Writing is Lonely. Join a Group…

By Marlena Fiol

Jennifer Harris recently reminded us in Warrior Writers that “Writers Need Community.” Writing is a lonely act and being part of a community reminds us that we’re not alone, she said. Beyond that, she reminded us that writing communities provide opportunities to learn and grow, work together and find new readers. No one can argue with that.

She concludes with “There are many writing communities out there, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one.” Indeed, they are not hard to find. I’m fortunate to be a member of numerous online writing groups on Facebook and Medium. I have also been part of smaller writing groups that I was responsible for establishing and maintaining. I’ll refer to the former as a network and the latter as a community. Both provide opportunities to “learn and grow, work together and find new readers.” But they differ in ways that matter.

Community-Building versus Networking

Definition of Network:

  1. An arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines.
  2. A group or system of interconnected people or things.

Definition of Community:

  1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

To put it succinctly, one promotes an arrangement for intersecting. The other promotes a feeling of fellowship. Both have their place, but confusing them is likely to lead to frustration and disappointment.

We writers are not inherently community-oriented.

I recently read that many people perceive us writers as selfish, ego-driven navel-gazers. And how often have you heard writers complain that other writers are trying to do the same thing they are, and getting a lot more ‘Claps’ for it? In the September 9, 2018 Book Review section of the NYT, Kate Atkinson, author of the forthcoming novel Transcription, was said to recoil at the idea of a literary dinner party: “Oh, lord, I would never invite writers,” she is quoted as saying. ”They’re so competitive.” If we are as competitive as she claims, we’ll naturally be drawn to largely anonymous arrangements of intersecting networks that can help us get ahead, yet reveal only those parts of us that we’re willing to share with our fellow writers and no more. But will that really get us what we want and need?

Three Characteristics of Networks

  1. Exposure: Most of the online writing networks available to us today are vast and highly populated. This means we can gain nearly instant exposure of our little writing gems, something unheard of even a decade ago.
  2. Ease: All we have to do to join an online network is submit a request to an unknown person and wait a few days for the invitation (which might be an automated computerized response). Done.
  3. Safety: Ah, here’s a big one. We risk putting out there only what feels safe to us, and no one will ask for more. We don’t have to really trust any of our fellow writers on the network.

I’m not surprised that writing networks have become as popular as they are today. I love ‘Claps’ just as much as you do. They are an easy and safe way for us to gauge the extent to which we’re reaching our readers across a vast population. But let’s not confuse these intersections with what I’m calling community. Nicole Bianchi began her call for writers to create writing groups with “Writing can be a lonely activity.”

She argues that Mastermind groups give writers a sense of community and a sense of belonging. Nicole suggests that they should only include members who are serious about challenging and learning from each other. And people must trust each other since they’ll be sharing deep stuff. Does this kind of community sound just a bit scary?

Three characteristics of communities

  1. Limited Size: A community is usually limited in size because members need the time to devote to giving individualized feedback to each other. So they are prepared to work hard to keep their community alive. Unlike a network, if a community doesn’t stop growing, its members disengage, no longer feeling like they belong, and eventually it dies.
  2. Common Purpose: It’s usually best if members of a writing community all have a similar purpose in mind. Otherwise, people will be seriously committed to move in disparate directions, which will tear the group apart.
  3. Vulnerability: This is one of my soapboxes and I’ve written about it elsewhere, so I won’t belabor it too much here. We offer only the smallest of glimpses into our real selves on our various mammoth networks. And sometimes it can get to feel a bit artificial: You ‘Clap’ for me and I’ll ‘Clap’ for you. There’s not a thing wrong with this, as long as we don’t imagine that it’s something more personal and meaningful than it actually is.

People on my LinkedIn network see only one tiny slice of my life, while my Facebook friends see quite another. Neither one is really me with all of my good, my bad and my ugly. Only people in my more intimate communities get a closer look at who I really am and what my struggles are.

Communities and networks aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather, they lie on a continuum. Some of the groups I belong to are more like networks; others more like communities. Again, I repeat. Both communities and networks serve valuable purposes. The real problem lies in our frequent inability to distinguish between them and hold realistic expectations about what they can do for us. If you long for deep connectedness with others who share your writing interests, you’re not likely to find it on most online networks. Joining vast networks provides great slices of intersection, but probably not the feeling of community.

