For the past three years, I’ve been lucky enough to be included in a very informal writing workshop that gathers in early June at a cabin on the Rocky Mountain Front, which coincidentally—or not so—also happens to be the setting for my novels, and that I like to refer to as My Favorite Place on Earth.

All of us have backgrounds in journalism, although two of us now write fiction, too. But by the nature of the group, most of the work is nonfiction. We submit pieces in progress, about 6,000 words, ahead of time and spend the weekend critiquing them. Oh, and there’s some power eating and drinking and—this being Montana—hiking and fishing, too.

It’s probably my favorite weekend of the year. It’s an unimaginable luxury to spend such concentrated time with such good friends discussing writing, and how to make that writing better. Each year, I’m struck by the way insights about other people’s work give me ideas for improving my own. The writing techniques apply equally to fiction and nonfiction. It’s all good storytelling.

Woven into it are our own stories: People have gotten engaged or married, bought houses, changed jobs, moved several states away, all Major Life Changes that, while wonderful, get in the way of writing. Yet it remains a priority for all of us.

I came home exhilarated from the energy of the discussions, and a little depressed, too, because the weekend always ends too quickly. Once I hauled myself out of my funk and sat down at the keyboard, though, I whacked away at the WIP with renewed enthusiasm. And, I’m already looking forward to next year’s gathering.

Filed Under: critique groups Writing


At least, that’s how the action-packed schedule felt at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference this past weekend. So many good sessions, and nowhere near enough time to take advantage of them all.

One of my favorites was a slush pile panel featuring literary agents Kristin Nelson and Sally Harding, of the Cooke Agency, going through the first two pages of several manuscripts. Actually, Nelson and Harding only read a couple of the submissions all the way through to the second page. Most got the big eye-roll and rejection within just a few sentences.

Poor grammar, incomprehensible imagery, awkward or lazy writing – all were immediately apparent.  It was a terrific lesson in just how much rides on that first page – that no matter how wonderful the rest of your manuscript might be, no one will ever see it if you don’t nail the beginning. Scary to see, but good to know.

Another good thing – meeting fellow writers, not always something that comes naturally. Historical fiction writer Aimie Runyan put it well in a blog post of her own: “As much as it may break your little introverted writer’s heart, networking is probably the most important part of attending.”

I wish I’d come up with the idea of an online critique group on my own, but so glad that Jamie Raintree , who writes women’s fiction, suggested it. I’m already loving the daily status reports from those in our group, especially the incentive they provide to keep me on track with my own projects.

Finally, the workshops on the brutal business of publishing were invaluable. I thought I’d done a good job of educating myself in that regard, but the conference let me know how very much I have to learn, even in matters as simple as etiquette (Lesson learned: Don’t waste a pitch conference asking advice you could have sought in a hallway chat.) The good thing? Now I’m plugged into an organization that offers plenty of help. And I’m already looking forward to the jump-start of next year’s conference.