Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Full Monty

I’m a procrastinator.  Always have been.  If I have something that I have to do, I put it off.  I had it down to in art in college, by my last semester, I was no longer writing papers the night before – I wrote them day of.  It was both horrifying and fantastic.

The problem this presents is that since I’m writing just for myself now, I don’t have any deadlines.  Which means I put off working on things.  By like, say, posting on my blog, tweeting, browsing Facebook…all three of them.  Yeah, waste time much?

Last August, the goal I posted for all internetdom to see, in the hopes that it would motivate me to actually keep it, was to take a semester long novel workshop class.  I was really looking forward to this class to kick start my novel and get the creative juices flowing.  

So come September, I went back to college as an adult student and found myself a freshman again.

Most of us new writers were scared to death by the very idea of getting our writing critiqued.  We had expected golden words to flow from our fingertips instantly, but
unfortunately, it didn’t work that way.  Many of us submitted our first drafts for the class to critique and they were awful, nonsensical, and all but unintelligible.  It’s fair to say that all of us freshmen were confused by the feedback. It’s hard to hear someone say critical things about the writing you spent so much time on, but this criticism, made my writing a bazillion times better.

Here’s how I made the most of my critique.

#1 Prepared Myself
I was finally going to let someone read my writing.  HUGE STEP. But before I signed up for the class.  I made sure I was 100% OK with it.  I mentally prepared myself, so that I could fully accept criticism.

#2 Listened
I learned to listen to suggestions without trying to defend myself.  The teacher had set the rule of ‘silence’ until all critiques had been given.  I took advantage of the gag order and harnessed my nervous energy into taking good notes while I listened.  I brought a copy of my manuscript and jotted down helpful advice in the columns. 

#3 Stayed Open-Minded
A constructive critique can easily put you on your defenses if you don’t approach it with an open mind.  I saw this happen to several students during class.  I tried to remain open minded to suggestions and feedback. Before getting defensive, I tried to remember, the person was there to help me (and I had asked for it when I signed up for the class).  My classmates and teacher had spent the time to read my paper. The least I could do is give them my attention and consider what they were telling me.  Don’t get me wrong, it was hard listening to someone tell me my writing needed work, that my dialogue was flat or that I should send my favorite passages to the graveyard (in which many funerals were given for favorite lines).   But the more I learn to accept criticism and learn how to use it, the better my writing will be.

#4 Considered I Didn’t Know Everything
It’s my writing. And being so close to my work it sometimes makes it hard to get any other perspective.  That is why the class critiques were so important for me.  I got the opportunity to receive more than 20+ different perspectives from my classmates and teacher, all trying to help me make it better.  I even got the opportunity to ask them clarifying questions as needed.  My writing has been enriched by plot twists created because of questions posed by my teacher and other students.

#5 Showed Gratitude to Fellow Writers
What we ultimately had in common was writing, the creative spirit, and the commitment to further knowledge.  Being like-minded individuals we all helped each other grow, not just as writers but as people.  The students in the class ranged in age, which brought together both a mix of enthusiasm and experience.  There were some amazing characters too – the bubbly blonde, the perceptive bohemian, and the contemptuous detective (questioning everything).  And these were just the students!  The teacher was amazing too.  After my last manuscript submission, my teacher gave me what he called “The Full Monty.” It’s not the naughty British movie version of baring all, but rather the entire class spent 45 minutes going into excruciating detail to critique the “whole thing.”  The teacher ended up coming back to me and saying that the overall story was solid, interesting and he could see it resulting in a series of books…but my character needed an overhaul.  He said the main character bordered on whiney and my classmates wanted to slap her the entire time. 


But having them say that to me really made me look at my character through their viewpoint.  Turns out, they were right!  So now I’m going back and tweaking some parts of my manuscript to make the main character stronger and more likeable, as opposed to annoying and lame. 

Having the critique felt awesome.  While there is still a lot of work to be done, I at least know what I need to do to make it better.

As a writer, if you’re interested in making your writing better, you will, at some point, have to subject yourself to constructive criticism.  And if you’re lucky you may even get The Full Monty!

Giveaway Time: I am giving away a signed copy of Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel!