So what do you want from your writing networks or communities? If what you want is a safe arena to expose your writing to as many readers as possible, think about energetically interacting on some of the many available online writing networks such as Facebook, Medium and the like. If a deep feeling of connectedness is what you long for, think smaller, think about forming a group with a common purpose, and think about opening yourself up more vulnerably. And if you want both, become a member of both. But know that you will need to show up differently in each one. And each will provide very different benefits.

 

Marlena Fiol, PhD, is a storyteller, scholar, speaker and spiritual seeker whose writing explores the depths of who we are and what’s possible in our lives. Her most recent essays have appeared in The Summerset Review, Under the Sun and The Furious Gazelle, among others. A sampling of her publications on identity and learning are available at marlenafiol.com.

The WNBA-SF Has Your Back!

Join or Renew Membership for Awesome Benefits!

Agents have told us that writers who belong to organizations like WNBA are more attractive because they demonstrate a commitment to the literary community. So if you’re a writer trying to get published, joining WNBA-SF Chapter makes you more attractive to agents!
If you’re not a writer, but a lover of the written word, joining WNBA makes you more interesting because you become part of a community of amazing women who are writers, editors, agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians, publicists, bloggers and more!
As a member of WNBA-SF Chapter, you can meet some of your favorite authors and get to know women who are on the cusp of being published and will soon join that list of your favorites! You’ll have interesting discussions about beautiful writing, share the challenges of finding an agent, learn about the current state of publishing and get tips on how to promote a self-published book, or how to pick the right read for a book club.
Joining WNBA-SF Chapter really does make you more attractive and interesting! 

NOW is the time to join (or renew if you are already a member) so that you can take advantage of these great benefits:

  • Meet publishing professionals face to face at WNBA mixers, readings, writers’ conferences, educational events and at our successful Pitch-O-Rama where many local authors met agents that led to publishing contracts!
  • Promote your book or business: For $30/year a published author or publishing professional member can have two book covers or logos on the WNBA/National home page and link to their business blog and website.
  • If you use @WNBA National, the national organization will often favor or re-tweet your tweets, increasing your following.
  • As WNBA member, you are eligible to submit an article for consideration in the Bookwoman – the national newsletter that goes to all 11 chapters and every member. And you can list your recent news in Member News.
  • Link your blog or website to the SF chapter. Attend as many in person meetings and events as possible to get to know people. Then there’s a good chance that you will make some really great connections.
  • Having WNBA on your resume is a plus, as it has helped many women move their careers forward, and agents like to see that you are part of the local literary community.
  • Discounts on WNBA events and opportunities to participate as a volunteer at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference and San Francisco Writing For Change and showcase your book at local book festivals and bookstores.
  • Ability to promote and sell your book or expertise at specified events.
  • Teach a class or present your book at one of our Mechanics Institute Library San Francisco events in 2019 for fantastic visibility to the public and the large MIL membership!
  • Participate in our or Litquake readings or book fairs.
  • Great way to network!!!!

You can join or renew now by going to this page. There is no application requirement to join. Become a member or renew your membership to enjoy the benefits for the whole year. Jump on your computer and sign up today.

WNBA-SF Holiday Showcase-Book Passage Corte Madera

Sunday, December 16
4:00-6:00 PM
Book Passage Corte Madera
51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera 94925
FREE and Open to the Public

Light refreshments and wine tasting, books available for sale and book signing.
Please join us for a celebration of 50 years of women in the world of books with member authors of the San Francisco Chapter of the WNBA.
Before women had the right to vote, the Women’s National Book Association was advocating for women writers, booksellers, editors and “women in the world of books,” starting in 1917. This vital part of the Northern California publishing community includes New York Times bestselling authors, writing coaches, award-winning editors, literary agents, National Book Critics, book to film creatives, librarians, and an Indiefab Publisher of the Year, offering insider secrets to getting your book published.
In this 50th year Showcase, authors from the WNBA-SF will read from their books and join in a panel discussion of how women’s voices and those of diversity are more important than ever before. Q&A to follow.

