Scrivener, How I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways

Scrivener, How I Love Thee

Since becoming an author, who worked with a word processor called LibreOffice (very similar to Microsoft Office), I have been converted. I was introduced to the program known as “Scrivener”. Now, at first I was a skeptic. Not of the program, but of my ability to use it. I don’t do change well. But I did their little tutorial after signing up for the free trial. Which, just let me say…30 days of use…what a concept. This is not 30 calendar days…they log the days you USE it.

So, after going through their tutorial (which, I will admit was long, but worth it), I started using it. And I was BLOWN away. Is there anything they didn’t think of? I mean that a novelist needs? Having the research at your fingertips in your document, the ability to move scenes around as you please, the snapshot feature, and let me just mention…the compose screen. What a gem! And if you’ve ever tried your hand at self-publishing, the compile feature is a life-saver!!!

But I’m here today to talk about my favorite features, not to blubber on so. Without further ado, here they are (in no particular order):

  1. The Name Generator. This is a tool my husband introduced me to. Under EDIT, select WRITING TOOLS, and you will see NAME GENERATOR. Then another screen will pop up. You can select all kinds of parameters for your character name, like gender, obscurity, whether you have the forename or surname already, if you want alliteration, etc. And then boom, it gives you a list of names. Awesome. I only wish I’d found this tool sooner.
  2. The Compose Mode. If you are anything like me and you get…well…distracted by pop ups or your e-mail tab notifying you that you have a new e-mail in your inbox, this is the screen for you. There is a button on the top of the screen labeled COMPOSE. It will blank out your desktop screen and leave you will a white space to work on. You can select a picture to put in that black space behind the paper if you choose. The easiest way is to hit ESCAPE, go to VIEW, select COMPOSITION BACKDROP, then select CHOOSE. Now, once your back in the COMPOSE mode, you can move your cursor to the bottom of the screen and find options to adjust the white space (paper) width, the size of the text, the part of the screen the paper is on, how transparent the paper is, etc. LOVE IT!
  3. Files and Folders. If you haven’t discovered the ability to use files and folders, you are missing out. People do this differently, but I’ll tell you how I find it best works for me. I make the FOLDERS my chapters and the FILES my scenes. So, my BINDER (the area to the left that has a list of folders and files) looks like Manuscript, Folder, file, file, file, file, etc., Folder, file, file, etc.).
  4. Scrivenings. If you have seen the tutorial, you have heard of the CORK BOARD, OUTLINER, and SCRIVENINGS. These are ways of viewing your document. I like to look at my document in SCRIVENINGS. At the top of the screen near the right is a three button section called VIEW MODE. The one that looks like a paper is called SCRIVENINGS. After it is selected (clicked on), you can then view your document in this mode. When you click on MANUSCRIPT, you can see the whole document. When you click on any FOLDER, you can see that whole chapter. Clicking on a FILE, lets you see only that scene.
  5. Mobility of Files. When you click on a scene, you can drag it up and down in the BINDER. So if you think it should be earlier or later in the chapter, that is very easy to do. Just click, drag to the spot you want it, and release.
  6. Compile Capabilities. There are numerous things you can do when compiling in Scrivener. You can make your manuscript a Microsoft Office document or an ebook or prepare it for Createspace. My husband knows much more about this. And has written a more informative blog article on it here.

Again, these are just a FEW of the gems you can find in Scrivener, a few of my favorite things, if you will. I encourage all novelists and writers to check it out. Give it a go! Don’t be leery of change. This is one change that is good.

I’ve Got a New Attitude: Kids Go Back to School, I Get Back to Routine

I've Got a New Attitude (5)

I just want to start off by thanking the good Lord for school. Now, don’t get upset at me yet. Do I miss my kids during the day? You bet! I miss them like crazy. But I know a couple of things that make it easier: they are getting the peer-to-peer social environment I just can’t provide every day when they’re at home and they are back to a routine in which my one with ADHD and my one with autism really need and thrive in. As do I.

schoolhouseSo, as they get back to the rhythm of school, I get back to my own routine at home. It’s a new frontier this year. My child with autism has gone off to kindergarten (one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do) and my littlest one is in preschool two days a week. So, our house is more quiet than ever before. We even have more of a routine for the little one on the days he is at home. But I’m finding my own rhythm with writing and caring for the home and the after school stuff and the various responsibilities outside the home I have committed myself to.

