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Using scenes to win a NaNoWriMo challenge

This Sunday starts a new challenge for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, untold novelists try to write 50,000 words in just 30 days. I’ve attempted this a dozen times since I started on novels in 2004. I have never written that many words in one month. However, even my failures taught me plenty.

November was always trouble for me in NaNo. For more than 15 years, November was a month we’d publish our 3000 NewsWire newsletter. Journalism on deadline doesn’t give much room for 1,700 words a day of fiction. Then there’s the holiday. Thanksgiving usually meant at least a couple of days off, and that didn’t even consider the years we’d travel to our Turkey Day meal.

NaNo can be won. Here are some things to practice and attempt.

You must consider what “winning” at NaNo means to you. A glut of 50,000 helter-skelter words is a great chunk of your work of making a novel. You can judge for yourself, but a glut of words that are, instead, aimed at an outline, chapter summaries, or even scene goals — that’s really useful during the month of December (more on that in a minute).

Advice: have a rudimentary outline or set of goals at hand. There are 30 shots at getting 50,000 words finished. Knowing where you’re headed really helps get your writing into your head. You’ll find yourself thinking about new writing even before it appears on the page. If you need a way to think about key points in a big book, look at my article Use 10 Key Scenes to Win NaNoWriMo.

Be realistic about how many days you will work, or can make the hour or two it requires on writing days. The closest I came to winning my NaNo month was in 2011. I was revising my novel Viral Times in the wake of the movie Contagion, so I had the fire to finish. I easily wrote that many words, inside of my advanced draft.

Advice: Get your calendar out and make marks for your writing days. Try to be honest about distractions. If Sundays are a wonderful jumble of family and long walks, take them off. Double up on four other days. Time away from the 1,700 words a day is useful. See that “thinking about the book before writing” advice above.

You can do your own countdown of how many words you’ve got to write. Getting support from a group of writers who you don’t know had limited benefits for me. I did better when writers I knew were keeping me accountable. Something as simple as holding myself to a schedule I dreamed up in Excel got me through the Viral Times revision.

You can use the Show Project Targets window in Scrivener to keep track of your daily writing. The window fills up a progress bar and accounts for deletions as well as any new writing. If your net is 1,700 new words a day, success is yours. Think of it as a series of winning innings, or quarters in a game. NaNo is a lot of innings, almost like a World Series’ worth of baseball wins. If you’d like a little help on using Scrivener for this, get in touch and I’ll help out. I also coach authors in making good use of Scrivener, 1:1.

Advice: Count up somewhere outside the NaNo website. Count more than words; count the days you have written. Put up a calendar with a daily update of when you’re written. This follows the Seinfeld method of developing a habit: Lots of x’s in calendar blocks will make you reluctant to break a streak. Seinfeld wrote three jokes every day for a few decades.

When the month of November is done, you’ll have a lot more finished on your book than you did on Oct. 31. What to do with all of that? December is National Novel Editing Month. I have some openings for book editing during that month, so reach out and get something booked with me. You can put down a nominal, fully refundable deposit to hold your space until you submit your pages.

In the meantime, get a special pen if you draft longhand, or use the 30 days to experiment with drafting right off the keyboard. I’m working on the back half of Sins of Liberty, my historical novel about suffrage and progress. Ask me how it’s going.

Choosing Amazon to unleash your books

Printing pressPhoto by Bank Phrom on Unsplash

It’s the start of production season for an author whose book I’ve just edited. His collection of essays will be in print and might become a hardback, too. It’s time for him to consider how he will manufacture his self-published indie book. I’m not calling what we’re doing publishing yet, because the plans for marketing, sales, and publicity aren’t set yet. The first job is to manufacture the book, including the writing and editing, design, and printing.

Amazon now wants the business of creating paperbacks for sale in its online retail store. Author copies, useful for sales to consignment booksellers like Austin’s Bookpeople, can be purchased for the cost of printing from Amazon. As you might imagine, selling a book that’s printed by Amazon makes the paperback available on Amazon.com sooner than through other methods like IngramSpark. Readers buying paperbacks can sometimes be in a hurry.

Once your manuscript has been edited and proofed (two separate steps) you’re ready to start the production process. Kindle and ebooks are easiest to make, and both Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon’s KDP have online tools to do the formatting for ebooks.

