Finding Your Writing Tribe (or, What’s in the Secret Sauce?)

In Spreading The Love by Emily Colin1 Comment

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Michelle Leonard chats with us about The Winged Pen, the importance of finding your writing tribe, and the magic of being a good critique partner.

Q: Tell us a little bit about The Winged Pen. What’s the site all about, and how did it come to be?

A: The Winged Pen is a group of twenty-four PB, MB, and YA writers. We found each other during the 2014 Write On Con, an online writers’ conference which involved putting your work out into the world to be critiqued by strangers. Sounds terrifying, right?! Honestly, there were a few people who participated and seemed to enjoy shooting everyone’s work down, but for the most part, the feedback was thoughtful, encouraging, and helpful. Several of us enjoyed critiquing each other’s work and thought, “Why stop when the online conference ends! Let’s keep at this!”

I hadn’t networked with all twenty-four members during the conference, but I had worked with several. Those smaller critique clusters grew into Fellowship of the Pen, a Facebook group where we shared critiques, news (both good and bad), and cheered each other on. As more and more of us began getting agents and book deals, we got the urge to share our knowledge and support other writers outside of our group. We worked together to come up with a vision for what we wanted the blog to be about. On Leap Day this year, The Winged Pen was born!

Q: I’m amazed that all 24 of the members of The Winged Pen stayed in touch after Write On Con, and that your connection was meaningful enough to lead to the formation of this fantastic community. What was the secret sauce—what led all of you to remain a part of each other’s writing lives?

A: Our secret sauce? *wide grin spreads over face

One word: SUPPORT. It’s the most important tool in your writer’s toolbox. Finding people who get you, accept you, and are willing to cheer you on. Isn’t that what we all want? At The Winged Pen, it’s the foundation of our group.

Q: What’s the “8 on Eight” contest and why did you decide to make it happen?

A: We knew we wanted to open our critiques up to KidLit writers outside of our group. One of our members came back from a SCBWI conference energized and shared her idea to do 8 on Eight critiques.

At EIGHT o’clock PM (EST) on the last day of the month, we open up the window for KidLit writers to enter our contest. After the randomly selected winner gives us the first EIGHT lines of his/her manuscript, at least EIGHT Winged Pen members provide feedback on those EIGHT lines. We share that feedback on the blog at EIGHT o’clock AM (EST) on the EIGHTH day of the month. (That’s a lot of eights!)

Q: Why do you think it’s so important to find your writing “tribe”? How can that make a difference in your journey as a writer?

A: There are so many different roads to writer. Some are busy and bustling, like if you are working on a MFA. Other roads are lonely. I was one of those lonely writers when I first began working on my craft. At some point, I realized I would become a much better writer if I stretched my wings a bit. I signed up for the Table Rock Writer’s writing retreat/workshop in the NC mountains, participated in Write On Con, got a Twitter account, and went to my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference all within nine weeks. (I may be an introvert, but I’m fearless when it comes to achieving my goals.)

By putting myself out there, I’ve formed the most amazing friendships, learned much, and my writing has bloomed.

Q: Do you have critique partners? How does your relationship work?

A: I have a lot of critique partners, some local and some online. It’s fun to meet with local friends at coffee shops, workshops, or conferences. Sometimes we give face-to-face feedback, which is super fun. Sometimes, we meet to share fun times. In fact, even though the members of The Winged Pen live all over the world, we try our best to meet up whenever possible.

Some of my critique partners are great plot busters. Some of my CPs are great at analyzing the motivations of my characters. And some are excellent at helping me with voice. I take all the feedback I receive very seriously (maybe too seriously). Even when I don’t 100% agree with specific feedback, I usually find a way to incorporate it in a way to make my manuscript better.

I prefer to share my work after the second draft. Sometimes I share a synopsis with CPs halfway through the first draft and let them poke holes at it. I’ve found that I love giving others feedback almost as much as I enjoy writing. Many of my CPs have agents and book deals now. It’s so rewarding to be a part of the thrill!

