Critique Group – Part One – Setup

I’ve been thinking about my critique group and how it fits into my writing lately. Before I post about some of that though, I thought it would be helpful to have some background on the group I’m a part of. Please keep in mind I am far from an expert in critiquing. A few things of note:

  • This is the only group I’ve been a part of, and the only one I’ve started.
  • Everyone in this group had met in real life prior to starting the group.
  • We meet in person, virtually, or a mix of both once per month.

Some background
Last January my friend Cate and I set out to start a critique group. We had both hit the point in our writing where we knew it was time to share, but we weren’t sure of the best way to do that. After reviewing our options, we decided starting our own critique group made the most sense. When we sent out the invitation for people to join our group, we were aiming for a group of four to six people including ourselves.

The group started with five people, but we currently have only three members. We’d love another member or two, but we are an acquired taste in some ways, and I think having now been working together for a while it’s harder to bring in another person.

When we started the group we were very deliberate in setting the tone, structure, and expectations. We talked about what people wanted to get out of the group, and how much time people had to devote to the group. We laid out the ground rules and expectations for members. This really helped when we were getting started and means that going forward we have a plan in place. A few things we discussed/laid out included:

  • How long will submissions be, and what is the max number of submissions the group can handle per month?
  • When will we submit, how often will we meet, and how will we meet (in person or virtual)?
  • What types of writing can be submitted (age and genre), and is there anything someone is not comfortable reviewing?
  • What are our guidelines when doing the critique, and how are we sharing our comments with the writer?
  • How will we handle people who ask to join, or asking people to join?

Are you part of a critique group? What are some of the ground rules your group follows?

Planning Ahead

I’m a planner and an organizer. I like to be prepared, and I like to think ahead. Of course I often don’t have time to plan ahead on everything, and sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out. Maybe a better statement is that I try to plan ahead.

As I have begun completing my first quilts, I’ve been looking ahead to new ones. Currently I have two quilts that need to be moved through the next stage. The first is the Mystery Quilt that needs to be quilted and bound so it is ready before the baby it is intended for is here. The second is my son’s bed quilt that needs to be pieced into the completed top.

My lap quilt top is finished, but until I have time and space to quilt it, it will stay as is. What this all means is that very soon I’ll have space in my quilting to start a new quilt top. Making the blocks and putting them into a finished top is my favourite part of quilting. The quilt tops I’d love to make at some point are:

  1. Pow Wow type quilt for my Mother. She likes the look, and I like that it has a flying geese type piece that would be new to me.
  2. Carpenter’s Wheel big block quilt. I really want to try Y-seams. This one won’t come until after the first though.
  3. A Moonlight Starts quilt. This would be made as an upgrade to the lap quilt I made for my husband. I’ll probably end up making this one sometime after the pow-wow and before the Carpenter’s Wheel. He really wants a quilt made entirely by me.
  4. A wrapped in Red quilt. I wouldn’t do this with Christmas fabrics. It would probably be red and white though. Since this one would be for my bed and much bigger than anything else I’ve made. I would make the top, but I’ll pay someone to do the quilting on it. Who knows when I will get around to this one!

Most likely the lap quilt for mom will be the first I make. It will be fun to pick the fabrics with her, and then make the top. The quilting on it will be a little ways down the road, but she is always very understanding of how long projects take me.

Do you plan a few quilts in advance? What projects are you working on right now?

Stretching my Skills

I recently stumbled across an old post by Piecemeal Quilts discussing the ‘dumbing down of quilting’. For me the important part of the post wasn’t the discussion on what counts as intermediate, but the idea that we should challenge ourselves instead of relying on the same basic skill set.

I’m pretty good at applying this strategy to my writing. I try and write deeper characters, more relaistic dialogue, or to not give the ending away in the first scene. It doesn’t come easily or naturally and it’s often unsuccessful, but I keep trying.

