Are You Looking for a Writer’s Group?

One of the basic rules of writing seems self evident. Don’t confuse your reader.

But how do you know if your writing is clear?  Your characters relatable?  The pace fast enough to hold a reader’s attention? 

How do we identify  personal writing quirks that drag down our sentences? Like using very, almost, began to, kind of, a bit, just, in order to.  

Is our writing less direct because we use filter words like, “He saw the woman cross the street”  instead of “The woman crossed the street.”

Are our tenses consistent?  Is it clear who’s speaking?  Are paragraphs so long they become cumbersome to read?

Errors and misunderstandings about what makes prose clear and inviting can be hard to pinpoint in our own work.  Grammar programs can help, and so can other writers willing to be honest and supportive.

Finding the right feedback group is important.  You may want a genre-specific group, or one with writers who have about the same amount of experience you have. Try to be clear about your intention and what you hope to offer and gain from participation.

For in-person groups, try Southwest Writers, our local organization of writers helping writers. They have regular meetings, speakers, workshops, publishing opportunities and contests in addition to information about local groups.

Meetup is another option for those who want in-person meetings.  And, if you don’t find what your looking for, consider starting a group. Local bookstores are a good way to find book clubs and meet other writers. 

There are lots of online groups and communities. Here are some links to get you started.

https://www.clevergirlauthor.com/online-writing-groups

https://iimskills.com/online-writing-communities

Students have asked me if I teach in-person feedback groups. The answer is yes, I have in the past, and am considering starting another group for people ready to give and receive honest feedback to improve their craft.

If you are currently working on fiction or memoir and are interested in joining a group, contact me at carol@carolhollandmarch.com

Include your name, contact info, what you are writing, and why you think a group would help you improve.

Creative at Work–No Repair Needed!

To move forward in collaboration with your Creative Self, you may need to re-arrange some priorities. I sure did.

When I decided that finishing my novel was my top priority, I forged ahead, without gaining more confidence or even believing that my efforts would be successful.

The fear of not embodying my Creative Self—finishing my stories and putting them into the world–outweighed my fear of rejection. I was still scared, but with the encouragement of mentors, friends, and writing teachers, I kept my eye on the ball and moved forward anyway.

As I worked on the novel, I finished and polished the short stories languishing in my computer. I learned about the markets for the type of fiction I wrote. Turned out there were levels. I did not have to compete with the the top names in the field. Other options existed, and I went to work learning about them.

After the rush of excitement with my first publication, I was on a roll. Accepting rejection as part of the game, I developed a thicker skin. I also made a rule. Every time a piece was rejected by one magazine, I sent it out again within 24 hours. This required a list of potential markets, which I kept in a folder along with any comments I received from editors. I ignored the disdainful comments of my inner critic and sent out my work over and over until it was accepted.

After deleting from my programming the erroneous idea that I am my writing, I fortified my boundaries. Gained objectivity. Kept learning. Stayed focused on the task. Write. Edit. Revise. Learn. Submit. Repeat.

Eventually, the light dawned: I did not have to be perfect, happy, rich, younger or thinner to do my work.Even though still riddled with self-doubt,  I did the work. And so can you.

Take half an hour out of your day and start. If you wait until you have enough time, the inner critic will pile on more tasks.

Be willing to start with a simple project you can complete in one session. Write a short poem, a character sketch for a story, or a pencil drawing of the painting you see in your mind. Do it fast, without thinking, and show it to NO ONE. When you’re learning, you don’t need criticism. We don’t improve our craft by thinking about it but by doing. With practice, you’ll get better.

The impulse to create comes from an inner tension. Something wants to come forth. To be made real in the world of time.The real question is whether you love your potential creation enough to bring it into the world. If the answer is yes, then make a plan. How will you find the resources you need? The time? The place?

As you set and reach your own creative goals, you change yourself. You become more confident, more resilient, and more inner directed. You start to trust the intuitive hunches offered by your Creative Self.

You don’t have to fix yourself.

Start now. Don’t think. Just start.

NO WAITING

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Magical Words, Magical You!

Do you have a story to tell?