Current List of Participating WNBA-SF Chapter Member Authors:

Kathleen Archambeau, Pride & Joy: LGBTQ Icons and Everyday Heroes
Sheryl Bize, Running for the 2:10
Megan Clancy, The Burden of a Daughter; A Novel
Kim Collins, F is For Feminist
Elise Marie Collins, Super Agers
Lynn Dow, Nightingale Tales: Stories from My Life as a Nurse
Diane Frank, Letters from a Sacred Mountain Place
B. Lynn Goodwin, Never Too Late, From Wannabe to Wife at 62
Joan Gelfand, You Can Be A Winning Writer
Brenda Knight, The Grateful Table
Mary Mackey, The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1974 to 2018
Sharon McElhone, Basta: Anthology Dedicated to Helping Immigrant Women
Duncan McVean, My Patients Like Treats: Tales from a House Call Veterinarian
Gina L. Mulligan, From Across the Room
Barbara Ridley, When It’s Over
Marcia Rosen, The Senior Sleuths: Dead in Bed
Rebecca Rosenberg, The Secret Life of Mrs. London
Jan Schmuckler, Role Montage
Bev Scott, Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness
Renate Stendhal, Kiss Me Again, Paris
Michelle Travis, My Mom Has Two Jobs
Sue Wilhite, 21 Templates that Run Your World

Structure: The Secret Weapon to Help You Achieve Your Goals

By Nita Sweeney

I’d been running for five and a half hours through the rural countryside surrounding Xenia, Ohio. My tired legs were intermittently cramping and the bottoms of my feet ached. I’d run out of catchy songs to sing to myself and all the mantras I’d been chanting sounded stale. The trees lining the rails to trails which had looked beautiful earlier that morning closed in. I thought I might suffocate. I was right on schedule, twenty-three miles into my third full marathon. “I really want this to be over,” I thought. “But I still have to get back to the car.”

My next thought made me laugh, “This is just like writing!”

Throwing in the towel would be a relief – for a while. In this marathon, I could easily stop at the next water station and ask the EMTs to haul me back to town. With writing, I could start fresh on a new, more interesting, more marketable writing project. That’s what I’ve done with every other book I’ve begun.

While I’m still looking for the right publisher for my recently re-titled memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, I have some great prospects and the book placed as a semi-finalist and finalist in two contests. Even if traditional publishing doesn’t pan out, I can self-publish. This process is exhausting, but also exciting – just like the final miles of a very long race. It’s no time to quit even though I’m really really tired and everything hurts.

So, I remembered what I know how to do: continue. Just now. Just here. This moment. Feel your feet (even if they hurt). Do one thing and then the next. Right foot. Left foot. Just keep going.

But how does someone who continues to have depressive episodes so crippling they make it difficult to get out of bed some days achieve her goals?

Structure!

In running, I found a training plan and followed it. I joined a group. I took a running class. I signed up for a race. I logged miles using online tools. I told everyone I knew. And, I ran.

With writing, the following similar structures work for me:

1) Classes and Workshops.
In my case, a writing instructor suggested I enter every contest that fit my book. As a result, my book is on the short-list for a big award. Other students might offer helpful suggestions as well. In either case, these people help you do what might not occur to you, what might seem too difficult, or what you might think is a waste of time and money.

2) A deadline.
The final days of a contest or publisher’s reading period is often enough to spark me into action. It’s that pressure cooker effect. There’s no time for perfectionism. I just have to get it done.

3) Tracking Tools.
I love querytracker.net and Submittable. Real numbers don’t lie. I can see my submissions and percentages. The geeky part of me loves this. Plus, Submittable recognizes people who collect the most rejections in a month. Anything like that helps.

4) Accountability Partners.
I tell a friend I’m going to do something. I tell my little writing group. I tell my husband or my neighbor. I tell the regulars at the coffee shop where I write. Eventually, one of them will ask about my goal. I don’t want to let either of us down.

5) Online Groups.
These are a different breed of accountability partners. But be careful with this. Choose wisely. I’m in a secret Facebook group for artists collecting rejection letters. If I’m not entering, I have no rejections to report. Telling these kind strangers is oddly satisfying.

But here’s the true secret. At some point, these external structures become internal. They light a fire inside me and I’m surprised to find myself motivated to attempt things I would never have done before. Magic? Perhaps. But I’ll take it.

