Sunday, February 1, 2009

Exercising our Mental Muscle

I belong to a wonderful online group of writers, and we like to call ourselves The Writin’ Wombats. How that name came about is as interesting a story as how we all came together.

In a nutshell, our origins began after the & Schuster First Chapters contest way back in Jan 2007. The contest was touted as an American-Idol-like search for the next best work of fiction and written about in the New York Times.

From what I recall (and, at the time, had had no interest in entering since I’d just gone through the media-blitzkrieg of American Title), they’d hoped for 500 entries. They got 2, 676.

There were some issues on the execution of the contest. People weren’t happy they didn’t final. Others weren’t happy with those who did. It wasn’t pretty. And since mine was the only Romance in the Top 20, well, let’s just say that I learned how to have a thick skin and deal with critics pretty darn quick. :)

BUT, one of the BEST things to come out of that bloodbath (as we Wombats so affectionately call it) was The Writin’ Wombats:

“A convivial group of writers, readers and critics in support of each others' work. A communal bulletin board to post links to your writing, share news, gossip, rants and triumphs.”

From our inception in May, 2007, we’ve continued with, as of yesterday, 247 chat threads of at least 300 comments each, with various offshoots for SOLD! notices, contests, cover art displays, articles on writing, writing exercises, masquerade balls, murder mystery weekends, and whatever else we can come up with to amuse ourselves.

We’ve had Wombats meeting up in Ireland, a huge laugh-a-minute shindig in Sausalito last year before the RWA National Conference, in Seattle for breakfast and book-signings, in Philly for lunch, in Ohio for first-time attendance at a writing workshop, in California and New York for drinks. We’ve emailed privately, we’ve created other chat groups, we’ve talked on the phone. We link up at all times of the day and night, from our iPhones and Treos, our laptops and desktops. We help each other out with last-minute reads at deadlines.

We come from all walks of life, published, pre-pubbed, non-fiction, fiction, aspiring, POD, and self-proclaimed non-writers who have, in the past two years, put pen to paper and turned out some amazing stuff (one of whom submitted to Deb’s pitch post.), each with our own strengths and weaknesses to bring to the collective writing and critiquing table.

A few of my non-Wombat friends wonder why the heck I invest so much time in these cyber-marsupials. Wouldn’t my time be better spent writing? Promoting? Sleeping? Interacting with my family?

Well, sure. But where’s the laughter in that?

The thing with being a part of this group is that we challenge each other and ourselves. To be better writers, better promoters, to come out of our shell and try something we haven’t before. We encourage, we critique. We don’t belittle.

And most of all, we write.

To that end, Ken Coffman, Almighty Contest Administrator, has put forth our latest writing challenge – The Writin' Wombats Second Quasi-Semi-Annual Valentine's Day Tribute to Love Short Story Competition.

It’s the chance to stretch our mental muscles, even for those of us who write Romance—there’s a 1500 word limit. There are prizes. There are bragging rights. There's usually some death, body parts, tears and "awwwww!" moments. There's always the genuine joy of creating a piece that others will enjoy reading.

So, yes, I might spend time there that could be used for, say, cleaning the house, but, really… why?


  1. I rarely clean house, either, and I'm not a Wombat! Sounds like fun, though!

  2. veni, vidi, rideo, crustulum :-)

  3. Many people misunderstand the chaos and randomness of the Writin' Wombat threads. Topics tend to bounce around and there are generally several things going on at once. Let there be no doubt: generally, writing topics are themes and there are very talented writers offering opinions and advice.

  4. I read a sci-fi story many years ago (before internet) about a world where technology had developed to the point that it was unneccessary for people to leave their homes. I think they had some sort of hologram projection device so that it could seem like someone was in your living room in the flesh, but they weren't.

    Any sort of physical proximity to another human had become rare.

    I read the story and thought, even if we had the technology, I don't believe that would ever happen.

    Now I wonder. Do you think it could?

  5. Judi--I agree. I'll take writing or spending time with writer friends over cleaning the house any day. In fact, there's not much else I'd rather do than tend to my writing career.

    Best--Adele Dubois

  6. Judi, a wonderful introduction to the Wombat Wisdom (yes, wisdom is what a group of wombats is really called).
    One slight correction, the Valentine Contest word limit is 1499 and having observed the contest administrator in the past, he'll hang you out to dry for that one-over-word.

  7. Morning everyone! I see some of the 'bats are checking in!

    MM - I remember reading, I think it was a Stephen King story, about humans melding into their computers. With the deadlines I have, I can totally relate! :)

    I will say, regarding the story you read - the internet chats with the Wombats are very addicting and very motivating. I usually keep the current chat thread up on my desktop for when I need a break. Other Wombats check in on their lunch hours, before work, during snowstorms, etc. Right now several are getting ready for the Amazon contest and last night's thread was full of hilarity, people bemoaning how many pages they had left, requests for quick critiques of passages, help with pseudonyms and pitches and bios... there's (usually) always someone *there. And the various fields of expertise among us usually mean that someone will know an answer, or where to find it when you're stuck on research.

