Tag Archives: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

A Writing Group is an Anchor…in a good way.

From Zany Holidays Blog

I’ve been hanging out with a great group of people lately.

Once every two weeks, I pull my car into a small parking lot behind an old convent, run up two long flights of stairs, and sit down at a table with other like-minded individuals.

We are all writers.

I paid for my seat at the table and, in doing so, committed to a block of time that throws a wrench into my weeknight schedule of dinner, books and bedtime for two small kids. But, when I received an email asking if I wanted to return for the next session of Roundtables, I looked past my Mother Writer guilt to four reasons why these sessions are vital to my writing career:

1. I read my work out loud during each meeting. We all do. The group is run in a very egalitarian style. I’m nervous every time I read. Still, I love this aspect of the session for the exact reason that Delia Lloyd mentions in her Huffington Post article, “5 Tips for Productively Editing Your Writing,” (which I found via Lisa Romeo Writes).

Reading out loud, Lloyd says, helps you discover your voice.

You not only hear the repetition and the over-writing. You can also hear whether or not you sound too stifled, too casual, too funny or too sharp.

Besides finding my voice, reading my work to others forces me out of my comfort zone. Margaret Atwood says, “You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer.” I agree. And, each time I read, I put myself out there as a professional writer and, in the process, gain more courage to be that writer.

2. I get instant feedback. In the January issue of The Writer magazine, Robin Garland interviews a story consultant and agent, Lisa Cron, and asks what makes a good story.

“A [good] story,” Cron says, “must have the ability to engender a sense of urgency from page 1.”

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

Sharing my latest chapter with a live group of writers gives me a pretty good idea – right away – whether or not my story will keep a reader engaged.

This in-the-moment critique was new to me, but I’m beginning to appreciate the quality of it. Though, I know I don’t need instant feedback to continue with my rewrite, I don’t want to move on to the next chapter until I know I’m in a good place with the current chapter, not this time around anyway.

3. My draft reads more consistent. Writing a novel is daunting, and I procrastinate when projects seem overwhelming. For the last two years, I’ve worked in spurts on this novel and then put it down. When I did get back to it – after too long a break – the tension was lost. The draft felt fractured, unstructured, and too loose.

In just a short time, I knew that the feedback I received from the other writers at the Roundtable was invaluable. Finishing another chapter rewrite by the next session became a concrete deadline I didn’t want to ignore. And, with shorter breaks between revisions, I had less problems remembering where I left off and where I was headed.

4. I benefit from more camaraderie and support. I could tackle this novel alone, huddled over my laptop in the cold basement of my house. But, I focus better and am more driven to finish when I’m surrounded by the warm bodies of other writers.

Yes, I’ve met so many great writers on Twitter, She Writes, and (now) Facebook, and I wouldn’t trade those connections for anything — many of them have become fast friends and staunch supporters. But, we all live miles and states apart. While I treasure the ethereal influence they have on my writing, I need the presence of writers in close proximity just the same.

Sitting at that table has a tangible affect on my writing. I am tethered to my work in a new way that fuels my determination to finish this novel. And, my place in that group completes  another piece of my puzzle in becoming a writer.

~

What has a writing group done for you lately?

*****

Garland, Robin. “The Love of a Good Story.” The Writer. January 2011: 34-35, 55. Print.


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Finding My Groove, Keeping my Rhythm

When I stepped out onto the dance floor last week, I knew there would be trouble. I hadn’t danced in years, so I was completely out of practice in the art letting loose.

Through the fog and colored lights, I eyed up the DJ: young, serious, mohawk. I saw him survey the crowd. Then, he scratched out a song I didn’t know. Even before moving an inch, I began to perspire.

I could have used a drink, but the hardest liquor to slide across the bar that night was a regular Mountain Dew, straight up. I was left to my own non-rhythmic devices. I started at the hips. Left, left, right. Right, right, left. I pivoted my toes in an effort to twist into the beat, but my groove was stopped short by my boots and their rubber soles.

Note to self: a non-slip sole crushes all dignity when dancing.

The dance floor filled up with younger, looser-hipped bodies. My eyes widened, my shoulders stiffened, and I smiled as if I were in pain. I limited my dance moves to two square feet of space, hoping not to be noticed. But as each arm locked into an L-position and alternated from front to back, my hips jolted. I danced the Robot without any intention of doing so.

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If I Get Lost, the Story Falls Flat

There’s been a lot of talk online* recently about craft and voice and when to know if your work is publishable or best kept in a drawer.

Linda Cassidy Lewis posted about the fact that everyone can write a story, but a writer hopes to craft one.

Jennifer Stanley and Donald Maass posted separately on voice. If you stay true to your voice, the work, according to Maass, will read “authentic and passionate.” The story, Stanley believes, will “outshine” all the others.

Rachelle Gardner said that rejection after rejection may imply a writer needs more than just good grammar skills. That writer should sign up for a class on the craft of writing with a good teacher who isn’t afraid to say, “This doesn’t work. At all.”

I wrote a story a while back that was a good story. I remember sitting in a diner watching a scene unfold across the restaurant in a way that I thought, “somebody should write about that. That’s crazy!” So I did. I made up a story that paralleled the scene I witnessed, but I didn’t tell the story well. I wrote it with a particular literary magazine in mind. And, I wrote it in a way I imagined a particular famous author would write it. My voice was lost, along with the passion. The story read flat, no matter how hard I infused it with vivid details or realistic dialogue.

