Showing posts with label Memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memoir. Show all posts

Friday, April 29, 2011

Writer's Groups and Critique Workshops: What's in it for the Critiquer?

Aside from the obvious, "Because I get MY story critiqued," what exactly do the writers giving critique get out of a critique session?

While eating Mexican food at The Farmers Market other day pre-interviewing a potential writing workshop leader, we were talking about our approaches to our workshops and she said to me, "Well, that's the point of the writing workshop, to get to the point where you don't need it anymore and can self-critique." While I don't entirely agree with that statement, that is partly where where the value lies for the writers who are giving critique to another writer.


In the workshop (or writers group or critique group or whatever you name it) setting, when you are listening to other writers review someone's writing and point out a piece's strengths and weaknesses, you are not just sitting there biding time until it's your turn. You may not realize it, but you are learning how to improve your own writing.

For newer writers, this process is invaluable when it comes to understanding how to cohesively construct a story (structure and continuity). If it is a group like our writers groups, where all genres are welcome, reading a wide variety of genres and skill levels and listening to the feedback helps you to understand what is good and why it is good and what isn't working and why it isn't working so you can go home and apply what you've learned to your own stories or poetry. You learn why character and theme are the most important story elements, regardless of genre. You start to see how much the use of subtext adds to a description or a character, or how important it is that each scene move the story forward in some way. You begin to see the difference between a plot-driven story and a character-driven story. You will notice how another writer constructs beautiful, poetic prose, or you will notice when the writing is so ornate that it actually distracts from the story or feels out-of-sync with the character.

If you are a screenwriter, you learn how to enter and exit a scene efficiently, how to write for a totally visual medium, and how story structure works for a screenplay, which is a completely different and a mostly formulaic process and can be quite different than writing a novel or short story or even a memoir.

For more experienced writers, you gain exposure to new and interesting voices, unique prose, new story ideas. You find new ways to approach your new or existing stories. Your critique of the others' stories teaches them how to critique your stories. In a way, you are training someone to critique your stories the way you want to be critiqued. You may learn how to critique poetry even if you are an essayist. You might learn how to critique a novel if you are a screenwriter, which will come in handy when you try your hand at a novel, and you will one day. You also get the great pleasure of mentoring another writer.

The list is nearly infinite. The more you critique, the more you learn, the better writer you become, the better critiquer you become, the better the other writers become, the better the other writers become helpful critiquers. You elevate each other. Your learning process becomes their learning process.


It doesn't matter how experienced writers are, they are frequently handing their work to someone they trust to look it over. Not all artists do this. I'm pretty sure that painters don't send first draft paintings around for critique, so does that mean that we as writer/artists should be able to judge for ourselves when our 'art' is finished? If you've read in your genre and are an experienced writer, you have to have faith that you will know when your story is its best possible version. Unlike painters, we can't just walk out of the room then walk back in with a fresh pair of eyes. We have to set it down for days, if not weeks, then we have to go back and read it all over again, pretending we're reading it for the first time, which takes a while if you've just written a novel or book-length memoir. We create entire beings and all their complexities (character), their world (description, genre), their life situations (crisis / situation) and their reactions to those situations (conflict) and attempt to transfer that epic inside our heads and put it into a readers' head exactly how we have envisioned it. It is our job to get that reader to see what we see, experience what our character experiences and sometimes that requires a fresh pair of eyes, yours or someone else's who can speak your literary language.

Evaluating our own writing is sometimes like being a therapist and evaluating yourself. It's usually better to get another person's perspective, because we're often too close to look at ourselves objectively. Writers, regardless of experience level, are sometimes too close to their own work to check for inconsistencies or to know when a reader might be pulled out of the piece while wondering how the main character seemed to magically teleport from one scene to another, or when a character is doing something 'out of character'. Some writers can pull off this kind of self-critique, but most can't.

You have sole creative control over your writing. You will know what critique advice to take and what not to take. Here's a hint: if you cringe a little when you hear it, it's probably something you need to reevaluate and your ego knows it, hence the cringing. Just give the feedback some time to marinate and soften your ego's automatic reaction.