DEADLINE:  January 31st, noon, Pacific Time. Winner will be posted on the blog. Open to US residents only.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stop, Look, and Listen

For the first the two weeks of August I stopped writing and spent time looking and listening to the resources around me.  I had the opportunity to attend the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) 39th Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles and it was amazing.  I met many aspiring writers just like myself as well as several debut authors who were more than willing to share their experiences.  And that was just hanging around the bar!

The conference had a line-up of authors and agents like none other I’ve attended. They were the rock stars of the industry and I was such a typical fan girl, snapping pictures and furiously taking notes of everything they said. Instead of retyping the notes I will refer you to some blogs which captured them real-time:

See Heather Write (4 blog posts)
Forever Young YA Lit Blog (2 blog posts)
Wendy Delsol

I listened attentively during the workshops, hanging on every word. The topics covered everything from finding your voice and creating characters to plotting and revising. There were so many sessions I couldn’t decide which to attend. By the next conference, I hope to be further along with my WIP so I can take advantage of the critiques offered, as well as attend workshops on querying and finding an agent. I’m already looking forward to it.

Immediately following the SCBWI conference, I attended a virtual conference, Write on Con. I spent most of my time watching videos on plot and pacing and reviewing the query letters submitted as examples for literary agents to critique. There is a wealth of information still available online. Check out WriteonCon at:

So now that I’ve looked and listened, I’m ready to write.

First up, the blog post – check

Next, blog contest – check (see details below)

Finally, back to my WIP.
I’m at the coffee shop now ready to write. I’m hoping to implement some of the techniques I’ve learned from the conferences earlier this month. Starting with one of Carolyn Mackler’s keys to creating characters…finding out what my character hides in her underwear drawer!

Shiver / Linger Swag Giveaway!

I am giving away a signed copy of Maggie Stiefvater's book Linger as well as a very cool Shiver Tote.

DEADLINE: Wednesday, August 30th, noon, Pacific Time. Winner will be posted on the blog. Open to US Residents only.

Thanks to all that entered.  The winner will be announced soon

Congratulations to Em winner of an autographed copy of Linger and Shiver tote!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

First Drafts

In the words of Anne Lamott, "Some days it just feels like you have to get out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write." I am a very visual person so writing for me is mentally envisioning the scene. My mind becomes entranced as I mentally watch the scene unfold in front of me. The story continues to build every time I mentally revisit the scene, with more details being filled in each time. By the time I actually have a chance to stop and write, the characters voices are screaming at me and it all just spills out. Well….at least that’s how it went for the first few chapters of my WIP, which I had the opportunity to stew over in my head for many months.

With a writing event like JulNoWriMo you have little time to think….you just write. You put your thoughts down on paper and continue. So I let my mind wander to find another corner of my vision, and then I was off and running. I didn’t reign myself in to stew on the ideas. I just typed, making my fingers move to capture (real-time), the ideas I explored. I typed with out abandon.

My husband had read the first few chapters of my WIP and was eagerly awaiting to see how the story continued. He asked me how it was going, so I decided to share with him what I had just written. As I read aloud I was horrified at how dreadful it sounded, it was almost incoherent. The story was choppy, it had stupefying descriptions, and was written out of sequence (this was intentional I wrote whatever came to me…which just happened to be an exchange between characters that I imagine would take place near the end). So needless to say, revisiting what I wrote at this stage of writing was a huge mistake. I was appalled at myself and immediately panicked.

I spent the next week obsessing over it. I wanted to destroy what I had written before everyone realized how bad my writing is. It is now July 15th, I have not written in days (and I was writing slowly before the incident). I’m about a week behind where I should be. And now, I kind of feel like I’ve cheated by taking a break to stew on some ideas and let them form more coherently. But I also know I need to get back on the proverbial saddle, which in this case happens to be the keyboard.

I’ve learned some valuables lessons so far during JulNoWriMo. First, I have to accept that the right words and sentences don’t always come pouring out. Second, I’ve learned not to look back, just keep moving forward. And lastly, I'm learning not to be too critical of myself for having a shitty first draft.

I am taking comfort in the words of Earnest Hemingway, "The first draft of anything is shit."

Musing 2 Manuscript Playlist