onceuponatimepaperWriting. Just as the school year starts, I am on a deadline. Yep, that’s how I plan things. So, I am writing and editing like a mad woman. I stay locked in my office pretty much. But even here it can be hard to focus. Trips to a local coffee shop have helped with that as I ease back into full time writing mode. There is no substitute for a good writing schedule and some old fashioned bum glue for writers who want to meet their goals. You won’t always feel it, somedays you just have to sit down and find that muse yourself.

flyladyHouse and Home. This gets a bit trickier. For the past two years, I have had a mother’s helper/nanny to help me stay on top of laundry, cleaning, general housework, etc. But, alas, as my kids get older, she is better suited for another, younger family. So, I am needing to take up these extra duties as she is here less. And I’m settling back into a cleaning routine. I love Fly Lady! If you have not met her, I cannot say enough about her. And you should probably hear it from her own website. Great cleaning plans, reasonable expectations, phenomenal advice for housekeepers of all levels.

busy momOutside the Home. I love being involved in things outside the home. I co-lead a writer’s critique group. I’m a leader in my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. I help in a 3-year-old Sunday School Class at my church (when my kids and I are all well enough). And I attend writer’s conferences and manage appointments for 5 people. And I can’t forget time out with family and friends! It can be craziness sometimes, but it’s a good crazy, you know? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I thrive on the busyness, but it can cause me to come crashing down when I’ve taken it a step too far and committed to too much. Only I don’t see it coming until it’s too late. “No” is an okay word.

So, there’s my life in a nutshell. Somehow, I’m going to get into a routine with all of it. And then, the magic will happen.

Essential Oils: From Skeptic to Believer


Essential Oils- From Skeptic to Believer

I have shared that I was skeptical of essential oils and this whole oil revolution that seems to be sweeping homes across America. I’ve always had my feet firmly planted in Western medicine and been rather unsure about the holistic approach. Not doubting the benefits my friends receive, just not thinking any of that was for me and my family.

diffuserWhen a friend invited me to a class on essential oils, I was intrigued as I did support the use of oils for aromatherapy. Though that borders on the holistic side of things, I did see the benefits of utilizing scents for calming, preparing for sleep, energizing, etc. And so, I ended up purchasing an introductory kit which contained several oils I was certain I would never use, some I knew I would (for aromatherapy), and a diffuser with which to get those “good” oils into the air for my family.

Now, for those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I had a 13 day migraine that did not respond to Western medicinal approaches, but which essential oils cured in a matter of minutes. And I was hooked. What else could these oils do? Thus began my exploration into some of the other problems I was dealing with.

dark cloudMood Issues. I struggle with mood issues lingering from my struggles with postpartum depression. Most days I’m fine, but occasionally, I have challenges with low mood. I utilize the tools I have learned in counseling, but it’s difficult to do that when there’s a dark cloud hanging. I have begun to use oils such as Valor, Frankincense, and Acceptance during these times. That dark cloud notably lifts, making it much easier to implement and practice what I know to be best for me.

peppermintDigestive Issues. I have IBS. And, while I do have prescription medication I take when I have an IBS attack, it doesn’t always ease the pain completely. Just this last week, I found myself pretty incapacitated with pain, twenty minutes before I was to meet up with a friend. I planned to cancel and even had sent a preliminary text. But my husband suggested we try the “go to” oil for digestive issues – Peppermint. He made a tea and put a couple of drops of peppermint oil in it. As soon as the steaming cup was near me and I could inhale the oil, the pain began to subside. Within minutes, the pain was gone. I went out that night.

migrainedogMigraines. I continue to suffer from chronic migraines. Instead of taking the “rescue pills” for these “breakthrough” migraines (since they don’t work anyway), I do my oil regiment that cured the 13 day migraine. It includes Thieves, Panaway, and M-Grain.

ADHD. My daughter has ADHD. And in the evenings when she is coming off of her medication, she can become quite a handful. So, from time to time, I’ll diffuse Lavender in the house, to calm her (and the other two kiddos) down in preparation for bedtime. Yes, I still believe in the aromatherapeutic properties. I know that there are also oils to help with focus as well. We have yet to try those.