After all, I finished that marathon in Xenia and I will publish this book. You have my promise.

What is your marathon? What kind of structure do you need to meet your goal? What will help you not give up? I’d love to hear about it. I want to cheer you to the finish.

Nita Sweeney’s articles and essays have appeared in magazines, journals, and books including Buddhist America, Dog World, Dog Fancy, Writer’s Journal, Country Living, Pitkin Review and in several newspapers and newsletters. She writes the blog, BumGlue and publishes a monthly e-newsletter, Write Now Newsletter, which features a short essay, a schedule of the classes she teaches, and a list of central Ohio writing events. Her forth-coming memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, was short-listed for the 2018 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award. She was recently interviewed for the radio show and podcast Word Carver. When she’s not writing, Nita is running and racing. She has run three full marathons, twenty-six half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than sixty shorter races. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband and biggest fan, Ed, and her future running partner, the yellow Labrador puppy, Scarlet (aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog).

How to Make Book Signing Events More Engaging

By Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley, author of The Gift of Crisis​ (October 2018)

A few weeks ago there was a book signing event I was incredibly excited to attend. The author recently published a beautifully illustrated informational book, and it was on social media the author would be on book tour at local bookstore. Happily, I put the date of the signing on my calendar, told the kids about it, and decided on my outfit beforehand. Again, I was totally excited to go!

The day of the event, I made preparations to arrive early. My normal modus operandi is to arrive 20 minutes before event start time, hoping I will get lucky with last minute parking and seating. Not this time. I made sure we left home with ample time to deal with L.A. traffic and L.A. parking.

When we arrived at the bookstore, it was packed! There were so many people standing around, looking for seats and buying the author’s book. There were women, men, and children of various ages and ethnicity, the bookstore owners, and friends and family of the author. It was so exciting! There was high energy, anticipation, and good chatter amongst those of us simply waiting to see her, the author.

The author sat in a corner of the bookstore behind the signing table, and watched patrons buy her book and fill seats. Once all the seats were taken, adults stood in corners and children squeezed in between chairs on the floor. When the bookstore owner walked out in front of the audience to introduce the author, you could have heard a pin drop. Silent anticipation filled the space. We were waiting for her. I was waiting for her. The bookstore owner eloquently introduced the author.

With my shoes off, one copy of her book on my lap, my son seated cross-legged on the floor and my daughter leaning against the wall, I watched her move to the front of the audience.

‘Speak! Tell us! Tell us! Give us the backstory! Tell us how you decided upon this creative project! What was your inspiration? Process? Moments of doubt? Unexpected creative surprises?! Speak!’ I thought.

And so it began!

The author stepped in front of the audience and we applauded. She was delighted to see so many diverse faces in support of the book. So were we! She read a few passages from the book (very nice!), took three questions (all that were asked), including one from me, did a sample drawing illustration of how she created the figures in the book, and…30 minutes later, that was it.

Wait.

What about everything else?

I wanted to know so much more about…I don’t know…whatever else I didn’t know!

It’s an incredible undertaking to write a book, to illustrate a book, to market a book and to sell a book. There was a lot of effort made and work put in, on her part, to bring this project to completion. As book readers, one can only imagine; as book authors, we know how much work is involved. I thought she would talk about something behind the scenes, or tell us something we would like to know but didn’t know we wanted to know. I thought it would be engaging, informative, and at minimum exciting.

However, it was… anti-climactic.

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying I went to the signing merely to be entertained. Seeing that most in attendance already purchased the book, the notion of selling the book at the event was redundant. Most people held 2–3 copies of the book! And the line for the cash register was still long.

I couldn’t help but wonder what else could have been done at the book signing in lieu of what is usually done.

With so many in attendance this was another opportunity to be creative and fun, and maybe do something unique. This was the type of signing I would imagine all authors want, an event filled with people who (mostly) all have bought your book! So why not celebrate with the audience? Why not just have fun with the audience since you’ve met the goal?

