Group Blogging? Look Before You Leap

Big crashing waveYou’re in! The group blog you inquired about said “Yes.” And you’re golden.

Or are you?

Joining a group blog as a contributing author can be a great opportunity. It can help sharpen your writing skills, build contacts and camaraderie, expand your audience and interests, extend your reach, and meet some great people. It can also be another Nightmare on Elm Street. Before joining any group blog, do your homework. Here are some questions to ask before you leap:

  • How will joining this blog advance your writing career?
  • Is the writing on the blog in question up to snuff? Are posts thoughtful, witty, engaging and compelling? Is the writing sloppy or careful?
  • Can you wholeheartedly support the blog’s overall mission, theme, views, tone and style?
  • Is there anything on the blog that you wouldn’t want your mother to see?
  • Have you studied the blog thoroughly? Chances are good that you won’t agree with every post by every author. But if you find content that frequently violates your standards or conscience, don’t bite.
  • Does the blog include writer’s guidelines? Are they clear?
  • Have you inquired about expectations related to frequency of posting? Can you meet them?
  • Do you retain copyright/control of your work?
  • Can you expect compensation?
  • Did you check out other authors? Are you comfortable being associated with them? You may not agree with fellow contributors on everything, but adding your name to a group blog may imply tacit approval of its content. If this gives you cause for pause, move on.

A reputable group blog should also offer to post your author’s bio and link back to your site or blog.

Some “speed bumps” are common in a group blog as writers and readers get to know one another and establish rapport. Most can be negotiated gracefully. But if you have an issue or question, be honest. Take it up with the author and/or blog owner/admin. Most will be willing to address your concerns and work with you toward an amicable solution. If not, find another blog – or start one yourself and recruit your own writing team!

Group blogging can open doors and provide opportunities not always available when flying solo. When it comes to group blogging, however, all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. Be selective and look before you leap.

Are you part of a group blog? Was your experience positive, negative, or somewhere in between? What mis-steps should be avoided?

A Writer’s Best Friend

Writing is hard work, not magic. It begins with deciding why you are writing and whom you are writing for. What is your intent? What do you want the reader to get out of it? What do you want to get out of it. It’s also about making a serious time commitment and getting the project done.”

– Suze Orman, finance editor and author.

Serious time commitment.  Getting the project done.  Talk about a couple of freckle-rattlin’ phrases!

Are there times when those words taste like vinegar to you too?  But they’re true, huh?  I think of it this way: A writer’s best friend isn’t the Internet.  It’s not a short-cut, a quick fix or even a thesaurus.    (This following gem of galatic insight will work a lot better if you can scare up a drum roll in your head.  Ready?  Okay.)  A writer’s best friend is – drum roll, please: Restlessness.

Huh? 

That’s right.  Restlessness.  Let me explain.

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Why You Need to Work at Rest

tropical-relaxation

I know, I know. “I don’t have time to rest or schedule any down time” you insist. “I’ve got too much to do!” You are TOO BUSY to take a break. Type A Attila the Hun personalities can raise your hands now. You know who you are. And you need to change. If not for your own sake, then for the sake of those who have to live and work with you. Here’s why, first for the writer and then for everyone else (you know, normal people who aren’t busily cranking out the next Great American Novel):

For the writer, overwork or a stressed-out mind often manifests itself in The Dreaded Writer’s Block. So listen up. Hitting the block wall may be your mind’s way of saying, “Give it a rest. Take a break. Recharge. Disconnect. Let the creative juices have a chance to rejuvenate.” They will return if you resist the urge to run them ragged. Promise.

For non-writers in a culture that worships workaholics and Attila the Hun types and doles out brownie points based on exhaustion and 24/7 work skeds, lighten up. That’s right. Get a grip. That old adage about, “I’d rather burn out than rust out”? Well, whoop-de-doo. Because you know what? Either way, you’re out. So listen up again.