I know better now, but I still have much to learn. I do recognize when a story is becoming my own – when it’s a story that I enjoy reading myself. That sounds narcissistic, but when I read my own story and think, well, I might pick it up, but I hope they will pick it up, then I need to go back, rework it, and find the place where I got lost.

There’s still no guarantee my well-crafted story will get published. But, I can lean on the belief that if it’s authentic to me, it will at least stand out next to another writer’s tale.

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* If you’re on Twitter, consider following Debbie Ridpath Ohi @inkyelbows. She rolls out tweet after tweet of great links, resources, and retweets.

Knit One, Purl Two, Write 500.

For the next several weeks, I’ll be wishing I had four hands: two to write, two to knit.

With Christmas just around the corner, I am behind – again – on my  gift schedule. This year I have yet to rewrite my list four or five times (whether for neatness or edits). But, with a whole afternoon to myself today, I shopped anyway.

At one point, I stopped at the fabric store and perused the yarn aisle. Drawn to the color and the texture of yarn, I bought more than I needed, I’m sure. While I can’t wait to get to my needles, I approach knitting with caution. If you read my last post, you’ll know why. I’ve decided to knit dish rags this year (safe and easy, they say), and I’ll claim creative license if they don’t end up perfectly square.

On top of enough yarn for a stack of rags (hope my family plans on doing a lot of dishes), I also committed to write 500 words a day. Thanks, Debbie Ohi, for the challenge. The badge is up. With today’s 500 under my belt, I’m on my way.

In Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, she writes that creativity presents itself in many different ways. All we have to do, as artists or writers or knitters, is open our mind to the Spirit (or muse) that guides us. 500 words a day doesn’t sound like much, especially when you’re just coming off of NaNoWriMo, but it still means sitting down and writing or editing 500 words on one story or another. I hope, in knitting dishrag after dishrag (boy, that’s an unappealing cluster of words), one creative endeavor will influence another.

How Do You Measure Success?

Today’s word of the day, from Wordsmith.org, reminds me of the strong community of writers and artists I’ve discovered (online and off):
esprit de corps: noun. A spirit of solidarity; a sense of pride, devotion, and honor among the members of a group.

It’s been just under a year and a half since I decided to take my writing seriously. I began my journey with a simple credo: one little step at a time. But, it didn’t take long to imagine time was my enemy. Back in August, I blogged about reigning in my panic that success must happen soon, or else…or else I’ll panic. Recently, the shared experiences of two writers and one artist led me back to that moment in August, and I heard again the quiet suggestion to relax and breathe.

The other day, I read Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Writer’s Guide to Twitter. I’m new at tweeting – my stomach is still doing flip-flops over the whole idea – so I studied Debbie’s guide, her clear-cut do’s and don’t’s for Twittering. I zoomed in on her advice not to obsess about the number of people who follow me on Twitter.

Of course, I thought, I can’t obsess about followers; my account is brand spanking new!
(my Twitter handle is bbetty, in case you’re wondering, but I’m not obsessing [nervous laughter]).

Then I considered the number of times I check my WordPress stats in a day. Maybe I don’t need to tell you how often I check them. Maybe you’re a status-hound too.

Anyway, Debbie Ohi’s point struck home for me: it isn’t about the number of people who read my words, but about the quality of those readers. And, even if my blog stats seem low, I’ve met and connected with some great writers since I started Writing Under Pressure.

Later in the same day, I heard a quote from the documentary movie about Bob Dylan, “No Direction Home.” The man who spoke the proverb was a painter, though I can’t remember his name. I focused on the words, which were even more important for me than the person who said them. Talking about the early 1960’s, he said:

Back then, artistic success was not dollar-driven.

No one expected to make millions; they just wanted to create.

Any amount of pay for my writing would revive my wallet and lift my spirits, but I’m not hoping to match my meager retirement fund with monies earned from my stories. With the publishing industry in flux, it’s hard to know what to expect or hope for as an emerging writer. Still, while my eyes don’t reflect dollar signs, they do shine for that small “c” encased in a circle. Too often, I am print-driven. Anxious that my time as a writer is limited, I imagine my words in print are the only signs of success.

Finally, I read Linda Cassidy’s post, Wrapping Up November, where she writes about finding an early draft of her novel and recognizing all the progress she’s made since that draft. And, all three moments fell together in my repeat epiphany.

I haven’t published a portfolio’s worth of short stories. My novel is in the first trimester. But, I recognize that in the time I’ve spent honing my craft, to the best of my abilities, I have come a long way. Thank you, Linda, for that reminder.

Writing is a craft, like any other craft. Rushing through the learning process yields a product with little substance, or at least a funny shape. When I first learned to crochet, I made two frightening articles: a long purple scarf and an afghan. The scarf would have fit well in a Dr. Seuss story with its variegated purple colors and edges like waves (I couldn’t keep count of my stitches). The afghan was an even better example of rushing errors. Initially, my stitches were tight and taut and forced. Towards the end, I relaxed. And, so did the afghan. I finished the last row, wove in all the ends of yarn, and spread my mini-opus out onto the living room floor to reveal a perfectly shaped trapezoid.

Slow down. Artistic success doesn’t have to be dollar-driven or print-driven or stats-driven. Make note of progress as success, even if it is small.