All in all, I am new to this journey. But the more I learn and the more I try, the more impressed I am. Even the Bible tells us that “the leaf shall be for medicine” (Ezekiel 47).

Care to share your favorite use for your favorite essential oil?

The Line Between Involved and Over-Involved


The Line Between Involved and Over-Involved2

I’m one of those people who likes to be busy. I thrive on the craziness. But that was before I took on the responsibilities of being a mom and wife. That adds quite a bit to anyone’s plate. So, I’m realizing I can’t add as much more to that plate as I used to be able to. So, where is that line? While I don’t believe I am on this planet to indulge myself, but rather to give of my gifts for others, to pour into other lives for God’s glory, I also believe that my children and my husband are my primary mission. So, what’s a girl to do? How involved is too involved?

Check your priorities at the door. This has to be the number one thing we all do. We must be constantly cognizant of our priorities and how this new task/organization/leadership role fits in or disrupts our priorities. What are your priorities? If I’m at the top of the list, something’s not right. If taking on this new role will put my top priorities in jeopardy, it may not be the best option for me.

halfheartCheck your heart at the door. We must also be mindful of our intentions, our heart for taking on leadership roles and, specifically, ministry positions. If it is to bring the spotlight to shine more brightly on us, something’s out of whack. If we feel called and know that God has gifted us to serve as a member of His body in that capacity, may God bless your efforts and I believe He will make a way.

glowingcross1I mean, what could be wrong with Christian service? I fear that too often, we are well-intentioned about our service and sacrifice the priority of our personal relationship with God and do not give a first (or second) thought to whether or not God is calling us or equipping us for a leadership position because (let’s be honest here), we are so flattered that someone in authority has singled us out of the group and asked us to serve. And, hey, we’re supposed to serve the body, right?

I’m not saying that I am perfect at this. Or even that I do this well at all. I feel this challenge in myself and see it in my dear sisters (and brothers). I’m not asking you to NOT serve. By no means! Please do. We are called to give of ourselves. But not to the detriment of all else. Not at the risk of our primary relationship. Service should be an outpouring of what God is doing in your personal walk with Him. I suppose, then, that I’ve answered my own question. If you are giving of yourself only, that is the line. But if you are giving of what He is doing in you, that is the other side of the line.

So, please be discerning of spirit, dear brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes on Him first and then turn around and love others as it gushes out of you.

How I Cured My 13-day-long Migraine

cured my 13-day-long migraine

Sorry I’ve been off the grid for a while. And I have something to share about that. The reason I was so out of touch for so long is that I had a MIGRAINE. For 13 days. That’s not only ridiculous, it’s pretty crazy. And my doctor did everything absolutely everything he could do to cure it, but to no avail. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

migrainedogChronic Migraine Sufferer. First, you should know about me that I am a chronic migraine sufferer. That means, that without any medicinal intervention, I was having more than 3 migraines per week. Introduce Topamax. This is a prophylactic medication that I take daily to prevent migraines. I also have “rescue pills” for the occasional “breakthrough” migraine (or migraine I have despite the face that I’m on Topamax). I have been on several “rescue pills”, tried many in several categories and the one I’m on now doesn’t really work. But if I have the random intense migraine, I can go into the clinic, get the shot cocktail, go home, sleep, and be fine when I wake up…usually.

pillsSomething Different. This time, I went to the clinic and got my shots. Okay. I’m going to be fine. Woke up with the same headache. What? Went back to the clinic. They increased my Topamax dose, gave me another round of shots, and sent me on my merry way. Surely that will work. Nope. I waited, in pain, a few more days. Had a conference with my doctor over the phone. He wanted a CT scan. CT scan came back normal except for a sinus infection on the left side (Migraine is on the right side), probably not the cause. So, antibiotic, another prophylactic to work with Topamax, and another round of shots…yay! But I’ll be good to go now, right? Only…not so much.