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The Fridge List

Ever notice how summer seems to slip through your fingers, as mercurial as quicksilver? One Friday in June and it’s the Last Day of School. You blink. And it’s September. 

We usually wind up scratching our heads, trying to figure out what in the world happened to summer? How’d it fade so fast? Where did the time go? How Good it all was.

No more.

A few weeks back I decided this summer will be different. So I set some goals. Sat down and wrote out a list. Checked it twice. And clipped it to the fridge.

I listed several hikes I want to take before the snows fly. Destinations and places I want to visit before the Northwest turns soggy again. I included people I want to touch base with – folks I haven’t seen or heard from in awhile.

And I set a summer reading goal in tandem with the local library’s Adult Summer Reading Program: 100 books/audio books in 12 weeks. (Yeah, I know. It’s a pretty lofty goal. That’s why I want to pursue it. That, and I find that reading widely and often makes me a better writer.)

Per the summer reading program, books have to be read in a wide variety of pre-designated categories. Non-fiction. Sci Fi/Fantasy. Young Adult. First book in a new series. A book by an author using a pseudonym. A cookbook or food memoir. A book by a local author. A favorite children’s book (I have like a million or so.) A re-read (another million). And so on.

It’s been a challenge, especially since some of the genres are outside those which I typically gravitate toward. But what fun!! I’m learning a lot. Meeting tons of new friends. Getting fresh inspiration and new ideas. Woo-hoo!

Some favorites so far, in no particular order: The Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor, and just about anything by Walt Morey.

It’s taken some creative juggling and rearranging, but I’m almost half way to my goal. And summer is yet young. And promising.

How ’bout you? What’s on your “fridge list” this summer?

So I Did

They came out of the woodwork. Friends. Romans. Fellow countrymen and women.

Following the publication of the most popular post on my blog about the loss of our good dog, Eve, the inevitable question was, “When are you going to write more about Eve? We want to know more about you and your dog. You should write a book!”

So I did:

From the back cover:

Nobody told Eve she was a “cast off” dog nobody wanted. Or that she was headed for the pound. But when a family of six took her in, they never imagined the unbreakable bond of love and loyalty that would develop. Or how deeply a “palomino sirocco’ on four legs would touch their hearts.

What readers are saying:

What a beautiful story. The author strikes a balance between tragedy and loss and joy as she describes the special bond between humans and their canine companions. I highly recommend “Forever, Eve” to very dog lover and to everyone who’s ever loved. This brief poignant book touched my heart. Treat yourself to a great read.

Reduced price for a limited time!

Grab your copy here.

 

Are You Doing The One Thing A Writer Can NEVER Do?

Public domain

Public domain

I visited a favorite haunt the other day, the local library.  Prowling the stacks, I noticed that an author I enjoyed immensely a couple summers ago has cranked out several new titles, sequels in a series.  I selected one. Opened it. Started reading.  Talk about painful. That puppy made my teeth ache.  I couldn’t believe the author I so admired had slid so far down the readability-o-meter.

I thought, “Maybe it’s me.  Maybe I don’t get it.  Maybe I’m missing something here?”

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How To Make the Most of a Writing Contest

Snow-draped treesOkay writer, raise your hand if this has ever happened to you.  (It’s okay.  Nobody’s lookin’.):

You’re cruising the internet, local bookstore or writer’s group and come across an announcement for a writing contest.  It may be fiction or non.  Short story, humor, poetry.  Whatever.  You’re intrigued.  You check out the guidelines.  Polish your best material to a solar sheen, submit, and cross your fingers.

The results are announced.  You didn’t win.  Your work of genius not only didn’t win, it didn’t place or show.  The runners-up and honorable mention categories didn’t thaw your tree, either.

When Your Dog Could’ve Done Better

Disheartening, isn’t it?  Especially when the piece that snagged “winner” laurels is as dull as a spoon. As dry as the Atacama in August.  As imaginative as last week’s headlines.

Your dog could’ve done better.

