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You Don’t Know Everything: Manuscript Strength in Numbers

If you’re a writer, and you’re not a part of a writer’s workshop group, I want you to go ahead and kick yourself in the gut. And if you’re capable of this feat, maybe you should consider a new line of work. Those of you who are regular followers of my mostly mundane author news know that I am the de facto leader of a writer’s group (via Meetup) here in town (on Twitter at @WeirdATXWriters), and I have to say, their feedback is priceless. Typically, I bring my first drafts of short stories, chapters, and poems to my workshop meetups, and my first drafts are usually pretty clean. But if it weren’t for my writer’s group, I wouldn’t have known the following about my next novel (which now has a title, btw… PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN IN INK: A TATTOO STORYBOOK).

  • One of my stories takes place on Thanksgiving, and there’s a reference to football playing on the television. If not for my writer’s group, I wouldn’t have known that the teams that play on Turkey Day are Detroit and Dallas, every year. And I LOVE football. (Yes, it was a Texan who corrected me.)
  • The correct height and weight of a 4-year-old boy. Also, the age at which boys are fully potty-trained. Sure, I can guess, but my guesses proved inaccurate.
  • That not everyone remembers 1984 (the book, not the year – I was two) with the same level of recall as me, and the term “proles” is lost on most.

Bottom line? I’m a pretty smart cookie, but I don’t know everything. No one’s life experiences can make them an expert on everything, and it’s only by having a few fresh sets of eyes on a manuscript that you can resolve little misgivings in the prose that hurt your credibility with the reader.

If you’re not part of a group, there is no excuse for that. There’s Meetup, where you can probably find about 5 writers groups in your area. If there isn’t one, you can start one, and it’ll cost you about $100 a year. I joined one when I moved to Austin, and ended up running the same group when the organizer moved out of town, and we typically have about 5 or 6 people in a workshop meetup. That’s 5 different people with different life experiences (parent, engineer, sports fan, etc.) reading my manuscripts and pointing out these little issues that never would have crossed my mind. Is that worth the $100 a year I’m spending on meetup dues (that I could be getting from sponsors or my group members if I were that concerned about the cash)? You bet your sweet ass it is.

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As you may recall, I started attending a meetup group for writers since I am new to Austin. Since the first meetup, the group has grown quite a bit and I am – apparently – an assistant coordinator. I’ve gotten some feedback for Sister Christian and Diatomaceous Earth that’s been very helpful, and the writing prompts of ours have been fun for me. I finally remembered to bring my laptop so I could record my prompt results. I decided to go ahead and share the story I wrote from the prompt. Keep in mind this was written in 10 minutes, and hasn’t been edited at all.

The prompt was: You are in the green room of a talk show with a kangaroo. What happens?

“Why is this fucking kangaroo man in my green room, trying to steal my thunder?” I thought. This show was supposed to be all about me and my fucked up problems, not about some weird human who uncannily resembles a kangaroo. I looked over at the kangaroo man, waiting for him to make eye contact. He didn’t. He kept staring at the pouch in his lap pretending I didn’t exist, that I wasn’t 4 fucking feet away from him. Clearly, I would have to be the bigger person here and make conversation first.

“What’s your name, freak?” I ask. He continues to stare at his pouch, but reaches down into it and pulls out a Ziploc bag half-full of what I suspect is cocaine. I wonder if his kangaroo snout makes it easier or harder to snort coke. I’ve never been a fan of the stuff. I just can’t stand having things in my nose. And I hate the smell of smoke. I’m okay with needles; maybe I could do intravenous drugs.

“Sully,” the kangaroo said. “And yes, I am still human. I killed my entire family falling asleep at the wheel and just wanted to hop away from life after it happened. Spent my entire retirement savings on plastic surgery to turn myself into a kangaroo. Killing your family will make you do fucked up things.”

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Weird Austin Writers Meetup!

I recently relocated to Austin, TX, and working from home and not going out much isn’t doing much for my social life. I’ve also resolved to start getting some traction on The Redheaded Stepchild, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and join a writer’s workshop meetup group. We had our first meeting last week (I remember because it was not Shark Week, and because it was the only day last week I bothered to put on a bra), and I’ve assessed the following tech writer-y pros and cons list:


  • It’s free. I like free. It’s much better than not free.
  • It’s a good way to get some eyes on my stuff – some eyes of people who have a clue what they’re doing.
  • It’s a good way to meet some like-minded people.
  • It’s a good way to see some new parts of the city (we were right on the water at our last meetup).
  • There’s a writing prompt exercise at every meetup.


  • The meetup organizer is less than organized.
  • They don’t exchange manuscripts before the meeting, so everyone just brings their stuff and we read it right there.
  • Only 3 people came to the first meetup.

I’ll give it a few meetups before I decide if it’s a bust, but in the meantime, if you’re interested in the material I write from the prompts, I’ll put em up.

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