Suggestion 3: Don’t Let the Demons Win

I’m sure there are writers who don’t suffer from self doubt. There may even be some writers who never write a terrible sentence, let alone a terrible paragraph, or a terrible entire middle of the book. If you are one of these writers: good for you!  I’m not.  A variety of demons live in my head. Some whisper, some shout, some just drone on and on. I used to fight with them, but I’ve discovered that simply identifying them for who they are and accepting what they say lets me get on with things. Somewhat counterintuitively, my acceptance has softened their voices. When Overwhelmed Ophelia (that’s what I call her) screeches there is no possible way I can make all the PoV changes I need to make before my deadline, I accept her anxiety because it’s realistic, but I remind myself that I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. Here’s what my wise (and very kind and supportive) fellow Miss Demeanors say on the subject of those pesky writing demons: Paula: Writing really is rewriting for me. Because for me, the first draft can be an angst-ridden slog. But once I’ve pounded out that first draft, I can relax a little and enjoy the process of making it better. Now I have something to fix. Fixing is fun. Fun being a relative term. Susan: I have an idea of how I want something to sound. And it doesn’t. Or I’m trying to get a handle on a character and she just sounds like a cliche. And I torture myself going over and over it, but I’ve come to realize that if I’m patient enough, I’ll probably figure it out. Sometimes it will take months. At night I’ll think about it so that my dreams can help me out. I’ll read writers I like and see what they did. And then invariably the solution does pop into my mind. I guess an advantage to getting older is that I have a certain amount of trust in myself, or the process. I just have to force myself to wait. Of course deadlines are a whole other thing. Good luck, Alison! Michele: I’ve just realized after listening to and reading Walter Mosley’s writing advice that my first draft is really my outline. That makes sense to me as a pantser, and it explains why rewriting is so important. I’ve come to enjoy rewriting as a way to improve each draft, an opportunity to write a better book. The demons in my ear are often voices that conflict with my instinct. I think it takes a lot of experience to know how to distinguish sound writing advice from suggestions that may interfere with your voice, your originality, and your willingness to risk taking a chance. The best way to handle doubts about who to listen to is to learn who you can trust. On one occasion, an editor made suggestions to me that I knew were ill-advised. I asked our swell agent and she confirmed my doubts. Robin: I agree with the sentiments about rewriting. It’s the fun part. But there is one thing I agonize over and that’s pacing. Too slow is an obvious problem but too fast is just as bad. Am I missing opportunities to draw out tension? Am I drawing it out too much? What are secondary characters doing at the same time main characters are in focus? Is a subplot heightening the tension or too distracting? Do I need a distraction for the reader to catch their breath? With early drafts, usually the first or second, I storyboard the scenes with an eye on action and pace to literally see how it flows and look for gaps. On later drafts, I’ve been known to print out manuscripts and place each chapter on the floor of my living room then physically move them around to see how order adjustments impact the pace. It can turn into a weird game of Twister. One time, my dog played. I stood looking over the piles of paper and she walked across them. Out of curiosity I sorted the chapters in the order her paws hit them. It didn’t work out but it would’ve made a great backstory, wouldn’t it? 🙂 Tracee: So many good ideas here. I think I’m learning to edit in waves. Meaning, spend time perfecting every sentence and it is harder to cut (or re-cut) a big swath of the story, so don’t try to do it all at once. Maybe what I’ve really learned is each edit is for a different reason. Tone, pacing, character, continuity, etc. I agree with Michele that the first draft is likely an outline, regardless of whether you are a pantser or plotter. If I think of it as an outline then it’s easier to make the (likely necessary) big changes. After all, it was only an outline. I believe it is Amy Stewart (author of the Miss Kopp mysteries) who turns randomly through her finished manuscript and on that page picks the weakest sentence and tries to make it sing. She keeps a check list and does each page that way until finished. I like this idea. I also believe in the looming deadline….. fear and panic can be helpful as long as you’re in the final stretch. On that note, good luck Alison!          