If you’d like to know what your book will look like on an e-reader, you don’t even have to submit it for Amazon production. Kindle will accept Word files and format them for reading on pads and Kindles. Email the Word file (.doc or .docx) to your Kindle email address of your account. Then you can look at the work in progress as if it’s a book. Free — and this is a powerful tool to use in development editing, workshopping, or being a beta reader.

Amazon has good pages on how to produce a printed book through their services. They’ve got free software and videos. People have strong feelings about the Zon, but at the end of the day they’re a book retailer who wants titles to sell and use for data collection and promotion purposes. Everything you sell or offer on Amazon is tracked, and some of that data is used to help sell other books, too. It’s just the way the Zon does business.

Getting your books up for sale on the Zon is essential, unless you’re ready to hire your own sales reps and ship out books after you process orders. It’s not your only sales outlet, just the biggest one.

Is there a memoir in your journals?

Journaling is a worthy element of the writing life. The material is right at hand, all those things that have happened to you. Or your journal might run to dreams and wishes, or deconstruct the events you’ve been witness to, yesterday or long ago.

A journal though, no matter how carefully and faithfully kept, is just a single tool in the crafting of a memoir. Just because you have four decades of bound journals in your closet doesn’t mean you’re ahead of the curve on writing a memoir.

Journaling, by its very name, sets out an episodic structure of storytelling. On this day, once upon a time, these things happened, and here is how I feel about them. If there’s detail in your journal entries, it can help you recreate and remember parts of the story you captured in a journal.

Your memoir is both bigger than that journal, and smaller as well. A memoir is bigger because the memoir gives us context and meaning to surround events in a life. A memoir is smaller than a journal, especially a box-load of them, because memoirs examine a slice of a life. You might have a journal that kept note of the year you kicked cocaine, or the year you started that horse farm that you eventually sold to the mall developers.

You need more to make a memoir. You’re likely to research that special year of journals to search out the details that are not readily available as you write your memoir. The details might be sparing. Journal entries don’t often include the smell in the air or the cast of the light in a room, or what the drug counselor wore every day there was a group meeting. Most of all, the journals don’t revolve around a theme, unless you know your life’s patterns and prejudices before you take down the events and feelings. Read More →

Ten Key Scenes get your book on the road

Writers dry up and falter all the time in their quest to create.  One great process to keep words flowing into the big file is to have an outline at hand. It’s like your writing to-do list. Saying the word outline makes some writers roll their eyes and sigh. Creating by the seat of your pants is one way to put 50,000 words into a file. Making it into a story will keep you coming back to the months-long task.

Dreaming up 10 Key Scenes gives the pantsers and the plotters a middle ground to make that to-do list. You imagine the 10 turning points for your novel, each represented as a scene. Write the scene and all of the juicy narrative you want to lead in and fall away from it. Space them out so you’re getting one key scene written in rough draft every 3 days. Start with any scene you want, but get them all mapped out before hand with dead-simple summary. Something like “Anna gets arrested at the march.”

The Ten-Scene method is from the great guidebook The Writer’s Little Helper. The swell graphic shows off how to set up the sequence. Five of the ten are essentials and you can do those first. James V. Smith says “every novel I’ve ever written, ever read, or ever heard about can be deconstructed into ten scenes. Plan the central story line of your novel to go ten scenes or fewer.”

NaNoWriMo, the November writing contest-collective, was started by Chris Baty, who wrote a guidebook for the process called No Plot, No Problem. He’s not completely incorrect with his advice for those 30 days, because characters are the soul of plot. You can fill up that big file with a lot of character writing.

Putting those heroes and villains of your story into action in scenes shapes them to make them real. We all start with gusto in November, but about Day Six we wonder if our story is worth all the time at the keyboard or in the pages of our notebooks. The Ten Scenes are lighthouses to steer the boat of your story toward. Make yours, and then get to work on sailing the course to a rough draft.

Making sentences great again

Francine Prose wrote a fine book about writing, Reading Like a Writer, which includes a chapter on Sentences. (Chapters are titled with names such as Words, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Gesture, Dialogue, and more.) In her book, she celebrates the sentence and crafting wonderful ones.

To talk about sentences is to have a conversation about something far more meaningful and personal to most authors than the questions they’re most often asked, such as: Do you have a work schedule? Do you use a computer? Where do you get your ideas? Where can you cook up a sentence like the one below?

