unearth this nugget. Notably, since its writing, I am now on my eleventh year of NaNo-ing, and have finished three times. Enjoy, and be sure to check out FoW for great writing resources and inspiration.

    You jumped right into the NaNoWriMo full tilt midnight Halloween night, didn't you? Your fingers raced across your keyboard building worlds, breathing life into characters and tangling them all into intricate plots. You roared ahead past five thousand words, ten thousand words and even twenty thousand words. However as you cooled your creative jets and eased into the next ten thousand something began to happen. Something bad.

    You ran out of steam. More specifically, maybe you got bored with your story, maybe the characters no longer appeal to you, maybe you are simply blocked. You have hit the deadly NaNoWriMo mid-month slump. How do you get out of it? Do you just give up? Toss what you have and start again? The answer is simple really. Just shake things up a bit. Or a lot.

    An old writing question, used when the author is stuck, comes to mind - what is the worst that can happen? In many cases, and many writers will tell you in all cases, the worst is what must happen for optimal drama and suspense. The wife finds out about not only the husband's infidelities, but also his other identities? Do it. The company goes bankrupt. Do it. The speeding train suddenly loses its brakes. Do it. Superman caught at ground zero of a kryptonite bomb. Yeah, do it. Whatever bad can happen, make it the worst. Characters are defined by what they can and cannot overcome. Do your worst.

    Of course there are other ways to spin it, spin being the operative word. Throw a monkey wrench into your story, something wild, something unexpected. Make it fresh for yourself as well as your readers. Think about Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's From Dusk Till Dawn, think about it hard, and pretend you never saw any previews for it nor knew the surprise twist. It begins as an action thriller about two serial killer brothers on the run, and would have worked beautifully as such, had Rodriguez let it. But then halfway through the film, it almost inexplicably becomes a vampire flick. That turning point, that one, out of the box, crazed moment makes the film. That's what you can do with your NaNoWriMo.

    Throw that monkey wrench hard. Surprise your readers. Shock your readers. And, bottom line, get out of that slump and make the writing interesting to you again. Most of all, think out of the box. Is your protagonist boring you? Kill him and find a worthy (or unworthy) replacement. Send your Gothic romance into outer space. Are there zombies in the backyard seen through the window of your kitchen sink drama? Flat tires happen to everyone, and broken down cars can end up anywhere from haunted mansions to mad scientists' labs to that creepy old house from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And where did that dinosaur come from?

    Don't laugh. Crossing and blending genre is the state of the literary mainstream these days. Rarely does a book have one single genre. I say Harry Potter, and you say fantasy, but we all know it's really about growing up, and racism, and fascism. What about one of the biggest bestsellers of recent times, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Is it literary? A thriller? A mystery? Heck, arguments could be made for the romance or cyberpunk genres as well. Mix and match, folks, you never know what you will get.

    The bottom line is, when you get stuck, think outside the box, shake things up, go wild. Make your NaNoWriMo exciting for yourself, and it will be exciting for the reader. Now keep writing!

    About the author: Glenn Walker is the Membership Director of the South Jersey Writers' Group, Associate Editor of Biff Bam Pop!, and a French fry connoisseur. He gets his nerd on at The GAR! Podcast, and dreams of Disney on The Make Mine Magic Podcast. You can read his short story, "Live to Write, Write to Live" in Strange World available here.

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    SJWG Membership Is Open!

    Our great new logo by member Shelley Szajner
    Welcome Writers!

    Are you a writer in the South Jersey area and looking for a group of like-minded individuals for support, discussion, critique, organization, and community? The South Jersey Writers' Group may be for you. Some of what we're about can be found here.

    2012's anthology by the SJWG
    Now through the end of the year, the South Jersey Writers' Group is open for membership. Memberships in the group are $25.00 per year, discounted for students. This fee helps to pay for our meeting spaces, some events, author speaking engagements, the party at the end of the year, and much more.

