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I met my husband in 2001 and soon started telling him about a family saga story I carried in my head. I talked about the details often but concluded I hadn’t figured out how to tie the story together. Finally, in 2013, while listening to live music one evening, the idea appeared, the visions flowed, and I excitedly told him, “I figured out the common denominator for my novel.” He responded, “Then stop talking about it and go write.” Little did he know that’s all I would do and talk about for the next two years. I wanted to write and had my spouse’s backing, but I had no formal training.
During those two years, I joined the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group and Lilac City Rochester Writers. When I mentioned I had no college-level writing experience, people told me it didn’t matter. I beg to differ because it was only then that I started learning about peer critique, head hopping, point of view differences, ellipsis, the various types of editing a manuscript needs, and multiple revisions.
I finished the first draft of my very long novel and thought I was done. Yes, you may laugh, and I’m laughing with you. Talk about being naive, lacking understanding, or being ignorant. I remember giving a trusted writer-friend a dumb look when she asked me who I would have edit it and how much revision was I prepared to do. I had no idea at the time that I wasn’t “done” or that an author could rewrite anything another twenty ways before it sounds the best that it can.
In my Veteran’s group, we write memoir or call it historical fiction if our memory doesn’t recount exact details. When we were working on essays for the first book we self-published, we edited each others’ writing by saying, this doesn’t make sense, or if you switched these two ideas around, it would work better. We corrected punctuation and the use of whom versus who, and that versus who when referring to people. We didn’t change the writing but might have asked for more detail or emotions. We acknowledged what happened to the author and were happy to share the experience in story form.
In Lilac City, we have three peer (fellow member) critique sessions yearly. A member is welcome to submit up to 2500 words per session. Each person who submits agrees to review everyone else’s work. The favored genre or experience of any author is not taken into consideration. Everyone “plays.” It’s been my experience that in this situation, the suggestions given tend to veer to the person doing the critique wanting the author to write the piece the way they would have. The storyteller ignores the fact a piece is plot-driven and pushes for character development. The plot writer generously takes the time to explain how to write an outline so someone can get all the information into a neater package. I have heard comments that a piece was “infantile,” not feasible in real life, too long, uninteresting, or the subject matter was not original. Each reviewer does all types of editing. Personally, I have found the process to do more harm than good because I am not good at letting go of the negative and looking for the positive. Most of us are writers, not trained editors.
I recently backed out of a weekly ZOOM meeting called Inklings where participants read aloud their work and listeners offered suggestions for overall improvement. There were four “regulars” at the event and sometimes a new face or two. I did learn a lot in the beginning. Sometimes I can recognize a POV “problem” now, but I can also hear three of the people’s comments whenever I read any author’s work. I will say out loud to my husband while reading a novel, “This wouldn’t have made it through Inklings.” Charli attended one evening and decided, though she did get good feedback, that she could use those two hours more advantageously if she didn’t participate. I came to feel the same way.
On a different note, it took the Inklings regulars about six months to accept and appreciate 99-word stories. When I started sharing them, the listeners wanted more detail, setting, and senses involved. I kept repeating, “99 words.” They finally got it, and I have to admit, they did help improve a few of my “babies” as we called them. In the end, I heard compliments about how I managed to have a beginning, middle, and ending in so few words. I like praise!
When Charli visited me at the end of August, she explained to the members of Lilac City during a day-long seminar the different types of editors a manuscript should have. A developmental editor, which you can find through an association, looks at the big picture of your book, focusing on the organization of material and structure then recommends revisions based on pleasing the target audience. Next, a line editor addresses the creative content, writing style, and language used at the sentence and paragraph level, which is the “art of writing,” and another set of revisions is needed. Next, a copy editor tidies up the text for conciseness and polishes the information, so it is delivered to the reader clearly. And finally, proofreading is done on the final revision, which should be in the form of a galley copy, so the words can be seen on paper in the chosen printed format. Typos and “old maids” (one word on a page) are easier to spot when in book form.
I’ve done so much editing and “peer” critiquing in the past eight years that I can spot the one typo in a David Baldacci book. Am I a friend or foe to my fellow writers when doing an honest critique? I’m not sure, but I try not to be a “dream stealer” and tell them they have no writing ability, or their writing ability hasn’t improved since I met them.
What experiences have you had with “peer” critiques? Have they been helpful or a hindrance? Do you know how to seek out the correct type of critique “peer?” Share your experiences in the comments. And keep on writing, even if it’s only for yourself.
About the Author:
Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife from 1972 to 1979, living in multiple states and England. She now resides in her home state of New York with her husband, Bob, and lives close to her children and their families.
Sue has been a participant in the Rochester Veteran’s Writing Group since 2015 and is the current president of Lilac City Rochester Writers group. She has a story published in each group’s anthology. On her active blog, susansleggs.com, she publishes flash fiction written to the weekly prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary Community, where she interacts with fellow contributors.
