Dramaquill's All Things Writing

December 31, 2014

Resolutions or Goals?

According to several online sources, it seems that approximately 40-45% of folks make new year’s resolutions.  Sadly, it’s also reported that approximately 60% fail at keeping them.

As a writer, do you make resolutions?

Several years back, the moderator of my online critique group challenged the members to submit their writing and writing related goals for the coming year.  As a member of the group, at first I struggled a little.  What was the difference between a goal and a resolution?

What I discovered was that my goals were quite specific and focused:

  • Revise the last five chapters of my novel and submit it to my critique group next month.
  • Draft a query letter and send it to (insert name of publisher here) the week my critique group goes over my chapters.
  • By the end of January, finish the second act of the play that my drama group will be performing in the spring.
  • Pick three agents from my list of potential agencies to query.

Everything was quite specific.

Had I made a list of resolutions I fear they would have been very similar to those made by many who fail to see them through:

  • Write more everyday
  • Read more books
  • Start or keep a journal
  • Pick your platform
  • Join a writing group

These are all very respectable but since they aren’t as specific (no deadlines or set amounts) that it’s much easier for them to fail.

So this year, are you going to make a list of resolutions or are you going to set some writing goals?

November 29, 2013

Writers – What Are You Thankful For?

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Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the United States. That got me to thinking. As a writer, what am I thankful for?

1. The internet
It no longer matters where you live. You can write from
anywhere and be connected to publishers, editors,
agents, critique groups, book clubs, ezines…anything you
need.

2. A computer
Although I do love writing with pen and notebook, being
able to create my documents on a computer and email
them, rather than print and mail them, is not only handy
but also saves me money.

3. Brick and Mortar Book stores
As much as the world seems to moving into a more
digital direction, nothing is more of an indulgence than
wandering through a store with shelves brimming with
books of all kinds.  Book stores are definitely one of my
guilty pleasures.

4. My Day Job
Yes, I’ve been known to complain that I don’t always have
enough time to write my books because I have to go to
work, but I’m also very lucky because part of what I do
in my job is writing (playscripts & business correspondence).

5. My Followers
Being online can sometimes feel very impersonal and
blog posts can seemingly be lost out in cyberspace
somewhere. How thankful I am for my blog follwers.
Some comment. Some contact me. Some simply read
my posts. But…I know you’re out there and that keeps
me motivated to keep blogging.

Writers – What are you thankful for?

June 21, 2013

Who is Jacqueline McMahon Anyway?

I believe that who I am as a person has a lot to do with shaping how and what I write – from what I read as a child to games I played to people I admire…and the list goes on and on.

So this post gives you all just a little insight into Jacqueline McMahon.

Full name:
Jacqueline Margaret McMahon

Occupation:
Co-owner of Slightly off Broadway Performing Arts Studio
Playwright/novelist

Favourite Book Genre:
Suspense

Favourite Day of the Week:
Sunday

Pets:
Molly, my eight pound Yorkie

Best Writing Weather:
Stormy (prefer rain and thunderstorms to blizzards but both really
drive me to create)

Ideal Writing Environment:
Big desk under a window overlooking a beautiful piece of nature.  Room for my iPad, my desktop, several notebooks, a mug filled with pens/pencils/highlighters and a place for my coffee mug.

Music while Writing:
This is tough because if I play songs that I know, I end up singing the words in my head instead of writing.  Exception – Vivaldi.  Love writing exciting scenes to his Four Seasons or the Gloria in D.

Pet peeves:
People who can’t spell, in particular, definately…aaaaah…it’s definitely, people!
Never enough time to devote to writing (but I do work great under deadline pressures)
People who don’t get that writing requires solitude (stop dropping in, stop phoning me, stop talking)

Dream Job:
No such thing – I make whatever I do something I enjoy.  (Luckily, I run a business where I get to mentor students in the performing arts and write original plays)

Favourite Food(s):
Homemade spaghetti & meatballs and Christmas dinner (turkey/stuffing/gravy)

Favourite Movie Snack:
Old Dutch Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips (no, not everyone loves popcorn)

Closest Relative:
My Nana (she was my biggest supporter)

BFF:
My business partner and adopted sister, Connie.

