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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Input

I remember the first time I attended a critique group. It was at the back of a Borders on 104th in Thornton. I had been careful (obsessively so) to follow the groups exacting instructions on formatting, printing, font and page count.

That night was the first time I shared any of my writing with anyone (I didn't even let my husband read my stuff back then).

On the drive there, my body shook. My legs felt like water and my stomach rolled over again and again. Maybe I wouldn't have the opportunity to read my pages--that would probably be for the best. Yes, surely there could be the chance that we would run out of time--I could make sure I was last--and I wouldn't have to read today. Maybe next time.

But there was plenty of time.

I did read, voice shaking, eyes darting frequently to the smattering of Border's customers browsing the Writing section we were camped in front of (oh God, were they listening?)

Then, thankfully, mercifully, I came to the end of my allotted 1200 words. I came to end and prepared myself to listen (silently as per their explicit instructions on how to accept critique) to what they had to say.

They said a lot. Some of it was dead on (and no, not just the good stuff.) Some of it was not helpful. And some of it I would need to think about when I had a moment to process what they were trying to get at. Like every other person who subjects themselves to this, the praise made me feel like I could fly and the criticism made cringe. Silently.

That's the hardest part about going through critique...you have to, at least outwardly, be open and accepting of it. The list of rules they provided me were valuable and I still use them--even when my agent and I were going back and forth with edits before submission. I don't think you should try to explain the parts someone is having difficulty with, especially in the middle of their suggestions. I don't think you should ever get, outwardly, defensive. I've seen this happen in the middle of a critique and it's just not a pretty sight. Come with your game face on. Sure, you're probably roiling inside but these people have taken time out of their lives to read your stuff, listen to what they have to say about it. After all, you did come here of your own accord and ask for it.

Now, having said all that, I don't think you should feel you have to listen to everything. For me it eventually became a gut instinct sort of thing. I always consider every piece of critique. Some of it I know right away is not very good advice. But some of it, some of it is like WOW! You are soooo right! Thank you, thank you. Also, if multiple people are having the same problem--auto fix for me. There's just no point in arguing the majority.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Histrionics

I was reading a series of blog posts today by someone who is hunting big game publishing and not having any success.

They seem pretty upset.

I feel for this person--sort of.

But having read six or seven posts, I can't help but wonder if the seemingly unbridled histrionics have something to do with all the bad luck.

Here's the thing, unless you happen to be Ernest Hemingway or Virginia Woolf, people working on the business end of publishing are not likely dying to work with someone who may/ or may not, be dealing with some serious emotional instability. 

So I'll share a belief that I hold dearly and one that I always check myself on before hitting "PUBLISH NOW"

Some things belong in your journal. Some things belong with your spouse/significant other. And some things belong in your therapist's office (that's why they make the big bucks.)

Many, many, many things do not belong on your blog.

It's kind of like walking into a job interview and spending the whole time complaining about how awful your last job was. Actually, it's worse than that because people can search though your archives and judge you for rants you made two years ago.

Just a thought.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gratitude

I'm still so sad. Every few hours I just dissolve into these deep crying jags that last for like fifteen minutes. I finally got to sleep early this morning by lying to myself and pretending that Rusty was laying in his dog bed next to my side of the bed.

I miss that damn dog so much.

But I'm thankful he was a part of our family. I'm glad he was here even though his being gone feels like a hundred empty holes in my chest.

I'm grateful for a lot of things. I'm thankful for my husband and kids. The house over our heads. Never having to worry about food or clothes, heat or clean water.

I'm thankful (so, so thankful) that we are all healthy. That we are employed. My kids go to a good school and have kind friends.

I'm grateful for our neighbors (who I actually know!)

I have the opportunity to pursue something I enjoy doing that brings an enormous amount of creative satisfaction (writing.) And I'm thankful for all the wonderful people I've met online that share this same crazy dream (publication) who know what it's like to ride the roller coaster (the steep climbs and sharp belly lurching drops...the seemingly endless waiting in line.)

Mostly, I guess I'm thankful for not being alone--in every area of my life. 

Fear

I can't bear looking at my last post, I'm moving on (here anyway, you may notice I'm posting in the middle of the night. Insomnia feeds on sadness.)

So F is for fear, people have fears. All sorts. Fear of heights, fear of germs, fear of high ceilings (yes, it's a real fear.) Rational or irrational, people have fears. For instance, I am terrified of worms. Not snakes, not spiders, not rats--worms. Ridiculous, I know, and yet if I so much as even look at a picture of a worm I gag and feel a pressing (URGENT) need to escape.

No I do not care to psychoanalyze this--thank you.

But as ridiculous as they may be, characters should have fears too. In my book that is currently making the rounds my main character is terrified of the dark. Not an unusual fear for a child--but my MC is 16. Why is she still afraid of the dark?

Well I'm not going to say, I'm still praying that whole publishing thing is going to work out for me.

But, whether they are explicitly stated or otherwise inferred, I think a reader should be aware of what it is your character(s) are afraid of. It's a great way of revealing WANT (what it is your character is trying to accomplish) while exploring conflict on the psychological level. You know--you are your own worst enemy--and all that.

Anyway, that's all I've got right now. I'm going to try (again) to sleep.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Empty

That's how I'm feeling. Our family is dealing with a terrible loss.

