Tag Archives: Book

Ten Tips for Organizing a Successful Book Group

Do you belong to a book group? I do, and this is one of my observations: a fabulous book does not necessarily guarantee a fabulous discussion.

Ten Tips for Organizing a Successful Book Group

When everyone is in agreement, there isn’t much to talk about. But if there are diverse opinions, it makes for a much more satisfying conversation.

My book group has been around for 20 years or more. None of us can remember exactly when it began. It is primarily a women’s group, but once a year we invite our husbands/significant others to join us for the book and a potluck dinner.

Now having read hundreds of books, I can say that success is often hit or miss and there is never a guarantee that  well-recommended book will spark a great discussion. Sometimes we are surprised which way it goes.

Anyway, here are some tips that have worked well for my book group and may work for yours.

Ten Tips for Organizing a Successful Book Group

  1. An August get together is when we share suggestions. This is how we come up with selections for the coming year.
  2. If we need ideas, we can use online resources like Goodreads and Oprah’s Book Club.
  3. We make sure that at least one person in the group has already read the book.
  4. Historical fiction is a consistent winner, especially little known history.
  5. We try to choose a book with content that relates to social issues or contains controversial subject matter.
  6. We like to read authors representing the spectrum of nationality and ethnicity.
  7. Usually we opt for contemporary novels, but memoir, classics and the occasional non-fiction mix it up.
  8. We are conscious of the length of the book. We want everyone to be able to finish it in time.
  9. At each meeting one person is responsible for researching the book and the author, to add background and context to the discussion.
  10. It is OK to agree to disagree. No opinion is wrong.

Last month my book group read Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. It is the story of ordinary, intertwined lives in the midwest small town of Amgash, Illinois. If you’ve read Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton you will recognize many of the characters in this novel.

I loved, loved, loved this novel. But I expected to. I am a huge fan of Strout’s writing.  I thought her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge was pure magic.

About half of the group agreed with me on Anything is Possible. The rest had mixed feelings.

“I couldn’t follow it,” said one. “Too many characters and too many connections to figure out.”

I disagreed.

“Don’t you like when you reach a part where it starts coming together, and you say OMG, so that’s what’s going on?” I asked. “The ‘aha’ moment!”

“No, because I don’t like to have to go back and reread,” she responded.

“It was relentlessly sad,” said another.

I couldn’t deny that. “But there is beauty in the sadness,” I said.

Viva la difference!

This is exactly what makes book group discussions so much fun.


If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Get Me Rewrite! Starting the Third Draft

Get Me Rewrite! Starting the Third Draft

I am writing a novel.

These five words have become my mantra, something I repeat silently to convince myself it is real. Not a dream, not a figment of my imagination. Not something I began and never finished.

This time I am getting ‘er done.

By putting it out there I am also making myself accountable. When “How is the book coming along?” is asked I don’t have to flounder around for a lame excuse.

It’s coming. I’m getting there. It’s moving forward.

“So after the second draft,” a friend asked me the other day, “your book is pretty much done, right?”

If only. But not by a long shot.

Get me rewrite.

Last fall I attended BinderCon, a writing conference for women. Among the many valuable sessions was a panel of four freelance editors, each of whom had worked in publishing for years. I was impressed with their knowledge and approach to helping writers make their book the best it can be. So after the conference I contacted one of them and I am working with her now.

I submitted my second draft to her and waited anxiously for feedback. Would she love it? Hate it? Biting fingernails, chewing the inside of my mouth, binge snacking: I engaged in every nervous habit I could think of.

Well, we had a phone call last week to discuss the book. There was good news and bad news.

Good news: she liked the story, thought the characters were well drawn, enjoyed the historical setting of the novel, and thought it would ultimately fare well with readers.

Bad news: a major rewrite is necessary.

Good news again: The rewrite is going to make it SO much better.

Before this feedback, I was having trouble seeing the forest for the trees. I was too close to the content. It was impossible for me to be objective.