Dream Vacation:
NYC (in the winter, near Christmas)

Best Writing Advice I’ve been Given:
Join a critique group (am proud to belong to the Blue Quills (8 years and counting)

Best Writing Advice I’ve Given to Someone:
Read/Write/Edit/Submit/Repeat

My take on ebooks:
They’re great for travel (can take an entire library on one device) and extremely convenient to purchase with all the online vendors.

Ebooks or Print books:
I’m still going to be old school here and say print books.  Nothing’s more comforting than holding a book in my hands and smelling the pages, feeling the texture, and snuggling down in my bed to read.

Facebook:
Great way to authors to interact with folks but not sure how much it helps gain book sales.

Twitter:
Short and Sweet – short term

Blogging:
I love reading blogs and writing blog posts.  If only there was more time…sigh.

Present writing goals:
Finish sequel novel/write a hill-billy themed play

Present general goals:
Be more positive/help others/laugh more

Why read my book?
I promise to take you on an emotional roller coaster ride that will keep you turning the page.

Can you read my sequel if you haven’t read the first book?
Absolutely.  But what fun would that be?

Buy a copy of “When Love Won’t Die” on Amazon (or at a variety of other online retailers)
http://www.amazon.ca/When-Love-Wont-Die-ebook/dp/B004AYD6YE

http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/When-Love-Wont-Die/book-p2VHGKHWAE6biZdRsFV_tA/page1.html

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-love-wont-die-jacqueline-mcmahon/1026475808

April 22, 2012

Don’t be a Loner: My cure for Writer’s Block

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There have been times when I’ve been working on one of my manuscripts and I just can’t seem to produce ten coherent words.  Yep – that dreaded writer’s block!

Writer’s block used to panic me.  What if I never get any more ideas?  What if my writing ability has dried up?  I’m sure you’ve all been there at some time or other.

For the most part, writing is a solitary activity, unless you happen to be collaborating with another writer on a project.  But let’s face it, most of a writer’s working time is spent alone.

All that alone time is great when your creative juices are flowing but it can become pretty debilitating when the words stop coming.  Yes, you can get up and move around.  You can check your email, make a snack, phone a friend or do a million other things to get you back on track.  None of these have ever worked for me.  All it does it take me further away from figuring out how to get back to writing.

But, if I talk to another writer, whether in an email from my online critique group, or in person with another local writer, it doesn’t take long before I’m excited to get back to one of my projects. 

Just the other day, I opened up the file for my second suspense novel and realized that I’ve hit a brick wall.  I haven’t been able to spend as much time working on it these past few months and the entire story has just stalled.  I really need to finish it and submit it to my publisher by summer. 

Then, yesterday, I had a great conversation with an author I know who is on her fifth revision of her first novel.  A ten minute conversation and I could hardly wait to get home and get writing.  Just ten minutes and my writer’s battery recharged.

This isn’t the first time that connecting with another writer has inspired me.  I cherish my online critique group.  Every time I feel sidetracked or wonder if I’ll ever write another intelligent word, I just need to interact with these writers for a bit and wham – writer’s block gone!

And it usually isn’t a conversation about me, my writing or even writer’s block that gets me going again.  It could be an email that one of the group just got picked up by an agent.  Perhaps it’s a fabulous chapter, written by someone in the group, that I have to critique.  It could even be the mention of a new contest or opportunity that might be of interest to someone in the group.

All I know is that the quickest way for me to get out of my own writer’s block is to connect with another writer.

How do you handle your periods of writer’s block?

June 7, 2009

Writers don’t have to feel isolated and alone

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A while back I posted on the topic of critique groups and asked the question:  Which is better – online or in person?

I still say there are benefits to each scenerio and what’s most important is what the group has to offer and whether or not it’s going to be something that helps and encourages you with your writing.

