14 February 2014

Critique Group Fun

I work with a great group of critiquers. We meet in a Barnes & Noble. A regular group of four of us, plus a semi-regular group of others offer great insight, good questions and sound criticism.

I drive forty-five minutes one way to meet with them, and I’ve been doing that for almost nine years. How the time flies!

Some people from the group have moved away (boo!), but we still keep in touch through Skype. We created a group which one of the members christened the Texas Skype Walkers, so we could still read each other’s work and offer support and encouragement.

They’re all members of SCBWI and write children’s books. Their books are wonderful, and I know I’ll see them published one day. I look forward to celebrating that good news with them.

As a librarian, many people in our library system know I also write. One of our branch managers had several patrons ask her about offering a writers’ group. She asked me if I would be willing to run it. I said sure.

Our first meeting was in September. We decided to form a critique group, and we have about six members including myself. They write all kinds of genres, both fiction and nonfiction. The group is still new, and the dynamics are still forming. But it promises to be a good group as well.

I cannot praise my critique partners enough. We share our news with each other. We mourn setbacks and celebrate victories. If you can find a critique group -- in person, online, through email -- find one. I love my critique partners.

03 February 2014

My Exercising & Writing Desk

I’ve been writing pretty seriously toward publication for about about ten or twelve years now. It’s taken me a while to figure out a system that works for me, and I still learn new tricks all the time.

One thing that slowed me down was the need to exercise -- or at least my doctor told me I should exercise regularly.

I used to get up at 5 a.m. and go swimming. It was a great time to think about my writing and work out any problems I had. But it cut into the time I had available to do the actual writing.

I tried writing longhand during lunch, but that wasn’t really enough time.

I bought a laptop, so I could work and watch television. That helped.

I muddled through writing a couple of novels that way. But despite what my critique partners think (they believe I write a book a week!), that took forever and always drained me.

All of these things were an effort to be able to write, exercise and work my 8-hour-a-day library job. It was exhausting, and I usually seized on any excuse to avoid writing or exercise (I can’t get out of the paying gig).

Then I began hearing about writers who used a treadmill desk. What was this mysterious thing?

My writer friends Samantha Clark and Cynthia Leitich Smith use one. Other writers do, too.

I could do this, I thought. I don’t have any problems walking and reading, so I didn’t think I would have motion sickness issues or anything like that.

There was one big problem, though.

I didn’t have a treadmill. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to shell out several hundred dollars for something I might like and might use. Also, I wasn’t sure where I could put it in the house.

But we did have an exercise bike. Was there some way I could use that?

I tested it with my iPad to see if I could even get close enough to type. I’m short and need to be close to the pedals to use the bike. Any closer -- as I suspected I might need to be to work -- and I might bang my arms with my knees. If that happened, this plan would never work!

But the iPad worked. The next step was to carefully, oh so carefully, balance my laptop on the handlebar and see if that worked.


Now I needed to get something sturdier and more secure. I couldn’t afford for my computer to fall and break.

What would work?

I bought a serving tray at Walmart. It ended up being the wrong shape, but the idea was sound.

I went to Home Goods and bought a different tray with a lip. Perfect!

Presenting my very own fabulous exercise bike desk. I did have to add the support cushion to the seat just to support my back and keep me sitting up straight. Fortunately, we already had one of those for some reason.

The cat is only there for moral support.

It is excellent!

The serving tray is attached with a bungee cord and duct tape -- true Texas engineering!

Now I get up at 5 a.m. and write and ride the bike. I don’t go super fast and rarely break a sweat, but I’m riding it for about an hour each morning. I only ride it while writing the first draft. After that, I can re-type in front of the TV and veg out as nature intended.

When I write, I also bungee cord the computer. Just in case.

I am not made for exercise.