Are you doing the writing life alone? I did for a long time as I didn’t know where to turn. And I was afraid of confessing to being a writer because I was sure I wasn’t good enough. Most of us aren’t at first. But connecting with other writers has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing.
Why to connect
Writing is hard, lonely, discouraging. Other writers will “get you” more than most people. They can become your team, your support group, your naggers if necessary. I like this quote from Michel De Montaigne, “It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.” Who doesn’t need some sharpening or refreshing?
Where and how do you connect?
Look for local writers’ groups. The easiest place to start is just google “writers groups” and your city. I live near Portland, OR so literally typed in: writers groups portland or.
Here’s what I got:
You can narrow it down by putting the type of writing in. Also, many national or international groups have local chapters so search only by the specific type of writing, e.g. romance writers, Christian writers, children’s writers, scifi and fantasy, mystery.
Check out the websites of the ones that interest you. Do they offer local meetings, workshops, events, schmoozes? If so, check them out and talk to the other writers. Do they have discussion boards? Join and participate by reading some postings, commenting, asking questions. Facebook similarly has writing groups you can join. So does Yahoo groups.
On Twitter you can ask about people’s favorite writing groups if you need more input.
If you find a local group, volunteer. It’s the fastest way to get to know other writers. And sometimes it gives you extra benefits or discounts to events.
If you can’t find a group in your area, look for classes on writing, and check out libraries and bookstores for author events. Chatting with another attendee may connect you with other writers. If you find someone, invite them for coffee. Most writers love talking about writing, but not everyone will have time, so don’t be offended if someone says no.
Is it worth the time and effort?
If you’re a confirmed loner and don’t need other people, I guess not. But I do know my writing and I are better because of my connections with other writers. I’ve learned so much, been encouraged, gotten publishing tips, good feedback, and more. And maybe the best part—I’ve made lifelong friends.
I was reading another writer’s work-in-progress and got to thinking about sensory details. The characters were in a forest. Low hanging branches, pine needles and twigs, rocks, and mud puddles were mentioned. But I asked this writer, “What other sensory details can you include?” These details were mostly sight details, though some could be turned into hearing or tactile (touch) details. For example, steps are often silent on a pine needle mat, but a twig might crack or pop. I’ve had mud be so slick it made me slip and almost fall when I stepped in it. A puddle can splash. If I caught my balance on the trunk of a cedar tree, I might scrape my hand.
This writer showed me it was cold—but not cold enough for the characters’ breath to show. Great use of temperature. But I didn’t know if it was sunny, partly cloudy, or overcast. With the former, I might squint or put sun glasses on. The latter can affect mood—when is the sun going to come out? Or maybe the sun is going down and I’m rushing to get out of the forest before it gets dark.
I wondered if birds in this forest were making noise and silencing as the characters got close. Are squirrels chattering? Or is there water running or dripping? Sometimes I’ve heard the buzzing of insects in a forest. Or a plane fly overhead. Or traffic from a nearby road.
I wondered about the time of day. Were the characters getting hungry? Maybe someone was munching on a snack. What does the main character smell? Scent of evergreens? Rotting wood? Ripe blackberries?
Now let’s switch to an ocean scene. On the Pacific coast (versus the Atlantic shore), there are lots of huge rocks that make for interesting tides. I’ve walked on coarse and fine sand and on pebble beaches. I’ve tasted the moisture on my lips. Smelled seaweed, fish, and salt air. I’ve heard the seagulls calling, the sound of a kite flapping in the wind, an engine of a boat. I’ve been wind-burned and sunburned. I’ve spotted shells and rocks and driftwood. Sometimes there are cliffs behind me. Other times hotels and restaurants or homes. I like the patterns in the sand made by the outgoing tide, or bird feet, dog feet, and people feet.
I’d prefer walking either of those places than on the hard concrete of city streets. There I might smell food from restaurants, exhaust from busses and cars, garbage. I’ll hear car horns, squeal of brakes, people talking or yelling, trains or street cars, etc. I might step on a grate, trip on the edge of a curb, or get a heel caught in a crack. If it’s summer, heat could be radiating up from the asphalt. Winter, the streets might be icy, slushy, or I might have to step over big puddles. Wind could be blowing bits of paper trash. I could step in gum. I might have to stop in the bakery shop and buy a fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon roll.
When I was in Bangkok, Thailand, the traffic was mind-numbing crazy. Especially the first night when riding in a taxi that was driving on the wrong side of the road compared to the US. Later my husband and I took a ride in a tuktuk (tooktook)—think three-wheeled motorcycle with a covered back seat. We took a night train to Chiangmai. If you turned into the restroom on one side, it was a traditional western style toilet. If you turned the opposite way, it was an Asian style hole in the floor. Both emptied onto the tracks. In the town of Chiangkam, we were transported by bicycle cart. In a remote village I saw teens riding a water buffalo. Sights and smells and sounds were different. If my story is set there, I want to share those with my reader.
Even buildings often have different sensory details. Think about the smells and sounds at a vets—fortunately my vet does very good at odor control, but often you’ll hear a dog barking or a cat meowing. Contrast that with the smells and sounds at a dentist’s office. I do not like the sound of the drill. Ever been in a building with a tin roof in a rainstorm? Or heard the snow sliding off the roof as it melts? I remember one apartment we lived in where the moment we heard the bathroom fan of our neighbor come on, we ran and turned our fan on. They shared the same exhaust pipe so smoke from her cigarette drifted down into our bathroom if our fan wasn’t on.
You won’t use every detail of your environment, but mention the ones that make it unique and use a variety of the types of senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, and temperature.
Recently I read about someone struggling with was and were. I’m guessing she wasn’t having trouble with simple singular and plural:
Perhaps her trouble was with the more complex versions, such as:
But it gets more complicated when we are speculating:
So where do we go when we need help with grammatical issues like this?
One of my go to sources is the book Errors in English and Ways to Correct Them by Harry Shaw. It has a great index to find what you need and is easy to understand. I remember catching one of my daughter’s simply reading sections of the book for fun.
But when my cat is in my lap and I can’t reach my book shelf, but have my laptop, I go to the Internet.
One of my favorite sites is Grammar Girl. Check out what she has to say about the subjunctive mood with was and were.
She also has a book out called Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips For Better Writing. You can check it out here along with her other books.
I also like the site Guide to Grammar and Writing. It has drop down menus where you can choose different levels, such as word or sentence or paragraph. For example with was/were, I’d first choose “word & sentence,” “verbs,” then “the verb to be.” There I’d find instruction. In some topics, after instruction there are tests to take so I could test myself. I direct students to this site if I’ve explained run-on sentences and had them read a resource, but still they don’t get it. Here’s where I send them.
If students continue to have trouble with run-ons, then I refer them here. My English Teacher also offers a quiz after explaining. You can see what other lessons they have covered by following this link.
What are your favorite grammar resources?
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.