Q: Do you have any tips to share for being a good critique partner?

A: Always, always be honest, but kind. There’s no reason for you to waste your time reading someone else’s work unless you truly want to help. If someone is hostile about your feedback, show them your belly (not literally) and wish them the best. Don’t get worked up about it. We are all human and some of us have better control of our emotions than others. If you don’t like your reader’s feedback, use what helps and ignore the rest. And honestly, grow some skin! Making the most of a critique is a small baby step on the road to a published book. Also, those relationships you form will be so important when you’re ready to market your masterpiece.

Q: How can writers go about finding critique partners? Any tips?

A: Conferences and workshops are fantastic ways to find partners, but they are a bit expensive. You don’t have to spend a fortune to find good people to help you on your journey. Twitter is a great way to find a writing community. There are always pitch contests going on. (Read more pitch parties and writing pitches here.) Follow other writers who write in your genre. Network. And then use those connections to form your own critique group, like The Winged Pen. Be brave!

BIO

MICHELLE LEONARD was born a math and science nerd. After spending ten years working with an engineering dream team developing commercial blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), she escaped the world of seventy-hour workweeks. Nowadays, when she’s not tinkering on her teleporter for transporting her talented daughters to all of their important gigs and lessons, she’s writing down profound thoughts and turning them into stories for young readers. Michelle lives in North Carolina with her science-savvy husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. You can find her at thewingedpen.com and on Twitter.

Follow Me



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Latest Posts


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Michelle Leonard chats with us about The Winged Pen, the importance of finding your writing tribe, and the magic of being a good critique partner.

Q: Tell us a little bit about The Winged Pen. What’s the site all about, and how did it come to be?

A: The Winged Pen is a group of twenty-four PB, MB, and YA writers. We found each other during the 2014 Write On Con, an online writers’ conference which involved putting your work out into the world to be critiqued by strangers. Sounds terrifying, right?! Honestly, there were a few people who participated and seemed to enjoy shooting everyone’s work down, but for the most part, the feedback was thoughtful, encouraging, and helpful. Several of us enjoyed critiquing each other’s work and thought, “Why stop when the online conference ends! Let’s keep at this!”

I hadn’t networked with all twenty-four members during the conference, but I had worked with several. Those smaller critique clusters grew into Fellowship of the Pen, a Facebook group where we shared critiques, news (both good and bad), and cheered each other on. As more and more of us began getting agents and book deals, we got the urge to share our knowledge and support other writers outside of our group. We worked together to come up with a vision for what we wanted the blog to be about. On Leap Day this year, The Winged Pen was born!

Q: I’m amazed that all 24 of the members of The Winged Pen stayed in touch after Write On Con, and that your connection was meaningful enough to lead to the formation of this fantastic community. What was the secret sauce—what led all of you to remain a part of each other’s writing lives?

A: Our secret sauce? *wide grin spreads over face

One word: SUPPORT. It’s the most important tool in your writer’s toolbox. Finding people who get you, accept you, and are willing to cheer you on. Isn’t that what we all want? At The Winged Pen, it’s the foundation of our group.

Q: What’s the “8 on Eight” contest and why did you decide to make it happen?

A: We knew we wanted to open our critiques up to KidLit writers outside of our group. One of our members came back from a SCBWI conference energized and shared her idea to do 8 on Eight critiques.

At EIGHT o’clock PM (EST) on the last day of the month, we open up the window for KidLit writers to enter our contest. After the randomly selected winner gives us the first EIGHT lines of his/her manuscript, at least EIGHT Winged Pen members provide feedback on those EIGHT lines. We share that feedback on the blog at EIGHT o’clock AM (EST) on the EIGHTH day of the month. (That’s a lot of eights!)

Q: Why do you think it’s so important to find your writing “tribe”? How can that make a difference in your journey as a writer?