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Suggestion 2: Plan Your Re-write Attack

This is hard. Even writing about it is hard. I’m not going to lie. When you have eighty thousand words, give or take, and editorial pages critiquing what works and what doesn’t, making a plan can seem overwhelming. Don’t let it be.  For me, there are four basic steps to the rewriting process.  Step 1: Check the calendarCount the number of days you have until your deadline. Be honest about how many days in the week you can work. Is Sunday impossible for you? Take it out of the rotation. Is there a family wedding? Be honest about how much time you can sneak away from family obligations. There is no right answer, there is only a truthful one.  Step 2: Attack the big stuffBy “big stuff” I mean the major plot issues. In Blessed be the Wicked, my editor had wanted a minor story line to become more central. She was completely right. I ended up writing a handful of completely new chapters developing the relationship between Abish and her brother. I had always adored her brother and I knew Abish and her brother John were close, but none of that made it into the first version of the book. My editor was right to push me on it. It was natural. The writing came easily because it was what the story needed.  Step 3: Make a master list of all the small stuff.It’s easy to forget the little stuff, so I make a list of “global changes” that I literally check off as I go through the manuscript. This is something that is ongoing, but by the time you are at your deadline, every item should be checked off. This list consists of everything from language tics (I use the word “just” too much, so I search the entire document and eliminate every non-necessary “just”) to checking times and dates (if the murder happens in the late morning and your detective has spent hours working, you don’t want him to then meet someone for breakfast…unless you explain the time lapse). The main point here is to not lose track of the details. Suspense and mystery because readers are a very observant lot.  Step 4: Let everything else in your life take a back seat.This step has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with writing. You have creative energy, that’s why you write. When you are on a deadline, you need to manage that creative energy in the most exacting way. If that means shifting your exercise routine, do it. If it means ignoring the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, ignore them. Let your dear friends and family know that you are working and will be back to your normal self soon enough. After you’ve finished your revisions. Good luck on your re-writes! See you tomorrow for a discussion with my fellow Miss Demeanors about writing demons and how to make friends–or at least learn to tolerate–them.

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Suggestion 1: Get honest feedback

If you’ve written the perfect book, congratulations! You’re done. If you’re like me, and you haven’t written the perfect book, here are my suggestions for managing feedback. You must take time to process, but you don’t have time to wallow. Remember: right now I have twenty-five days. Step 1: Take time to digest. When I get comments, I read through them once and then set them aside for a day or two. I let my subconscious process what’s there. I don’t judge myself or my editor. I just take it all in like a neutral observer. Step 2: Get detailed. After my self-imposed time out, I go through the comments again. This time, I underline sentences, circle words, scribble notes in the margins. I do this as many times as I have to in order to understand the critique. There may be big themes like pacing and PoV. There might be issues like the number of characters or the setting. Perhaps–maybe–your dialogue sounds stilted. Whatever is there in the comments, make sure you understand it, even if you don’t agree with it. Step 3: Decide what resonates with you. I happen to think my editor is right on over 90% of her suggestions. That leaves less than 10% to be ironed out. If that 10% is important to you, be clear in your own mind about why it is. If you just love a particular description, but deep down you know it doesn’t add to the story, you need to part with it. Really. Step 4: Communicate. This is when I send an email or text and set up a convenient time to talk to my editor. I’m a big believer in talking. Some writers may be able to skip this, I can’t. I need to be able to ask questions and make sure I understand the answers. For me, it’s the most efficient way to understand the reason behind the comments. I come away knowing what needs to be done and, if I’m lucky, I even end up with a plan for how to do it. That’s the wonderful thing about editors. They see things in a way writers don’t.  That’s it for today! Tune in tomorrow to meet Mike Cavaioni, the CEO of CritiqueMatch.com, and find your perfect critique partner so you, too, can join in the fun of feedback.

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The Art of the Rewrite

 “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”  This oh-so-famous Ernest Hemingway quote has been on my mind lately. You write, polish, revise, and edit. Then, you pass on your manuscript to another human being. The moment of truth. If you have a publisher, this is when you get your comments. If you’re breaking into the business, it’s when you hear back from your beta-reader, freelance editor, or agent. No matter where you are in your writing journey, it’s the time when you see your book in the harsh light of day through someone else’s eyes. Why am I obsessing about the Hemingway quote right now? Because I just got comments back for Abish Taylor #2. I have exactly twenty-six (26!) days to incorporate my editor’s thoughtful critique into my manuscript. There aren’t any shortcuts. No app. No Ted Talk. No podcast. Just me, her critique, and my computer.  As I’ve been contemplating the art of the rewrite, I realized I do indeed have something resembling a process. It’s not perfect, and it certainly may not be for everyone, but because I’m in the middle of crunch time, I’ll share what helps me not only get through rewriting, but actually helps me (pretty much) enjoy the process. Feel free to take what resonates and leave what doesn’t. For those of you who are planners, here’s a preview of the posts about how to navigate the rewrite:  Suggestion 1: Get honest, reliable, and tough feedback. (Finding someone to critique your work can be a challenge itself, which is why on Wednesday I’ll be interviewing Mike Cavaioni, the CEO of CritiqueMatch.com, about his platform that helps writers and bloggers connect and exchange feedback). Suggestion 2: Make a detailed plan of attack. Suggestion 3: Don’t let the demons win. Happy re-writing! See you tomorrow to explore how to make the most of your feedback.    

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Read a "Quiet Book" on Black Friday