  8. oops, my bad, John. Yes, thanks for that correction. That one word would open me up to public ridicule. :)

  9. I'm with Cheryl. I haven't cleaned house in years. Luckily, I'm allergic to it and I married a Domestic God whose cleaning skills far surpass mine.

    The Wombats sound like fun, but I also know they can be dangerous. I saw you after the get together in Sausoiito.

    Hugs...Robin :)

  10. Judi! You wrote about us! And a very nice job you did of it as well! And Robin, Judi's the only dangerous wombat in the group!

    And yes, the wombats are always there for me. They are my lifeline to sanity when plots are absent, words can't be coralled and characters are running amok. It's a true statement to say I would never have become a writer without them. They nicknamed me WiD (Writer in Denial). They pushed, pulled, encouraged, and supported me (and, well, yes, perhaps there were a few threats in there!) and now I have a completed MS and another in process. I'm hoping to turn that WiD into Writer in Demand! And all thanks to the most generous, talented group you'll find in cyberspace, and in the real world as well!

  11. Writin' Wombats--unafraid to go where no marsupials have gone before. An online community that has merged with the 3-D world has so many attractions, the least of which is laughter. As Judy said, this wisdom of wombats can be counted on for support, distraction, help with the oddest requests, and butt-kickings when the muse is either asleep or has run off with the editing witch. A pleasurable experience I would wish on any writer.

  12. We are a crazy but wonderful group. I’ve belonged to several writing groups, which left me frustrated and going, hmmm. I have to say, Wombats are unique. I guess because it’s not all deadly dull, fill with pretentious posturing, or blatant self-promotion. It’s part social, where we can come out of our shell and be ourselves, lots of fun and laughter, but the main focus is our writing and how to make it the best we can make it. Critiques are honest without flaying your skin from your bones and leaving the author in a puddle of blood.

    What has always astounded me is the support. It’s not all about one genre; we have pretty much all genres present, including non-fiction. When one of us gets an agent, a request for a MS, or a contract? It’s celebration, not jealousy. Envy? Sure. I can celebrate another’s success and be happy for them and wish it were I. Every success encourages you not give up.

    I joined during the First Chapters Romance. I was such a newbie; my first contest and my first contact other writers of novels. The first time I had put my work up before my peers and I didn’t know a soul on Gather was scared to death and nervous. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but bravely critiqued all 300 plus entries. In the process, I learned enormous amount about writing and met up with a couple of Wombats, which was to me the real prize.

    You did a great job with this Judi! As for cleaning house and doing chores, I’ve learned how to multitask, Judi, go clean some, come back and see what’s going on…

  13. Besides being a fitting tribute to the Wombats, Judi, your article explains what it's all about. I sure wish I'd read this back when I joined -- it would have made things a lot easier. Took me forever (well, not quite forever)to figure out what was going on.

    Cleaning house? What's that?

  14. Cleaning house? I am Queen Wombat. We do not clean. We do occasionally tidy.

  15. Cleaning house is saved for when I want to hide from writing. Thank you Judi. I think you captured our essence very well.

  16. Wow, it's hard to believe it's been almost two years since the Wombat group was formed. How time flies!

    Great article, Judi!

  17. Judi,

    Thanks for writing up this fine intro to the Wombats. I've loved the online interaction of this group and can happily say that the good times continued to roll when one or more of us had a chance to meet. I didn't know I needed a writing peer group until I happened upon the wombats early on, but it's been an amazing learning experience and, as you say, a joy to celebrate every triumph.

  18. I've been away for 8 days--probably 10 or 11 by the time the "ORDEAL" is over--and I don't even want to think about what my house looks like! LOL!

    Why clean when you can write?? Your group sounds fun, Judi.

  19. We are a unique group, but the true joy in sharing with each other is our greatest strength. A whirlpool of advice, non-sequiturs, and general silliness pretty much sums it up. But there is wisdom in letting go occasionally.

    Thrilled for you Judi, and I can't wait to get my grubby wombat paws on IOHH.

  20. Well, shoot! I'm late to the party, like several days. Hi to my fellow Wombats and All. Just echoing that the Wombats are a wonderfully supportive and fun group.

  21. Cleaning house is for when there is nothing better to do. And that never happens to me. The Wombats are so supportive I can't even explain what it means to me to be welcomed by one and all and to have my work, such as it is, encouraged. Everyone should belong to such a great group.

  22. Cleaning house, and trying to leave the clumps of black fur undisturbed so I don't clean the dog away... I need to work harder at being a wombat.

  23. Hello how we have grown.... :-)

    Fun to see all the hot guy pix on the covers of your books. Steamy, eh? Oh, the poor ladies that read your books.....

    Just touching base....its been a long time....tres long :-)

    best regards, and keep up the great writings! :-)

    patrick mahoney