Could There Be More To It? I visited my counselor and we talked about the spiritual and emotional underlying issues that can contribute to and even cause migraines. All right. We work through a lot of junk. I actually feel better. A lot better. Next day, migraine is back. I have a different type of therapy session (splankna) with my friend. God is dealing with a grief issue. It helps some. Obviously, there is more to this issue than simply physical. And I know several of my friends are praying for me at this point. But my friend says something interesting to me at this therapy session…that I should get an essential oil scan done. Mind you, I am ready to try anything. I mean, most people truly cannot imagine being in pretty intense pain fairly constantly for 13 days straight.

essential oil leafThe Essential Oils. I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Essential Oils. I do believe in their aromatherapeutic value. Always have. But, as I’ve been dipping my toes in the waters of knowledge of oils, I have been impressed with what they can do. They have silenced a stomach bug in me twice now. Eased my symptoms through a cold/sinus infection, among other things. And I had been using Young Livings PANAWAY, applying it and diffusing it to assist with the headache symptoms. And it was taking the edge off the pain, but not much more. But I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, so I did have the scan done and was not at all surprised with the kinds of oils that showed up I needed. Interested in a “that’s weird that that thing knew what I needed” kind of thing, but not at all shocked.

mgrainThe Cure. The doctor, in the meantime, put me on yet another “rescue pill” which did not work. And the oil I walked away from the oil scan with (M-GRAIN) was not taking care of the headache either. I was just ready to consign myself to perpetual pain. But when I notified the wonderful lady who did my scan, she recommended an oil regiment using THIEVES, PANAWAY, and M-GRAIN. I did it and the headache started to dissipate. I couldn’t believe it. She had told me to do the regiment three times, once every 10 minutes. The second round, more dissipation. By the third round, it was gone. And it didn’t come back.

I was BLOWN AWAY. Incredible is not quite adequate to describe it. The doctors with their powerful drugs had not been able to do what simple canisters of plant oil in the right combination could accomplish. Narcotic free! Now, I don’t blame you if you are still skeptical. I understand. But, as for me, I’m a believer.

Course Correcting Your Marketing Plan for Authors

course correcting blog

Both of my jobs are “high feedback” situations. As many of you already know, I work seasonally as a Zoo Educator, teaching kids of all ages about animals. There is no end to the feedback I get from my management and co-workers. All with the hope to improve my performance. As a writer, I get tons of feedback as well – from reviews, mentors, my critique group…just to name a few. So, what do you do when this feedback calls for a course correction?

listenAlways Listen. It is important to take in the advice. This is another perspective on your work. And, hopefully, as we are all adults, this person is looking out for your best interest. They are wanting you to succeed and improve. Another set of eyes or ears on your work can only benefit you.

Respect. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback, I would advise you to be respectful. Even if the person is not published or is newer to the field than you are, it doesn’t mean their opinion is not valid. I would challenge you to consider what they have to say. Is there any merit to it? There may be. Maybe not. But let’s be careful to not be defensive. You never grow and improve that way.

considerConsider the Advice. Take some time to consider what the other person is saying. Seriously consider it. Especially if they are asking you to make a big change. You may initially balk at it, but there may be a good reason for the big change or maybe there may be smaller changes that can be made to improve your craft.

What does all of this amount to? Well…there is a story here. I was recently at a writers conference. And I had the opportunity to meet with a mentor. I had planned on doing a mock pitch to get feedback, but when she sat down, she started asking me questions about where I was in my career. Through those questions, she discovered what I already knew – that I was kind of weak in the area of marketing myself.

Well, why was that? I’ll share with you. I blog, tweet, and post to writers for the most part. But my audience (that I write for) is not necessarily writers. That is not really the audience I am hoping to attract. So, there is a problem. Not that it’s wrong for me to encourage other writers, but I need to also reach out to my target audience. So, I need to consider what that will entail and rethink my whole marketing strategy.

It’s generally a good thing to re-evaluate your marketing strategy periodically anyway. What is working? Why is that working? What isn’t working? What can you do to fix that?

What about you? Ever get advice that made you re-evaluate something you were doing?