An idea rumbling around in your mind? A character you see so clearly s/he seems real? An imaginary place you long to create for your character to roam?

Maybe your story is true. An experience from your earlier life. A lesson learned. Inspiration gleaned from succeeding against all odds. The joys of family life or the difficulty of adjusting to loss and sorrow.

We all have stories. We tell them to entertain, inspire, teach, and remember. From one perspective, our lives are stories. Elaborate plots with us serving as both the star of the play and its director.

This is good news, for if we are the director of our own play, we get to change the script. We can try on new roles, change our career, or where we live. We can make new friends and learn new skills. We can let go of what limited us in the past and forge a trail where creativity matters more than the rules we‘ve lived by in the past.

The drive to communicate is basic to being human. Children develop a sense of themselves by the words their parents used to describe them. Young adults strive for identity with educational achievements, jobs, and relationships.

As we get older, the tendency to look back and make sense of our experiences comes into play. We want to tell about who we are, what decisions we made, how life unfolded, and what we learned. At midlife and beyond, many decide to change direction. Start a business, move to a farm and grow organic vegetables, write that book.

Even if no one reads your story, you gain tremendously from the writing. Learning about our younger selves leads to insight and compassion. How our ideas have changed teaches us about growth. Exploring how our personal myth developed over the years is exciting and satisfying.

As a writer, editor, and writing coach, I work with people exploring their creativity. Some are starting out, taking small, tentative steps with their Creative Self.

Others have decided to write a book, short story, or memoir. They need encouragement, resources, and information on how to write more effectively.

Others want help improving their first drafts, preparing for an agent, a publisher, or self-publishing.

We all long to be heard, and one of the greatest benefits of writing our stories—fictional or not—is that words are magic. With them, we create worlds. With them, we change our world. We discover patterns that remain elusive if we keep our ideas trapped in the realm of thought.

When we bring our words into the world, thoughts become real, imagination transmutes into artistic expression. That is the creative act that changes us. And the beautiful thing is we don’t need to write a best-seller, win awards, or find acclaim to reap the benefits of writing our story. All that’s required is to set it down and let the magic unfold.

It is my great honor to help writers tell their stories.

 

Do You See the Door?

It’s right there. Behind that tree. In the shadow of the curtain in the room where you sleep. In your dreams, glowing with golden light.

Since I learned to meditate, new information presents itself as a door to be opened. Or ignored. In the world of spirit, there is always choice.

I made my choice long ago, so I open every door that beckons. Sometimes after reflection. Sometimes with trepidation, for once opened, there is no going back.

Doors lead me forward—to repair a misunderstanding, to an old belief that needs releasing, or a different level of awareness. Some doors are an invitation to explore my relationship to the inner world from which all creativity springs. Behind others lurk the characters and worlds that populate my stories.

I needed to slow down my thoughts before I developed a habit of regularly producing creative work. That meant taking time to sit at my desk and tune into the frequency of my Creative Self. Some people can write a chapter of the novel on a commuter train or on their lunch hour. I applaud them. They must be very productive. But I need more space.

If you hear the call but can’t find the door, be patient. You may need to quiet your mind. Your body must partner with your mind and feelings for ideas and visions to be translated into words and brush strokes. This takes practice. Sit in silence. Spend time in nature. Watch the grass grow. Listen to the leaves of cottonwood trees chattering to each other. The inner world works on a slower time cycle than our ordinary outer world. Rhythms need to be respected. Telling it to hurry doesn’t work.

Some doors are shy but they want to be discovered. Yours may hide behind a cluster of ivy. Or on the far side of a sagging wooden fence. An image flashes on the edge of your vision, so beautiful you turn, heart lifting, but when you do, it’s gone. Maybe you turned too quickly. Maybe it melted back behind the veil.

If you see it in the heat of the day as you trudge through a desert, your mind might dismiss it as a mirage, but in your heart, you know it’s real. You know it’s waiting. For the time to be right. For you to be ready.

It knows you well. It knows you may need to gather courage before you walk toward it. You may need to stop the noise of the outer world before you notice its shape, its color. To see that it pulses with excitement at your approach.

