Monday, July 28, 2014



Writing can be very lonely. Downright reclusive. There’s really no way to avoid that. Finishing a novel requires hours and hours and hours of work -  all by yourself. One way to introduce a little bit of company into your writing world is to join a writing group.

A writing group can really be anything. Just you and a writing friend talking over a cup of tea. Maybe three or four of you, meeting informally to exchange ideas and offer moral support. Or it can be more formal and structured with regular meeting times and a commitment to attend and participate.

I’ve been meeting with three other kids authors for ten years. We’ve grown together as authors. We’ve celebrated each others successes and commiserated over disappointments. We can’t meet regularly as we all live in remote areas miles apart but we keep in touch with emails and we get together for wonderful three day retreats. I’ve been thinking about why this group works so well.

We’re passionate about writing for kids. We respect each other and honour the differences in our writing. We offer honest critique ( a writing group that pats you on the back and says that everything you write is awesome is useless.) We stay positive. We offer specific advice. We’re sensitive to each other’s feelings but we’re also tough critics. Above all, we laugh. A lot. And when we go home, we feel energized, motivated and enthusiastic. Our batteries are recharged.

It might take a while to find a writing group that suits you. Stay away from negativity and the poor us syndrome (publishers are evil etc.) Find people who feel the same way about writing that you do. Find people who inspire you, not bring you down. Find people who will be honest.

When is the right time to share your work at a writing group? That’s an individual decision. I like to keep my first drafts private. Too much critique at an early stage of your novel or picture book might just discourage you or send you in the wrong direction.  You’ll know when you’re ready.

By the way, I was terrified the first time I read from a manuscript to a group of other writers. They were kind to me but I was literally shaking. It’s easier for me now but it’s always a little scary. After all, you’re sharing part of yourself. 

Elizabeth George in Write Away offers some advice about joining a writing group:

“If there’s someone in there with an axe to grind, don’t become a member. If the group isn’t solution oriented, just pass them by. If you don’t feel good about the group dynamic, trust yourself and don’t join up.”

Nigel Watts in Write a Novel and Get it Published offers a word of caution:

“Writing a novel, however, is rarely a collaborative process, so beware of too much feedback. It is your novel, after all,  and for you to write in your way.”

I’m off this week to meet my writing friends and I’m looking forward to stimulating chat, great food and lots of laughs!

Monday, July 14, 2014



I’ve ground to a halt on my novel in progress. I’ve completed a very very rough first draft but I can’t seem to get going from there. After a frustrating non productive (desperate)  month, I think I’ve figured out the problem. My main character, a sixteen year old girl named Charlotte who lives in Edwardian times, has not come alive for me. She’s vague, blurry, and I don’t feel like I know her at all.

To jump start my second draft, I’ve decided to try something that I’ve tried in the past but quickly abandoned – a character profile or dossier. They haven’t worked for me before but I always tried to fill them out before doing any writing. And I quickly got bored. Would it work better after the first draft is completed, I wondered. Would it help me to figure out who Charlotte is? I figured it was worth a try. 

There are lots of sample character profiles in how-to-write books. I pulled out a few and then made up one just for Charlotte. I went into a lot of detail – all the usual stuff like age, hair colour, height, mannerisms, speech, friends, family members, education, home, employment,  and hobbies and skills. So far those have been relatively easy to fill in though it surprised me how little I knew about Charlotte, even after a whole first draft.

I made a long list of personality characteristics – shy, confident, extravert, introvert, timid, bold, pessimist, sympathetic, empathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, warm, cold, secretive, confrontational, humorous, stubborn, determined, loves company, seeks solitude, leader, joiner, sensitive, untruthful. Slowly I’m circling the attributes that apply to Charlotte, jotting down beside each one examples from the story to show (not tell) why she is that way.

I asked myself – what makes Charlotte excited, happy, afraid, embarrassed, frustrated, disgusted, angry, jealous, impressed, worried, disapproving, shocked?

I’m having fun thinking of all her favourite things: colour, season, flower, music, book, time of day, sport, food.

I ended the profile with a series of questions that are proving much more challenging but I think will help me figure out who exactly Charlotte is.

What does she long for?

What are her goals?

What actions does she take to achieve these goals?

Does she take or avoid risks?

What are her earliest happy memories?

What are her earliest painful memories?

What does she dream about?

How does she feel about herself?

What does she regret?

What is she proud of?

What would she change about her life if she could?

So far, as I work my way through the profile, I can feel Charlotte emerging from the shadows and becoming a real person. I can spot inconsistencies in my first draft and I see places where I can show the real Charlotte. For the first time in a month, I feel excited about this story!