“In the Weeds”: When You Find Yourself Over-Committed and Overwhelmed

in the weeds graphic

Once upon a time, I was a server. Now that can be a stressful job. And it’s the right now kind of stress. That night-before-a-big-test, can’t put it off intense stress. I don’t miss it. In that industry, when you are overwhelmed and have too much happening that you just can’t keep up, you say you are “in the weeds”. That’s a cue to the others around you that you’d appreciate any and all assistance they can offer you. Do other professions have similar phrases for this state of being? I don’t know. If they have such a term for a writer/stay-at-home mom, that’s me this week. I’ve got “too many irons in the fire” and “too much on my plate”. Don’t get me wrong, I thrive on being busy and having a full schedule, but there is definitely a line there full and over-committed. So, what’s a person to do?

balance beamThink about your “beam“. I’ve written before about Jen Hatmaker’s gymnastics beam illustration. How you have the things you commit to “on the beam” and the things you delegate away or eliminate from your life “off the beam”. Well, let’s take a look at the beam first. Are there things you’ve allowed on the beam that shouldn’t be there in the first place? If so, let’s do what we can to remove them, either from the list altogether or from your list and onto someone else’s.

Delegate well. So, we’ve cleaned off the things that shouldn’t have ever been on your beam. Now look and see if anything on your beam can be delegated. There are others in your life that can take on things and do them very well. If you are anything like me, you feel responsible for the things on your beam and you want to keep a hold on them so you can make sure they are done properly. But you have to trust your village as well. By “village”, I mean your people, your circle, your family and friends. Can your spouse handle some of the kid stuff? Can a friend at church take on your duties there for one or two Sundays or on a more permanent basis?

organizeThe “TO DO” List is Your Friend. Make a list of everything you have to do in the next week, month, however long. Just get it all down on paper. No matter how scary it is. Break the bigger tasks down into its smaller steps. Then prioritize this list. Now, get out your calendar. Mark in your set appointments and fill in the to do list items, starting with the higher priority stuff. Plan on just 2-3 items per day. Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you get more done, that’s fabulous! But set yourself up for success and be realistic with your expectations on what is possible to get done. Especially if you are like me and you have a family and house to care for as well. Or a full time job on top of these other things.

Protect Your Routines. I have an autistic son. So, I know all too well how important routine is. For myself, I find it very helpful to have somewhat of a night ritual where I go over my schedule and to do list for the next day, so I have some idea of what’s happening. I also do better when I keep a consistent morning routine (mine involves coffee, looking over my to do list again, and a time of quiet reflection and prayer). It just sets the right tempo for my day, a better mindset for myself, and an overall calmer me.

goalsKeep Your Eye On the Prize. Have goals. Life goals. Weekly goals that feed into those life goals. Know that you are contributing to something lasting and something that matters to you. Keep your goals written out and posted where you can see them often. Let them motivate you.

Again, I don’t have all of the answers. And perhaps the best advice of all is to guard your time on the front end. Your time is valuable and you are the gate-keeper. If there isn’t now, there will be others clamoring for a piece of you from multiple angles. The best word you can learn is “no”. It is not wrong or selfish to use that word. It is wisdom to know when you must.

Any other tips for helping someone “in the weeds”?

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scene 9

Off to War Cover 1

Off to War

Chapter 2, Scene 9

The next morning, Elizabeth awoke to the sound of a bugle blasting. Time to rise and shine. As promised, a pair of soldier’s boots were by her mat. Sitting up, she was tempted to remove the dressings and examine her blisters. It would be best to leave them alone for a day or two and let them heal. So, instead, she slid her stockings over the bandages and, with great care, worked her feet into the boots. They were a perfect fit with the bulky bandages. She silently thanked the kind doctor.

“They work for you?” Melanie yawned as she sat up.

“Yes,” Elizabeth said, lacing them. “They’re perfect.

Melanie moved over to the tent flap and looked out. “It is too early for all this activity.”

“I think we’re going to have to get used to that,” Elizabeth said. She tested her weight on her feet. Grimacing, she noted the slight pain that shot through her feet, but she could manage.

“I think you’re right.” Melanie stretched her arms.

A quick look over to where Sarah and Lily’s mats should have been told Elizabeth that the two women had already risen and packed up. Her best guess was that they were helping the other nurses catalog and pack the medical supplies onto the wagon.

“Let’s get these mats rolled up and this tent packed. How hard could it be?” Melanie said, her voice confident.

But Elizabeth was skeptical.

As it turned out, it was, as she feared, quite difficult. They’d had a lot of help from Sarah and Lilly setting up the tent. And now they were left to their own devices trying to get it down in an orderly fashion. They made a bigger mess of it than they intended to before a kind soldier, Denny, who happened to be passing by, offered to help show them how to fold it. With Denny’s help, it was done in short order. They thanked Denny, who moved on to the next task without further ado.