I do belong to two fantastic online groups and will continue to stay an active member of each.  The contacts and friendships I’ve made are invaluable.

But a happy circumstance came my way, in the form of a brand new writing group called The Write Way, formed by two gals who’ve written a couple of short stories together.  The group turned out to be an ecclectic mix of writers interested in a variety of genres and styles.  Our first meeting was a lot of fun.  We filled out “all about me” sheets, shared information and talked about challenges we all face as writers.

So once a month, we will meet at our local book store.  We’ll take turns reading our work and offering critiques and suggestions.  We’ve already begun to share resources and celebrate each other’s successes. 

The energy sparkled with the excitement each individual brought to the group and it really is nice to be able to talk face-to-face to others bitten by the writing bug.

So if you’re sitting in front of your computer wishing you could go and talk writing with other writers, you can do a couple of things:

1.     Check with your local library and bookstore(s) for groups that
         already exist.  Go to a meeting and see what happens.

2.     Set up your own writing group.  It’s easier than you think.

So remember, although the act of writing is a solitary activity, you don’t have to feel isolated and alone.

May 5, 2009

Critique groups-online or face to face

 

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Are you a writer?  Whether an aspiring newbee or a seasoned professional, I firmly believe that belonging to a critique group (at least for certain projects), is invaluable.

Where else can you find a group of likeminded individuals, all striving toward the same types of goals, with knowledge and expertise in a wide variety of different areas?

Currently, I belong to two online critique groups.  One is a group that writes everything in rhyme, called “Rhyming Critters 2”.  The group got together years ago on MSN and has become an independant group of ten.  Yes members come and go, but a consistent group has remained.  Most of the members are published and many did not pursue this avenue until they had actively participated in the group. 

My second critique group, “The Blue Quills”, formed on the old BOOST for writers site.  Eventually, the six of us moved to a private group and the same six members have been together since that time.  This group focuses on novels (MG/YA/adult) and non-fiction.  We do, from time to time, also focus on PBs or articles in the kidlit markets as well as playwriting.  One of our members secured a book deal for her MG novel, set to come out in 2009.  Many others have published in recognized children’s magazines and the SCBWI bulletin.  All of us are very actively writing, submitting and publishing.

I have made amazing friends in both of my online critique groups, but I do sometimes feel that being able to get together in person would offer other experiences that I can’t get online, like reading my work aloud and engaging in discussions (although the latter can be achieved through emails quite sufficiently).

My biggest problem, until now, has been that the local writing group meets at a time that I cannot attend, due to my work. 

But an exciting proposition has come my way, through the website, Kijiji.com.  It seems that a new, local writer’s group is about to form, with its first meeting scheduled for the last Sunday of May.  And as luck would have it, Sundays are a great day for me to indulge in such an activity.

How many of you are involved in critique groups? 

Do you prefer “face to face” encounters with local writers or do you find “online” groups your preference?

I’ll keep you posted on my experiences.

January 6, 2009

FINAL REVISIONS – When is enough, enough?

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I submitted my final chapters of my adult suspense novel to my online critique group on Monday and am now waiting for the critiques to come in.  I’m excited about the entire process because it pushes me one step closer to my finished, polished, manuscript.

What I submitted to them was my fifth revision.  I truly believe that my manuscript has grown and my writer’s voice has become stronger with each re-write.  I’ve especially noticed a difference in my characters, implementing “showing” instead of “telling” and in my ability to write POV.

We’ve all read comments from agents and editors regarding bad writing.  If we truly want a shot at getting our book published, we know that we have to submit our very best work. 

But at some point, the time must come when we set down our critical eye and stop revising and re-writing and start querying.  I believe I’m now at that point.

I do believe that some amateur writers  sub out manuscripts that are not ready.  I can’t say enough how important it is to get feedback from others (and this doesn’t mean your friends and your family).  Join a critique group!

But I also know that it would be quite easy to continue to revise, re-write and tweak this manuscript forever and never consider it finished.

As writers, what we sub out should always be our best work.  But when is enough, enough?