After reading Piecemeal’s post, I realized I couldn’t say the same for my quilting. I haven’t moved beyond squares, half square triangles, and a few rectangles. Those are all important skills. Those skills are all you need to make beautiful quilts, but there are other things I could be working on. I don’t need to expand my skills. I could continue to make beautiful quilts with those shapes. The more I think about it though, the more I want to expand my skills. I want to stretch my quilting self.

This year I’ve set a goal of finishing three quilt tops, and three quilts. I want at least one of those quilts to include a new to me skill. I’m planning on a quilt for my mother that includes (kind of) flying geese. I have also bookmarked a quilt that includes diamonds and y-seams. My plan is to tackle the flying geese, which should be fairly straight forward, then move on to the diamonds and y-seams.

At this point I don’t plan to ever move onto curved seams, but I won’t rule it out completely. I want to quilt for many years to come, and over those years I’d like to think my skills will improve and maybe I’ll be ready to jump into something that seems crazy to me today. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I said I wanted to make quilt tops, but not quilt them.

Do you have any skills you’re planning to stretch this year? What writing or quilting projects are you working on?

2016 in Review

Last year I posted regularly for most of the year. My biggest break was from mid-November until now. Here are a few stats, and a short list of my favourite posts from last year.
Total number of blog posts: 77
Top five posts by views:
  1. NaNoWriMo – How to catch up if you’re behind – this is the only post on this list that wasn’t posted in 2016.
  2. Finding my Priorities – again
  3. April Quilting Update
  4. Fourth is a tie between 500 Words – The Tarot Reading and
  5. Making a Fauxdori

A Countdown of my Five Favourite Posts:

5.) Why did I Read that Book?: A post talking about the reasons why I read the books I read.

4.) Tracking my Writing Goals: A look at the spreadsheet I use to track my writing and the stats it produces.

3.) June Quilting Update: I finished my first quilt in May for my son’s seventh birthday. It is a digger quilt that my son cuddles with everyday. The finish was a long time coming.

2.) 500 Words – The Tarot Reading: Last year my second favourite post was a 500 word post as well. This one is my favourite of all the flash fiction I’ve posted.

1.) Inside Out – A new way to develop characters?: A post looking at a new way to develop characters. I often still consider my characters in terms of these five traits.

Visitors from around the world. I had visitors from 25 countries last year. The top five were: Canada (my home country, so not a big surprise), the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

Highest Activity Month
March was again the most active month on my blog, but this year I had several other months that came close.

What was your favourite post this year, on your own blog or someone else’s blog? Do you track the views on your blog?

Plotter vs. Panster

I’ve talked before about how I don’t have the usual skills for writing. I’m logical and love math, numbers, and statistics. I have a computer science degree, and pick up computer programs quickly. I like quilting in squares and triangles with straight lines and perfect points. Free motion quilting is about as crazy as I get with my sewing machine. And even then I keep it organized and logical in execution. It should come as no surprise that I considered myself a plotter for years.

In 2012 I took a risk and wrote NaNo without a plot. To be honest when I started writing I didn’t even have an idea. I had a single image in my head of a hidden square wooden door in a dark basement. So, I named a character and let her lead the way through her own story.

Since that time I’ve gone back to my plotting ways, or at least that is what I told myself. Then I started really thinking about my story writing style in the context of plotting vs pantsing. Was I ever REALLY a plotter?

My very first NaNo I started writing with a general concept. It was a sort of alternate world to our own. The only real different between the world of this novel and our own world was that women in my world could only have one child before becoming infertile. When I started writing that story I didn’t have much more than the world, main characters, and a vague idea of where I wanted that story to end.

Most years I plot out the first half or so of my novel, decide where I think it should end, and let the middle kind of take on a life of its own to get to that end. I know I’m not (usually) a pantser, not completely. But as I look back at my writing attempts I realize I’m not really a plotter either. I guess like most things there is a grey area and that is where I fall. I’m part panters and part plotter. It feels kind of good to get that out, to sent the record straight.

Are you a plotter or a panster? Do you fall somewhere in between?