But, you may say, not yetI’m busy with work, family, and the pressing tasks of daily living. How can I open a door that leads to who knows where? What if it takes me to places I’m not ready for? What if I get lost? What if walking through it changes me?

Relax.

Stop and breathe.

You can turn away. The door understands. As you retreat, the rhythm of its pulsing may slow, but it will never stop. The door will never disappear and it will never fail to welcome you.

Even if you wait until you are old and tired and finally face the door because there’s nothing else left to do.

Even if you wait longer than that.

You know what to do.

You were born knowing. Rattle it gently. Give it a push. And when you see, with amazement and delight, what lies beyond, be still and listen for the voice that holds the treasure.

 

When Spirit Whispers

Dancing With the Creative Self

Many of my students sign up for a writing course because they have an urge to bring forth their experiences.

They want to write stories, poems, memoirs. Many have never written before. They don’t know where to start. What to write about. How to choose fiction or nonfiction. Many have confidence issues. Fearing judgement, they hesitate to share their work.

I understand the tenderness of the beginning writer, the courage it takes to put forth embryonic work and place it under the light of scrutiny.

Even though I had written professionally for years, when I was ready to put out my first fiction, I was terrified. The marketing and training books I wrote, the manuals, web text, and scripts, even the ghost-written articles—none were as personal as fiction. It took stern conversations with myself before I started sending my work to magazines, accepting the inevitable rejections, and sending it out again.

Now, after publishing many short stories, three novels, and a few personal experience narratives, I tell my students that I learned the most about writing from the effort to produce publishable work.

My writing teachers taught me much. So did the students in the classes and workshops I attended. Every editor I hired to advise me before I sent out a piece taught me something new.

Some magazine editors were kind enough to say why they rejected my piece. Some even suggested changes. Every time I looked anew at a rejected story, I found ways to improve it. And of course there was the exquisite pleasure when  an editor said they liked my story.

The whole process was a learning experience. It toughened me and eventually became fun. Not to say I enjoy rejections, but they no longer stop me. It’s not personal. It’s the work. Which can be improved.

What’s important for new writers, especially those who start later in life, is to honor the urge to create. To bring forth and shape the nascent idea nagging at you. The images you know are part of a story. The characters who spring to life in your mind. The feeling that your experiences matter. Which they do.

We live our lives according to the story we tell ourselves. We change our lives by changing our stories. Whether we fictionalize our experiences or write searingly honest memoir, the benefits of getting them out of our heads and into the world are enormous. It helps us, and it helps others.

The drive to create is in everyone. It’s part of being human. Honored, it makes us more human.  Our Creative Self urges us onward. It wants to be expressed. It wants to dance, with joy and abandon. Honor it.

So, write! Sing! Dance! Paint! Make a poem! Outline your novel! Decide you’re going to tell about all that you’ve learned!  I promise, you won’t be sorry.

Why We Need Visionary Fiction


I have always written visionary fiction. It wasn’t as much a choice as how I perceived the world. Dreams, visions, alternate realities that peek from behind the veil, reincarnation, ghosts, messengers from other worlds—all the stories that dropped into my mind included these elements. When I sat down to write, I wondered how to incorporate them. What was I writing? Science fiction? Fantasy? Magical realism? As it turned out, all of the above.

As old as recorded literature, visionary and metaphysical fiction is now considered a sub-genre of speculative fiction, along with science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

In the Iliad and Odyssey, spirits spoke freely and generally interfered in the lives of mortals. In The Divine Comedy, we learn how one visionary experienced the afterlife. H.P. Lovecraft made us feel the dread of cosmic horror. And Paulo Coehlo enchanted us with the story of a boy pursuing his dream as he learned about magic and alchemy in The Alchemist.

So what makes a story visionary?

The purpose, for one thing. All stories must engage and entertain, but not all stories encourage readers to expand their view of what’s possible. Visionary fiction tells us about places, times, and beings we cannot perceive with our five senses. A leap of faith is needed. It encourages readers to expand themselves, to explore their own depths and engage their imagination. Visionary stories tease our creative brains as they challenge us to seek for the line between real and unreal.

