Author Archives: Matt Jones

About Matt Jones

Software Engineer for a living. Fantasy writer for myself. I'm a writer, veteran, gamer, hacker, maker, astronomer, thinker, and altogether indescribable.

Existing in a Writing Group

A year ago, fellow fictorian Kevin Cioffi wrote about starting a writing group, and I thought I would give my own advice on starting and existing within a writing group. I personally find that having a writing group provides one of the best benefits I could ask for, a deadline. I write for the joy of telling an awesome story, and that’s really about it. Without the weekly deadline, I find myself putting off my writing to pursue other hobbies. With a writing group, I know I have two weeks to finish the next chapter. If nothing else, that’s reason enough for me to find and stay in a writing group. So, lets say you take my advice and follow Kevins steps to find or create your own writing group, what steps can you take that will help both you and your group?

First, learn to step away from your work. This may be one of the hardest things to do, but when your work is being critiqued you should step back and stay silent. Pull out your notebook and write down what the other members talk about, but don’t defend your work! We all love our writing and we want to correct every misconception or issue that arises. If someone says something that is wildly different from what you meant, write it down and listen to everyone else. Wait to see what the other members of the group thought. If you need to, feel free to ask other members if they agree or how they felt about a section, but don’t stop the conversation or try to point it in a certain way. If you do this, you may give information that is crucial to later parts of the novel, which your group will understand but will be lost on any other reader. Use your common sense to give only as much info as needed and make sure your group makes the connections you wish.

Similar to the prior suggestion, be as detailed as you can when you read others works. I like to write emotions or idle thoughts in the margins as I read. I may not bring a lot of these thoughts up during the group meeting, but it might be useful to the author as he reads it after the fact. Something that I idly wrote down and didn’t think was important enough to bring up could have been the plot hole nobody noticed. If someone else mentions feeling odd about a certain point of the novel, I can respond with my feelings and give another point of view.

Feel free to experiment. Writing groups are the best place to try that bit of trickery that might not work. If it doesn’t work, you’ll know right away and maybe even get advice on how to fix or improve the idea. You’re all there for each other and you should feel comfortable around your group. If not, you might want to find/refine your group until you are.

Make sure you have something for every meeting. This may seem obvious, but you might get stuck on a chapter and have no clue how to precede. It happens to all of us, so be prepared and have other things to contribute. Take a character and write a small side story, or step away and write something wildly different. I’ve heard of two authors in a writing group who both got stuck so they switched novels for a week and wrote the others next chapter. It helped give ideas while keeping the creative juices flowing. As the mantra goes, keep writing!

Have fun. You want your writing groups to be something you look forward to. Prepare fun writing exorcizes to start each session or save extra time for word games. Bring food or drinks and enjoy the company of your friends. Make it an environment that keeps bringing you back.

The real goal of a writing group is to provide a forum for you to go over your work and receive feedback on the fly. You understand your novel more than anyone, but your writing group will provide your first real insight into what the rest of the world will think.

Have your own suggestions or experience with a writing group? Don’t agree with my suggestions? Add a comment below. I’m looking forward for more tips or suggestions that can improve my writing groups.

Distractions ““ Stop working against your technology

One of the most common complaints I hear from fellow writers is how hard it can be to write and be productive with all the distractions prevalent on the information superhighway. While the usual advice “Just Write” still burn strong, when you write every day the temptation can be too much. It can be an email notification, or just a quick pause to look something up. Next thing you know you’re lost in the throes of reddit and the time you allotted yourself to finish this chapter ended hours ago. If you’re one of these types that often find the allure of the web a little too much to resist, here are some ideas that may help. I’ll start out easy and move to the most extreme so you can choose a solution that works best for you.

