Monday, September 24, 2012

Are You Really the Character You’re Writing About?

by Bill Johnson

When people decide to start writing, most of them start with their own lives. Some draw inspiration from the places and people around them, while others decide to write about real life as it happened … or so they think.
It’s okay to embellish or change the truth in fiction — it is fiction, after all — but if you’re writing nonfiction, you’ll fall flat if you don’t make an accurate, honest assessment about who you are. Make sure you can tell the 
difference between what actually happened and what you think happened.

You’re Being Honest If…

One sign of a goodwriter is the ability to see things objectively. These clues tell you if you’re doing the same for your own characterization:

You’re not perfect:  If you have flaws and you’ve done bad things, then you’ve written honestly. If, however, you’re always the good guy put upon by bad guys, then you’re writing an ego trip.
Your life is sometimes dull:  Like everyone else, your life has some interesting stories in it. But not every story is interesting to others, and hopefully you’re perceptive enough to distinguish those that make good reading and those that don’t.

Other people play a role:  Your story isn’t all about you. If you’re good, you know who helped make your life what it is today, from the wise kindergarten teacher to the first person who broke your heart.

If Not, You’re Doing This:

If you’re in a writing workshop where students sit in old classroom desks sharing their roughest drafts, a good writing teacher will advise you to avoid these autobiographical pitfalls:

Everyone loves you:  No one is beloved by everyone, and your work will ring false if everyone in your life idolizes you, falls in love with you, or asks your advice about all the challenges they’re facing.

Life’s a non-stop adventure:  That funny incident at your first job might have been hilarious to the people in the room, but probably not to the people reading about it 20 years later.

You learned nothing:  Seinfeld was about nothing, but your life can’t be. If you’re going to write about your life, be sure you learned something along the way.

If you’re the subject of your own story, be as honest and objective as possible to make your story uplifting, compelling, and, most of all, interesting to readers.


Byline:  Michelle Rebecca is an aspiring writer with a passion for blogging. She enjoys writing about a vast variety of topics and loves that blogging gives her the opportunity to publically voice her thoughts and share advice with an unlimited audience.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Finding the Right Critique Group

by Bill Johnson
As office manager of Willamette Writers, a non-profit writers group, I often get calls asking about critique groups. I advise people to think of them as coming in four types:

Light Critique
Heavy Critique
Wise Reader

Support groups generally offer encouragement in writing or marketing, and little or no critique. Some support groups also operate as social networks, and might involve eating a meal together or meeting at a restaurant.

Light Critique groups could have a format for critique, like a time limit to respond; or limits on the person responding; or a requirement that a critique start and end with a positive comment, etc. This is something a group works out. A group might have a moderator to make sure the guidelines are followed, or a rotating moderator for each meeting.

Heavy Critique

This is generally for writers who are published or who are interested in mainstream publishing. People read something and offer a no-holds barred critique. The author takes it in and does what they want with what is offered. There's no mentoring here.

As an office manager, I once had to listen to a heavy critique group self-destruct when they were joined by a new writer who demanded and insisted on support only.

Wise Reader

Orson Scott Card developed this idea, that an author can give a spouse or friend guidelines for how to respond to a manuscript (for example, when someone started skipping pages or lost interest). A good resource for getting good feedback from casual readers.

Where to Meet

Some people meet at a home; others meet at a Starbucks (some do close at 6 pm); some people meet at a local restaurant (3-6 is often a quiet time for a restaurant, and they appreciate people coming in; this is also a typical Happy Hour time for lower costs for food). A few groups sign up to meet at the WW Writing House.

What to Look For

I advise people to try 2-3 groups to find a group that offers the right fit and personalities. Cynthia Whitcomb, president of Willamette Writers, belongs to both a support and critique group to meet her needs.

Some people call the Willamette Writers office and want to join a critique group (or be mentored by) New York Times best-selling authors. Those kind of authors are generally protective of their time and not open to working with unpublished, inexperienced authors.

That said, I've known published authors who have Beta readers to go over their new work and offer feedback, and sometimes that includes some feedback from the published author on a reader's work.

Finding a group that works for you could take some time and effort, but the rewards can be worth it. Even a group with prickly personalities that don't accept feedback on their work might offer you the feedback you need. Just don't get 'stuck' in a group that doesn't work for you.

A student mentioned recently she used the online group MeetUp to find a screenwriting critique group. If you can't find a local group that meets your needs, there are online options.

Good luck.


Bill Johnson is the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99 and on Smashwords. More about Willamette Writers at

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Authors Road Interviews Laura Chester

On a nearly perfect spring afternoon in the high Arizona desert we met and interviewed Laura Chester at her winter home. For years she and her husband have spent their winters down along the Mexican border where she devotes her time to riding her horses in the rugged landscapes, and working on her writing and editing.

In this interview Laura tells of the support and encouragement she got for her writing from her earliest years. And how, because of that reinforcement, she wrote and published more than two-dozen books and anthologies. As a young adult she fell into the world of poets and small presses, and became an editor and publisher, creating a full house of writing skills that we think you'll enjoy.

Also, we've recently seen a surge in new subscribers to The Authors Road. We want to thank you all for your joining us on this journey, and we sincerely hope we can keep your interest and support in the months ahead. We can assure you we have some wonderful interviews slated, including with songwriter Terry Allen, experts on Nobel Laureates Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis, novelists Audrey Niffenegger and Lois McMaster Bujold, Civil Rights activist Dr. Haki Madhubuti, and many others.

Welcome aboard The Authors Road.
The Authors Road