While I am not a marketing expert, or event planner, I thought perhaps some of the following could have made the event more engaging:

  1. An audience tally of their favorite chapter, scene, character, etc.
  2. Tips for brilliant social media marketing (This is how the author got the book deal!).
  3. A contest, or giveaway for the person who traveled the farthest distance to attend.
  4. Have audience members read a favorite passage in the book and tell why it’s their favorite.
  5. Select three members of the audience to tell their favorite “word of mouth” recommendation for your book. How do they describe your book to someone who has not read it?
  6. Spread the love. Talk about two of your favorite books (perhaps similar to your book) that audience members may not know about.

Despite my feeling that the event fell short, I have to say the author did not. She was gracious, kind and took the time to speak briefly with every single person who waited in line for her to sign the book. There was so much light in her eyes while she interacted with children and adults and thanked them for attending. There is nothing worse that meeting someone you admire and feel blown off by them. I can tell that each person who attended felt they were seen by author and given the gift of her time and attention.

It was apparent the audience, regardless of the perspective in which they attended the signing (as a book reader or fellow author) was excited for her, and for the book.

Bridgitte Jackson Buckley is a freelance writer, author and ghostwriter whose focus includes spirituality, transformational documentaries, and in-depth interviews. She is a former contributor to General Religion on the National circuit of Examiner.com as the National Spirituality Examiner. She’s interviewed many New Thought luminaries including Eckhart Tolle, Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, and Elizabeth Gilbert. As a freelance writer, she has written online articles for Examiner, Tiny Buddha, Recreate Your Life Story, Thrive Global, Medium, Gaia and Patheos’ Spirituality Itself. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and has traveled extensively throughout Central America including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additional travels also include Hong Kong, Malaysia and (her favorite adventure) Thailand. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, three children and Miniature Schnauzer.

Dear Writers: Is an Epistolary Book Right for You?

By Gina L. Mulligan, author, Remember the Ladies; From Across the Room; and Dear Friend

If you lived in the late 1700s, you drank corn whiskey, spun your own cloth, and spent your evenings in the glow of candlelight reading an epistolary novel. If the term epistolary is unfamiliar, you’re not alone. An epistolary novel is a story told through letters, and though it’s not common today, it was the most popular novel format throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. In fact, epistolary novelist Samuel Richardson was the Stephen King of his day. Since its heyday, the epistolary format really hasn’t really made a come-back. But there are a few that made it big like The Color Purple, The Guernsey Potato Peel Society, Carrie, Dracula, and 84 Charing Cross Lane. If you’ve only seen the movies, you’re missing out!

Like many writers, I’m fascinated by letters. They’re a voyeuristic peek behind the curtain and so I decided to try writing an epistolary novel. A few years after I started, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I discovered first-hand the healing power of letters so I founded Girls Love Mail, a charity dedicated to giving hand-written letters to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. My epistolary novel was published, From Across the Room (Five Star 2016); Girls Love Mail has distributed over 120,000 hand-written letters; and the charity published a collection of 100 letters called Dear Friend; Letters of Encouragement, Humor and Love for Women with Breast Cancer (Chronicle Books 2017). I’m now a letter expert. So, what does an epistolary book require? Is the style right for you?

Telling the Story

Fiction or non, because letters are first-person expressions of beliefs and feelings, readers organically develop a quick and deep understanding of characters. Think how much we know from a simple “My Dearest Rebecca,” versus, “Hey Dude.” Letters also have built-in pacing. Short or unfinished letters create a page-turner. To slow down important moments, a longer, intricate exchange or multiple letters with different points of view do the trick. Even setting and plot are advanced because a letter naturally demands some level of description.

That said, not every story works in this format. Maybe you have wonderful World War II letters from your grandfather or you love writing letters yourself. You need to ask yourself if the story (true or not) is enhanced by using letters. To make this call, try sorting them by story arc, not date. Do you see the story you want to tell within the context of the letters? Or will you need a fair amount of narrative commentary to explain what’s going on? The best epistolary stories are the ones where the format itself is either imperative or greatly improves the narrative. For examples, look at The Shirley Letters: From the California Gold Mines (non-fiction), and Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (fiction).

