Thursday, March 26, 2009

Online Writing Groups and Sites

For many years, I was a closet writer, lacking confidence in my ability to impress people with my writing. So I 'wrote into a void', pecking away at my keyboard, living in my imaginary world where figures from the past sprang to life on the screen before me. Writing can be such solitary drudgery. There is, for so many of us hopefuls, no regular paycheck, no gold-star stickers or letter grade, and certainly no validation without a publishing deal. Nothing but the satisfaction of having lain down one more page, one more chapter, and if we're persistent enough - a story in its entirety, properly buffed and polished.

For years I told no one beyond my nuclear family what I was doing and when it finally leaked out to close friends that I had completed a book and acquired an agent, the inevitable questions ensued: "So where can we buy your book?" Well, nowhere, yet. Understandably, it's hard for non-writers to understand that achieving publication comes not only from talent and hard work, but a mountain of persistence and a lightning strike of good luck.

About a year and a half ago, I joined an online critique group on Yahoo! for writers of historical fiction. It has been a blessing beyond my expectations. There, I not only gained guidance, but also a sense of camaraderie. Only writers understand the ups and downs of being a writer. In the process of having my manuscript carefully line edited and bad writing habits broken, I've had my confidence bolstered and made some close friends with whom I can share laughs, disappointments and triumphs.

Daring to put one of my stories out there in the world for additional feedback and reaction, I posted my first Robert the Bruce story, The Crown in the Heather, on It's a site created by Harper Collins UK as a cyber slush pile where others can read and comment on your story. There are rankings involved, but for me it was the reaction to my story that mattered most. I'm sure many peeked at it and passed it by, but I do that in real bookstores to most of the titles there, too. Everyone has different interests. I respect that. A few were openly blunt that it was not their cup of tea, some even borderline rude. After picking my heart up off the floor, I realized this was okay. Only my ego had been temporarily wounded. Not everyone loves every book and if a writer can't take a little criticism, then best not to write at all. But, a LOT of people did enjoy it and phrased their reactions in such eloquent and touching ways, I felt honored and lucky to be able to share my passion with another human being. I also began to believe that maybe I wasn't fooling myself after all - that I had some kind of future in this.

It is perhaps harder than ever these days for aspiring writers to find their way into print, particularly through mainstream publishing, whose survival depends on turning a profit. But with the internet there are now endless avenues for writers to grow and share their work - whether to hone their tale-telling skills, exchange ideas and experiences with other authors, or to expose their stories for one and all to see.

My advice? Take your time to develop as a writer. But don't be afraid to eventually put it out there where people can see it. You might be surprised. Someone might actually think it's worth reading. Isn't that why we write - to be read? Oh, and did I mention that The Crown in the Heather is an
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist? Now how cool is that? Somebody who didn't even know me selected it from almost 10,000 entries to be part of the 500 who'll receive reviews from professionals at Publishers' Weekly. This wasn't my mother telling me it was 'wonderful'. Okay, I'm a mite nervous about getting the big review, but I'll take this little sliver of validation for the moment. Maybe it'll go forward one more step, maybe not. You never know until you try.


Monday, March 23, 2009

The Inaugural Post (cue Pomp and Circumstance)

Hi All,

Yes, one more blog in cyberspace. Actually this is something I've been meaning to do for months now. What made me wake up and decide today was the day? Meh, boredom maybe? Anywho, I've been stuck in a rut, so why not head in a totally new direction?

So, what's this blog about, you ask. Truth is, I don't really know yet, which is why I'm leaving it wiiiiide open. I thought about something scholarly, like a blog about historical fiction, which is my 'thing', but there are already some great ones out there of which I am in gape-jawed awe over, so I won't even attempt to compete. Besides, I might bore you (and myself) with blather about the drudgery of research. Sometimes it will be about the angst of being a writer (we writers are a miserable lot), sometimes the warm fuzzies (few and far between, but whenever they come I wrap my arms around them in a death grip and hang on). Most of the time, I figure, it'll be about what happens in between the writing, which around here could be anything. For one, I live with eight Australian Shepherds, thus the blog title: My Dog Ate My Manuscript. I can blame the mutts for any distractions or unfinished chapters and they can't talk back or slap me with a lawsuit. Hey, they're smart dogs, but they aren't