November Goals

In October my goals were:

  1. Get a sewing/writing area set up in the Study. – nope
  2. Finish my NaNo novel outline. – A good start, but nope
  3. Make my travellers notebook. – Done!
  4. Use my bullet journal for the entire month. – Done!

I did manage to get two more boxes of stuff out of the study in the month of October. It wasn’t nearly enough to pull out my current desk and replace it with the new one. The biggest stumbling block in this room is that we often shove stuff in there that we don’t know where else it should go. I think I need to focus on getting some basement stuff cleared out to make room for some of the stuff in this room.

For the novel outline, I have a really good handle on the first third of the novel. I’ve started working toward the second third, but I haven’t written any of it down yet. I think this will be one of those years where I write to the end of what I have and then start scrambling for what comes next. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how that goes.

My goals for November are:

  1. Win NaNoWriMo for the tenth year.
  2. Sell, donate, etc at least three big ticket items in the basement.
  3. Exercise (run or bike) 6 times.
  4. Use my bullet journal for the entire month.

I’m keeping it light and simple this month. Mostly because that first one is going to eat up most of my free time this month as it has in other years. As my husband likes to say, “in November I might as well be a widower”. I don’t think it is actually that bad, but I do see his point. Writing 50k, in a month, on top of your usual life, is kind of a big time sucker.

Have you set any goals for this month? Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

Getting Ready for NaNo

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and it’s time to get ready. I need characters, a plot, and a setting. I’ve had the basics for quite a while, but I need to get down to the nitty gritty. I need more than this person did this thing, then a bunch of stuff happens, and this is the end. In my current outline I have over half the novel sketched out as “Insert Adventure here”. That isn’t going to fly when it comes time to start writing out that adventure.

Yesterday I found some time at a coffee shop to sketch out the history of this particular character. It was very helpful, and necessary work, but it hasn’t helped advance my plot at all. I also spent a bit of time sketching out the motivations for some of the minor characters. Again, necessary work, but it isn’t helping to advance my plot outline directly.

Tonight I plan to finish sketching out the minor characters for the first location in the novel. Then I’m going to plot out how the Main Character and her frenemy get off the first planet and started on the main adventure. All that really means though is that the hard work start tomorrow. Because that is when I have to solve the question of what does “Insert Adventure here” mean in this particular novel.

Have you got your novel all planned out for NaNo? Are you someone who uses placeholders like “Insert Adventure here” while plotting out a novel?

NaNoWriMo – How many Words per Day?

Deciding how many words per day to write during NaNo isn’t always straight forward. Not everyone can write everyday, some people don’t have the same amount of time everyday, and others need words put away ‘just in case’. Below are a few different plans for how many words to write each day.

The Usual
The traditional method of winning at NaNoWriMo has a plan of writing 1,667 words per day, every day. For many people this works wonderfully. It helps them set a daily writing habit, and encourages them to write more words than they would on a normal writing day. If you are someone who works well with consistency, is dedicated, and likes linear graphs, then this is the method for you.

I Need a Day off
Sometimes you end up with a schedule that no matter what you do you just can’t write everyday. Maybe you have a class that eats up your free time every Tuesday, or you need a day once in a while to give your brain a break, or your spouse has declared Friday night date night. No matter the reason, if you need to be able to take one day a week off writing, then you need to write more than 1,667 words per day. My recommendation is to write 2,000 words each day. This gives you five days off through the month. That is one day a week (for that Friday night date), plus a bit of wiggle room. If you just can’t write everyday, but are also intimidated by large single day word counts, this is the method for you.

The 9-5
Sometimes having the same writing goal everyday of the week doesn’t make sense. For example, I have a Mon-Fri job. When I’m at work I can’t write, because I have to, duh, work. Then when I get home I need to prep for the next day, spend time with the kid, and feed the family.

On the weekends though, I can be a lot more flexible with my time. I still have to do all the usual stuff, but I don’t have my job taking up such a big block of time. If you want to offload some of your writing to your weekend (or any two days of the week) you can easily do that. You might decide to write 1,400 words each work day, then 2,500 words each weekend day (1.5k and 2.2k also work well). This method is a great choice when you have time to write everyday, but you have more time some days than others.