I've had writers who've written for television, writers who've sold multiple screenplays, and writers who've had multiple stories and poems published ask me to review a new story. This isn't from a lack of confidence or experience, it's from wisdom. Wise not because they chose me, but because they are seeking several different perspectives, and have the wisdom to know that sometimes even the creator doesn't have all the answers. This is the value of a writing workshop or writers group. Several different third-party reader perspectives, readers who can talk your literary language and help you improve, and by asking them for feedback, you are helping them become better writers as well.

The critique workshop, especially in a professionally moderated environment with someone who is an experienced leader and experienced in giving positive and constructive feedback is an incredible learning opportunity. It may not be a writing class or a lecture environment, but you will be more learned for the experience.

If you'd like to participate in one of our creative writing and critique workshops, check out our schedule. We run our groups throughout Los Angeles, including Hermosa Beach (scheduled), El Segundo (new workshop coming soon), Miracle Mile / Koreatown (scheduled), West LA (scheduled), and Glendale / Glassell Park. Santa Clarita critique workshop coming soon!

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Burbank, Glendale, San Fernando Valley Writers: Writing Workshop Starts May 5th

Hey all you Burbank, Glendale, San Fernando Valley Writers!  Our longest-running writers group starts on Thursday May 5th!

This writers group a combination of writing workshop and critique group.  Our groups focus on getting words on the page and creating new stories / poetry and story ideas through creative writing exercises and also provide the opportunity to bring your current stories, chapters, poetry, memoir, or essay in for critique from your fellow group members and from a qualified moderator.  This writers group is run by Sanora Bartels, co-founder.

Meet Sanora

Attending a writing workshop with Sanora is a fantastic opportunity.  She only runs four groups per year.  Sanora is known for her supportive and exceptionally astute insights into writing, voice, stories, and prose.  She can jump from giving critique on poetry to fiction to screenplay to memoir with ease and often does in her groups, which attract and welcome writers of all genres and levels.   She is about far more than just story structure, she is about helping you elevate your writing in ways you didn't even know you were capable of accomplishing.  Her writing exercises have actually turned people into poets who never thought of themselves that way.   She will point out things you didn't even know you were doing, and give you solid direction and focus for your work in a way that leaves you excited about the possibilities of your stories.  If you don't live near her, she is worth the drive.

Sanora has been running writers groups for nearly 8 years and in 2006 graduated with a Master of Professional Writing degree from University of Southern California.  She has studied with various poetry mentors, including Cathy Colman (Borrowed Dress), Ron Koertge (Making Love to Roget’s Wife), and Holly Prado (from one to the next).  At USC, she studied screenplay writing with Syd Field (Screenplay) and has since completed a full-length screenplay titled “Straying Home” which made it to the Semi Finals of NexTv’s 2010 Writing and Pitch Competition.  Her poetry has been published in Wordwrights! magazine and New Millennium Writings. Her full-length poetry manuscript is titled The Order of Things. Sanora is a teacher of Vedic Meditation and has written several pieces on Vedic philosophy and has had over 20 articles published.  You can find her meditation schedule on Sanora is a co-editor on the Meditation page of Writers Groups
Meets on Thursday, May 5th for 8 Weeks
7:30pm - 10:00pm

This creative writing workshop is convenient and easy driving distance from to Glassell Park, Glendale, Pasadena, San Fernando Valley, and Hollywood, and parking is abundant.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

West Los Angeles Writing and Critique Workshop starts Thursday!

Our West Los Angeles Writing and Critique Workshop begins on Thursday! has been running writers groups and creative writing workshops throughout the greater Los Angeles area since 2003. We hire moderators to run these groups who have years of experience giving writers feedback on their novels, screenplays, essays, children's books, short fiction stories, memoirs and even on poetry. Our moderators are chosen because they have experience working directly with creative writers and they understand how to give supportive cross-genre feedback that will leave you excited by the possibilities of your story and hungry to go home and rewrite your project, if it needs rewriting.

We also create new stories / writing in our groups through improvisational writing exercises given as writing prompts by our group moderators that are hand-picked by that moderator based on the needs of individual writers in the group to help elevate your prose, theme, dialogue, character development and much more. Because of this, no two groups are the same, which is why we have so many people who repeat group after group (plus returning writers get the returning member discount!). Our rules for the critique process have been developed over years of working in this group setting in order to keep the critique process constructive and positive.