Telling the Reader

Second, you need patience. The pivotal challenge for this format is how to get information to your reader in a way that isn’t forced. Unlike a narrative, you have to know which characters to tell what. If you’ve already told one character, then how do you share it with another without boring the reader? Language is also a big consideration. Would your character write in the same style to a friend as he would his mother? And if letters are going back and forth, how important is the timing of the letters? It’s a giant puzzle. To save time and your sanity, I recommend a very detailed outline of your characters, their part in the story, and their motivations for writing letters. You’ll also want to resolve if you only want to use letters. For example, Dracula has diary entries interspersed with the letters. It’s a wonderful technique to go deeper into the thoughts of the characters.

Finally, you’ll need many draft readers who will be honest with you and let you know if the story is making sense. No friends and family for this. You need the hard truth.

It’s comforting to know that classic epistolary works are still studied in Literature classes, and a few modern authors have experimented with the traditional epistle by creating stories from blog entries, emails, and text messages. These create a wonderful record of our current culture. The ongoing fascination with letters continues because they connect us with our past and provide a means of recording our society with in-depth perspectives and first-hand accounts. They also ideal in helping writers develop story pacing and unique characters.

Overall, trying this format is a great exercise and will only improve your writing. So go for it. We may not live in the 1700s, but Lord Byron’s words still resonates today. He wrote, “Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company.”

Gina L. Mulligan is a veteran freelance journalist and the author of two historical novels; REMEMBER THE LADIES and FROM ACROSS THE ROOM, and the non-fiction DEAR FRIEND; Letters of Encouragement, Humor, and Love for Women with Breast Cancer. After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a national charity that collects handwritten letters of for women with breast cancer. Since the formation in 2011, the charity has sent out over 140,000 letters across the country. Gina has been featured on The NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, The Steve Harvey Show, People.com, Today.com, and Woman’s Day Magazine.

Narrative Arc – Your story needs a shape

By Louise Nayer, author of  Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen (2017)

As a poet for many years, I didn’t obsess about “narrative arc” —though there was a beginning, middle and end to my poems that I tinkered with constantly.

When I moved to prose — plot, character transformation, tying it all together — the denouement — was new territory for me and very difficult. I didn’t even like the term “narrative arc” that everyone was throwing around. Why do I have to prove growth? Change? Don’t people stay the same? Or if the writing is good, isn’t that enough? Life is not neat. It’s messy, often very messy. I didn’t want Pollyanna endings. Why do I need arc?

When I sent out a piece to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The Panic,” about an accident that severely burned my parents when I was four and my later panic attacks, it was rejected. I decided to go back and change the ending with some words thrown in about how we all accepted our new, reconstructed family and became more compassionate people. Bingo, the article was published.

I’ve gotten more skilled at thinking about the arc — about the obstacles in the way and about transformation. We tend to gravitate toward characters that learn from the past and are resilient, despite the hard knocks of life. Resilience gives us hope that we, too, learn from our suffering and have a story to tell, a legacy to leave.

In memoir, especially, no one likes a whiny voice. However, memoirs are often written about terribly painful events. The writing needs to go deeply into the pain of a scene or moment in order for the book to work. But the author also needs to have a new perspective, a lesson learned, and an acceptance of pain, death, and separation and, yes, often a reminder that love and deep connections to others heal us.

So what is arc?

First, a character wants something and has a desire. Adair Lara, who wrote a wonderful piece “Key Elements of Writing a Memoir”, named it the “desire line.” Sometimes that’s hard to figure out, and that’s okay. In the new memoir I’m writing, at first I thought my nineteen year old self wanted love (which of course everyone wants), but as I wrote for a couple of years, I realized what I wanted first was to break away from my parents. I then went back and revised some scenes with that in mind. The desire must propel the book forward. Readers want to root for you—hoping you will find independence, or love, or a missing parent or sibling, or make it to base camp of Everest!

One reviewer said of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild “…it’s a woman coming out of heartbreak…with a clear view of where she has been.” We want to see that she has examined her life and also found resilience, in Strayed’s case both physically and emotionally as she walks 1000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.

But the arc needs to be earned. People don’t easily change or suddenly gain a new perspective. Most people actually stay the same and don’t want to examine their lives. Who can blame them? It’s hard work. But as writers, that’s what we do. We examine the big questions and also the minutiae of life. Characters go on a journey, often to a new land. Some of these journeys are harrowing. In Beah’s Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, he goes from an idyllic childhood to being caught up in the terror of war in Sierra Leone and doing terrible acts, to being rescued by UNICEF and brought to America. We see the pain. We see the resilience. We see the forgiveness. In Jessmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped she starts with a question about why all these men she cared about died and finds answers as she examines racism and economic struggle.