A twinge – or maybe a truckload – of professional envy tugs at your sleeve.  You shake your head and mutter, “If that is a ‘winning entry’, then I’m the tooth fairy.”  Doubt and disappointment grapple with disbelief and discouragement.  You know your work is good.  But you just can’t break into the winner’s circle of a writing contest.

Maybe…

Maybe you need to read the contest rules more closely next time, making sure your submission is a good fit?  A review of past winners can be instructive, too, letting you know what judges (who are these people?) are looking for and why? Maybe you ought to hike into the nearest Himalayan hillside and become a hermit?

Been there, done that.  I’ve won writing contests – usually the type that specialize in smart-alecky – and haven’t even made the first cut in others. So, what’s a writer to do when your best crashes and burns?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t take it personally.  This may be the most obvious, but it’s also the hardest.  Rejection hurts.  Especially when you’ve worked hard to win, maybe for weeks or months, and the trophy goes to some barely literate peasant who’s been at the craft for twenty whole minutes.  Realize that losing may be the result of factors beyond your control: bribery, cronyism, nepotism, lack of name recognition, judicial vapidity, blindness, a shortage of tea in China…
  • Resist the temptation to pillory the judges.  This may be easier said than done. But realize that not all of these folks are residents of Mars or sport red tails and pitchforks.  They may have misjudged your abilities, but blasting back only makes you look small, petty, and amateurish.  It’s also a sure-fire way to get yourself banned from future contests.  Don’t go there.
  • Share your disappointment with a sympathetic ear, like a literary friend, colleague or relative.  I’m not suggesting spending the next twelve years wallowing in a pity party.  But rejection hurts.  Be honest about it with someone you can trust.  Get it out of your system.  Then make plans to move on.
  • When you have your legs back under you, ask a seasoned writer with a successful track record for some honest feedback.  Most will be gracious (notice I said most).  We all have blind spots.  Some honest feedback and tips could open your eyes and improve your chances next time.

Was Going to Say…

Snowy road, sunThis is the part where I’m supposed to say, “Try again.”  I was going to say that. Maybe hum a few bars of “the sun will come out tomorrow, but your bottom dollar….”  But if you’ve gathered your courage, worked hard, polished and submitted your very best to a contest with less than stellar results, the Pollyanna thing rings a bit hollow, doesn’t it?

Not to mention trite.

So rather than sugarcoat disappointment, I’m going to tell you the truth: Writing contests aren’t for everyone.  Only you can decide whether or not they’re for you.  Whether or not you want to risk it.  Whether your confidence as a writer can withstand repeated losses.  If losing a contest or two or three or more is going to make you fade and fold as a writer, you may want to forego that route.  If your confidence in your skills is enough to brush off the disappointment and keep plugging, have at it.  Just choose wisely.

Not the Sum Total

Also, realize that winning or losing writing contests shouldn’t be considered the sole, sum total of your writing abilities.  Contest results may be little more than a contrived compilation of ignorance or lack of imagination.  Sometimes both.  It’s easy to think that contest winners are somehow better writers.  Have achieved a stamp of approval you’re still longing for.  Or that you stink as a writer.  Maybe you have some learning and growing to do, but don’t let that loss rip the wind out of your sails forever.

‘See Spot Run’

I’ve seen clever, beautifully crafted Hemingway-esque entries thrown under the bus because they were four words over the word limit.  Meanwhile, the “winner” was akin to See Spot.  See Spot run.  See Spot run fast, but came in under the magic number.  What does that tell you?

Sometimes there’s just no accounting for taste.  Or the lack of it.

So again, if writing contests aren’t getting you where you want to be, let ’em go.  Take a break.  Plug into other venues.  Maybe polish that entry and submit it to a magazine, an ezine, or a non-profit that fits.  Offer it as a guest post to another blogger.

Keep writing, practicing, polishing and perfecting.  You’ve got something to say.  A story to share.  Keep at it and your audience will find you – with or without that blue ribbon.

Have you entered a writing contest and were disappointed in the results?  How did you respond?