Prose show this example above of what a writer can do while the writer ignores the advice of writing craft books. Not just any writer, but Virginia Woolf, writing in her essay, On Being Ill. Not just any sentence, but one 181 words long, which appears at the opening of the essay. (It’s shown above). More important than the size is the way she’s made it clear. “It’s not the sentence’s gigantism, but rather its lucidity that makes it so worth studying and breaking down into its component parts,” Prose writes.

Making a good sentence is the bones of good writing. Prose writes, regarding the revision of sentences

Writers need to ask themselves

  • Is this the best word I can find?

  • Is my meaning clear?

  • Can a word or phrase be cut without sacrificing something essential?

  • Perhaps the most important question is, “Is this grammatical?”

A novelist friend compares the rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage to a sort of old fashioned etiquette. He says that writing is like inviting someone to your house. The writer is the host, the reader’s the guest, and you, the writer, follow the etiquette — because you want your readers to be more comfortable, especially if you’re planning to serve them something they might not be expecting.

Prose adds that she revisits Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style from time to time. But most craft books like this instruct a writer what not to do. Learning grammar from reading is a way to enter a new league of writing, once the fundamentals of grammar are in your dugout. Literature shows us what kind of great sentences are possible to write.

Use the power of premise to pump your stories up

Most of us start a story with an idea. You develop it into a concept. Then you build a character to turn that concept into a premise.

  • Secrets of church history hide in plain sight.
  • What if the DaVinci art held the secrets?
  • What if a professor of Renaissance art found secrets of church history that put his life in danger while they threaten leaders of the church?

Two elements work to create good stories together. That’s making a concept and then taking it to a premise. It’s all in service of making characters who can populate that premise.

“A big city cop moves to a small coastal town” is a premise. Your next step is to make a what-if, like “What if a big city cop moves to a small coastal town in South Carolina, then discovers a marijuana ring that’s illegal. The locals look the other way — can he?”

A story’s premise is more than a quick synopsis, or a simple thesis statement defining the theme or argument of a story. It is your canary in the storytelling coal mine and your lifeline as a writer.

A story premise, along with its tool, the premise line, is a container that holds the essence of your story’s right, true and natural structure. When properly conceived, it expresses your whole story in one or two neat sentences. Finding this premise line is no small task; in fact, the process of premise development can be the literary equivalent of skiing the black diamond trail. But when you get it right, the payoff in saved time, money and creative blood, sweat and tears is worth the agony.

That’s from a fine article by Jeff Lyons in The Writer magazine, a great craft publication.

There’s a five-step process in there to master. The essential component is a character to care about. Plot is just the plaything we use to enjoy our characters and their fates.

There’s more on using premise — and this is all character work that builds great plots — in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. The book includes exercises. We all love those, just to know we’re learning. When you work with a coach on your writing, you have an expert who looks at your exercises to help see what’s working. Get the book and do some exercises. Let premise power your book.

Five simple steps to start with Scrivener

Sooner or later you’ll hear about writers using Scrivener. It’s a writing tool that makes projects flow faster and increases your production. You write more, and faster. You find what you’ve written easier. It’s only $40, and your writing in it will live on your laptop (you can back up to the cloud, if you want.) Using it for the first 30 days is free. Download it for free here.

You’ll also hear that Scrivener is complicated. Hard to get started with, and full of a lot of features that are hard to understand, let alone use. You might have heard that same thing about Microsoft Word, too, once upon a time. Look how simple you can make Word. Scrivener can be just as simple. And like Word, you can reach for the deeper features if you want.

You don’t need to reach, though, in order to make Scrivener turbo-charge your creativity. There are only five steps to start writing in Scrivener, once you open the program for the first time. These First Five will give you chapters and even printed pages, if you need any these days.

Step 1. Start by launching your first project. Projects are the big box that everything for a book lives in. Project=book. “My Debut Novel” is a good name.

Action: When the program starts, the “Project Templates” window (above) opens. Click on “Blank” to the left, then double-click on the white page to the right. Name your project. You’ve now made your big box.

Important: Avoid the roadblock of choosing special Templates right away. Blank is good. Fiction, Nonfiction; all of that is for later. Using them right away will make Scrivener harder to learn. Choose Blank.

Step 2. Scrivener always opens with the Binder on the left. The Binder is important because you’ll see all of your book’s parts in it.  Name your first document; nlick where it says “Untitled Document” and rename it. “Chapter 1” or “Opening Scene.” Names don’t matter now; you can change them.