Melanie watched him go and Elizabeth wondered if perhaps part of her volunteerism was spurred by her desire to find a husband.

“He’s good-looking. Don’t you think?” she asked, an eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, but I’m a little more concerned with getting our packs together.” Elizabeth said, hoping to pull Melanie back to the task at hand.

“You’re no fun.” Melanie grabbed for her packs.

“That’s fine. You can be enough fun for the both of us.” Elizabeth offered her a smile as she picked up her load. She stifled a grunt under the added weight.

Melanie made a face, but did as she was directed, gathering her things to carry in one spot.

And then Elizabeth spotted him for the first time since leaving home. John. He was several feet away, examining boxes in the back of a wagon. Everything seemed to slow down as if she watched him in slow motion. She thought to turn away, but he was so concentrated on his work she doubted he would look in her direction.

Elizabeth reveled in the sight of him as if it had been years since she had seen him, not a mere two days. His dark hair, dark to match his eyes, was less kept than she was used to seeing it. Strong, capable hands moved over the boxes and packs with ease, checking and securing everything. Was it just her imagination or was his skin more tanned? Long ago she had memorized the curves of his face, but here she stood studying them anew.

“Look who’s all moon struck now?” Melanie’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Who’s caught your eye?” She looked off in the direction Elizabeth had been staring.

At the same moment, John must have sensed he was being watched. He turned his head in her direction. Without thinking, Elizabeth threw herself down on the ground.

When she looked up, she caught the confused eyes of her companion.

“What has gotten into you?” Melanie asked, concerned.

“I, um…I thought I saw a bee.”

“A bee? I didn’t see a bee.”

Elizabeth returned to her feet. She glanced at where John had just been. He was no where in sight.

“My mistake,” she said as she brushed at her skirt.

“Who were you looking at?” Melanie pried, eyes narrowing.

“No one.” Elizabeth attempted to side step Melanie, but it was no use.

“Come on, Elizabeth. You were burning holes into someone with that stare. You can’t lie to me. Remember, we are kindred spirits.”

“I just thought I might have recognized someone from back home.” Elizabeth busied herself with her packs.

“An old beau?” Melanie stood right behind Elizabeth, her voice rising. She was not going to let this go.

“Something like that,” Elizabeth tried to sound dismissive.

“I feel a good story coming.”

“I assure you it’s nothing of the kind,” Elizabeth said, turning to face her.

“I’m up for a dull story. Anything to break up this trip.” Melanie pleaded, sticking out her bottom lip.

“All right.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I’ll tell you all about it.”

So Elizabeth wove a fabricated tale of a beau that never existed for Melanie’s amusement. She used some of the details of her and John’s story, but most of the story was good old fashioned tales. It seemed to entertain Melanie for the portion of the trip she could stretch it out. Melanie rewarded her with a story of one of her beaus. However, Elizabeth believed this recounting to be the truth and it proved to be quite intriguing. And a little disturbing. Melanie was quite a girl.

By midday, they arrived at the place where they were to set up camp. This would be their base for the coming weeks. The camp would be situated on the edge of a field, backing up to a forest. To the north, there was a sloped hill from which one could overlook the camp. And to the south, there were rolling slopes for several yards before being cut off by the forest line. Not far into the woods was a stream with fresh water as they needed it. And the tree line wrapped around to provide some cover for the camp while the field offered ample ideal sites for tents. A sentry post was set up on the hill top. It seemed to be quite a happy situation for their camp.

As much as Elizabeth and Melanie were determined to learn more about how to put up the tent, Sarah and Lily were half done by the time they found their campsite. Today, however, after Elizabeth and Melanie laid out their mats, they congregated with the other women to set up a makeshift kitchen and laundry. By the time that was done, Elizabeth was ready to head back to her tent and lay down, but Melanie stopped her.

“Not just yet, Bright Eyes, now we serve supper to the menfolk.”

It was all Elizabeth could do to not give in then and there. But she remembered why she was here and somehow found the strength to make it through dinner service. Then she stumbled to her tent and collapsed in a heap on her mat. The day was over.

