Guest posts

Monday, September 26, 2011

Today's guest blogger is Stephen Brayton

 Distractions:  by Stephen Brayton

I’ve been a member of several writers’ critique groups over the years and I’ve come to realize a major factor in each group’s downfall has been the lack of writers. This may seem quite logical, but it’s true for any group. Knitters, martial artists, foreign language studies, puzzlers…if you are a part of a group and aren’t involved in the activity, the group suffers. Add in a few more people and the group collapses, becomes less fun, or has less worth for those who are serious.

When I first started attending a critique group, there were about 15-20 or more who showed every week. I had heard many more used to attend. Why the dropout rate? Probably it started with something like this. “Sally, do you have anything to read tonight?” “No, I’ve been too busy this last week to write.” “Okay, but we really want you to read.” “I’ll try to have something next week.”

Well, as Yoda once said, “Do or do not do. There is no try.” You’re either writing or you’re not. So, the attendance dropped. By the time I stopped attending my first critique group, we were down to a core of about four or five with maybe two of us reading per week. It was a waste of my time to read for others who weren’t writing. I worked hard to have something every week, either a short story or another chapter from the ongoing book. I ceased going to the meetings not because I stopped writing, but because others did. I wasn’t going to go to a meeting where two or three people read and the rest of the time we just chatted. Plus, I didn’t feel those who weren’t writing, who weren’t keeping up with improving their craft, had justification to critique my material.

So, is it lack of interest or distractions that keep people from writing? Television, radio, Internet, phone, mail, email, kids, pets, spouse, something interesting out the window…all are part of a large group of distractions. I’m not perfect; my attention wanders at times. Much of my writing is done at a facility where people could come in at any moment. They’re distracting. I understand distractions and I’m willing to let a few excuses go by. When they become consistent, however, then I know the person really isn’t serious about writing.

In a recent interview I mentioned my ideal place to write. I likened it to a deserted island with no phone, no TV, no radio, no Internet, no people, with enough food and water to sustain me until I felt like rejoining society. Serious writers will make time to write, or will set aside a portion of the day or week and tell the rest of the world to leave them alone until a certain period has ended. Behind a closed door, with the TV, internet, and cell phone turned off. If the radio is on when I’m writing, it’s tuned to a classical music station.

Don’t let your writing be a distraction to your writing. What I mean is, don’t stop after every sentence or chapter to go back and edit or change things. So many times in those critique groups I heard chapter one from a few people over and over. They took home our comments, did a rewrite, then came back, took home more comments and did another rewrite. The cycle continued. We never heard chapter two. Soon, they either gave up or decided the particular story wasn’t working out, so they switched to a new story and brought in a new chapter one.

Another example of a writing distraction is too much preparation. I realize every person has his or her individual writing style. Outlines that may take eight months to picking up a pen and starting in on something without a direction. Whatever works for you, do it. However, if you are a type who sets up character profiles and setting profiles, don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. There must be a time when you start writing the first sentence.

One more example. Finish a story. Recently I have found myself falling into the trap of starting one story, getting partially completed, then jumping to another story, then a third, and I discovered I wasn’t completing a project. When I realized my problem, I stopped jumping around and set myself a goal to finish a particular story by the end of the year with at least one or two rewrites.

I’m not sure how long I took to complete “Beta.” I do know I did a few rewrites, character tinkering, scene additions, etc. Meanwhile, I was writing other stories. However, I never forgot I still had a completed story to ‘finish’ in the sense of polishing it up even more with each submission rejection. I’ve worked long hard on this book and even when correcting edits, still found it emotionally stimulating. I’m glad I persevered, and didn’t allow distractions to keep me from my goal.

Let your writing be your distraction from everything else, not the other way around.

Excerpt from Stephen's new book - The weather was warm for November and Mom said
they both needed a day of play. After a Happy Meal at McDonald's, they drove to the park where she wandered around the new wooden playground. She bounced from one swing to another, plunged down the slides, ran through the obstacle course, and teetered back and forth on the colorful
animals mounted on giant springs. Mom sat on a bench reading a book. Half way up a wall of tires, she realized Mom had disappeared. At first, she didn't notice the big man. He wore a zippered black jacket, black jeans, and his arms and legs bulged huge. His mean face was covered with a lot of
bumps and scars. Before she could scream, the man grabbed her and held a cloth over her mouth. When she breathed, she smelled something sweet and sickly. She tried to cough, but instead fell asleep.When she awoke, she found herself in a spacious room,with bright lights, a camera, a pile of clothing on a chair, and a box filled with toys and other strange looking items.


  1. I'm wondering if maybe a different format might help. I'm fortunate to attend a group with a clear leader who puts together a topic for the first part of class. It's usually based on an article like from Writer's Digest about an aspect of writing. The group can submit topics and he'll do a little research to find an handout to correlate.

    The second half of group is to discuss pre-submitted works to critique. We spend the time reading and critquing on our own time, and the group time is to share feedback. I've only submitted writing once but I usually participate in critique. I've learned so much! If I don't have much to share, or if I don't feel like I can say anything constructive (it happens) then I don't pass forward my copy of comments to the author.

    A little structure goes a long way. It can help to have a leader with a plan, or at least a rotating schedule of who's responsible to lead the group that week with a topic.

    Best of luck with your group!

  2. I used to belong to a group like yours and I really liked it - I found the structure was necessary to keep us focused.

  3. Good idea Stephsco. One of the problems with the first group was its un-organizaiton. Everyone expected a particular person to attend and if that person wasn't there, we weren't sure what to do. But having a purpose would keep the group coming even if one person didn't have anything to read.
    Stephen Brayton