Action: Click on “Untitled Document” and rename it, then hit return.

Step 3. Start to write your book. The cursor is already inside what Scrivener calls the Editor window. Look — you’re already writing! Scrivener auto-saves. You can play with the fonts (right above your writing in the Editor Window) just like in Word. Or not.

Action: Start writing. Have fun. Watch the word count in the bottom of the window swell.

Step 4. Written enough of your scene, or chapter? Make the next one.

Plus Button

Action: Click on “Draft” in the Binder on the left. When it’s highlighted, click on the Plus + button, right overhead on that tool bar. A new document (scene, chapter, section) is created, right under the first one. Go to work and write in the editor again.

Step 5. Print a document

Action: Click on the document in the Binder you want to print. Go up to the Edit menu and select “Print Current Document”.

That’s all you need. As you write, you will be creating a set of book pieces in that Binder, using the Plus Button. This is your book in its earliest draft. You can see the pieces. If you write longhand and have sections, just transcribe them into new documents you’ll make with that big + button.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Your writing is now all in one place. If you quit Scrivener, it will start up again with the big box (project “My Debut Novel”) you were working on last time. It will even go to the last document you were writing in.

You can do countless things with the Binder. Or something called the Inspector (the blue i on the top right). Don’t worry about those right now. You don’t need them to draft or revise. Once you want to share your writing, or shuttle it into Word, there are other steps to use. Only a handful, too.  That’s for another blog.

Scrivener is a tool for writers at all levels. It makes it difficult to mislay writing you did, and makes it easy to compare versions and even passages. To find characters in scenes. So much more A lot. But these five steps get you writing, and drafting inside of Scrivener.

Okay, you have other questions.

Inspector

What are all those buttons, like the blue i?

At first you only care about the Plus button, the Magnifying Glass button (for searches)—and maybe the Inspector (Blue i) button. The Inspector will tell you when you created a document and when you last updated it.

Keep it simple for now. That Plus button can also make folders, but you probably don’t need them just yet.

What is a “Binder?”

It’s your road map, the address book, the list of pieces of your project, running all down the left-hand column. These are the doors. Your writing is inside them. Click one to select. Keep the Binder open at first, so you can jump from piece to piece.

Do I have to “compile?”

Only when you are truly, truly finished and ready to publish your book. Or, perhaps to share a bunch of scenes or chapters as a single file for your workshop group.

Go ahead, download Scrivener and try it out with the five steps. Start writing more and faster.

Use NaNoWriMo to get your book to finished

Halloween will deliver more than costumes, debauched parties and tons of candy corn. On that day at midnight it’s also the start of National Novel Writing Month, a worldwide 30-day event where the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Those are aimed to be words for a novel — although you can hijack this event to fill the pages of your memoir, since that form uses so many techniques of fiction.

You can sign up for free, and register your book in progress, at the NaNoWriMo dashboard. The roots of this event are aimed at novel writers, but the collective creativity month serves any long project. You see, memoir, creative nonfiction and novel all share the same powerful elements. Characterization. Scene. Dialogue. Setting. Metaphor. Theme. Structure. Story. Plot. Dramatic arc. Transformation.

All of the above are tools to use in telling any story. It doesn’t matter if your book’s bones have elements of fact for memoir or the long-form essay, or stand up as a fabricated tale that is, like all great ones, “based upon a true story.” The point is that the community of NaNoWriMo is at your beck and call.

Your goal is to write 50,000 words. They’re unpolished, rough-draft words. You don’t edit during NaNo. That’s work for EdiMo — not really an official event, but there should be a National Novel Editing Month for December. Don’t look for EdiMo. Just look for the delicious experience of drafting all those words without making it perfect. Pat Conroy, who wrote The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, said “Write like you are a lover. Edit like you are in charge.”

November is a month for lovers, those lovers of storytelling. You will draft faster if you have a simple list of scenes that go into your story. Plan a little in the week to come.

Sign up at the NaNoWriMo website, so you can log your writing as you go. Once you’re at 50,000 words you’re done. You upload your file to the organizers who do a blind word count on it. It’s scrambled, so it makes no sense and is secure. All they require is 50,000 words. What you get out of the month is the experience of how it feels to write, on average, about 1,700 words a day.