A: There are so many different roads to writer. Some are busy and bustling, like if you are working on a MFA. Other roads are lonely. I was one of those lonely writers when I first began working on my craft. At some point, I realized I would become a much better writer if I stretched my wings a bit. I signed up for the Table Rock Writer’s writing retreat/workshop in the NC mountains, participated in Write On Con, got a Twitter account, and went to my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference all within nine weeks. (I may be an introvert, but I’m fearless when it comes to achieving my goals.)

By putting myself out there, I’ve formed the most amazing friendships, learned much, and my writing has bloomed.

Q: Do you have critique partners? How does your relationship work?

A: I have a lot of critique partners, some local and some online. It’s fun to meet with local friends at coffee shops, workshops, or conferences. Sometimes we give face-to-face feedback, which is super fun. Sometimes, we meet to share fun times. In fact, even though the members of The Winged Pen live all over the world, we try our best to meet up whenever possible.

Some of my critique partners are great plot busters. Some of my CPs are great at analyzing the motivations of my characters. And some are excellent at helping me with voice. I take all the feedback I receive very seriously (maybe too seriously). Even when I don’t 100% agree with specific feedback, I usually find a way to incorporate it in a way to make my manuscript better.

I prefer to share my work after the second draft. Sometimes I share a synopsis with CPs halfway through the first draft and let them poke holes at it. I’ve found that I love giving others feedback almost as much as I enjoy writing. Many of my CPs have agents and book deals now. It’s so rewarding to be a part of the thrill!

Q: Do you have any tips to share for being a good critique partner?

A: Always, always be honest, but kind. There’s no reason for you to waste your time reading someone else’s work unless you truly want to help. If someone is hostile about your feedback, show them your belly (not literally) and wish them the best. Don’t get worked up about it. We are all human and some of us have better control of our emotions than others. If you don’t like your reader’s feedback, use what helps and ignore the rest. And honestly, grow some skin! Making the most of a critique is a small baby step on the road to a published book. Also, those relationships you form will be so important when you’re ready to market your masterpiece.

Q: How can writers go about finding critique partners? Any tips?

A: Conferences and workshops are fantastic ways to find partners, but they are a bit expensive. You don’t have to spend a fortune to find good people to help you on your journey. Twitter is a great way to find a writing community. There are always pitch contests going on. (Read more pitch parties and writing pitches here.) Follow other writers who write in your genre. Network. And then use those connections to form your own critique group, like The Winged Pen. Be brave!

BIO

MICHELLE LEONARD was born a math and science nerd. After spending ten years working with an engineering dream team developing commercial blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), she escaped the world of seventy-hour workweeks. Nowadays, when she’s not tinkering on her teleporter for transporting her talented daughters to all of their important gigs and lessons, she’s writing down profound thoughts and turning them into stories for young readers. Michelle lives in North Carolina with her science-savvy husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. You can find her at thewingedpen.com and on Twitter.

Michelle Leonard chats with us about The Winged Pen, the importance of finding your writing tribe, and the magic of being a good critique partner.

Q: Tell us a little bit about The Winged Pen. What’s the site all about, and how did it come to be?

A: The Winged Pen is a group of twenty-four PB, MB, and YA writers. We found each other during the 2014 Write On Con, an online writers’ conference which involved putting your work out into the world to be critiqued by strangers. Sounds terrifying, right?! Honestly, there were a few people who participated and seemed to enjoy shooting everyone’s work down, but for the most part, the feedback was thoughtful, encouraging, and helpful. Several of us enjoyed critiquing each other’s work and thought, “Why stop when the online conference ends! Let’s keep at this!”

I hadn’t networked with all twenty-four members during the conference, but I had worked with several. Those smaller critique clusters grew into Fellowship of the Pen, a Facebook group where we shared critiques, news (both good and bad), and cheered each other on. As more and more of us began getting agents and book deals, we got the urge to share our knowledge and support other writers outside of our group. We worked together to come up with a vision for what we wanted the blog to be about. On Leap Day this year, The Winged Pen was born!

Q: I’m amazed that all 24 of the members of The Winged Pen stayed in touch after Write On Con, and that your connection was meaningful enough to lead to the formation of this fantastic community. What was the secret sauce—what led all of you to remain a part of each other’s writing lives?