We’re cheerleaders throughout the books we read, staying up late at night wanting to make sure she got back home before her mother died, or she was able to continue to be a nurse even though she was in an accident and had to be in a wheelchair, or that despite being facially burned, she found someone who wanted to be her romantic partner.

Arc is about life’s ups and downs—what a character wants and the obstacles she faces along the way. The denouement is the climax, when things are made clear and resolved. As humans, we know that the next week can bring more obstacles or difficulties that will need to be overcome As writers, we are the puppeteers, picking and choosing—what obstacles must be faced, and what lessons will be learned on the journey.

Louise Nayer is the author of five books. Burned: A Memoir was an Oprah Great Read and won the Wisconsin Library Association Award. Her most recent book is about emotional planning for retirement: Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen. She teaches through OLLI at UC Berkeley and is a member of the SF Writer’s Grotto where she teaches memoir.

The Power of YES: Why Community Matters in Your Writing Life

By Joan Gelfand, author of You Can Be a Winning Writer (July 2018)

Do you know how John Lennon fell in love with Yoko Ono?
While visiting an art gallery—Lennon himself was a sketch artist, had gone to art school and was a fixture on the London art scene as well as a famous Beatle – he saw Ono on a ladder installing her one woman art show: a huge sculpture of the word YES.

There is a children’s book called “Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You.” The book is an object lesson in teaching children the consequences of their actions with the help of a cast of lovable characters—Lowly Worm, Pig Will and Pig Won’t. Pig Will does what’s asked of him. Lo and behold, guess what? Pig Will gets the goodies. He gets to participate, have fun, and be an all-around happy guy. Pig Won’t, of course, always finds a reason to say no. You guessed it. Pig Won’t doesn’t get the goodies. Simple as this sounds, Pig Will has power.

When people see that you help out, not only because you want to build your reputation, but because you are a ‘team player,’ you are also cheerfully having a “Pig Will moment:” You are “paying it forward.”

Not all of our “Yes’s” or positive actions are immediately followed by fabulous outcomes. But haven’t you found that taking positive action—on balance—has benefited you?

The Big, Scary “Yes”
In 2004, I had quit my corporate job to write a novel, had a setback, and was just starting to establish myself as a poet. Like many writers, I was busy! I still had a daughter at home, I was running a small business, and my writing projects had projects. When a writer friend told me about WNBA, I was thrilled to meet colleagues and friends who were in the same boat! Soon after joining WNBA, members received an email. The current president was stepping down and, if someone didn’t take the reins, the chapter would fold. Wow. Okay. I was new to the group, but with the support of another member, we said “Yes,” and took on the presidency. Boy, did I get an education. I learned how to plan events, communicate to a group, and get things going. Together, we doubled our membership! Somehow, I found time in my busy life to help WNBA.

Two years later, I was asked to be the incoming National President’s Vice President. Now, that was a serious ask. It meant two years as VP, two years as President, and two years as Immediate Past President. I was loathe to take on a six year commitment. I wanted to get back to my novel. My husband strongly advised that I take the position.

Since that time, I’ve had five more books published, four of which were directly related to my leadership role in WNBA. The other one certainly took into account that I had a national platform. The point here is not about happy endings, it’s about why community matters in your writing life.

Community
Doesn’t it seem to happen that just when you are feeling stretched thin, crunched for time, and really not in the mood that opportunities to say YES! present themselves? What I want to say is that it isn’t always so obvious when the right time is to say “Yes.” Building your platform is not exactly like party planning. Sometimes you need to say YES! exactly when you would be inclined to say NO! Sometimes you make that extra effort to build your platform at exactly the time when you want to pull in your oars, hibernate, isolate and…. WRITE!

But winning writers, remember, are a breed apart. Winning writers who follow the “4 C’s” are firing on all burners; building community, working on craft, maintaining commitment, and moving forward with confidence.