Writing 50,000 words makes you a winner. But getting any big chunk of writing completed in even a rough draft in a month’s time is the real victory.

The 12 Disciples of Creativity

Creativity requires faith, and sticking to your creative faith is easier with exemplary practices to follow. I’m a Catholic boy if you go back far enough. We learned our faith in part by studying the lives of the disciples. The root of the word disciple means to show a devotion, so these 12 practices are the devotional work to do as we create stories.

Simplicity: Focusing on the immediate action at hand. Breaking the mission into the smallest parts, and doing them one at a time. Making each creative act look obvious and inevitable. Because writing a sentence is not complex, when done one at a time. Because creating an outline card is not hard if you only do it one at a time.

Regularity: To make the act of creating as essential as waking from sleep each morning. To consider creating part of the day that can no more be skipped than the sunrise. To know you can’t leave the house without clothes, and to know that you can’t leave a morning without creating something, not in full. But a draft.

Solemnity: To light a candle, to close the door, to silence the phone, to feel as it you’re entering a church of a faith that propels you. To know and believe, in your soul, that what you’re about to do in creation is important, because it delivers meaning. To feel like a priest in prayer at a mass, or a minister in a sermon, or a pastor giving a benediction before an important event.

Honesty: To do, as Hemingway said, just write one true sentence. By true he doesn’t mean built of fact, but a sentence that delivers the essence of its intention. To be aware, always, that you’re an imperfect creation yourself and that only change and time will deliver your desires for your work. And to carry that awareness to your creations, imperfect always, full of the wabi sabi that makes them your signature. To be honest about your energy and your desire, know when it has flagged after good creative work.

Self-Direction: To understand and believe that you can master the course that you set out to complete the creations. Gifts of the sea come your way when you swim in a direction, and it’s always a direction you choose. Take actions. Know that it may not be the eventual course, but any movement you make toward the sometimes-distant light of your complete creation is an act of the self.

Intensity: To sit and write just a little longer. Go beyond where you are afraid. To allow nothing to break your dream state of conjuring. The practice characterization in performance, aloud, to see yourself as that person in the story, or as your genuine self standing before an audience, with your inner eyes locked on an immutable and immovable image, like Rushmore.

Presence: To be utterly in only one place, unreeling that spool of line into the water of creation, then to study the line while you wait for that fish of an idea to bite. To be in the very moment your fingers and your arms and your legs are dedicated to anything which is not the effort of the past, or the work in the future.

Ceremony: To embrace the act of creating with little talismans and icons and regular friends of habits. For example, “I always light this candle. I always play this music. I never allow my phone to ring. I always stand up to stretch after 25 minutes. I always bring a glass of water in with me. I always write one good sentence first, even though it has nothing to do with my creation. I always read the last thing I wrote, aloud, before I make my next passage. I always do toning with my voice, vocal exercises. I always stretch with a deep bend, then add my two favorite tai chi movements.

Joy: To love a life with less certainty than others because mine always holds unexpected pleasures. To revel in the persona that I create for myself as an artist, a creator, seeking meaning. To give thanks for an existence that can feed me and feed others’ hearts with one dedicated effort. To smile when I think of getting away with doing this as my life’s mission, because I play as my work.

Discipline: To love what I do, because discipline is getting what you want. To believe I am a disciple of my affection and devotion to my craft. To work with focus to make my mastery hours meaningful, not just ticks of the clock of life. To return to my creativity on a schedule and respect deadlines.

Self-trust: To make the doubtful moments a regular part of the life of creativity, and believe in their ability to make the work a thing I will craft to my intention. To know that I am making productive choices when I say no to an effort that I’m delivered, and to believe in the parts of my creations I adore because they’re essential to making meaning of life, especially mine. To trust in the future because no one knows what it will become, and so the confidence will carry me through times that look bleak or blurry.

Primacy: To make my life about creating, the thing that keeps me alive, the most vital and essential element of the human who is me. To make all other things serve my creation, even while I’m walking the dog or washing dishes or paying bills or changing a diaper. Everything is in my life like a handhold along a staircase or tread on tires — to deliver me to the moments and hours and days of creativity.

I do my creation early in the mornings, and I can pull from each of these 12 things, these essentials. I love the feeling of having created, because I’ve eliminated the dread of failing to create, erased it before I do anything else. Being a working creative person makes everything else, all the dreams of finding and sharing meaning, possible. Being fresh as a morning blossom encourages the bees of ideas, of scenes, of chapters, to pollinate me.