Critique is not only good for the person receiving critique. It also benefits the critiquer. Listening to our moderators and other members give feedback on various writing styles, stories, and genres, helps those listening elevate their level of critique and their ability to critique their own stories as they write them. While our groups are not writing classes per se, and we have no lecture portion of the evening, a great deal of experiential learning, often customized for the individual group, takes place during our workshops. Even if a writer never brings in a story for feedback, they grow from a craft perspective just by listening and participating in the process.

Please visit or email for information or questions about our writers groups.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Should you read in the genre you write?

Someone recently asked me why it's important to read in the genre they write, i.e., if you write science fiction, should you read science fiction, if you are a memoirist, should you read other memoirs?

In response, I asked him if he had a day job.
He did.
I asked him what he did.
He was an engineer.
I then asked, "If you'd never opened a physics book, how would that affect your job?"
He replied, "Well, I'd loose a great deal of feel for what it is I do and why things work."


Reading in your genre is not setting yourself up as a plagiarist. It is not distracting you from your writing. It is your homework, your business. If you are writing Fantasy fiction, you need to read as much Fantasy as possible. That is your job. You need to understand the conceits and structure of your genre. You need to know what's already out there. You need a background sense of what you should be aiming for in your finished product. You need to understand how to incorporate theme and foreshadowing into your prose. You need to understand how to organically set up a fantastical world. You can't work in a field you know nothing about. Well, perhaps you can, but you will likely be inefficient and ineffective.

I've heard people give writers advice to avoid reading about a subject they are writing, or in a genre they are writing because it will 'unduly influence their writing, and that they need to remain original.' I can't disagree more with this statement. This is like telling a painter never to look at other paintings. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Studying other painters is part of what makes someone a great painter.

It's okay to be influenced. All artists have influences who have inspired their work. This is not a bad thing. This is an imagination booster, not a route to being a copycat. This is true even for screenwriters.

Read in your genre.

Photo by Lienhard Schulz (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Call for Submissions about the Inland Empire in So Cal: Inlandia

Inlandia: A Literary Journey, the online literary journal for the Inlandia Institute, is currently reading submissions.

We are primarily seeking stories, poems, novel excerpts, memoir, images, etc., by writers and artists whose work is in some way grounded in the Inland Empire, works that will give readers around the globe a sense of the region and its people.

To give a clearer picture of where this region is located, it is in the southeastern corner of California and encompasses all of Riverside and San Bernardino counties from the heights of San Gorgonio Mountain to the lows of Death Valley, from the wineries of Temecula to the shuttered citrus packing houses of Riverside, and all points in-between.

Above all else, we want fresh, compelling writing.

Please visit the Inlandia website for complete submission guidelines and to review our current issue, which includes works by Shin Yu Pai, Rebecca K. O'Connor, Stephanie Barbe Hammer, Louise Mathias, and many more.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Call for Submissions: Poetry, Fiction or Memoir Chapbooks

Call for Fiction Submissions: Wordrunner Electronic Chapbooks (Revised)

This small press publishes four online collections annually of fiction, poetry or memoir, each featuring one author. Submit your manuscript for the mid-March FICTION e-chapbook by February 21. No fee to submit. Payment: $65. See
for detailed guidelines and 2011 submission and publication schedule.

Submit a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 15 stories. Stories may be flash or longer, from 500 up to 3,000 words each, totaling a minimum of approximately 7,500 and a maximum of 16,000 words for the collection.

We are more interested in compelling and subtle narrative with characters that walk off the page than in experimental fiction. No genre fiction, please, unless a story is good enough to transcend genre. Stories need not be linked. At least one-third of the collection should be previously unpublished.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Real Simple Magazine Creative Nonfiction Memoir Essay Contest

From Real Simple Magazine:

Deadline: 9/24/2010
Creative Nonfiction / Memoir / Essay
Enter the Third Annual Real Simple Life Lessons Contest And You Could Win $3000

Finish this sentence: “I NEVER THOUGHT I’D...”

THEN TELL US WHY! Whether the experience was difficult, funny, easy, or bittersweet, share your lesson and you could win.