 A tweet from agent Jessica Faust caught my attention recently. “To all my authors writing quiet books. I believe in these books.” It made me think about “quiet books” and how much I love them. They are such a lovely remedy when the external or my internal world is reeling out of control.One definition of a quiet book is a book that has quiet themes based around the characters. The quiet book I read most recently was recommended by Paula. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin provided me with the peaceful pleasure and satisfaction that only a quiet book can deliver. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is another of my favorites.         On Black Friday, I thought the Miss Demeanors would offer our readers the gift of recommendations for quiet books where they can find refuge from the onslaught of frantic commercialism coming their way for the holidays. What do consider a “quiet” book and what are your favorites? I’d love to know what you consider a quiet mystery. Robin:      Funny timing for this question. I just bought a new copy of one of my favorite quiet escapes, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I lost track of how many times I’ve read it. The book has been my lifelong go-to during turbulent times and I gave my last copy away (aka let a friend “borrow” it). To me, “quiet” means internal stakes – no one’s life hangs in the balance, there’s no ticking clock or, if there is, it’s self-inflicted. It’s about rising to a personal challenge or confronting one’s own past. I’d say an example of a quiet mystery is Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. The title says it all, as far as the central question to be answered, but the story is driven by personal stakes. A more recent example is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. It’s categorized as literary fiction but I think of it as a domestic mystery because it’s really about uncovering secrets. Paula:     I love quiet books, which I define as books that sneak up on me, and make me feel better about being human. I read a lot of them, too many to count, of all kinds. I read  “enlighten me” books like those written by Mark Nepo and Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron, and poetry by Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson, Basho, Donald Hall, and Rumi, among others.I also love memoirs by artists, classics like Turn by Ann Pruitt and Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton and      Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke, and anything by Abigail Thomas, Terry Tempest Williams, Julia Cameron, and Natalie Goldberg.   I like quiet mysteries, too, quiet being a relative term, like those by William Kent Krueger and Louise Penny and Janwillem van de Wetering (who also wrote the wonderful memoirs The Empty Mirror and A Glimpse of Nothingness, based on his experiences as a student of Zen).   When I need cheering up, I read Elizabeth Berg (Durable Goods) and Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic) and Anita Shreve (Light on Snow). I’ve read most everything they’ve ever written, but the books in parentheses are the ones I read over and over again, along with Jane Austen and Georges Simenon and Shakespeare.    But if I had to name my very favorite quiet novels of all time, I’d have to choose  Marilynne Robinson’s stunning trilogy (of sorts) Gilead, Home, and Lila.   Susan:It’s sort of impossible to improve on Paula’s list, particularly because she included one of my absolute favorite books, which is William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. Yesterday I saw The Ferryman on Broadway, which is about a family and love and honor and everyone tells stories and talks and talks and it’s all so beautiful and then there is a moment of horror, but when it comes it’s so inevitable and shocking. Anyway, I loved it, and it reminded me of the power of quiet stories. Alexia:The closest I can come to quiet mysteries are Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, where a detective laid up with a broken leg solved the (very) cold case of the murders of the two princes in the Tower, and Natasha A. Tarpley’s Harlem Charade, a middle grade mystery. Middle grade stories, by definition, limit the stakes to something appropriate for the under-13 crowd. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t good stories. I still enjoy The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables… I guess you could call these quiet adventure stories with plucky female heroines. (I miss plucky female characters. We should bring them back.) I also read Keith Laumer’s satirical, humorous Jame Retief sci-fi adventures. Laumer served in the Foreign Service and his Retief stories skewer government bureaucracy. The stakes are “big” in that intergalactic diplomacy is important for keeping aliens from blowing up Earth but Retief, the underappreciated underling/junior officer, who is usually the only one in the room with any sense, saves the world with his brains more than his fists, all while showing how ridiculous red tape can be. I read non-fiction about non-murder crimes, usually fraud. Does fraud count as a “quiet” crime? The Island of Lost Maps, The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Provenance, Sour Grapes (which I saw rather than read)–all portray the rise and fall of smart criminals, people who were cheated because their hubris and money outpaced their common sense, and the people who became collateral damage in the quest to separate the wealthy from their wealth. I was going to add the Bible, which I turn to sometimes for the stories, not just for religious edification and spiritual uplift. Then I realized that a lot of the stories are not at all quiet–sex, adultery, murder, abuse, enslavement, natural disaster, war, genocidal destruction of entire civilizations, displacement, lies, betrayal… There’s a reason the Bible has provided source material for so many authors/filmmakers.          I read the occasional biography, like Carmon and Knizrnik’s The Notorious RBG, and less-than-occasional memoir, like Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy. Those are quiet if badass women taking on the system and maintaining sense of humor while battling severe mental illness are quiet. Finally, I’ll add The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, a philosophy book disguised as a travel guide and far less high falutinigly serious and grim than the description on the author’s website would lead you to believe. The Art of Travel is about the only philosophy book that didn’t make me roll me eyes and sigh, “Oh, pul-eeze.” Michele:Quite the list of quiet books! I’m printing these. I see the TBR pile growing to staggering heights.      Tracee:         I agree with everyone! Particularly the part about this being a great list. I have to thank Paula for introducing me to Where’d You Go, Bernadette earlier this year. A lovely book from a writer’s perspective, but I would add it to the must reads for anyone practicing architecture, perhaps as a counterpoint to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I would add my nod to the already mentioned The Billionaire’s Vinegar and The Island of Lost Maps as well as Furiously Happy. And I’m definitely adding The Art of Travel to my TBR list. Maybe over the holiday.  I would add another non-fiction, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer and Longitude by Dava Sobel. Although aren’t most non-fiction books quiet? Unless it’s a political memoir?  Books I love to reread in addition to many of the classics already mentioned by several of you are the Patrick O’Brien works Master and Commander and many of James Clavell’s, but particularly Sho-gun.  I can’t let this list be finalized without a shout out to the Flavia de Luce series, now complete, by Alan Bradley. Just lovely.  Alison:I think I probably have two favorites that fall in this category. First, The Little Prince. Loved to when I read it in French when I was ten (and living in France). Love it in English. It still makes me cry. Second, The Glass Bead Game. I know that the Nobel Prize in literature is given for a body of work, but some argue Hesse was awarded his for this book. I agree.  As we’re heading into colder and quieter months (unless you live in warmer climes), I’m looking forward to reading all of your suggestions! Michele: Okay, now you have a fabulous selection of quiet books to crawl into while you stay snuggled under a quilt in front of the fireplace, offline, out of malls on Black Friday. Enjoy!         

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The Empty Chairs at America’s Thanksgiving Table

 To the families and friends of those lost at Parkland, Tree of Life, Thousand Oaks, Santa Fe High, the Capitol Gazette, and at so many more inexplicable moments of mass violence that they have become an  unforgivable blurred memory of terror; To those who lost loved ones or are without homes after the wild fires throughout California; To those who have lost loved ones or are without homes after horrific hurricanes in Florida, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and still Puerto Rico; To those who have lost loved ones to illness and age; To those who are separated from loved ones by their service to our country; To those who have lost or are separated from loved ones by the ravages of opioid addiction; To those who are alone or separated from loved ones for reasons no one seems to understand; I understand the emptiness of “thoughts and prayers” as you sit at a Thanksgiving table with empty chairs today. As you sit at a table in a shelter or with strangers who have made room for you at their tables. As you defy the Norman Rockwell image of the holiday. Thoughts and prayers are only words. But words offer acknowledgement and acknowledgement is the seed of action. Though my words may be inept, I honor those missing from your Thanksgiving table today.         