In the morning my strength of resolve and devotion is greatest. I ride my bike in the mornings with fresh legs. As a boy I served Mass in the mornings. My favorite meal is breakfast, breaking my fast. And morning is the place closest to the theatre of my dreams, the majestic stage of my unconscious.

7 shopping tips to buy into a writing group

Would you like to workshop your book? People call these writing groups, too. The idea is to get some other authors, all working on their books diligently, to gather in person to review and respond to the book you’re writing. Published authors swear by them. Other authors can vouch for the help which a good workshop brings to a book, too. What’s the smart way to get started in one? If you haven’t met this challenge yet, there are shopping tips that lead to a good investment. Because no matter what you spend, you’re always investing your time.

Is there a size limit? Every writer who appears at the table will bring pages for you to review. A group of eight, of course, means seven sets of pages you must read. So you’ll then shift gears six times, into somebody’s story, out and then on to the next. It’s a rare thing to be able to mark with comments on more than 3,000 words an hour. Do the math. Figure that a big group means hours and hours of reviewing. Groups work best at four writers.

Is there vetting, or an introduction? Everybody wants to be in a writing group with an author who’s got more advanced skills. Or the same level, at least. Someone’s got to be judge and jury on this, though. Personal groups form between writers who know one another already. The first writing group I joined had no vetting for skills. Or courtesy, either. The next came from a Writers’ League of Texas Advanced Fiction class. The late, great novelist Karen Stolz told us, after our eight weeks of classes, “Form up groups, you guys.” The Square Table writers were off and running for the next seven years. We ran with five writers at first, then four, then three.

How much will your group read? Can you submit 15 pages, or even 20? It can be a challenge to say something useful in response to only six pages of writing. You can critique a scene for the mechanics, or find a way to ask questions about what’s not on the page but intrigues you. A page count of 15-20 is 4,000-6,000 words. That’s a chapter, maybe two—one unit of the theme in a book.

Do you read before you meet? Very few authors can edit live, unless they’re only doing a line edit. It takes time to write comments, especially longhand. Legibility matters. A group with pre-submitted pages will give its members time to read closely and say what’s confusing, compelling, or dragging. A group which shares pages using email also gives members the means to look backward in a book to recall what a reader might have overlooked. Those prior chapters will be right at hand, on your laptop.

Is it easy to connect personally with a member? Unless you’re entering a group linked via email, it’s so much harder to strike up a relationship with another member who really shows a connection to your work. Not everybody will “grok” your creation (the Stranger in a Strange Land verb from Robert Heinlein that means “to understand something’s soul.”) Writers might be shy in person but gregarious online.

Email is essential. A group with an overwhelming need for privacy makes such connecting more work. Email is the means that professional writers use to share ideas and critique, query and trade editorial notes. A leader should make email available for every member.

How long do we meet, and where? Critique is careful work done best in a private space. A member’s home gets the job done, but only if there are no distractions there. Meeting at a bookstore worked pretty well at first for us Square Table Writers. We were only four members big so we got a table well away from store cafes (Steaming milk! Lots of music!) or Saturday’s shoppers (Mommy, I want that book!). Nobody had much more than two hours to meet, but each book got 30 minutes of airtime. We had time to talk about our books after the critiques, too.

What’s the comfort and leadership level? Critiquing is real work with genuine payoffs. This isn’t a workout at the gym. Does your host do snacks or a demi-brunch, give breaks to stretch, encourage people to get to know one another? Such things make a space and a group personal and unique. Somebody’s going to have to ask for the pages to distribute to a pre-reading group; otherwise someone forgets. A regular meeting schedule is important, too, so people can protect the time they will devote to making books better.

Yes, authors can bring their own water bottles or a venti Starbucks to a group. And whoever goes first can be determined by a lottery, tarot cards, or just whoever’s turned in pages first. Try to avoid setting your arrival time at the table as a way to choose who goes first. The Traffic Gods shouldn’t have a seat at your group.

There’s a lot to consider when finding a group to critique your book in progress. You do get back what you invest in, though. Efficient and effective groups make good use of time in meetings. That means you have more time available for writing and revising your book. Think of how much sooner that work will finish it. Finishing, after all, is at why we help one another in groups. Those outsider insights should save us time.