  1. Close all programs that distract you. This means your email program, instant messenger windows, web browsers, and other alert programs. Keep a notebook in front of you to write down all ideas that pop in your head or items you want to research. Stay in your writing window as much as possible.
  2. If you absolutely need to have internet access for research, but find yourself always clicking on those same websites, look at getting a browser add-on that blocks websites for certain time limits. Examples are leechblock for firefox and StayFocusd for chrome. These apps let you choose a website and set up access restrictions. You can block the site for the entire writing session, or grant brief access to the site for 10-15 minute breaks every other hour or so. While this method is easy to circumvent, it will remind you to write when you absent-mindedly click on that reddit or facebook link.
  3. If nothing else works, block the problem sites permanently. Almost all routers have an access control functionality. The access control pages, much like the plugins, let you choose a website and a time period. If you have it in your schedule to write every morning from 7-9am, you can have your router block these pages during that time. You can even specify the computer so your family/roommates aren’t blocked as well. You can even turn off the internet during this time so there is literally nothing online to distract you. If you’re really desperate, bring a friend in and have them change the password to the router. That way, it’s blocked from the router and you’re free to work.

While this won’t solve all distractions, it does help get you away from the ones online.


You’ve heard it before.  I’ve said it.  Every author you’ve ever heard repeats it as if it was a mantra to the writing gods.  “Keep Writing.”  It really is the best advice you could take.  We all know this, but how many people sit down and write every day for as long as they planned the night before?  Planning is easy, doing is hard.  (Great example: This blog post is due in three days.  I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks now.) The mantra is true, but you need to look beyond that.  Don’t just say you’re going to write, determine why you’re going to write.  What is your motivation to finish that manuscript?

At Superstars, author James A. Owen did a panel on “Drawing out the Dragons.”  It was a story of his motivations and how they fueled his career through a world that was decisively against him.  The talk was powerful and left the room roaring with energy.  I could feel it pulse with the story he told, and in turn, it latched onto my own dreams and motivators and brought them to the front of my mind.  I was ready to write and take over the world!  I would be the next household name!  James said he believed in us, and I believed.

Since the talk, the blaze has died down to the quiet flame that is always burning in my chest.  When I sit down, I let that heat flow again and use it to power my writing.  When I don’t feel like writing, I have to think back toward these moments that brought on the blaze, and remind myself why I’m doing it.  I think of the friends I have that believe in me.  I think of friends and family reading my stories.  I think of fame and fortune!  (I do write fantasy, so it’s pretty easy to imagine this.)

So, keep writing.  When you don’t want to write, think back to why you started writing in the first place and what motivates you.  Let this ignite your spirit and push you to write, because in the end, no matter how many times someone tells you to keep writing, it’s up to you to actually do so.

The Conflicts of Character Design

There are many parts of creating a new novel, and creating realistic characters is probably one of the most challenging ones. Characters need to be believable. They need to have their own personality, habits, and traits that set them apart from others. If done correctly, the reader will be able to relate. They’ll understand and feel concerned. It’ll pull them deeper into the novel and they’ll keep reading to figure out what will happen. If done poorly, it will throw them out of the novel. They won’t be able to believe and before long, they’ll look elsewhere and leave your novel behind.

When I create new characters, I focus on the conflicts. Everyone has conflicts they face and have to deal with. It’s the sum of all these conflicts that can lead them on the road of hero or villain. These conflicts will generally take on the shape of external and internal, two sides of a fight that is always raging in everyone.

Internal conflicts are anything that tears your character apart from inside. This can be dealing with a phobia, memory, or other psychological barrier. It can be need to be the best, or look the prettiest. It can be the fear of the dark that makes your character abandon others he could easily save. Or the pride that keeps him from admitting he was wrong. The internal conflicts are generally the deeply ingrained problems that the character spends the entire novel attempting to overcome.

External conflicts are everything else that keeps your character on track. The broken home he has to deal with, the abusive parents. They can include the weather, environment, wild animals, or other characters. Anything that goes against what the character would do and forces them to make decisions.

When you create a new character, consider all the conflicts that they have to deal with. Write them down and keep them in your mind as you write them. They’ll keep your character constant and provide motivation to act, even if it’s running away. Once these conflicts are established, your character can show true heroism by not only saving the day, but by having to overcome their natural reaction to do so.