But how does that help us now?  In today’s world of pandemic disease, racism, uncertainty, and polarization, what value could an imagined journey to a made-up world have?

A lot, actually. The best fantasies, myths, and fairytales speak from the unconscious. The language of the soul, they offer the wisdom of the twilight world couched in symbol and archetype. They speak of the emotional, the intuitive, and the underlying connectedness of all life. Our frazzled minds may not understand, but our hearts do.

To solve personal and societal problems, we need new perspectives. The old ways are crumbling and traditional solutions have driven us farther apart. So why not look to visionary literature for clues?

To expand individual consciousness, a person turns inward. This is shadow work, the search for what was denied. Jealousy, anger, blame, fear, competition, dishonesty—all the emotions and impulses we prefer to ignore—end up in the shadow. If not attended to, they re-appear at the worst possible moment, causing us to say and do things we regret. Think of all the acts of violence perpetrated by people described as “quiet, polite, never caused any trouble.”

Only as we accept our “negative” emotions can we attain deeper levels of insight. Only then can our creativity blossom.

To face the shadow standing at the cusp of light and dark requires commitment and intention. We must be brave. Admit we’re not perfect. And make the journey down into ourselves. Into our bodies. Our past.

In my meditations, the entrance to the underground appears as a cave, sometimes a crack between two rocks in the desert. Like the shamans of old, to notice the door is to be invited to enter.  Anyone can do it, even though most walk on by.

If we choose not to enter, we can hang on to our established beliefs. The trick is that what we don’t recognize within will be met outside. To heal the shadow in ourselves and society, we need to acknowledge what is uncomfortable. Climb down off that mountain of certainty. Which is exactly what the best visionary shows us how to do.

If we want to participate in healing the global changes causing so much fear and confusion now, being aware of our personal shadow is a good first step.

Another step is to notice what in us is similar to what we judge on the outside. For most people, this is a tough one. I have struggled with it. It means the end of blame and judgement. A tough one.

Which is why the journey to fantasyland, the underground, or the next star system is replete with struggle. Trials and tribulations. Dead ends. Attacks of the zombies or lizard people. It’s hard. Not everyone makes it. That’s why we read about it. We wonder, if we find the courage to go, will we make it?

For the journey to be complete, the hero must return with the treasure. Which may not be a gold ring, but something better. Knowledge. Perspective. Creativity. And eventually, the ability to look back with satisfaction. As Bilbo the hobbit said, “There and back again.”

We go into the darkness to bring back the light.

To read one of my visionary short stories, originally published in ABQinPrint, go here.

Vein of Gold

Vein of Gold, metaphorically the hidden treasure of our lives, is the title of a Julia Cameron book on journaling our way to creativity and spirituality. Her books are for people seeking to uncover their art, who may be stuck, or lack confidence in their ability to bring forth their ideas.

Since I perceive little difference between creative and spiritual endeavors, her work appeals to me. Also, the book is subtitled “A Journey to the Creative Heart,” which has been my journey.

When her first book, The Artist’s Way, came out, I assembled a group of women to do the work, a recovery process for blocked creatives. Every person in the group (I was the only would-be writer) made significant changes in her life. The process worked.

When the chance arose to work on The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart, I spontaneously said, sure, why not. Let’s get a group together. Afterward, I wondered at my motivation. After slaying the dragons that had stopped me from writing fiction, I wrote and published short stories, essays, and three novels. So I asked myself, what do I expect to get out of Vein of Gold other than interesting interaction with like-minded people (not a small thing!)

Part of my practice is to follow my impulses, so I started working with the book. Whipped through the first few chapters. Yes, regular writing. Yes, walking is meditation. Yes, play invites the creative spirit. Then I got to the part about writing about my earlier life. There, lightning struck.

For several years, I’ve been toying with how to write a book about healing. Much of my life has been devoted to healing–physical, emotional, and psychological. After a recent difficult period, I broke through another veil. I understood what I wanted to say and how to do in, in broad strokes.

