Thursday, October 15, 2020

Breaking the Block

  We’ve all experienced the slam of the Writers Block, or what has been referred to as the Tyranny of the Blank Page. It is always difficult, but not insurmountable, no matter how much it seems so.

    Years ago, I read in Writers Digest not to perceive a block as a Block per se but as a Bridge, a bridge to take you where you ultimately want to go with your story. When I engage this frame of logic/tactic I’ll ask myself a series of questions in advance of my traverse across the bridge:

1.)  The purpose of the next Chapter (sentence, word, etc.) is to ______

This is a broad question with likewise broad intent and if can be answered, it will tell me roughly where I want to go. 

2.)  When the reader finishes the next chapter, they should ______

Hint: The answer should be “Know where they are in the story”.

There are two other questions that can be asked in addition to the above, or asked simultaneously:

3.)  At the end of the next chapter the reader should understand_____


4.)  The Reader should wonder______

If the reader can answer number three, they understand where they are. And if they are wondering “Wow what’s next!”, it’s a safe bet the writer has smashed the block and successfully traversed the bridge that keeps the story moving!


Good luck!

                                                                        Billy Neary

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Conflicted About Conflicts

The GFWG has spoken. My story needs more conflict. I will need to find a way to add some spark or spice, or I risk sinking my main characters into a saccharine puddle of mush.

Easier said than done—I struggled to grasp even their suggestions and see how they could fit into the light-hearted read I created. Wrestling with how to involve more issues or stress into the story. What should it look like?

Fortunately, I got my next class post from Writer’s Digest from their Script Classics. The topic: conflict.

According to the blog post, there are four types of conflict which provide the punch to make a story more exciting.

Conflict with self – the internal battle…good and bad, right and wrong,…fears…who you are vs what others expect of you.

Conflict with others – there can be numerous conflicts with others in a story. Romantic or life threatening.

Conflict with environment/society – weather, landscape, nature (bears, mountains, etc), or society’s expectations, rules, money

Conflict with supernatural –can be real or imagined. Dinosaurs in the current world or ghosts from the beyond.

Their description and examples helped to clarify the options. I find it interesting that many stories have different threads or sub-tales utilizing these types. Some of the best may involve all four types.

Now, I have to apply the lesson…. 

                                                                                                —Sandy Buxton

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Embracing a Critique

They call him “The Eviscerator.” A fellow member of the writing group when I joined. He was the one I feared when I began to turn in my simple memoir pieces.
     Bleeding red ink like a nightmare from your most sadistic English teacher, each piece returned on critique night.
     The dread which filled the writer lasted until the material was read and reviewed. Harsh but knowledgeable. His comments improved and strengthened each piece.
     Not all of the other members critiqued in the same manner. Rarely did anyone else use a red pen. But all made comments designed to add, enhance, clarify and improve whatever projects they touched.
     To ignore these notes and comments was to refuse the education, experience and wisdom the mentors could present. A college degree from the School of Real Life.
     These beta readers examine your work and provide feedback. Relatively unbiased feedback. While they may be your friends, they are writers who understand you can only b.s. people so far. They offer suggestions, identify weaknesses and support your ideas.
     At the same time, they offer work for you to critique. Allowing you to see issues in others it is difficult to find in yourself. But you learn from them. Their collective energy becomes a boost to your work.
     So, embrace being critiqued. And expect (and offer) more than ‘I loved it’. Enjoy the questions, comments and revisions. You too could be receiving a classic red lashing from the famed pen.
                                                            —Sandy Buxton

Monday, June 22, 2020

Research Rabbit Holes

Building off of the last post by member Sandy Buxton, I’d like to mention the education one gets as being part of a writing group. Fair warning, though: It’s a two-edged sword because if you, like me, tend to be easily led down research rabbit holes in your own work, you may find yourself being pulled into the warrens of other people’s research rabbit holes. Here’s an example of where I went today:

Recently, a member submitted a chapter of a novel that referred to the main character rising to the rank of Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army Rangers by the age of 29. During the critique portion of the meeting, another member questioned if that were probable. There was some discussion on how this character was a tough, type-A, hyper-achieving woman and so, in theory, with perhaps a boosted promotion here and there, be able to attain that lofty rank swiftly. Especially if superiors saw her value and wanted someone with her capabilities in that higher position. 

