Sometimes ‘filling the well’ feels more like ‘stuffing the turkey’–less graceful than water pouring into a well, to be sure.

As I try to move into my new, larger projects (two at a time! whoo-hoo!) I’m trying to learn from other mistakes and thought processes. Right now I’m reading Robert Olen Butler’s Where You Dream, Donald Maass’s Fire in Fiction, and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. So far I’ve discovered that there are ten billion different opinions on how to create a good story/art. Vogler talks structure, Butler talks process, and Maass talks a little of both. There have been ‘epiphanies’ and ‘eurekas’ and ‘that’s interestings’ in my head as I read these books.

I’ve heard the argument that writer’s books are just a way of dodging writing, and I thought briefly that maybe that’s what I was doing. But here’s the thing–I haven’t reached a pro level of writing yet. I have many more words to write and many more stories to finish/not finish to reach that level. Writing is one way to learn it, sure. But if you’re doing a lot of math problems to learn mathematics, it only works if you’ve learned how to do the problems correctly in the first place. Otherwise, you’re just throwing numbers on a page.

Writing to learn writing goes without saying. Reading a lot of what it is you want to write helps too. But if you don’t understand why what you’re reading works, or why the writing your producing doesn’t work, you’ll never improve. That’s why there are teachers, mentors…and books on writing.

I’m never attending Florida State University and will, therefore, never get to hear lectures in person from Butler, or any of the visiting writers like Junot Diaz. Stephen King isn’t going to meet me for coffee and reveal the writing life to me. The only way I get to hear from the pros and learn how they play is through these books.

Right now I try to think of it as tutors working with me. My brain is a little tired from all the new tools they’re throwing at me. But I think I’m learning something….


My First Wednesday Prompt

For those who are interested but don’t know the rules, here they are.

And now:

I thought I would share with you some of the cards I received for my birthday. Okay, so I only got a couple cards. I’ll share with you the comments from the mail I received on my birthday:

“Wow, you’re still alive? Good on ya!”—from Mary Anne, Mother’s best friend since 1954
“You sure look your age…I mean good for your age.”—Uncle John, whom I haven’t seen since I was three.
“I didn’t know you were that young.”—my little sister, Kimmie.
“Your credit score is 123, we can’t approve your application for a gas card at this time.”—Creditor #1
“Due to your failure to pay the last 4 statements, we are repossessing your car.”—Creditor #2, which was convenient since I was not approved for the gas card.
“As a registered voter in County X, you are hereby summoned for jury duty on XX/YY/ZZZZ.”—Jury Summons.

Discovering your process is a process

I do not believe in writer’s block. To even write about writer’s block indicates that ‘block’ is not real. I do believe in creative standstills, where you’re facing a writing problem (i.e. what should my character do next? how do I make such and such more believeable to the reader).

I also understand it when you get out of your writerly rhythm.

That seems to be the place that I’m in right now. The real world has crept very far into my conciousness, for one. I’ve also been in editing mode for quite a while now–the ‘let’s make everything pretty’ mode.

I’ve also let myself sink into “What will my writer’s group think if I don’t do XYZ?” I’ve debated about what novel to continue with, whether I should remain in editing mode and submit an old novel while I rework it. That plan included working on something new at the same time. However, I can’t switch modes that quickly. I can write two things at once, or I can edit two things at once. I cannot edit one thing while working on another thing. This is a new discovery.

So, addendum to the new plan: revert back to the old plan. Write, write, write.

Then I guess next year will be edit, edit, edit.

Constructive vs Destructive

First off: What Deb Said.

Second off:
Today I had a woman, a writer, come into the store where I work to talk to me. We have had previous conversations and I took a writing sample of hers to be considered for one of the groups. Now, I also told her about another critique group that she might be interested in. Lo and behold, she tried it out. And lo and behold she comes in today and she looks rather shaky.

Me(immediately upon seeing her): I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you.
(I’ve been reading through her sample slowly because I’m swamped with other things)
Her: It’s okay, I know I suck.
Me: No you don’t. (She doesn’t)
Her: I went to that one group and they lambasted me. So I know I suck.

This pissed me off. Not at her, no, no. But at the writer’s group. Here was a writer–and not a bad one at all–who had put her neck out there for a bunch of people who proceeded to gleefully hack at it.

This is not what good writer’s groups do. If you feel like crying after a meeting instead of writing, then the group is not for you. There’s a couple things you need to think about before proceeding/continuing with a group:

1. Was anything complimentary said about the writing? Good critiques should include what you get right. That’s really where you figure out what to focus on. If they don’t point out what you’re doing correctly, then there’s something else at work, like jealousy or, more likely, a ‘I’m holier than thou’ kind of attitude. I’ve read many, many, many rough drafts of many, many, many people’s work and there is always something positive to say. But be careful because it’s really easy to get bogged down in the ‘Well, this didn’t work, and that didn’t work.’ Listen carefully and if there’s really nothing good being said about your work (or anyone else’s work for that matter) walk away and don’t apologize for ditching them. They’re buttheads.

2. Did they direct comments towards you as an author? Comments should always be about the work. ‘You’ are not in it. The work is it. The words. The story. Not “you.” There should be no personal attacking, intentional or otherwise. Nothing like ‘You suck’ should even hover in the air.

I won’t lie. The writer’s groups that I am a part of are tough. They read closely. If there’s an issue with character, story, description, etc. they will find it and they will tell you about it. However, there’s a certain assumption of professionalism. We take this seriously. No name calling. We generally stick to our task–which is to help writers write better. We don’t bicker or get catty and if anyone tried to join who is, then they are put in their place but fast. We also do teamwork kind of exercises–round stories, researching submission guidelines for one another.

I gave the writer the time and place for the Underground Writing Project. Now it’s up to her.

Taking a Moment to Acknowledge "The End"

I’ve been working my way through the monthly critiques early this month. And it occured to me while reading that Marie, of The Underground Writing Project, has handed in the final chapter of her book Darkwings. It also occured to me that when she handed it in we did not have proper appreciation for that accomplishment. We picked up the packet of 30 or so pages and headed home as if this was just another packet of 30 or so pages to read.

For two years or thereabouts, Marie has handed in submissions steadily. Working each month to create a piece of work for us to read. Now, she has a husband, and a daughter, and a job. She completed one novel before this one. She completed this second one because she wrote steady and even, in spite of those everyday obstacles we all face, and now she’s the first one in our writing group to have handed over a completed work–a book that we have read from beginning to end. So: Cheers to Marie. Good work.

We’ve also finished the Round Story. After a couple years of tossing maniacal story bits to each other, we finally have it done enough to edit and streamline those maniacal bits into one maniacal whole.

Look, we all know rough drafts need even more work once they’re all done. But sometimes it’s good to pause, not look at what you still want to do in the future, and just acknowledge the steps you’ve taken to get there. Wrote a page today? Awesome. Only a paragraph? Still awesome. Finished the rough draft of that big ol’ book you’ve been working on? More than awesome. That’s a step that hundreds of ‘writers’ out there haven’t done yet.

Right now I’d just like to give a shout out to Marie, for having finished the first leg of a really long race.