Broad strokes are the easy one. The work is in the details, and I found myself sitting in fear and trepidation about reviewing earlier parts of my life. Considering past experiences is not always pleasant. Remembering can be painful. Putting them into perspective is daunting.

Illumination comes from unlikely sources. This morning on the radio I caught a discussion about how memory, rather than being fixed and immutable, is a creative process. According to neuroscientists, when we remember, we re-create the experience. The more often we remember, for example, our disappointing sixth birthday party, the farther the memory gets from the original experience, and the more different it is. Emotion, judgment, and later experiences all influence it. The influence can be positive or negative.

This explains why one of my therapists helped me re-envision difficult early experiences mentally, through imaginative journeying. It explains why energy healers can go back in time and heal physical and psychological patterns active in a family for generations.

MEMORIES CAN BE CHANGED!

Of course! I knew that! But it’s fascinating when science discovers the mechanism by which mystics, healers, shamans, and psychics (and some psychologists) assist us in changing our lives.

Now I know why I’m working on Vein of Gold. As I review the phases of my life, I can change the experiences I choose so my present can be more creative and fulfilling.

Today, the book seems a lot less daunting.

If anyone is interested in joining the Vein of Gold group that is still forming, please contact me.

If you’d like to listen to the radio lab broadcast, here’s the link

https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/91569-memory-and-forgetting.

 

Visionary Fiction

When I started writing short stories, I was struggling with my novel, which refused to bend to my will. I wanted to write a fantasy about the characters who lived in my head and the alternate worlds they inhabited, but they kept wanting to tell me about their re-incarnational experiences on earth.

So I put the book aside, used my dreams as a starting point, and wrote shorter fiction. More manageable, I thought. Again, the characters kept bumping up against the veil that separates ordinary reality from what lies beyond.

I shouldn’t have been surprised since that happened frequently in my everyday life. It seemed more natural, so why shouldn’t my fiction reflect what visions as well as actions, flights of fancy as well as plans and goals?

I had to study meditation and then metaphysics before I realized that my reality was normal even though it included phenomena most people didn’t recognize. Just lucky, I guess.

Now that I have learned more and written a lot more, I find my work falls into the category of Visionary Fiction, a subset of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, horror) that uses ancient teachings to inform the present day.

According to the Visionary Fiction Alliance, a growth in consciousness is the motivation for protagonists in this type of fiction. It explores human potential and celebrates the possibility for evolution and co-creation. The plot elements of dreams, visions, reincarnation, and psychic abilities figure prominently.  Finally, a place where I fit in!

My book of short stories, The Way Home, explores the journeys of characters who are trying to get home and keeping bumping up against an invisible wall.

The Dreamwalkers of Larreta is a fantasy trilogy, published by Ellysian Press. Two spirits have furthered their education through the trials of earth incarnations so they can return to Larreta and find each other again. Difficulties abound.

If you enjoy fiction with a twist, characters who are more than even they know, and some (slightly skewed) insight into the human condition, you might enjoy reading visionary fiction. You could start with the visionary fiction reading group on Goodreads.

 

 

 

The Tyro is out in Paperback!

My new novel, The Tyro, is now available in paperback on Amazon. Book One of the fantasy trilogy, The Dreamwalkers of Larreta, it has already been well received by reviewers for which I am very grateful.

We are having a Facebook Celebration for Tryo on October 2, 4-6 PM PDT. Join us for games, contests, and the chance to win free books. I’ll be there to answer any questions you might have.

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The Dreamwalkers of Larreta are Here!

I am thrilled to announce the publication of The Tyro, Book One of the fantasy trilogy, The Dreamwalkers of Larreta. Pubished by Ellysian Press, The Tyro is now available on Amazon!

This story has been rattling around in my mind and haunting my dreams for a long time, so it is gratifying to finally be able to share it with you. The electronic version is out now, and the paperback will be available soon for those of you who prefer to hold your books.

It means a lot to to an author to be read. On Amazon, a book’s success is often defined by its sales in the first months of its release, so if contemporary fantasy, metaphysics, adventures across worlds and a romance that spans centuries interests you, please consider The Tyro.

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All content copyright © 2023 by Carol Holland March. All rights reserved.