Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2008

To MFA or not to MFA?

Image via Wikipedia by Chris Stewart There must be something in the air: this past spring and fall I mentored five of my writing workshop students through their MFA applications. So if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to find and apply for the right program for you, here are some things to think about: MONEY: The first and most important consideration. Can you afford to quit your job, move to the city/state where the graduate program you want to join is located, and either work part time or not at all? Or, if you stay local, can you quit your job or work part time? Or can you keep your day job and ask your boss if you can leave early for an afternoon class, or just take them in the evenings? If your portfolio is good enough, a school will pay part, or all, of your tuition either for one or both years (one year means you received a scholarship, which comes through nomination by a member of the faculty at the institution, or is decided by those faculty who choose the incoming class

Critique Groups - Getting Them On Their Feet - Part 3

By Chris Stewart Part 1 Part 2 So now you've found the group that meets the criteria we've discussed, or started one, and you're ready to go. How do you run it? What are its rules of conduct? How do you convey your comments and suggestions to your fellow writers and poets in a respectful and helpful way so they don’t rip your head off? Running the Group It’s fairly simple. You: a) Agree to meet at one neutral, easily accessed location for each meeting OR rotate houses so everyone in the group hosts. b) Each week a different person in the group facilitates (the host if you are rotating houses). This means keeping time, keeping people on task, and keeping the peace. The latter means asking someone to be clearer and offer examples that illustrate their comment, or rephrasing what they’ve said in a nicer way and asking them if that’s what they mean. It usually doesn't mean breaking up a fight or trying to coax a crying writer out of the bathroom, but I've seen both. Br

The Five Cs of a Good Critique Group

By Chris Stewart In my first post on this subject, I talked about the biggest contributor to a good critique group (sometimes people also call these workshops, though not meaning one you sign up and pay for) - chemistry . To refresh your memory this link should, in theory, take you to that post: Chemistry A critique group is a partnership, so let's move on to the other four factors. The first is Commitment . Pretty self-explanatory. If you agree to take part in a critique group then commit to at least six months . Ideally you should be meeting every 2-3 weeks, but even if it's once a month, it takes about three or so sessions for you to start feeling comfortable and for the group to find its groove (or for you to find your place within the group if you're joining one that's already established). Then it takes another few meetings with your guard down to determine if you are getting what you need in terms of critique (I'll touch on that in more detail in another post

Critique Groups: Good and Bad Things

by Christine Stewart This is a four? five? part series (we’ll see how it goes!) Let’s talk about two of the big factors in a workshop group. One good, one bad. One you want, one you don’t. GOOD THING It’s chemistry . This is fairly self-explanatory if you’re dating, but maybe not so clear when it comes to a workshop or critique group. You don’t want to be nervous and sweaty or want to have a quickie in the closet with anyone in the group. (No, you really don’t.) What to look for: Longevity: if it’s an established group you’re joining, how long have they been meeting? A year or more shows they’re solid. If you're starting a group, ask for at least a 6 month commitment, where the group meets every 2-3 weeks and agree to reevaluate at the end of the 6 months. Training: not to be snotty, but ideally everyone in the group has either taken workshops that included discussions and applications of craft, or has a degree of some kind in writing. The best writers know what the tools of writ

Boring Book Flaps - Some Notes on Originality

By Chris Stewart It seems every time I read someone's bio for whatever reason they are working on a novel. Everyone and their brother, mother, ex-boyfriend, homeopath, babysitter, work crush, realtor, and massage therapist are writers. It's enough to make you give up and go to law school. We all like to think we have original ideas that will catch an agent's or editor's attention, but do we really? (And how much originality is a good thing? Too much and you're not marketable. Not enough and your ms ends up in the trash. Perhaps that's a subject for another post....) To find out where you fit in, I encourage you to take a field trip to your local bookstore or library and check out the offerings in your genre. This is also a good exercise for those of you out there working on pitches for agents and editors for an upcoming conference (or to use in your query letters). Make sure you bring change for the copier (if you go to the library). You're going to copy som

Write What You Are Willing to Learn - Advice from Jodi Picoult

By Anthony S. Policastro If you think you spend too much time researching your novel, take a look at NY Times Bestselling author of fourteen novels, Jodi Picoult , who says she spends as much or more time researching a book than writing it. She even went to a remote Eskimo village with no running water in January, the coldest month, to research Eskimo culture for one of her characters. She shares her humorous and enlightening stories on how she came up with the ideas and how she researched three of her favorite novels in the free Writer’s Digest video webcast at the 2007 BookExpo America/Writer’s Digest Books Writers Conference. She is a great spe aker who talks rapidly and gets right to the point so make sure you have 49 minutes to do nothing because you will find that you cannot stop listening. Her best advice is to “write what you’re willing to learn” rather than write what you know. Definitely a must see. Jodi Picoult's latest novel