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In Defense of Parsnips (with recipe)

   I love an underdog, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I love parsnips. You rarely hear, “Please pass the parsnips” at the Thanksgiving table. You are more likely to hear, “What are those?” from a child wearing an expression of fear and dread. What are parsnips? According to Wikipedia, “The parsnip is a root vegetable closely related to the carrot and parsley. It is a biennial plant usually grown as an annual. Its long, tuberous root has cream-colored skin and flesh; and left in the ground to mature, it becomes sweeter in flavor after winter frosts.” Parsnips are oddball vegetables, for sure. I wouldn’t eat one raw and they do have a smell that, shall I say, is unfamiliar to most. But I like oddballs. I gravitate toward people who march to a different drummer. Why should I be different in my choice of vegetables? When I think about who are some of my favorite characters in books, I find they are often the nonconformists, like Ruth in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. Ruth is a drunken poet who loves a duck. She probably loves parsnips. I’ll bet Agatha Raisin, Doc Martin, and Vera are all parsnip fans.  And don’t forget today’s parsnip can be tomorrow’s Brussels sprouts. You do remember Brussels sprouts before roasting them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar made them the new vegetable darlings, don’t you? Even President George H.W. Bush’s declaration about how he hated broccoli (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQmTeVf2nJ8) only managed to gain popularity for it. So as a proud parsnip fan, I will be bringing it to Thanksgiving to share with others who may not have yet fallen for its charms. Here’s my recipe. Try and see if you aren’t corralled into the Parsnip Fan Club. Michele’s In Defense of Parsnips Recipe Ingredients: Shallots (3 small) diced.Parsnips  (3 bunches or bags, if you must)Butter (2 TBS for sautéing shallots; more to taste to moisten parsnips)Cranberry & Orange Puree (I take ½ cup of the fresh cranberry sauce I make and puree it) Directions Sauté the shallots in two TBS of butter in a saucepan until they are soft and golden. Steam the parsnips until tender. Then puree adding butter to taste. The more the butter, the merrier the parsnips. A dash of cream makes the parsnips velvety. Make sure you’ve invited a cardiologist to your table. Add shallots to parsnips and mix. Place in casserole dish. Top with pats of butter. Then drizzle cranberry orange puree on top to fool and entice skeptics. Warm in 325 degree oven until ready to serve.     

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TV Ads: Lessons for a Writer

  My father’s career was in television advertising. I’m sure he’s looking down at me, shaking his head. How did I miss how much I can learn about writing from television commercials? For a person who didn’t get to watch much television for years, I’m making up for lost time. I can’t say I’m sorry to have missed most of the ads on TV over the years, but occasionally I happen upon a gem that delivers a lesson to me as a writer.            A successful commercial reaches the viewer on a human level. It makes the viewer feel something. That’s exactly what I’m looking to do to/for my readers, so I’ve become a student of them. Here are a few of my favorite recent commercials. The Cheese Guy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqF3LeZ7fJA):             This Whole Foods ad features a geeky looking guy with glasses who hesitantly approaches a cheese monger at the counter. “I hear you have a degree in cheese,” he says. The chubby cheese monger in a skull cap replies with a smile, “I do. I went to cheese school.” Our geek shrugs, smiles a toothy grin,  and admits, “I’d like to go to cheese school.” In fifteen seconds, I am in love with the geek, and rooting for him to go to cheese school.            What has happened in such a short time for me to connect with this person my head knows is an actor? I have fallen for his vulnerability, his willingness to let me know what it is he wants. Because when we admit what we want, we have given power over us. And when we write about characters who are vulnerable, our readers become their cheerleaders. The Queen of the Night( https://www.ispot.tv/ad/dy2Q/2019-volvo-xc-range-you) :             So it’s a Volvo commercial that’s the first ear worm I’ve ever wanted to play endlessly. The voice is that of soprano Emily M. Cheung of the Vancouver Chamber Choir singing a piece from the aria the “Queen of the Night.” I’ve owned a Volvo and it was okay, but I have no interest in turning in my beloved Subaru for one. What was it about the vocals from this ad that I couldn’t shake?            It sent me soaring. The sound of this woman’s voice reaches inside of me and sets me flying to another dimension where I hear the sound of hope. I know the piece is from a rather dismal opera by Mozart, but that isn’t the point. this commercial is that I am transplanted from folding laundry on my couch into a place I can’t see. But I can feel it.          And that is exactly what I want to do for my readers. Kars 4 Kids (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8UV7SAhvG4):           I hate to knock an ad for a charity, but someone has aptly described this as the best ever ad for birth control. It features an annoying jingle that people have suggested could be used as a torture technique. This is the ear worm you do not want. The ad has kids dressed as rock and roll musicians playing fake instruments. There is nothing cute about the kids or the song. Watch John Oliver lose his sh*t over the commercial if you don’t believe me. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8UV7SAhvG4)          What can I learn about writing from a commercial that makes me want to fling my pricey iPhone into the middle of my fancy flat screen television? Do not annoy the reader folks. Just don’t.                          