With a few brushstrokes of her vision, she gave me clarity that I was unable to find on my own.  As I rewrite the second draft, I will:

  • Take a swipe at the number of characters. There were too many. “Beyond four or five major characters,” the editor told me, “people start getting confused. And it is really hard to make their voices unique.”
  • Narrow the time frame. The expanse was too wide, too Belva Plain. Instead of 50 or so years, now it will be five. And that’s enough.
  • Focus on the motivations of the characters. This has to be credible.
  • Intensify the drama. Make the precipice higher. This will make the reader want to keep turning the pages.
  • Be careful with the historical events. This is not a history lesson. Make the events part of the narrative but only in the context of their impact on the characters.
  • In each chapter, define where we are in time, what is going on with the family, and what significant event takes place that propels the story forward

These simple suggestions will eliminate many of the problems I had with the plot line and the development of the main characters. Instead of feeling angst, I feel a huge sense of relief – and excitement.

I will be deleting a huge chunk of my work, maybe even 50%. Perhaps some of it will return in another novel another time. A sequel, perhaps. Doesn’t that sound nice?


If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

10 NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers

Goodbye Thanksgiving, goodbye November, goodbye NaNoWriMo.

And hello to my novel!

NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers

I did it. I wrote my 50,000 word novel last month, a hugely gratifying experience for me. To  everyone who participated — whether you reached your goal or not — congratulations on putting in the work.

This was my first time doing NaNoWriMo. My preconceived ideas turned out to be wrong. It was not stressful; it was fun. It didn’t involve late nights and lame excuses.  And it helped me realize a lifelong dream.


I share these NaNoWriMo tips that you can use anytime, not just November, and hope that they might encourage any struggling novelist (as I was pre-NaNo). If you are determined to do this, you.will.do.it.

Disclaimer: these NaNoWriMo tips worked for me. Not saying they will for everyone.

NaNoWriMo Tips

  1. Accept that your first draft will be kind of awful. An awful first draft does not mean you can’t write.

And it should be kind of awful. Because your focus should be getting it all down on paper (or computer screen). You will pretty it up later. This is a different kind of writing than what I’ve been doing with my blog posts and essays. You can’t fret over each word. Get it out, get it down, and leave it be. For now.

  1. You don’t have to outline.

I may get criticism for this because I know most writers do it. I’m not a good outliner. Never have been. So I had an idea in my head of where my story was going but kept an open mind and just let it flow. That worked for me.

  1. You don’t have to write chronologically.

Like, start with the prologue, then Chapter 1, Chapter 2. I did not do that. I jumped around and wrote chunks of the story as they came to me, and then fit them together, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.

  1. I did not spend a lot of time getting to know my characters before I started to write.

Again, this is probably blasphemy. And certainly I will be spending plenty of time on character development during the editing process. I found that the more I wrote, the more the characters’ personalities emerged. I have a much better idea of who they are now.  I also added new characters as I went along.

  1. Characters really do talk to you.

I had heard this but thought, oh, come on now. But it’s true. I let them have their say and believe me, they did, along with some surprises. One of my minor characters turned out to be a major character. Several characters demanded a sex life. I had not been prepared for that, but how could I deny them?

  1. Discipline is good. But so are breaks.

I was strict with keeping a schedule. I think this is important but the actual schedule depends very much on your free time and biorhythms. Being a morning person, I started writing around 8 and stopped around noon to eat lunch and take the dog out. And often on that walk I would come up with fresh ideas, come back and do a little more work. When I needed a very short break I would sneak a peak at social media. But I didn’t stay for long.

  1. Writer’s block is not inevitable. But there is help out there if you have it.

I was lucky. I had dreaded the thought of writer’s block but it never happened. And yet, I was prepared for it. I learned about online resources to spark your creativity or give you writing prompts or even put you on a tight schedule with rewards/punishments, like Write or Die. Or if you work well with a little background noise, there is Coffivity that recreates the white noise of a coffee shop. The NaNoWriMo site has tons of help, and of course the Facebook groups of NaNo writers were my go-to for support and encouragement.

  1. An artificial deadline can work wonders.

So why had I been unable to do this my whole life and in one month I did? I didn’t really have a deadline, but completing the NaNo competition seemed to drive me.

  1. Tell your friends and family you are doing this.

I did, because I thought it would keep me accountable. I knew it would be embarrassing to  come up short, and having a cheering section definitely helped me keep going. So tell everyone that you will have done x amount of work by Jan. 1, or whatever date is reasonable.

10. You really can do this.

Trust me, you can. Because I never, ever thought I could do it, and I did. It wasn’t painful. It was exhilarating. And now I can mold this lump of clay into a real book.

Do you have writing tips that you can share?


If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg