Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Online Critique Groups

 Are they beneficial and helpful, or stressful and frustrating?  Both! 

Several years ago, when the idea of writing my first novel was conceived into my soul, I joined an online writing group called  I was excited to be in a group of like-minded individuals, where most understood me.  Having no other writers in my family, most not even casual readers, I felt odd, alone and most often without a voice.  Explaining something creative in a room full of pragmatists is frustrating and fruitless; beautiful words bouncing off empty walls. 

Watching how the critique process flowed, I began to offer my own opinions, suggestions and edits to those bravely submitted story chapters.  It didn’t take long, before I gained the courage to submit a sample of my own work – offering it like a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered, mutilated, dissected, inspected, judged and criticized.  That takes a lot of courage, because submitted work is part of the author’s imagination; part of their soul; their interpretation of life around them, displayed in artistic form with black-lettered font.  It was brutal.  It was bloody.  It hurt. 

If you want to see an example of courage, faith and determination, visit an online critique group.  Because it’s filled with people who set themselves up to get knocked down as a form of training, and choose to get back up, shake the dust off, make adjustments, and then offer themselves up once again.  The weak will cave to the pressure.  The stubborn will break or leave.  The determined will persevere.  The arrogant will be humbled.  The student will become the teacher. 

The best thing that ever happened to my writing ability, was subjecting it to criticism.  I learned from my mistakes, edits, suggestions, and critiques. I also learned to trust my instincts and hold to my convictions.  I trained my critical mind to work in conjunction with my creative mind.  Mostly, I learned that trial and error is the best training tool.

It’s been years since I’ve been fully involved in an online critique group, because since publication, I’ve focused on marketing; building my writing career and moving it forward.  However, this past week I delved once again in an online group called Scribophile, and discovered critical creative muscles were a little out of shape.  It didn’t take me but a few days to get back into the swing of things.  I can’t express how fulfilling  it felt. It not only offered me an opportunity to sow some of what I’ve learned over the past few years into budding writers, but allowed me to feel the excitement of learning.  Being around a bunch of excited new writers, filled with hope, dreams and expectation, is exhilarating.  Much better than being in a room full of literary elites who forgot writing started as a dream. 

For published alumni who wish to sharpen their skills, or dreamers who want to develop them, visit an online critique group. 

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Celebrate the Little Things

A writer’s life isn’t centered on one big moment, but a collection of little moments, a series of small accomplishments, and a lifetime of gathering tiny achievements.  Sometimes in our quest to reach greatness, we squander the moment to enjoy those minor accomplishments.

Most often we are known by a particular accomplishment, be it our best-selling book, a certain interview, or a reference by a famous celebrity or celebrated peer.  Sometimes we even receive recognition through awards, nominations or branded with a title of achievement.  However, those are rare, if even incidental, occasions.  If truth be known, we often miss the moments of our greatest achievements being too focused on the next goal.

With the end of 2012 around the corner, I decided to write up a new resume in an effort to be prepared should new opportunities present themselves in the New Year.  After I added the last line, the latest achievement, my recent nomination for a GAYA (Georgia Author of the Year Award), I sat back in my office chair flabbergasted, awed and a bit over-whelmed at all I had accomplished this year.  It didn’t ‘feel’ like a great year, but it was my most productive. 

I’ve chased my dreams, first for my college education, then for my family, then for my business career, and now for my writing.  I’ve put myself through school, worked my way up the corporate ladder, raised a family, started my own company from the ground, and now I’m chasing my passion, my dream, and fulfilling what I believe I was created and called to do.  I’ve accomplished much, and I’m only just beginning.  

However, those previous accomplishments were more recognizable, and measurable, usually by a big bonus, a certificate of achievement, a milestone such as a graduation, a wedding or a funeral.  With my writing career, the achievements aren’t as noticeable.  The moments are subtle and come in tiny morsels.  Often times I’m so busy working on the next project, I miss the celebration of the achievement of the previous one, because that achievement isn’t instant, but something that grows as time passes, and are combined with other achievements – like a snowball. 

2012 has been a GREAT year for me as an author.  I can’t even imagine what’s in store for me for 2013, because my imagination is bigger than me and my snowball of success is only bound to get bigger.  While I don’t care for accolades, pats on the back, or have a desire to be recognized and remembered, I have no false humility when it comes to bragging about my hard-earned achievements.  I worked hard for each and every one of them, and plan to work even harder for the ones yet to come.  I desire the same for each and every one of you chasing your own dreams.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

My 2012 Writing Achievements:
·         Published Milledgeville Misfit in January with Vabella Publishing
·         Re-Released The Blood of Cain as 2nd Edition in May with Vabella Publishing
·         Published The Arcainians in September with Vabella Publishing
·         Wrote the rough draft for Survival – Book #1 – Second Chance Series
·         Won NaNoWriMo 2012 – write 50,000+ novel in less than 30-days
·         Scheduled and attended over (30) thirty author events, book-signings, festivals & libraries
·         Had (5) five newspaper and/or magazine articles featuring me or my books (Times-Georgian, Southern Spice, Union Recorder, Douglas County Sentinel, Ghost Voices Magazine and West Georgia Living Magazine)
·         Became a Contributing Writer/Book Reviewer for West Georgia Living Magazine (already had (3) three reviews published)
·         Have had over 12,000 hits/readers of The Whimsical World of T.L. Gray since January, +100 followers, etc.
·         Hosted (3) three give-a-ways, and connected with many of my favorite authors (Michael J. Sullivan, R.T. Kaelin, Mark Lawrence, Anthony Ryan, E.L. James, Julie Kagawa, Patrick Rothfuss, Frank Allan Rogers, etc)
·         Maintained (5) five blogs, (3) three websites (,,, and countless social media venues
·         Edited (6) six novels (three mine), created (2) two book trailers, created (3) three book covers and Tutored (2) two up & coming authors at T.L. Gray, LLC
·         Active member of the CCWC (Carrollton Creative Writer’s Club), facilitating, attending and participating in many of the club events, including MeccaFest ‘12
·         Written more than (50) fifty blog posts/reviews (like this one) on my various blogs, featured in (3) three blog interviews/give-a-way by bloggers, and reviewed by many more
·         Invited to be a contributing author for the Triumph Over Tragedy anthology with over 30 (many award-winning & some my favorite) authors
·         Nominated for GAYA (Georgia Author of the Year Awards) for Milledgeville Misfit and The Arcainians for 2013
·         Invited as an honored guest and panelist for the 2013 Georgia Literary Festival

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ready to send that query?

I had a wonderful lunch yesterday with a fellow friend and writer, and it brought back memories of days past submitting query letters in search of landing a big time literary agent.  It also brought back some of the valuable lessons I learned during that process. 

In my eagerness to get represented and then published, I didn’t want to hear some of those important lessons I needed.  So, I’m sure there are others in that same spirit of impatience who will not want to hear them from me now, but nevertheless, I’m going to post them.

1.    Professional – Be professional, not personal, in your query letter.  Your query reveals a lot about who you are, how you write, and what that agent can expect from you as a writer.  While writing may be an agent’s passion, they’re also in a business where success is dependent on the ‘type’ of writer they represent.  They don’t get paid unless they can get their client signed by a publisher.  So, while they may be moved with compassion by your personal story, its business that will be the deciding factor.  SHOW, don’t tell, the agent that you are professional, determined, and filled with natural talent and an overabundance of drive, and you might just get that call.  Don’t write a long, personal sob story about yourself and your dream of being published.  EVERY writer who submits a query letter has a dream of being represented and published.

2.    Polished  - Make sure your query letter is error free and ‘shows’ a prime example of your writing style, a clear and correct synopsis of your story, and has a powerful message.  This is probably the most difficult part of the query; writing that short, but powerful, sales pitch of your story.  You don’t have to write the WHOLE story, just the pitch that gets them to want to know more.