I am lousy at keeping military ranks straight. Private in the Army is a base level. Admiral in the Navy means commanding more than one ship. These I get. It’s everything else in between, in all the various branches of government—just U.S.!—that I will invariably get wrong. Then there are all the police departments and other pseudo-military organizations throughout our land. Way back in the ’80s, when I worked for the Fish and Game Dept. of New Hampshire my first job out of college, I was charged with editing their publications and once in a photo caption gave one conservation officer a promotion and the man next to him a demotion. It was not taken lightly.

And so, in order to education myself, I found myself looking up Army ranks this morning. Here’s what I found*:

Unlike the promotion processes for Private through Staff Sergeant, unit commander have little to do with the promotion process to the SNCO ranks. These promotions are completely centralized at the Head Quarters of the Department of the Army (HQDA).

There is no minimum time-in-grade (TIG) requirement for promotion to the Army SNCO ranks, but candidates must meet the following minimum time-in-service (TIS) requirements to be eligible for promotion:

  • Sergeant First Class (E-7) - 6 years.
  • Master Sergeant/First Sergeant (E-8) - 8 years.
  • Sergeant Major (E-9) - 9 years.
What does this mean? To me this says that if our character entered the Army at age 21 (right after college graduation), and if she was promoted through the other ranks quickly and efficiently, she could theoretically have the time-in-service by age 29 to be promoted to Master Sergeant. 

However, one does have to question (even in these enlightened times) the likelihood of a twenty something *woman* being given all green lights and no traffic jams on her way along the crowded highway that is the military. It does seem a bit too easy to me, on the face of it.

And this is where writing craft comes in. 

Facts are facts but in fiction, if you tell me something that isn’t necessarily possible in the real world but you create the setting, characters and circumstances to where it’s believable, you have achieved the rank of Master Storyteller, my friend. And there’s no limit of age or gender on that. 

However, time served is involved: the more you write the more you innately recognize where and how to employ writing tricks and tools to help readers suspend their disbelief or, if it’s a nonfiction work, to make it interesting enough that they learn something they didn’t know before.

But having people read your work and call you out when you don’t quite achieve this level is priceless. Whether it’s a writing group or a couple of trusted beta readers, it’s important to find someone else to give you outside perspective on what you’ve written. They should both point out where things may be starting to go off the rails and well as show you the brilliant spots that you may, in your overworking of the piece, have become blinded to.

That’s today’s Research Rabbit Hole. I’ll keep track and share more as they beckon to me (because I know they will!).

Kay Hafner

Note: I found to be a glitchy site; pretty (if you can get it to load properly) but more designed with design in mind than usefulness. I found my info on but then comments on that site had a link to (see below) which was a whole long list of promotions regulations that I did not attempt to parse. I apparently do have limits to how far down a research rabbit hole I will go...
...but here’s the info if you want to delve deeper into the military mindset:

Monday, June 15, 2020

Exposure to many different styles expands your mind

     The structured wordscape of haiku. The rhyming stanzas and lack of punctuation. The seemingly endless lines of obscure description, similes and metaphors.
     Poetry would not appear to be an art form designed to assist fiction and non-fiction writers. There is so little in common. Often it is bound by rigid rules, counting syllables or lines.
     But it is an amazing teaching tool. Poets are wordsmiths. Like an artist building a mosaic, they are forced to concentrate on each word and its placement. The meaning, real or implied, infused into each line.
     Taking that same care and applying it to short stories or longer pieces brings growth and satisfaction. The piece becomes stronger, with a better voice. The reader more satisfied with the story.