• $3,000
• Round-trip tickets for two to New York City, hotel accommodations for two nights, tickets to a Broadway play, and a lunch with Real Simple editors
• Publication in Real Simple Magazine

Contest entries should be typed, double-spaced, and a maximum of 1,500 words. No purchase necessary. Contest begins at 12:01 A.M. on June 1, 2010, and ends at 11:59 P.M. on September 24, 2010. Open to legal residents of the United States 19 or older at the time of entry. Void where prohibited by law. (All entries will not be returned.)

TO ENTER Send your typed, double-spaced submission (1,500 words maximum, preferably in a Microsoft Word attachment) by e-mail to lifelessons[at]
For contest rules, visit

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Submit yourself to mythium

How can we not love a litmag that says: "Submit! ...seriously, we mean surrender to us. Right Now!"

Click on over to mythium and do as they command: Send them original, unpublished fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, or even novel and memoir excerpts.

Their reading period for the Spring 2010 issue began on October 1st.

Friday, June 05, 2009

First Person America Seeks Sumissions

Stories, Videos, and Photographs Reflective of Our National Economic Crisis

Competition information as listed on website:
Artists: We are looking for short memoirs and essays, documentary films, and photographs that depict Americans from all walks of life. We are especially interested in stories that are unique to your family, your community, your town, your region – that capture the idiosyncratic things that are happening where you live - the slices of life that, taken together, will give us a First Person picture of America in 2009 – the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

Submission Guidelines:
Writing submissions – up to 2,500 words.
Film and video submissions – up to five minutes, excluding credits.
Photography submissions - may include up to five photographs, with or without accompanying text of up to 100 words per image.

Submission deadline: June 30, 2009

For more information:

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Dream Quest One Poetry & Writing Contest

Dream Quest One is sponsoring Poetry and Writing (Fiction/Non-Fiction) Contests. In their own words:
Deadline: December 31, 2008
Open to anyone who loves to express their innermost thoughts and feeling into the beautiful art of poetry or to write a short story that is worth telling everyone! And to all who have the ability to dream. Write a poem or short story for a chance to win cash prizes. All works must be original.
Write a poem, thirty lines or fewer on any subject, style, or form, typed or neatly hand printed. And/or write a short story, five pages maximum length, on any subject or theme, creative writing fiction or non-fiction (including essay compositions, diary, journal entries and screenwriting). Also, must be typed or neatly hand printed. Multiple poetry and short story entries are accepted. All winners will be announced on January 31, 2009.
  • Writing Contest First Prize is $500. Second Prize: $250. Third Prize: $100.
  • Poetry Contest First Prize is $250. Second Prize: $125. Third Prize: $50.
Entry fees: Writing Contest entry fee: $10 per short story.
Poetry Contest entry fee: $5 per poem.
To send entries: Include title(s) with your story (ies) or poem(s), along with your name, address, phone#, email, brief biographical info. (Tell us a little about yourself), on the coversheet. Add a self-addressed stamped envelope for entry confirmation. Fees payable to: “DREAMQUESTONE.COM” Mail to:
Dream Quest One
Poetry & Writing Contest
P.O. Box 3141
Chicago, IL 60654
Visit for further details or to enter!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Best Advice You Ever Had ~

FundsforWriters, (and its annual sponsor IdeaWeaver), is announcing its 7th Annual FundsforWriters Essay Contest. FundsforWriters changes its theme every year; this year they are offering two topics to choose from that have one thing in common: write about the best advice you ever had.
  • Topic 1: The Best Advice I Ever Had and Ignored
  • Topic 2: The Best Advice I Ever Had and Followed.
FundsforWriters is "all about the writer," so your essay should be writing-related, or, at least will tie back into a writing lesson. The deadline is October 31, 2008, essays should be 750 words or less, and you have both No Fee and $5 Entry Fee options, (the $5 entry fee option has bigger prizes). Those that select the $5 entry fee option will also receive the ebook of their choice.
$5 Entry Fee Category:
  • First Place: $200
  • Second Place: $20 - and a free copy of IdeaWeaver software (a $49.95 value)
  • Third Place: $10
No Entry Fee Category:
  • First Place: $50
  • Second Place: $20
  • Third Place: $20

The same piece cannot be entered in both categories. Submit your entry in the body of an email to hope(at)fundsforwriters(dot)com. Please go to their website for the rest of the contest guidelines and to read previous winning essays.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Is It Truly Better To Have Loved And Lost?

