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                  ABOUT THE OWNER
Personal Philosophy:  Never give up on your dreams.

    Sharon L. Schultz, affectionately known to her writing friends as Tillie, is a published poet, author, and avid reader. She is 58 years old. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest.

     She was a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association competition, 1998, for her first manuscript, Mountain of the Fog Givers. 

    She received Honorary Mentions in the Other Side of Creativity-Warm Fuzzy Contests for A Santa-Jesus Christmas; and a 2002 poem, Beloved. Another short story, The Silent Stalker, was published by the on-line magazine, EWG Presents, 1997.  She received Editor's Choice Award from the National Library of Poetry in 1992. 

    Sharon managed an on-line fiction writers group for eight years, Tillie's Tea Time Critiquers. The members called her everything from a "Task Master" to a “Godsend”.  She must have done something right, for the member’s level of writing and self confidence flourished. Five Tea-timer alumni now have published works to their credits.















FOUR MAGIC SECRETS TO MANAGING A SUCCESSFUL ONLINE CRITIQUE GROUP

 BELIEF:  The first thing you must do is to believe in yourself as a writer and gather as much experience and knowledge as you can. Then, decide what kind of group you want to host, be it Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, or etc. Be willing to share your knowledge with the others you have asked to join you in this worthwhile endeavor and ask that they share their knowledge with the group.

    You must be strong enough to ask people to leave the group if they are detrimental to others. This last is the hardest thing to do and can be very disheartening. As leader, this is your responsibility. Keep in contact with your writers outside of group and if you sense something amiss, ask. It is necessary to be aware of all possible conflicts that may arise and to be on the look out for those writers who enjoy belittling others. (They are out there, trust me.) As leader, it will be your job to ascertain and put a stop to any high jinks, of a serious or abusive nature, that affects the group. If you get someone in your group who attacks the writer, (either through group chats, IM's, or emails) rather than the work submitted for critique, your group will soon be only a memory. Most new writers (newbies) are insecure and vulnerable; the group leader must take this into account. It is your place to nip possible problems in the bud. Sometimes you may be wrong and end up with egg on your face. Nevertheless, on those occasions when members begin to drop out due to an abusive or overbearing personality, you will feel vindicated when you finally remove the offending individual. 

GUIDELINES:  Keep your requirements simple. Decide if you will go with a formal protocol format, (where members must type a '?' and wait to be called on) or use an open forum format. I have found it easiest to use the open forum; thus, the other writers are allowed the freedom to comment/brainstorm on each other's valuable insights. (I only get worried when we all agree.)

     Request short bio's and writing samples from prospective members and shoot for a midrange. Nothing could be worse for the newbie than to be in a group of published writers who take the basics for granted and talk about their latest contracts. The new writer will more than likely feel intimidated or inferior because of his/her lack of knowledge. The opposite is also true. Do not place experienced writers with a group that doesn't know a comma splice from a semi-colon. This last is true, unless the published writer simply needs support and fresh eyes, but few need the same kind of ego stroking the newbie requires.

    It is wise to have a 'second in command' to take over the group, in case you can't get logged on or something in 'real life' arises. Groups fall apart without consistency. Let's face it, we're writers and not best known for our stability or ability to handle structured time lines, right? It is also good to have more than one person log the session, not all computers and servers are perfect. Logs help keep the information fresh for the writer until they are ready to work on rewrites.

    It is up to the group leader to demand attendance; this will help keep your critiques on schedule and is an excellent incentive to keep the writers writing. Set up standard meeting times and schedules of who is up when. Give the members a say in this, after all, it is their group as well. You must be a strong facilitator, give time limits per critique, and keep the group on schedule. Some groups exclusively send email critiques. I believe, that without the weekly chat interaction and consensus or disagreements this entails, the writer is not given a full understanding of how different readers may react to their submitted material. (The brainstorming that comes from chat critiques can also be a valuable writer's tool.)

 COMPASSION:  Every writer was a newbie at one time. Most of us felt our writing wasn't very good, but perhaps with help we could make it so it wasn't 'quite so terrible'. Tillie's Tea-Timer Critiquers, the fiction writers group I founded in 1996, believes in supporting our members by throwing them into sessions as quickly as possible. We joke with new members and praise what they have done right, rather than focusing on their writing transgressions. There is time for that as they become more comfortable with the group and realize we are not there to 'kill' their aspirations (or as most refer to stories, their babies). Development of the member's trust is paramount to managing a successful critique group.

SUPPORT: It is good to have a few rejections (hard won sales are even better) under your belt, before leading a critique group. You must be willing to devote a great deal of time and energy soothing or building up varying types of personalities, (Oh yeah, and sometimes strengthening writing skills).

    I have found that offering new writers imaginary 'magical armor' during critique sessions can quickly help them develop the thick skin necessary to become a professional writer. The publishing industry is cruelest to new writers and if their skin/ego can be thickened by compassionate group members before they enter the real world of evil editors and demon publishing houses they will be less likely to give up on their dreams when those cold-blooded rejections start rolling in.

    This is where the true support value of the quality critique group can propel or disable a new career. Most of us don't have families that fully understand the frustration and fear that accompanies sending our writing (baby) out into the world to fend for itself for the first time. Certainly the writer's family may be supportive, but unless they have gone through the purging/forging fires of a few rejections they can't appreciate the authors delicate balance between hope and despair, or how much a rejection letter (if they even get one) can crush the fledgling writer.

    Empathize with the pain your members feel when they are unsure about submitting or have received that dreaded 'first' rejection letter. Then, show them your tenacity and determination to pick them up, dust them off, and if necessary…kick them in the ----, with a good dose of publishing world reality, (well, you get the idea). The "never say die" attitude is a necessary ingredient of the good leader. Few writers are published on their first, second, or even third times out. Teach your writers patience, but your being there to commiserate and then bolster, in itself, is a large part of the magic.

 MAGIC BENEFITS:  If you run your critique group correctly, you will make long-term writing friends and what a wonderfully magical gift that is. Even if they do lovingly refer to you as, 'Tillie the Task Master' or 'A-Tillie' (the Hun) sometimes.

TILLIE  INK

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