     News reporter-style prose, fast paced thriller writing, factual non-fiction, opinionated personal essays, descriptive rambling fantasy…whatever the other members of the group are producing. 
     All of the material you read has an impact on what you write. The power of suggestion makes it impossible to ignore that reality. But what does that mean?
     The more you write and the more you read, the larger and more complex your voice becomes. Like an artist drawing stick figures and line drawings, learning how to make shadows and textures adds a new dimension to your work.
     Approach each piece you review as an opportunity for new learning. You are the ‘everyman reader’ assigned to delve into its mysteries.

                                                                                                                Sandy Buxton

Saturday, November 3, 2018

NaNoWriMo Write-Ins

The GFWG supports NaNoWriMo participants. Come join us!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Forming a Writing Habit: Using to Kickstart My Daily Writing Goals

Originally posted on

I’ve been writing at for 51 straight days now. I started on Nov. 20 and missed just once, on Nov. 24. On Nov. 25 I did 1561 words to make up for that omission. To keep me from slipping again, I entered their Monthly Challenge for December and was one of 156 to make it all the way through. There were 462 signed up, making a 33% success rate. I signed up again for this month to keep the ball rolling. So far, there are 270 of us out of 557 who started Jan. 1 still in the running.
Leading off with these numbers might make it seem you’ve got to be competitive to make this site work. I’m not very competitive (unless we’re playing Scrabble or you cut ahead of me in line or on the road). But I do respond best to some form of accountability when setting major goals. This website in general, and the monthly challenges in particular, are helping me keep on track.
If you also need structure and outside encouragement, might be what you’re looking for.
Some days I only manage to write just before going to bed. This is technically acceptable—you just have to complete 750 words by midnight in your time zone to get credit for that day. My ultimate goal is to write every morning, before doing anything electronic, preferably before 8:30 a.m. Writing at night, or any old time I feel like it, is like winning the battle but losing the war.
Also, this hasn’t yet given me any substantial movement toward my larger project goals. There are lots of other things I want to write. Blog posts. Essays. Even two novels. Most days, it’s been a struggle to manage to fit in my commitment.
Some would say that I’d be better off spending the twenty minutes minimum each day on these “real” writing endeavors.
Yes, all I’m doing is journaling every day.
But, wow! I’m writing every day. That hasn’t happened—ever.
The results may not be something anyone else is going to want to read. No one in my writing group wants to be exposed to my stream-of-consciousness ramblings. I rarely even go back and re-read them.
As the intro text on the site explains, this is supposed to be the digital equivalent of Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” from The Artist’s Way. A way to prime the creative pump and get the early sputterings out so the rest of your words can flow smoother and stronger.
Although Cameron was firm in saying this is best done by writing three notebook pages by hand, even purists would admit that twenty minutes of any sort of getting the cobwebs out is good for you, no matter how it’s accomplished.
Better something than nothing.
If your writing habit is strong and consistent output isn’t your problem, you’ll probably scoff at using this site. And if you’re super suspect about security, you won’t want to put anything on it that is deeply personal. They do use https to secure the site, which is fine by me, but anything is possible in today’s hacking culture. Anyone leery of using cloud storage in general won’t feel comfortable here.
A feature I didn’t think I’d like: You have the option of sharing the stats on your writing, including or excluding the automatic analysis of word usage the site provides. I elected to have the site share my stats automatically as soon as I hit 750 words, though I removed the analysis feature. No one needs to know my most frequently used words or what mood or mindset I appeared to be writing in. Here’s what people can see if they click on my name when it appears in the continuously updated Today’s Writers section.
My next goal is to get to the 66 day mark because according to research, it takes that long to rewire your brain into a new habit (thank you Robin Sharma). At the rate I’m going, it may take many, many sets of 66 days before I start every day writing in the morning.
I said earlier that I started on Nov. 20. Actually, I first joined this site in April 2011 when it was fairly new. I wrote there once, and only made it to 416 words. In 2013 they started charging $5 per month join but grandfathered early adopters in as free users. I don’t know that I’d pony up $60 annually to use it, but I’ll probably make a donation at the end of the year if helps me reach my goals.
Not “if.” When.