My Plan
I like to validate early. Often I aim to validate on the first day I can, (usually) the 20th. This year is my tenth NaNo, so I have a lot of practice and a very good knowledge of my writing speed. My plan for the month is to write 2,000 words each workday and 3,600 words each weekend day. With a few extra words here and there I should be done by the 20th. This plan is great for me, but could work for anyone who needs to offload words to the weekend, and likes to finish a little early.

Graphing it out
Here are two graphs to show what these plans look like over the first week of NaNo. The first graph is the number of words each day, the second is the cumulative word count if you follow the plan.

Sample word plan graphs for NaNo

Do you have a plan for how much you are going to write each day in November? Do you aim for the standard 1,667 words per day or something else?

Have you set up your Novel yet?

Bullet Journal in Moleskine CahierNational Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is just around the corner. I know it’s getting close because the NaNoWriMo site has been rolled over for 2016. That means you can now login and create your novel. This year the NaNo folks have made it very easy. When you login you should get a pop up which will take you directly to the screen to input your novel information. So go do that… right now! Yes, now. No time like the present and all that.

I’m slowly working my way through my usual pre NaNo prep. Some of what I like to accomplish before November 1st is listed in my get ready post from last year. The two things I have left to get ready are some meals, and my notebook.

Meals
The meals are harder than usual as my son is on a somewhat limited diet. Well not that limited, but tricky for putting things in the freezer. Luckily I’ve been doing NaNo for years and have managed to work my writing into the time after he is in bed, or on weekends when he is at the park with his Dad. I hope the schedule that has worked the last few years will work this year as well. If not I might really be missing those freezer meals.

Notebook
For my notebook this year I’m going all out. I’ll be making a fauxdori later this week to hold Moleskine Cahier large notebooks. I’ve had trouble in the past keeping my notebooks organized. I often have 2-3 notebooks/journals on the go at a time. Trying to keep track of them is difficult, and I hadn’t figured out a way to easily keep them together or combine them into a single notebook. The solution (I hope) is a fauxdori Travelers notebook cover. In November this will let me carry my Bullet Journal and NaNo notebook at the same time without one spilling into the other. Jumping right into the deep end feels like the perfect test for if I’ll use a fauxdori or not. I need a notebook system that can get me through a busy November without falling apart (or better yet one that stops me from falling apart!).

Have you signed up for NaNoWriMo yet? Are you feeling prepped or already feeling the pressure? How do you handle notes and ideas for your novels?

Journals, Notebooks, and Organization

I have always loved notebooks. My love of notebooks probably comes from my father. He almost always carried a little notebook with him. When he passed away I found a little stash of notebooks ready and waiting for when he needed them. He used to write notes about books he wanted to read, articles he enjoyed, music he’d listened to, or things he wanted to do on his next trip. Basically he kept a running list of everyday stuff he found useful or handy.

In Jr. High and High school I kept a true journal or diary. I would write in my journal almost everyday. A lot of it was boring everyday things, but it helped keep my mind clear and remind me of what was important to me. It was a great place to let loose when I was angry and struggling to process events, or when I wanted to note a great accomplishment.

These days I use notebooks for writing, crafting, and to do lists. When I’m planing a new story I almost always have a notebook on the go. I start writing out the plot, character sketches, research topics, and random ideas about the story. A friend of mine introduced me to Bullet Journaling and I’ve been meaning to try it to help schedule and keep track of to do items.

My latest idea for journaling is to make myself a Midori Travelers notebook. The Midori brand version is a little too expensive for me, but the concept is fairly simple. My plan is to make a small one to be able to use Moleskine cahier pocket notebooks as inserts. This should allow me to have a bullet journal in one notebook, and another notebook (or two) for stories I have on the go.

Are you a notebook person? How do you organize your thoughts, to do lists, etc?