    Most months we feature the regular meeting that sometimes has speakers, discussions, workshops, and demonstrations, and we also have Write-Ins, Critique Sessions, Blogfests, contests, book signings, field trips, retreats, and open mikes. That's not even mentioning the social aspect of chilling with other writers.

    You can pay by attending the main meetings before the end of the year including our main meeting on Thursday, November 21st - our Creativity and the Drive to Write event with speaker Merry Jones. Cash or check accepted by the group organizers.

    Or you can simply click on the "Pay Online" button, under "2014 Annual Dues," on the left side of the screen at the South Jersey Writers' Group website. Or, to make things easy, you can just click right here right now. The payment will be taken from your credit card at Amazon Payments.

    Amy Hollinger and Jennifer M. Eaton at a SJWG event
    If you have already paid, thank you, and we'll see you throughout the year. And if you haven't paid yet, thank you in advance, or thank you for considering the South Jersey Writers Group!

    And also apologies for further notices that may come in your email - Meetup doesn't allow us to select just those who haven't paid. If you get one after you've paid, just peruse it for further announcements, but ignore the membership reminder. Sound like a plan?

    Also, please check out the website for a full calendar of events, resources, and our discussion boards. All the group details can be found here. We also have a blog, a Facebook page, and Twitter. Join the community!

    Thursday, November 7, 2013

    Why Do the NaNoWriMo?

    The following was originally written for the Fear of Writing website back in 2010, and still rings true today. Now that the South Jersey Writers' Group is in the midst of NaNoWriMo, I think this might be a good time to unearth this nugget. Notably, since its writing, I am now on my eleventh year of NaNo-ing, and have finished three times. Enjoy, and be sure to check out FoW for great writing resources and inspiration.

    When I was asked to contribute a guest blog about the NaNoWriMo, I jumped right in, just like the NaNoWriMo, and churned one out - and much like the publishing industry itself, I was told it wasn't a good fit. Good friend and the queen of Fear of Writing Milli Thornton quickly rattled off a few more appropriate topics. Number one was not only why do the NaNoWriMo, but why, like me, why do it eight times in a row.

    Well, the answer of course is easy. I'm a masochist. I obviously must be. Why else would I subject myself to this process every November? And why would I keep coming back? Over and beyond the concept that I think all writers are masochists, there is another reason, a much more palatable one - to write.

    When you become entrenched in the writing community, you quickly learn there are two kinds of writers. There are writers who work and work and are always on one project or another, and are always in the midst of the words. They are doing it, and if they are lucky, and they have the talent - these are the ones who make it.

    The other kind of writer is the talker. Oh yeah, they talk a good game, they know their stuff, but you never really see them at work. Sure, maybe they have one or two finished or unfinished novels in their desk drawer or on disc that have never and/or will never be accepted, or revised, or edited. They're not writers, at least not anymore, they just talk about it.

    November's National Novel Writing Month is a dividing line, and a barbed wire barrier. It firstly keeps the workers from becoming talkers, and second, it gives the talkers a chance to redeem themselves and become workers again. The goal, bottom line, of the NaNoWriMo is to make you write. Butt in seat, fingers on keyboard, words on page. Do it.

    Now a lot of the workers also have their share of pitfalls in their busy writing lives. Sometimes they get bogged down in one project, so intent on that little world or universe you lose objectivity as its creator. Fresh winds and new ideas not only rejuvenate but give new insight to old ideas. The NaNoWriMo is a fresh wind, in that you must create a whole new novel from scratch. November is one big walk in the park or long cold shower - you know, those getaways that give you the energy to tackle an old project that's been dragging you down.

    National Novel Writing Month also provides opportunities to meet other writers. Whether it is making writing buddies or posting on the message boards at the NaNoWriMo website, or actually attending the in-person Write-Ins in your region - it is always good to talk with and network with other writers. If only to compare notes and experiences and even talk about trends in the industry, writing is a solitary endeavor, and it's always good to know you're not alone.

    The newness of the NaNoWriMo also keeps you fresh, period. As I indirectly confessed earlier, this is year number eight for me and the NaNoWriMo. I have finished my novel once within the given thirty days, but I have finished the novel started in almost every case. I've edited and revised and submitted those novels as well. And it should most importantly be noted, had it not been for the NaNoWriMo, they never would have been written to begin with.