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CritiqueMatch: An interview with CEO Mike Cavaioni (and how to find your perfect writing critique partner)

Drum roll, please. Today, I’ve managed to corner Mike Cavaioni, the CEO  of Critique Match, a new platform that allows writers to find critique partners. It’s a beautiful website, but, more importantly, it’s easy to use and fills a gap in the writing universe: how to find yourself the right critique partner. Alison: Providing a community for writers to swap work is simply genius. How did you come up with the idea for CritiqueMatch? Mike: I’ve been a blogger for a couple of years now, writing on
technical subjects, such as artificial intelligence. I can’t tell you
how many times I’ve edited a blog, passed it through
Grammarly, and yet, my lovely wife still caught errors! I
realized one always needs a second pair of eyes, someone who
can give honest, constructive feedback. Yes, one could rely on
a professional editor, but a critique partner goes beyond a professional service transaction. Writing is such a solitary journey. The encouragement and companionship a partner can provide are crucial to keeping one’s momentum going. So I knew critique partnerships were crucial to writers. The next question was: where do you find the right critique partners? And how do you know if they are any good? Hence, the idea of creating a community of writers who can easily find each other and rate the critiques they receive. Alison: For someone who hasn’t seen the website, can you give a quick description of what CritiqueMatch offers writers?  Mike: Sure! Our platform is currently in beta mode and free to all users. It helps writers connect and exchange critiques securely and privately (we are not trying to be the next Wattpad, where an author’s work is shared with all users and anyone can comment on it). On our platform, you can find writers based on multiple search criteria that match your preferences. Additionally, down the road, we want to allow those writers who have demonstrated strong critiquing skills to complement their income via giving paid critiques.   Alison: The website is beautifully designed and so easy-to-use (even on my phone!). What went into creating it?  Mike: You are too kind, thank you! The creative portion was a lot of fun! I’m an engineer and, unsurprisingly, I love to build things from scratch—from software to homemade bread! So I knew
from the beginning that I wanted to create a fully customized platform, instead of merely using a pre-made template like WordPress. Overall, it’s been an iterative process that started with the basic need for a directory of writers with different searchable characteristics, such as their genre, sub-genre, location, etc.
But was that enough? Would a telephone directory be enough to help you pick a restaurant? I didn’t think so. Instead, what if the writers rated each other, and just like a restaurant, you could see first-hand accounts of how good someone’s critiques were? I interviewed many writers as I was developing the first few features and got constructive feedback that I incorporated them into the site. I had to put my ego aside and quickly adapt to make this work. I still encourage users to give me suggestions! There were many technical aspects, including creating wireframes, hiring software developers, until here we are, live and growing every day, with plenty of critique partner matches already! I hope years from now we’ll be receiving those types of messages from writers celebrating their critique partnerships that started on our site in a retreat somewhere beautiful, like Iceland. Alison: When I browsed through the members, it looked to me like there were writers from all over the country and the world. What are you seeing in terms of who’s using CritiqueMatch?  Mike: According to Facebook, there are 40 million users who have listed ‘writing’ as an occupation or a hobby. That’s just in the US and Canada! I think that writing, as with many other forms of art, has no geographic boundaries and people should find those sharing the same passion, no matter where they live. Someone in a remote cabin in Iceland, like the one shown on our home page, might be the perfect partner for a New Yorker. We are thrilled that our user base is already a melting pot of people from all over the world! So far, we’ve seen users connecting based on the specific sub-genre of their interest. For example, for those writing a police procedural mystery, like your book Alison, Blessed Be The Wicked, they could find a critique partner or beta reader in that exact sub-genre, instead of broadly in mysteries. The granularity of the search is what makes CritiqueMatch unique. Alison: I can’t let you go without asking you what you’re reading right now, and what’s next on your TBR list?   Mike: Does the “All summer long” script I’m reading for my acting class, count? I’m joking… I typically mix and match various art mediums. I have To Kill A Mockingbird on my nightstand at the moment. This classic had escaped me up until recently when I saw the incredible Broadway performance based on the
book. Maycomb, Alabama of 1936 is more relevant today than ever. But that’s a whole other discussion…
In non-fiction, I love listening to the How I Built This podcast for inspiration on how to grow a business. Because you’ve been terrific, I will spare you the details from the artificial intelligence papers lying on my desk! On behalf of writers everywhere: Thank you, Mike and CritiqueMatch! 

