Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wordcraft. Our stories: let the chips fall where they may!

First in an occasional series about literary publication and promotion

OK, there wasn’t a mention of chips in the title of the panel at the 2016 ArmadilloCon writing workshop panel. But it was after lunch, which for all of us, included a bag of, well, chips. And while we were recovering from the critiques of our stories and wondering what to do next, panelist Tex Thompson , asked us to consider the Frito-Lay model.

When a major food company considers launching a new product, it doesn’t just stuff a bunch of whatever in a bag. It turns to focus groups to consider, “is this the optimal chip?” And that focus group metaphor is also a metaphor for writing workshops, Thompson’s fellow panelist K.G. Jewell agreed.

And asking whether the stories we have written the optimal stories seemed the starting point for the longing I’ve developed, to bring coherence to posts of the last several years about what to do, and how, to get our stories into the literary marketplace.   

(Disclaimer: the illustration for this post is not of a Frito-Lay product. I do not own stock in Frito-Lay. It was simply the most photogenic picture of chips – corn, potato or whatever – I could find on Wikimedia commons. And for those seeking information about how to write a story – well, that’s a different series, which I may make an effort to write later.)

So, about those focus groups. For North Texas writers, I recommend checking out several groups I mentioned in the post, “Need a writing group? Try one of these,” from May 5, 2015. These were: Dallas Mystery Writers, Dallas Screenwriters Association, DFW Writers Workshop, Sisters in Crime North Dallas, and Writers Guild of Texas.

Other possibilities include the Dallas Writer’s Garret, Dallas Area Writers Group (DAWG), and Dallas Area Romance Authors (DARA) a chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators(SCBWI). There are also a number of smaller groups focusing on specialties such as fantasy, science fiction, and Christian fiction.

A check of meetup groups will probably net even more possibilities. And of course, writers can always form their own groups with like-minded individuals. I happen to belong to two of these, one alternating between in-person and online critiques, and one with members from multiple states operating strictly online. Of the groups I mention above, the Writers Guild of Texas in particular operates both online and in-person critique groups, as well as periodic readings before the entire group.

For writers outside the North Texas area, an internet search will bring up a multitude of online groups. My only particular caveat about online groups is that they limit readers to a closed group, so that stories don’t circulate on the internet.

For both online and in-person groups, the next step is finding a good personal fit. I’ve grown away from a once (and still) loved group because the mix of writers has changed from those focusing on long works to those more interested in shorter works, or works in more specialized genres. Not that genre mixing is a bad thing. Reading a variety of work helps keep our minds open.

However, don’t be afraid to leave a group if anyone present is in attack mode. Very often a group leader or instructor will moderate and keep order as necessary. Most workshops I’ve attended use a variation of these basic writing workshop rules: a reading, either oral or silent; a sharing of impressions by workshop members while the writer remains silent, taking notes; ending with the writer’s chance to ask questions or clarify intentions.

Depending on available time and the number of workshop members, it may be necessary to limit the time for reading and discussion.

So, we’ve got our stories and a focus group/writing workshop (or two or three) to determine whether we’ve got the best chip (sorry – story) for our genre.

The next step: finding the right fit for that perfect chip, which I’ll get to in the next installment of this series. But before that can happen, there’s a fresh round of fall literary events begging to be mentioned next Tuesday.

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