    Imagine that, every November a new manuscript to work on. Some folks work their whole lives to get one manuscript. If that alone isn't enough to get you to do the NaNoWriMo, I don't know what is.

    About the author: Glenn Walker is the Membership Director of the South Jersey Writers' Group, Associate Editor of Biff Bam Pop!, and a French fry connoisseur. You can hear him on The GAR! Podcast, The Make Mine Magic Podcast, and see him on The All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast. And while he doesn't have any of his own work in it, he wants you to buy and read Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey, and, most importantly, contrary to popular belief, he does not flog guest-bloggers.

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    My Thoughts on the NaNoWriMo

    The following was originally written for the Fear of Writing website back in 2010, and still rings true today. Now that the South Jersey Writers' Group is in the midst of NaNoWriMo, I think this might be a good time to unearth this nugget. Enjoy, and be sure to check out FoW for great writing resources and inspiration.

    I love National Novel Writing Month, or the NaNoWriMo, as it's called by most folks. It's a wonderful idea by a terrifically creative young man named Chris Baty. He developed the NaNoWriMo waaay back in 1999 as a way to get folks who want to be writers actually be writers. As he says in his book on the subject, "No Plot? No Problem!", this is for all those people who say they want to write a book someday… well, November first is 'some day.'

    For the folks not in the know, November is National Novel Writing Month. For thirty days participants try (and many succeed) to write 50,000 words. And yes, 50k is a relatively low word count for a novel, but it's still over the industry standard for a novel. It all breaks down to roughly 1667 words per day. Other rules include that you can't start until November first, other than planning in your head and maybe outlining, but not one word on the page until start time. This must also be new material, original from your head to the page.

    The "No Plot? No Problem!" comes into effect by Chris Baty's concept that you should just write, write anything, write crap even, and that sooner or later you will hit your groove and find your story. I don't necessarily agree, especially with the 'write crap' idea. Any first draft is going to be wonky, hell, it may even be crap - that's why it's a first draft. Even though I'm sure that Stephen King's and probably even Ernest Hemingway's first drafts were crap as well - I don't believe you should set out to write crap, ever.

    Baty's theory of writing comes from the idea of pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants. These are writers who do not use outlines and just go with an idea and see where it goes. This is how I write to some extent, although once I do know where a story is going, I have a target and I work toward it. And I think most folks are like that, not an outliner or a pantser, but a bit of both.

    Just write, but write as well as you can. Yes, you can always go back and edit and change and improve the manuscript. But do it after NaNoWriMo November, there is even a NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) in March so you can take a rest in between.

    There is also the concept of the NaNoWriMo as a race that bothers me. One year the logo was even that of a track and field runner. As far as I am concerned, this is not a race, and you cannot win it by actually doing the 50k words in the thirty days. You win it by finishing your novel, whether it's under the wire or past it, the act of actually finishing a novel is one of the most fulfilling accomplishments a writer can experience. You have to do it. That's winning.

    Taking that concept further, it's not even about word counts or time limits for me when it comes to the NaNoWriMo. It is the discipline. That is the most valuable prize you can come away from November with, the discipline to write. At my Yahoo! Group, Writer Circle, I preach about the Contract for Success, part of which talks about spending an hour of each day trying to write, whether it's actually pumping out words or just staring at a blank computer screen - spend that time trying to write.

    It's all about the discipline. And that is what that 1667 words a day during November does to you, it drills the discipline of writing into you. Bottom line, a writer writes. This all goes back to Chris Baty's mantra - you always said you'd write a novel some day, well, it's some day, baby.

    Best of luck with your NaNoWriMos, and keep writing, every day.

    About the author: Glenn Walker is the Membership Director of the South Jersey Writers' Group, Associate Editor of Biff Bam Pop!, and a podcaster. He currently blogs about pop culture, comic books, videogames, and French fries. Don't hold it against him.