Writing Critique Group: Do’s and Don’t’s

critique group

One of the highlights of my week is my writing critique group. I enjoy getting together with like-minded people, sharing my work and theirs, and giving each other feedback as well as encouragement. It gives me a place to bring my work in progress and have others put their eyes (and ears) on it so that I can get some good pointers.

Now that this group has been running for a while, a few things have stuck out to me as definite strengths and potential pitfalls. Some from what I see in my own group, some from horror stories I have heard. So, if you are looking for a group or wanting to establish a critique group, let me give you some pointers.

DO: Have a published author in your midst

This is not absolutely necessary, but it is helpful. Otherwise, you might end up in a situation where it is the blind leading the blind. At the very least, the group’s leader (or wrangler, if you will), needs to be investing in learning the craft through writers conferences and books. A published author knows firsthand what editors and publishers are looking for in a manuscript. The author (published) is learned on craft and probably already investing in continuing education.

DON’T: Push others down

I understand that this, surprisingly, can be one of the major downfalls of a critique group – members of the group, whether intentionally or subconsciously (I hope the latter) pushing the top talent in the group “down”. Being unnecessarily harsh with these bright rising stars may make someone feel good for a moment, but it will destroy the group in the end. And the damage it does to the members is unimaginable. Yes, we need to critique each other, but it needs to be done with a heart that seeks to better the other person and their work, not to take them down a notch. It just has to be done with the right intent.

DO: Be honest

On the flip side, it is so important that you bring your honesty to the other person’s page. No one in the group will grow if we all sit around and tell each other how wonderful we all are. There is a place for accolades, but the reason people join these groups is to have other critical (and hopefully kind) eyes on their work. To better their work. To better them as writers.

DON’T: Be afraid to share your work

And so you can see how important it is for you to be brave and bring your work, to share your art with the other members of the group. With any luck, you’ve found a group like mine that will share feedback seasoned with encouragement. If you get the sense that others are there to BE critical, it’s not you, that is probably not the group for you. Feedback may not always be easy to hear and there may be times you want to cry from honest feedback (this is the work of your heart after all), but it should be delivered with some sense that they understand that very thing. That this is near and dear to you, that it’s not easy to hear, but that, just like stinging antiseptic, it must be done to help you get better.

In the end, that’s what it’s all about – honing your craft and becoming a better writer. So, walk into your writing critique group with that mindset. Yes, the encouragement and praise is great, but if that’s all you get, you’ll never grow. And isn’t that our goal anyway?

Anyone have any other thoughts on do’s or don’t’s that I didn’t mention?

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scenes 7 & 8

Off to War Cover 1Off to War

Chapter 2 – Scene 7

Dr. William Smith tracked down a spare pair of boots that would suit Elizabeth and had them sent to her tent. He then headed back toward his own tent, deep in thought about the young woman whose acquaintance he had just made. How many others were there like her in the camp? In the war? The wives of working class men would often come along with their husbands to assist in the war effort. But women of the upper class found other ways to contribute, ways that did not involve getting their hands dirty. Yet, here she was, her hands red and raw from carrying the packs today. Those hands had likely been smooth and free from callouses until today. One thing was for certain – this war would change her.

Arriving at his tent, he entered, nodding to Dr. Taylor as he did so.

“Nothing needing a second pair of hands, I hope.” John looked up from inventorying some of the supplies in their medical kits. There wasn’t much chance anything had gotten lost between their itemization at the train and here, perhaps Dr. Taylor just liked to know where everything was.

William offered his colleague a smile as he moved toward his cot. “No, only some bad blisters needing to be lanced.”

“That was quite a walk today. Someone have improper footwear?” John asked, his focus now back on his work.

William nodded, sitting. “One of the women.”

“Seems about right.”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to judge this young woman.” William yawned and stretched. His body was worn from the walking of the day and sleep would be good.

“What do you mean?” John looked up from his ledger.

William’s eyes settled on John, trying to wager how much to share. How much could he trust the man? Soon enough, he reasoned, they’d be putting their lives in each other’s hands. Might as well start trusting him now. “She is a woman from a privileged life. From an upper class home.”

“What is she doing here?” John jerked upright from his crouched position.

“Choosing to serve her country.” William responded, his voice even.