A: Our secret sauce? *wide grin spreads over face

One word: SUPPORT. It’s the most important tool in your writer’s toolbox. Finding people who get you, accept you, and are willing to cheer you on. Isn’t that what we all want? At The Winged Pen, it’s the foundation of our group.

Q: What’s the “8 on Eight” contest and why did you decide to make it happen?

A: We knew we wanted to open our critiques up to KidLit writers outside of our group. One of our members came back from a SCBWI conference energized and shared her idea to do 8 on Eight critiques.

At EIGHT o’clock PM (EST) on the last day of the month, we open up the window for KidLit writers to enter our contest. After the randomly selected winner gives us the first EIGHT lines of his/her manuscript, at least EIGHT Winged Pen members provide feedback on those EIGHT lines. We share that feedback on the blog at EIGHT o’clock AM (EST) on the EIGHTH day of the month. (That’s a lot of eights!)

Q: Why do you think it’s so important to find your writing “tribe”? How can that make a difference in your journey as a writer?

A: There are so many different roads to writer. Some are busy and bustling, like if you are working on a MFA. Other roads are lonely. I was one of those lonely writers when I first began working on my craft. At some point, I realized I would become a much better writer if I stretched my wings a bit. I signed up for the Table Rock Writer’s writing retreat/workshop in the NC mountains, participated in Write On Con, got a Twitter account, and went to my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference all within nine weeks. (I may be an introvert, but I’m fearless when it comes to achieving my goals.)

By putting myself out there, I’ve formed the most amazing friendships, learned much, and my writing has bloomed.

Q: Do you have critique partners? How does your relationship work?

A: I have a lot of critique partners, some local and some online. It’s fun to meet with local friends at coffee shops, workshops, or conferences. Sometimes we give face-to-face feedback, which is super fun. Sometimes, we meet to share fun times. In fact, even though the members of The Winged Pen live all over the world, we try our best to meet up whenever possible.

Some of my critique partners are great plot busters. Some of my CPs are great at analyzing the motivations of my characters. And some are excellent at helping me with voice. I take all the feedback I receive very seriously (maybe too seriously). Even when I don’t 100% agree with specific feedback, I usually find a way to incorporate it in a way to make my manuscript better.

I prefer to share my work after the second draft. Sometimes I share a synopsis with CPs halfway through the first draft and let them poke holes at it. I’ve found that I love giving others feedback almost as much as I enjoy writing. Many of my CPs have agents and book deals now. It’s so rewarding to be a part of the thrill!

Q: Do you have any tips to share for being a good critique partner?

A: Always, always be honest, but kind. There’s no reason for you to waste your time reading someone else’s work unless you truly want to help. If someone is hostile about your feedback, show them your belly (not literally) and wish them the best. Don’t get worked up about it. We are all human and some of us have better control of our emotions than others. If you don’t like your reader’s feedback, use what helps and ignore the rest. And honestly, grow some skin! Making the most of a critique is a small baby step on the road to a published book. Also, those relationships you form will be so important when you’re ready to market your masterpiece.

Q: How can writers go about finding critique partners? Any tips?

A: Conferences and workshops are fantastic ways to find partners, but they are a bit expensive. You don’t have to spend a fortune to find good people to help you on your journey. Twitter is a great way to find a writing community. There are always pitch contests going on. (Read more pitch parties and writing pitches here.) Follow other writers who write in your genre. Network. And then use those connections to form your own critique group, like The Winged Pen. Be brave!

BIO

MICHELLE LEONARD was born a math and science nerd. After spending ten years working with an engineering dream team developing commercial blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), she escaped the world of seventy-hour workweeks. Nowadays, when she’s not tinkering on her teleporter for transporting her talented daughters to all of their important gigs and lessons, she’s writing down profound thoughts and turning them into stories for young readers. Michelle lives in North Carolina with her science-savvy husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. You can find her at thewingedpen.com and on Twitter.

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