A note on teams: Remember that you don’t have to go it alone. When I took on the Presidency of WNBA, I had mentors. Past presidents, executive board members, and chapter members were all sources of great inspiration and encouragement for me. YES! 

Joan’s new book, You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors: Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence, newly published by Mango Press, is on Amazon’s #1 Hot New Releases. The author of three poetry collections and an award-winning book of short fiction, Joan is the recipient of numerous writing awards, commendations, nominations and honors. Joan can be found writing and coaching writers at Eco-Systm co-working space in SF. http://joangelfand.com

22nd Annual Effie Lee Morris Lecture featuring Shane Evans

Thursday, September 6th, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO MAIN LIBRARY

CIVIC CENTER • FREE ADMISSION
100 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102
5:00 pm: Reception, Children’s Center Creative Center, 2nd Floor

6:00 pm: Lecture, Koret Auditorium, Lower Level

WNBA Members and Guests are invited to the pre-event Reception.

Join the Women’s National Book Association-SF Chapter and the Main Library’s Children’s Center as author/illustrator Shane W. Evans, author of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning Underground, speaks on The Art of Dream….

A book-signing will follow the lecture.

Shane Evans is perhaps best-known as the author and illustrator of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning picture book underground, a sensorily rich evocation of how it feels to be a slave on the way to freedom. Among his dozens of other titles are collaborations with his lifelong friend, actor and singer Taye Diggs; the pair have together created Chocolate Me, Mixed Me! and other warmhearted picture stories. Shane Evans is the recipient of an NAACP Image Award, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor award, and two Jane Adams Honor awards, one for Lillian’s Right to Vote (written by Jonah Winter) and the other for We March.

This annual lecture honors the work of the late Effie Lee Morris by celebrating the work of writers and illustrators for children whose work exemplifies the causes she championed: inclusivity, diversity, and the rights of all children to read, learn, and create. Ms. Morris was the first coordinator of children’s services at SFPL, the first African-American president of the Public Library Association, and a founder of the local chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA).

This lecture series is sponsored by the Main Children’s Center, the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, and the SF chapter of the WNBA. The event is free and open to members of the public of all ages.

For more information, call 415-557-4554 or see their website.

2018 San Francisco Writing for Change Conference

Saturday, September 8th, 2018
Check-in begins at 8:00 am

Event: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
First Unitarian Universalist Center of San Francisco
1187 Franklin Street (at Geary), San Francisco, CA

Please join the Women’s National Book Association-SF Chapter at the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference where we will have a booth and also be participating in panels on getting published, marketing and writing the perfect proposal and much more!

The keynoter at the 2018 San Francisco Writing for Change will be best-selling/award winning author Daniel Ellsberg.
He is an activist on the dangers of the nuclear era and the urgent need for patriotic whistleblowing. He is the author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Dr. Ellsberg will be interviewed by David Landau.
At the 10th San Francisco Writing for Change Conference you will discover how what you write can change the world…and how to get your writing published. The theme of the conference is “Writing to Make a Difference,” with topics ranging from business, spirituality, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, culture, the law, and much more.

Check out the latest schedule of sessions at the Change event.
The Writing for Change Conference is devoted to bringing together agents, editors, authors, and publishing professionals in order to enable writers to learn from the experts about writing, publishing, marketing, and technology. You’ll come away knowing how to get your work published successfully, online and off. Click Here for bios of the Change faculty.
You will have the chance to learn from and pitch your book to the presenters, and to get feedback on your work from freelance editors. The conference will include one jam-packed day of workshops, panels and the keynote address. You will leave feeling inspired and enlightened. Please join us for this amazing day.

San Francisco Writing For Change registration includes:

    • Keynote and a full day of sessions
    • A full faculty of presenters–authors, editors, agents, marketing experts
    • Ask-the-Pros round-tables with presenters
    • Feedback on your work from independent editors
    • Networking with speakers and other writers
    • Opportunity to pitch your book to agents and editors

This Conference will be limited to 100 attendees.

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN FOR 2018! Click here to register today 

This event is presented by the San Francisco Writers Conference and San Francisco Writers Foundation.  We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our mission is to help writers get their work published and to support all forms of  writing and written communication.

For sponsorship and marketing opportunities, contact us at info@sfwriters.org.