“We have to tell the commanding officer,” John said, his voice rushed. “Her parents couldn’t be aware that she…”

William shook his head, and spoke in a firm voice. “No matter her circumstances at home or how she got here, I’m doing nothing of the sort. I respect what she’s doing. It’s rather brave, don’t you think?” Though tired, William tried to be patient with John’s knee-jerk response. He was young. And he still saw things in black and white.

“But she has no idea the hardships she’ll endure out here while…” John started to argue.

“It’s her choice to face them.”

John fell silent, shrugging his shoulders. After some moments, he refocused on his work and left William in peace. Perhaps John was so adamant because he thought of his own sister or fiancé out here facing such adversity and danger. William hoped that this woman’s family and friends would be able to make peace with her decision. Someday.


Chapter 2 – Scene 8

The doorbell rang at the Thompson residence. Charlotte Taylor was admitted to the house, her coat was taken, and she was escorted to the parlor. Once she entered the parlor, Charlotte rushed over to her friend and embraced her.

Abigail welcomed her dear friend’s hug, fighting fresh tears.

When they broke apart, Abigail led Charlotte to a couch.

“Oh, Abigail, I scarcely know what to say!” Charlotte confessed, eyebrows furrowed.

“It’s alright. I don’t know what to say myself,” she sniffled, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief.

“Elizabeth gave no indication she was planning anything like this?” Charlotte asked the obvious question. But it needed to be asked.

Abigail shook her head. “We knew, of course, that she was unhappy with John’s leaving.”

“As did we all,” Charlotte added, laying a hand on Abigail’s arm for support.

“But who could have imagined this?” Abigail cried.

“Who indeed, dear friend? And what is to be done?” Charlotte’s eyes widened.

“Nothing,” Abigail said, near tears. “Thomas says there is nothing that can be done now that she is gone.”

Charlotte hung her head. She pulled herself to her feet, taking some steps away from Abigail. “I must confess, friend, I feel as if I am partially to blame. My son…”

“No! I won’t hear of it,” Abigail said, her voice firm. “Elizabeth is head strong all on her own.”

Relieved that her friend was not blaming her in the slightest for having any part of Elizabeth’s flight, Charlotte turned back toward her friend and took a deep breath before continuing. “Do you think John knows?”

“Her letter didn’t say, but I find it doubtful.” Abigail’s eyes held Charlotte’s

“I, too, doubt it. It’s unimaginable that he would have let her go through with it.” Charlotte moved across the room again. This time toward the window that overlooked the front of the house.

“That is what I told Thomas,” Abigail said, unwavering.

Turning to face her friend, Charlotte said, “I imagine once he discovers her, he will send her right back home to you. He doesn’t want her in harm’s way any more than you do.”

“I know, dear friend. Your son is a good man and he loves my Elizabeth a great deal.”

Silence fell between them for some moments. Charlotte’s attention was drawn out of the front window toward a young couple walking by. That should have been John and Elizabeth on an afternoon stroll, on their way home to announce their engagement even.

“I know we haven’t spoken of it, but I was surprised they did not make plans to marry before he went off to war,” Charlotte wondered out loud.

“I admit, I was as well. But I think we’re all relieved they didn’t add the stress and emotion of a wedding to the mix, but it was what I expected when John first made it known he had enlisted.” Now focused on something else, Abigail’s voice was not so charged with emotion.

“I wonder which of them convinced the other to wait.”

“It is a mystery with those two,” Abigail sighed.

“Everything always is with them.” Charlotte turned back toward Abigail.

“Indeed,” Abigail said, looking into her friend’s eyes.

As Charlotte watched, Abigail’s eyes filled with emotion again. Charlotte rejoined her on the sofa, laying a hand on her shoulder. She waited for her friend to speak.

“I now know what torment you have been going through, knowing your child is off to war.”

Charlotte nodded, swallowing hard.

“And I understand your obsession with the war effort,” Abigail added, meeting her friend’s eyes again.

“It’s a way to stay connected to him,” Charlotte confirmed.

Abigail nodded her understanding. “Do you think you could use another hand to write letters? Or another person to collect donations?”

“Of course!” Charlotte said, excited at the prospect of her friend working alongside her. “We’ll be happy to have you!”

“Good. Because as long as she’s out there, I want her to have everything that she needs.”