Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 6: Join a Critique Group—and Be Positive!

You’ve already endured my rant on why I’m not a member of a critique group. Brace yourself for the follow-up: why no critique group would want me.
It has to do with social graces. When moved to speak my mind, I have a hard time resisting saying what’s on my mind. No euphemisms. No ambiguity. Nothing cryptic. While I never intend to be unkind, it sometimes comes out that way. Most writers don’t want to hear it.
Then there’s the fact that I am irresistibly drawn to the negative end of the magnetic field. Whenever I look at a piece of writing, whether my own or someone else’s, the first question I ask is, “What’s wrong with this?” I automatically look for what’s wrong, I find it, and I fix it. It has been part of my advertising job for years, and it spills over into poems, novels, short stories, nonfiction, essays, magazine articles and any other string of words I encounter. Again, that holds true for my own words as well as someone else’s.
Here’s why. What’s written well doesn’t require attention or comment. It’s supposed to be well written. Fawning over it or heaping praise on writers for doing what is expected seems to me akin to congratulating them on remembering to inhale and exhale in the proper sequence. So, in the interest of better writing, I zero in on what’s wrong and why.     
On the other hand, if you can’t say something nice….
Maybe I should just shut up. Or stay away from critique groups. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 5: Join a Critique Group

Early on in my attempt to become a writer of something besides advertising copy, I heard a lot about the importance of joining a critique group. You know, where you sit around with a bunch of other writers and read what you’ve written and talk about it. Theoretically, others will point out problems with your work that you can’t see because you’re too close to it. They might even tell you how to fix it.
But opinions differ. 
The person sitting across from you might have an altogether different idea than the person sitting next to you. Not only different, even contradictory. Someone else may offer yet another conflicting opinion and more contrary advice.
It’s all very confusing to me—too confusing.
What to do? Who do you believe? What advice do you take and what do you ignore? If you have any faith at all in you’ve written, I suspect you would disregard it all and go with your gut. And, at that point, what’s the point?
Besides, who’s to say these people know any more than you do?
I suppose you could trace my dislike for such things to my years in advertising, where you must listen to clients (and others) comment on your work, then try to incorporate their often absurd notions into your ideas and copy. Having lived with that for decades, maybe I just enjoy going my own way, not having to explain or answer to anybody. Except, of course, editors and publishers who are paying for their opinions.
Some people swear by critique groups. One friend, in particular, insists it makes him a much better writer. But as for me, I would rather spend my time writing than talking about writing.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Goodnight Goes Riding at is, without doubt, the world’s biggest cowboy poetry gathering. There, you’ll find collected thousands of poems by hundreds of poets from yesteryear right up to today. On top of that, there are feature stories, essays, photos and art, news…you name it; it if has to do with cowboy poetry and the related ways of life, you’ll find it there.
A review of my new poetry book, Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems, was posted on the site recently and you can read it here:
As you visit, spend some time looking around and enjoy the wealth of information and entertainment you’ll find there. And it wouldn’t hurt to reach into your pocket and support the work of the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, which runs the site and does more—much more—for the arts and literature of the West.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Songwriter Jessie Veeder in Ranch & Reata magazine.

The latest issue of Ranch & Reata magazine is out, and among the many fine articles inside its covers is a story I wrote on North Dakota singer and songwriter Jessie Veeder.
My musical and poetic friend from the West River Country Jessie also calls home, DW Groethe, is quoted in the article saying this about composers who write about the West and about Jessie: “There are those who write all around it and then there are the few, steeped in the life, who reach out, grab it, raise it high and say, ‘Here it is. Take it or leave it.’”
Jessie’s songs certainly “raise it high,” and once you hear her words and music, you’re more likely to take it than leave it, if only because her songs stick with you. Read all about it in the new issue of Ranch & Reata (