3.    Pro-Active/PromisingAgents ‘invest’ in their clients, because they feel that the writing/novel can be successfully placed and sold.  However, they’re also looking for clients who will continue in that success, and are not just ‘one-trick ponies’.  So make sure you ‘show’ that you’re busy working on the NEXT BIG THING, the next project, the next novel. List your accomplishments, affiliations, and the immediate working project.  DON’T list everything you dream of doing in the distant future – just list the big project you’re currently working on. This tells the agent that you’re not sitting at home biting your nails, and placing all your hopes on this one book.  A good agent knows that the more novels an author writes the BETTER writer they become.

4.    Prepared – This is the MOST important.  Don’t query UNTIL you’re completely prepared.  Your novel needs to be polished, printed and ready for publication, and you already WORKING on the next project.  You need to be DONE – completed, edited and ready to go.  This is how you will immediately lose an opportunity for representation and burn a networking bridge – by getting a request for a partial or full manuscript, but then not have one ready to send immediately, or it’s unedited and not in the best possible shape.  This SHOWS an agent that the writer is unprofessional, lazy and impatient. 

So, if you’re thinking about sending out that query letter, but haven’t covered these basic issues, don’t.  Remove your emotions from the process and tackle it with the prowess of professionalism.  Then watch those requests and offers come pouring in.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, November 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012 Winner!

Well, I did it!  I set out to accomplish another goal, and I completed it.  It feels good. It always feels good, that's why I keep setting goals, within reason of course, and then going about  completing them.  It fills me with a sense of accomplishment.  It invigorates me.  It encourages me to do it again.

I wrote a 56,387 word romance novel (my first) in less than 17 days.  This novel is called Survival - Book #1 in the Second Chances series.

Once I begin editing, it will be much longer than 56,000; I'm predicting around 65,000 - 75,000 words, however, I will not set that goal just yet.  Instead of jumping right into the editing phase, I will instead dive right into the second part of this series and begin outlining novel #2 - Separation.  Once I have the outline complete, I will set another writing goal.

For all my fellow NaNoWriMo participants and winners - congratulations!  It's been a huge pleasure making new buddies, forging new friendships, and witnessing how wonderful a little bit of literary abandonment can feel.

Till next year (NaNoWriMo),
~T.L. Gray

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mission Not Impossible

One of the most discouraging things I witness among writers, especially those new to the publishing game, is a defeatist attitude.  They didn’t start with that sort of attitude, but developed it over, most often, a short period of time.  The common denominator in most cases stemmed from the writer being led by their emotions and failing to meet impossible goals.

Setting goals is very important to a writer.  Using our gift is like an invisible electric current that powers us.  However, we have to be smart in deciding what kind of power (Ac or Dc), what level of input and output we generate, how to protect, grow and benefit from our efforts, or else we’ll either blow up or burn out.  Writers often choose to either be Edisons or Teslas, when we should be a balanced combination of both.  Edison, though a genius, was a bit of a brat, egotist and though brilliant, failed to see the potential in his assistant, Tesla.  That assistant, also equally brilliant, failed to concern himself with the practical, pragmatic and business side of his ideas, that eventually cost him the patents and esteem that should have followed his work.

For writers - setting ‘reasonable’ goals, laying out a method to achieve them, and then have enough vision to see the bigger picture to continually propel them forward, should be able to sustain them, and make those impossible missions, possible.   Take passion, though sometimes overwhelming, exciting and/or filled with anxiety, and filter it through rational thinking, good planning, and dedicated follow-through. 

So writers, whatever you’re currently working on, take a step back and evaluate the goals for that project that you’ve set for yourself.  Are they reasonable?  Are they planned through rational thoughts or passionate pleas?  Once you’ve determined you’ve got a good balance of both, then flip the power switch and watch your impossible mission become possible.

Till next time,
~T.L Gray