When you’re positive this is your best work.  You’ve checked and double checked for typos, grammar, puctuation and proper formatting.  You’ve read and re-read the submission guidelines for your target agents and/or publishers.  You feel pumped about sending out this project that has consumed you for so long.

So I’m going out today to stock up on ink for my printer and packages of paper.  I will print out this final draft and begin the task of reading it backwards, to find any mistakes I may have missed.  I will give it to my critique partner for one last look.  I will begin drafting my query letter, which I will also sub to my critique group.

And finally, I will search through the agents and publishers I’ve been collecting throughout this entire project and begin with my first round of queries.

How are you doing with your revisions?  Do you know when enough is enough?

June 29, 2008

Hello, is anybody out there?

The writing life is a solitary one, isn’t it?

Endless hours spent in front of the computer monitor writing, revising and researching. 

A single coffee cup, a notebook and a favorite pen pass the time as I people watch, listening for that one excellent snippet of conversation or finding that one unique character for my latest project.

The reference section of the local library, where I find it so easy to get distracted into researching several projects at once.

Whiling away the afternoon at my favorite bookstore, not caring that I’m sitting in the childrens’ section, reading the latest MG adventure novel.

Oh the luxury to find the time to read purely for pleasure!  Is that even possible now that I’ve embarked on my writing journey?

Writing can, for the most part, be a very lonely and isolating activity.  But thanks to the internet, that isn’t the case anymore.

With all the online writing groups, forums, listserves, critique groups and blogs, I no longer worry that I don’t live in a major metropolis, a stone’s throw from agents and publishers.

I really enjoy listserves.  I get the messages in digest form, downloaded into my Outlook Express, so I can read them offline.  Currently, Yahoo Groups has over 100,000 writing-related groups with listserves.  Some of my favorites are:

Childrens-Writers (for those who write PBs, MGs, YAs, articles etc.)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/childrens-writers/?yguid=162578819

Fiction that Sells(Genre fiction markets and tips)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FictionThatSells/?yguid=162578819

Musical Makers(for musical theatre bookwriters/composers/etc)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/musicalmakers/?yguid=162578819

There are also tons of online resources for critique groups, workshops, conferences, writing sites and more.  Check out this page for a whole host of links to get your started:

http://www.thewriterssite.com/direct_pages/writing_feedback.html

So remember, no matter you live, you can connect with other writers online in a great number of different ways.

 

June 10, 2008

Pros and Cons of Critique Groups

Being a writer can be a very lonely profession. For some, this isolation becomes a real deterrent; preventing them from achieving any real kind of success.  Critique groups

provide a wonderful lifeline, especially for the newer writer.  But what exactly is a

critique group?

 

Before the internet, critique groups consisted of individuals living in similar geographic locations who desired to connect with others for support, networking and feedback.  Geographically, the internet has opened the door for writers from all around the globe. Online critique groups enjoy membership from a wide variety of places.

 

When making the decision to join a critique group, whether online or in your local community, writers should consider the following in their research:

 

1.  What do you want to get out of belonging to the group?

 

2.  How much time will participation take?

 

3.  What are the goals of the group?

 

4.  Is the group genre-specific or general writing?  (Know which you’re looking for

     when investigating potential critique groups.)

 

5.  How big is the group?  (More than 10 participants is often too large a group.)

 

Obviously newer writers can receive great benefits from participation, but many seasoned professionals consider critique groups a continuously useful tool as they prepare and submit manuscripts.

 

As with anything, there are always pros and cons. Let’s take a look at these as they apply to critique groups.

 

PROS:

 

1.  Receive feedback on everything from grammar and style to character, plot, tone, 

     POV and much more.  Critique groups are a great place to test out new works and

     first drafts as well as fine tuning a manuscript before sending it out.

   

2.  Provides a place for encouragement and interaction with other writers. 

   

3.  Critiquing the work of others is a great way to become a better editor of your own

     work.