Rusty Taylor, Best Dog Ever 2008-2011
We loved you, we miss you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Distress, Despair, Death

Distress, despair, death--novels have to have them. Maybe not all of them, character don't have to die (I suppose) but as as the grand orchestrator of your story you can't back off of punishing your characters.

A book with little to no conflict is the book that gets put down.

I have a confession to make. I can't believe I'm actually going to say this out loud but...

I loved the series as much as anyone but I think Harry Potter should have died at the end of DHs. (GASP!)

I think killing him and then bringing him back from the dead was a cop out. (Double GASP, GASP!)

There, I've said it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Characters

C should be for Catch Up even though it has become woefully apparent that I will never do so. I figure at this rate, I should hit G sometime around mid May.

Anyway, C is for Characters and I'm actually piggybacking off my Boring post. Now obviously, what doesn't work for me with that particular boring book (which will remain unnamed) is, in fact, working for thousands of others. Boring is an opinion.

But for me, and with this book, it's stemming from the shallowness of the character. And I don't mean that the character himself is shallow (in fact well done shallow with a great character arc is fun to read--think Before I Fall) I mean that this character feels stock to me--no depth.

When the author is telling me that the character is experiencing an emotion, I don't feel it.
When the author is telling me the character wants something, I don't care if he gets it.
When the author is showing me action, it's like watching an over done, too long car chase. All effect, no emotional urgency.

I love to read. Love, love, love it. The reason I love it is because of how various books over my life have made me feel. Made me believe. When I read, I want to fall in love with a character. I want to defy death with a character. I want pursue a real desire with a character.

When a character seems like a cardboard cut out that's moving through those high concept back flips, I ultimately don't really care what happens to them.

I know hook is important--and obviously you can publish and sell thousands based on that and a good command of grammar and sentence structure.

But if you want me to love you, you have to make me feel it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boring

B is for the worst word in writing--Boring. Is your writing boring? Are parts of it? A scene maybe? Certainly I know I've gone through my own work and come across sections where I am dieing to put my own book down.

Eww, what was I thinking? NOTHING is happening throughout the entire scene!

I am thinking of Boring right now because of a book I'm reading right now. I won't say which and no it is not displayed in that rolling widget to your left. I have been trying to slog through the climax--THE CLIMAX PEOPLE--for the last four nights.

It's boring. I don't care. I actually kind of hope that the main character gets killed because that might be the only thing that could raise my emotional level to any degree.

This book is selling like ice in summer.

There is a major motion picture coming.

I am forcing myself to finish just so I can put it away and move on.

Watch out for the boring in your own writing--especially the climax!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ambition

So here is my first post for the A-Z challenge (which, by the way, I am already behind on.) A couple of weeks ago I sat down and planned out a few posts for this challenge. Don't go getting all impressed, it was really more of an A is for ____ and B is for____. Planned is really too strong of a word.

So my list said A was for Archetype but I don't feel like writing that post right now. Right now I'm thinking of a dirty A word named AMBITION.

I'm not sure why.

It could be because I was reviewing my own goals this morning. In 2009 I came across a little gift book that Starbucks was selling at the time. It was kind of funny. Not ha ha funny, but strange universal paths funny. I was still on my practicum for school psychology and I was sitting at another person's desk pretending to be incredibly engrossed in all aspects of Positive Behavior Support when really I was just filling training binders for the understaffed team--you know, free intern labor.

Everyone went out for lunch and I opened my sad brown sac (remember, I'm free labor) and I'm halfway through my peanut butter and jelly when I absently open this book that had been sitting next to me all morning.

The title was something like "Your Next Five Years" or "Where Will You Be 5 Years From Today." Honestly I'm not exactly sure and I'm too lazy right now to switch over to Amazon and check. But basically is was a gift type book with lots of color and big font and so it was pretty easy to flip through while licking jelly off my fingers.

But a funny thing started happening about halfway through this little gift book. (again, not funny ha ha.)

I opened up my laptop (my personal laptop...free intern laborer does not get assigned computers. You get a pen and a 5 Star spiral notebook) pulled up power point (don't ask me why it was power point, probably all the presentations I was having to do at the time) and I started answering some of the questions that little gift book was asking me:

  • Things I like about myself
  • Things I don't like about myself
  • Who's the happiest person I know
  • Two people I respect most and why
  • Who am I
  • etc
  • etc
Now these seems like pretty straight forward and easy questions. But, believe me, it took me awhile to answer them. Especially since I wasn't just rambling some half thought to myself. I was taking the time to actually write the answers down--and my answers were surprising me. After about the fourth slide, I realized I was creating something that mattered to me.

My answers were honest, especially the blank ones.  What were my top 5 values? What were my dreams? How had my past actions led me to this desk fantasizing about ways to escape?

Was where I was what I had wanted?

Was what I was doing leading me where I wanted to go?

At the time, I was about five months away from finishing a graduate program that had been a long haul for myself and my family. The questions that "gift book" was asking terrified me. But the answers, those were paralyzing.

Not a single answer I gave had anything to do with what I was pursuing in that moment. I was full of ambitions and all of them were directed down a path I didn't want to be on five years from that day.

I wanted to write. I wanted to write for a living.

I saved and closed that Power Point. It scared me to even know it existed. All that honesty. What if someone saw it?

What if they didn't?

It's 2011 now. I pull that slide show up every few months, review it, tweak it, make sure my ambition is still pointing towards the place I want to be in 2014.

It's a work in progress.