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What I Learned from Walter Mosley

   I recently had the honor and privilege of interviewing Walter Mosley, who was the Guest of Honor at the New England Crime Bake, which I co-chaired this year with Edith Maxwell. I thought getting to interview Walter was a reward for my hard work preparing for Crime Bake until I realized the man had written fifty-four books in less than thirty years. Time magazine says Mosley is a “writer whose work transcends category.” I learned he has not only written several fabulously successful crime series, including the beloved Easy Rawlins series, but he has also written sci-fi, literary fiction, erotica, a political monograph, and a writing book. And awards, he’s won them all, even a Grammy. In short time, my excitement over interviewing Mosley bordered on terror.            It shouldn’t have. Walter is a very smart, funny, and warm individual. Here’s a few things I learned from him over the weekend: 1. Why you should write everyday.            When I worked day and night as a lawyer, mediator, and adjunct law professor, this writing “rule” infuriated me. Never mind that I worked twelve hours a day and spend the same amount on weekends writing. It didn’t seem to count. I regarded it as a rule that emphasized form over substance. It felt like another way to shame people who are struggling to write. God knows there is enough of that already. But then I learned about unconscious writing from Walter. 2. You don’t have to be holding a pen in your hand to be writing.            Here’s another hardline I resent. If you aren’t putting words on paper or on a screen, you are not writing, or so say the Writing Police. To me this has felt like an insult. I spend hours thinking about what I will write, what I have written, and why I am writing words that become paragraphs, and then pages. Some of my hardest work is in my head before I use my words. It turns out, I may be guilty of “unconscious writing” according to Walter. Unconscious writing works best when you show up everyday and make an effort to find your words because there is a bonus to this. When you think you are done writing for the day, your brain runs on an unconscious level that is later revealed when you return to the page. Now I get why you should write every day. It’s so you can connect with your unconscious mind. 3.Writing is rewriting.            I’ve heard this a thousand times. I knew revision is where it’s at. But hearing, “The first draft is a little more of an outline of the novel you wish to write. Rewriting is where you make the story into song,” was liberating for me as a panster. I’ve tried outlining, even with moderate success, but I always feel constrained by the process. Writing a first draft on a keyboard without an outline excites me as if I’m playing a musical instrument and the words are my notes. There’s plenty of time for the somber business of revision. My first draft IS my outline.  4.        A novel is larger than your head.“The writer creates herself while telling a story about somebody else.” Mind boggling. I’m still thinking about this gem. 5.        Write without restraint. Edit but never censor your words. Telling the truth is the first tenet for Walter Mosley and it applies to writing and everything else.    

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