 

4.   Writers are exposed to each other’s styles and unique voices.

 

5.  Although the critiques are the focus of the group, network opportunities also exist

    in everything from leads on contests to information about publishers and agents as

    well as wisdom from those with experience in different areas of the business.

   

6.  The submission deadline, usually once per week, is often the nudge many writers

     need to continue to produce new work or stay with a longer project (like a novel).

 

7.  Writers can easily miss small errors in their editing but the critique group offers

     several pairs of eyes who can spot these mistakes.

 

Critique groups, then, can be a great place to test out new works or give final drafts one last tweak before sending them out.

 

CONS:

 

1.  Is it safe to show your work to strangers?  (Although this can be of concern, the

     many writers surveyed for this post agree that critique groups are quite safe.)

    

2.  Harsh critiques can be discouraging.  (Remember, you must decide if the

     criticism is constructive and whether or not you choose to use the advice given is

    is always up to you.)

 

3.  The time it takes to critique the work of others can become time away from your

     own writing.           

 

It is apparent that the pros definitely outweigh the cons when it comes to critique groups.

Do your research.  Before you join any group, make sure that they meet your needs so that belonging to a critique group can be a helpful tool in your ongoing quest to become a better writer. 

December 30, 2007

Subbing out your writing

Congratulations – you have completed several manuscripts.  These could include a couple of NF articles, a childrens’ PB, a couple of kids’ poems and your first novel.

So your first thought is to send them out to all the publishers you can think of, right?

Not a good idea.

Many new writers make this same mistake, resulting in unnecessary rejections.  (That isn’t to say that polished pieces by seasoned writers always get accepted.  They don’t.)

If these are first drafts, don’t even think of sending them out yet.  No matter how brilliant you believe them to be, they aren’t ready for the keen eyes of an editor.

So what do you do?

Here’s my list of the steps you should take before subbing.  It still isn’t easy to get published and I consider myself fortunate to have cracked the magazine market with several paid pieces as well as the anthology market.  I’m still working on PBs and my adult novel.  But I’m convinced that by following the list below, I increase my chances for acceptance sometime in the near future.

1.    Put the piece away after you finish it.  Leave it for at least a week.
       A month is even better.  Look at it with fresh eyes.  Did you find
       anything you wanted to change?

2.    Run what you believe to be the revised copy of your piece through
       a critique group.  It doesn’t matter whether the group is one you
       meet with in person or an online group.  If it’s a good group, that’s
       all that matters.

3.    Consider the comments made by your critique group and decide
       which comments you want to use and which you don’t.  Revise
       accordingly.

4.    Research publishers thoroughly.  Read guidelines and follow them
       to the letter.  If they only accept stories of 800 words or less, don’t
       send even the most brilliant 1000 word story.  If they say email
       subs only, don’t snail mail. 

5.   Create your most professional sub.  Learn how to write a cover
       letter, how to format your piece and whenever possible, sub to a
       person’s name as listed in the guidelines.  Send an SASE only if
       the company uses them. 

6.    Now let it go!

Get busy writing your next piece while you wait.  Most publishers, editors and agents give an approximate time line for responses and most are 6 weeks or more. 

Be patient and expect to get rejected.  Most of the famous writers will tell you their horror stories of rejection before they made their first sale.  It comes with the territory.

Just remember:  If you want to be a professional writer, act like a professional.

November 27, 2007

Critique Groups: Every writer should belong to at least one

Where I live, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to gather together with other writers.  There is a group that meets at our local library, however, due to the nature of my business, I cannot make the meetings. 

I used to think I was alone – isolated in a place geographically removed from the big city life of the publishing business. 

But with the internet, I’m only a click away from connecting with writers all over the world, in any genre, and at every level from raw beginner to professionally published.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re a writer.  Of course everything you write is good – you wrote it.  And yes, for the most part, we writers do realize our first drafts aren’t polished enough to sub out so we accept the task of revising.

But…we only have our own close relationship with our ideas, words, characters and scenerios from which to draw.  Every writer needs feedback from fresh eyes.

Relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers may want to read your prose, but often their feedback isn’t entirely honest.  Either they love everything you do (and who wouldn’t find that encouraging, right?) or they suggest, based on a complete lack of any knowledge of the writing world, what they think you should do to improve your manuscript.  Although at times their perspectives can be helpful, more often you need to connect with other writers.

So naturally, as a writer, you consider joining a critique group.  There are those groups that meet face to face and those that meet online.  I’m sure I could start a healthy debate on which of the two are the better scenerio but instead I think I’ll leave that up to the individual writer. 

Personally, I’ve gone the online route, out of necessity, and find it to be a wonderful forum.  I think it could be easier to be totally honest when critiquing the writing of a fellow critique group member when you aren’t sitting, looking into their disappointed face as you endeavour to offer your suggestions, changes and heaven forbid, criticisms.

I’ve been extremely lucky to find two very diverse critique groups, one for my kidlit rhyming PBs and the other for my novels. 

My rhyming group, originally posted on MSN, has gone private and contains 10 members, several of whom have belonged to the group now for many years.  Every single person in this rhyming crit group has seen at least one of their pieces published in a paying market.  A couple have broken into the PB market although most have had more success with shorter rhyming pieces published in magazines.  Nonetheless, the level of writing in each individual has grown and matured.  We’re friends on one level, co-workers on another, and brutally honest critiquers when necessary. 

My prose critique group formed through a now defunct writing site.  We migrated away from the site and the same six writers have been together for several years now.  We have developed close, online friendships.  One of our group has an MG novel coming out in 2008 and it’s an amazing fantasy that will easily compete with some of the most sold and read rivals in this genre.  Others in the group have been paid for articles and illustrations.  Several have had requests from agents for full manuscripts and are waiting for representation. 

Without them, my suspense thriller novel wouldn’t be where it is today. 

The writers in both of these groups represent a cross section of business knowledge, writing styles, and the opinions of those readers we hope to snag into buying our books for years to come.

If you want a shot at getting published, do these things:

1.   Familiarize yourself with the markets and the publishing biz.

2.   Write your best work and don’t be satisfied with anything less.

3.   Join a critique group and let them give your manuscript the
      onceover.

4.  Attend writing workshops whenever possible.

5.  Use the internet to network with other writers, editors, agents,
     and publishers on the many forums available.

6.  And most important of all…never ever give up!

Now here’s a contest that could boost a new writer’s career

So far I’ve blogged mostly about my suspense novel in it’s final revisions and my Nanowrimo suspense novel.  But in fact, I’m also a kidlit writer.  I write about eight original playscripts every year for our studio’s drama department and I enjoy writing rhyme, inspired of course, by non other than the master of rhyme, Dr. Seuss.

I’ve had several poems published in both print and online kids’ magazines with two more coming out in 2009 with Hopscotch and Boys Quest magazines.  I love writing rhyme and also have several rhyming PBs making the rounds.

I was first made aware of the Delacorte contest when my critique group was helping me with the POV and other issues in my YA novel, “Thinkers”.   This prestigious contest is offered up to new writers of MG and YA novels who have not previously had a book published. 

But the competition is stiff and the judging tough.  Several years, the prize was not awarded, indicating that the level of the entrants manuscripts was not sufficiently worthy of the Delacorte stamp.

So a piece of advice to those who might be intrigued to enter:   Polish…polish…polish those manuscripts.  Join a critique group.  Revise and edit.  Check and double check spelling, typos, grammar and format.   Hone your skills at writing dialogue, developing characters that make us want to cheer for them and plots that keep the reader flipping to the next page.

If you’ve done all that and really believe in your manuscript, then it’s time to enter the Delacorte.

Although the MG category is closed for 2007, there’s still time to enter your YA this year.

http://www.randomhouse.com/kids/writingcontests/

Good luck!  Maybe one of you will be the next Delacorte winner.

October 1, 2007

All things writing

Check out my new blogsite for all things writing.  You’ll find useful articles and tips about different genres as well as submitting, formatting, book recommendations and any other useful tidbits.

Blog at WordPress.com.