No matter how you answer that question, you probably have a short story, either written or not-yet-written, that could illustrate your point. If you do, If Only I Could Tell You ... Where Past Loves and Current Intimacy Meet is sponsoring it's 2nd annual Past Loves Day contest whose deadline isn't until midnight, August 17, 2008. Tell them, in no more than 700 words, as though you were telling a best friend, about how this past love influenced your life.
  • First Prize: $100
  • Second Prize: $75
  • Third Prize: $50
All winners and Honorable Mentions will receive a copy of If Only I Could Tell You ... Where Past Loves and Current Intimacy Meet. Winners will also have their stories posted (anonymously, if requested) on their website.
Send your entry to: contest(at)ourpastloves(dot)com or: CONTEST, Spruce Mountain Press, 61 Katuah Road, Plainfield, VT 05667.
Winners will be announced on Past Loves Day, September 17, 2008. There is no fee to enter.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Work Needed for "When Mother Died" Anthology

This just in from Sellingham Publishing:

The relationship between a mother and a child offers us glimpses of complexity, fragility, challenge and faith. The death of a mother provides opportunity to reflect upon so much of that complex world.

Sellingham Publishing is currently accepting submissions for the publication of an anthology of stories entitled "When Mother Died."

Below please find submission guidelines. If you would prefer to receive this as an attachment please send email to If you wish to receive it via US Postal Service, please send a self addressed stamped envelop to the following address:

Corlis F. Carroll, Editor
Sellingham Publishing
1855 Western Avenue
Albany, NY 12203

If you are submitting work, please send email indicating your desire to participate in this project to This helps us to prepare our editorial staff with regard to the quantity of work anticipated.

Submissions will only be accepted until August 31, 2008. It is the editor's belief that submissions challenged by an urgency due to limited time constraints convey an authenticity and edge to the work that contributes to an enhanced quality that lengthy deadline options can otherwise compromise.

Submissions must be non-fiction and can be in the form of poetry, eulogy or memoir.

Your submission must include the following:

Cover letter to include a statement as to why you would like to see your work published in this anthology.

A brief summary (100 words or less) of the author's background.

Submissions must be in English, double-spaced with 1 inch margins in 12 point type on white paper. Your name and page number must appear on every page.

Submissions must not exceed twenty pages (page described above).

Email submissions are not accepted.

Include a stamped self-addressed envelope for return of your submission if it is not accepted for publication. Include a self addressed, stamped blank postcard for acknowledgment of receipt of materials if desired. International submissions will not be returned. Notification via email only will be provided to International Submissions.

Only send copies of your materials. Keep original work for your own files.

Your complete daytime contact information including telephone and email must accompany your submission.

Only one submission per person will be considered. (1 poem, 1 eulogy or 1 memoir)

Mail your submission in a page-size envelope. Submissions should not be stapled or folded and your envelope must reflect your name and address.

Simultaneous submissions to other publications is not allowed. You will be notified by October 31 if your work has been accepted for publication.

Submission fee for inclusion in this anthology should accompany your submission and should be a postal money order or personal check payable to Sellingham LLC in the amount of $20. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Arthritis Foundation for research into the causes and cures for Rheumatoid Arthritis, an illness that caused pain and suffering for over 70 years for the mother of the editor, Dorothy Mae Sellingham Carroll (1913-2004).

Payment for your submission if accepted for publication will be a signed first edition copy of the anthology, "When Mother Died" and $50 payable 3 months after publication.

As acknowledgment of and agreement with the terms for inclusion in this publication, print this email and sign and date it before a Notary Public and include it with your submission. Your signature acknowledges your understanding and acceptance of this agreement and grants permission for the editor of the anthology "When Mother Died" to publish your submission in the first and all subsequent editions of this anthology, to promote the sale of "When Mother Died" through book signing but promotion shall not restricted to book signing.

We look forward to receiving your submissions.


Corlis F. Carroll
Sellingham Publishing