When she isn’t writing, Sue is creating with colorful fabric in her quilting studio, specializing in patriotic and t-shirt quilts.
Collaborating to write an anthology can be very rewarding. Seeing your name in print one a story in a book is exciting if you’ve never been published before, even if you have. What does a project like this take to accomplish? That depends on who’s doing it, how it’s planned, and who cooperates.
In 2018 my local writing group, Lilac City Rochester Writers, held a short story contest with a specific word count required and deadlines. It was meant to be a money-making project so each entrant paid $8.00 per submission. I believe there was a group of four readers that decided on the winning stories using a point system. Three cash prizes were awarded. Most of the stories submitted were then organized and the group self-published the anthology.
The outcome was that a few people learned how to use Create Space, and the project netted little money for the group but we sure learned a lot. The book can be ordered from Amazon.
In 2019 the man who founded the Rochester Veterans Writing Group (RVWG) was unable to attend because he went back to college and then his work schedule kept him away. He had mentioned wanting to put our writings into an anthology more than once, so I proposed we gather our stories together, and even if we only had a folder of manuscripts, it would be a wonderful gift to give him. One of our guys went further and said he would do all the formatting so we could self-publish a book. “Book” talk started taking away too much time from our regular meeting format so a second monthly gathering was scheduled to work on the project. We worked as a team: voting on the title and its design, order of stories, dedication, and inclusion of bios with photos. We set deadlines that came and went, more than once. Members kept saying they wanted their works included, but they didn’t submit them. It came down to begging for the final submissions, but the project was completed and published in 2020. You can order this book on Amazon also. There are memoir stories from WWII through present-day and also home front experiences.
In early 2022, with the loss of our WWII vets in the past two years and the gain of new members, a vote was taken on whether we wanted to put together another book. The result was a unanimous yes. Currently, a different member from last time is working on collecting the personal stories for book 2. To show you our progress I’ll share his recent email.
I have good news and bad news. The bad news ain’t so bad because each of you can help in turning that into good news too.
First, the good news:
I have compiled everything you and I have contributed so far—let me know if I’ve missed anything—into book-like form in one Word file. It comes to about 300 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 pages ( couldn’t for the life of me find a way to make the pages 6 x 9 in my version of Word, but I came close to matching the 6 x 9 formatting of the print on the pages).
I have given it all a pretty good first-time edit, and it should be in reasonable shape. I have not given much thought to the order of the stories nor filled in the Table of Contents. You’ll have to leaf through it yourselves to find what you want.
Now, the bad news:
177 of the 300 pages are occupied by stories from one Charles F. Willard and only 105 pages by everyone else. There is a clear imbalance here that badly needs remediation.
Here is the current story count by person:
Sue – 4, Joe – 3, Vaughn – 4, Suzanne – 1, John – 2, Lee – 5
Cindy – 1, Tim – 1, Dave – 2, Chuck – 28
By the way, in this file, I have included the stories from our 11/7/20 Eulogy to Bob Whelan. Your count includes those, so if you see a “1” after your name, that “1” is your only contribution so far.
I know you have more stories in you than the numbers above depict. Every month at our meetings, you show me that you do. (More bad news is: so do I!) Convert all those stories you have to digital form and send them on to me. This is not a Willard memoir; it is an RVWG collaboration. So please get cracking.
To my fellow editors, Joe, Vaughn Lee, and Sue (Remember? You volunteered. Or was it I who volunteered you?) Please give this a look-see for any glaring issues. Also: Any stories you feel are not appropriate to include? If it’s one of yours, please send a replacement for it. We need content.
I know it is all a big time-consuming job, writing, and editing, so thanks in advance for your collective efforts.
Here’s the file. Happy writing, happy editing.
As you can see, Chuck is nicely requesting, cajoling, and even begging for cooperation. I’m glad there is a 4 after my name.
My suggestion if you want to put together an anthology with a group is to set deadlines and adhere to them. Or perhaps, say if there isn’t enough submitted in a timely manner, the project will be abandoned. It will save the compiler a lot of angst.
And, Chuck, he gave his family, and I as his “adopted” younger sister, a book about more of his experiences while a C-130 pilot in the Air Force for Christmas last year. I cherish it.
Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments.
About the Author
Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife from 1972 to 1979, living in multiple states and England. She now resides in her home state of New York with her husband, Bob, close to her children and their families. Sue has been a participant in the Rochester Veteran’s Writing Group since 2015 and is the current president of Lilac City Rochester Writers group. She has a story published in each group’s anthology. On her active blog, susansleggs.com, she publishes flash fiction written to the weekly prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary, where she interacts with fellow contributors. When she isn’t writing, Sue is creating with colorful fabric in her quilting studio, specializing in patriotic and t-shirt quilts.