Why I Hate Weather

Because it stops my critique group from meeting!

Again! (This is the third–count it! 1-2-3!–time since December.)

The whole reason all these blizzards are going on around the country has nothing at all to do with high or low fronts, jet streams, or whatever else might cause weather to go around.

Nope. It’s all because my critique group meets on the weekends. It’s all because we want to talk writing face-to-face.

The weather gods are evil.

The Process, Again

Everyone’s process is different. Everyone’s process switches up too.

The original set-up for the CWC (one of my awesome writers’ groups) was based on a writers’ group somewhere up in New England. I’d read about this group in Writer’s Digest and it sounded just intense enough for me and my buddies. The idea was that on alternating months some writers handed in 50-100 pages, the rest of us would critique the pages and then hand in our own 50-100 pages the next month.

You know what was awesome about that set up? Four out of five of us have at least two manuscripts in rough draft form. Deb has a monumental 4. Score us!

You know the difficulty with that set up? There is no time to revise. People have different processes. Like NaNo — after a while churning out pages is just not enough.

I’m excited by CWC has decided to do: mix it up. Some of us work great with deadlines (Ali and me). Some people just need pressure (Shane). Some of us need to the freedom to write without having other voices in their head (Deb). And some just need some time and space to figure out what they want to do with the stuff they already have (Mary, Deb, and me). And there are various other things that a writer needs.

Basically, we’ve proven that we can produce. Now the goal is to work on what we need to…and just bring proof that we’ve done it. If we need things critiqued, then we get them critiqued. If someone has finished a full draft and needs first readers, we do it. If we need to exercise our writerly muscles, we do that.

It’s awesome.

Different Genres, Same Difficulties

This past month I have had the opportunity to read a biography written by one of my friends. As this bio was not her own, she had to do all kinds of interviews and research. Last night she was telling us all what she had to do/had done and I was 1.) impressed that she had done the quantity of work involved in that process and 2.) struck by the difficulties the non-fiction genres create.

Nowadays there’s a certain trend in non-fiction to make it read like fiction–using all the techniques of fiction to create tension that’s already happened, atmosphere that’s long gone, and to bring characters who are dead to life. And in doing that, the non-fiction writer adds the extra hurdle of the story having to be, well, true. They can’t just make it up (well, in some cases they can…). If you’re writing about the Mayflower, or Gettysburg, or Abraham Lincoln then the audience is aware of certain factual occurences, which puts a restraint on how much you can do.

Having read this biography and taken a little while to think about it, here are some of the difficulties that non-fiction and fiction writing have in common:
1. First person narratives, whether they be fiction or non, are tricky because the person speaking must always be more observant/intuitive about the real world than normal. Otherwise the reader will think the narrator a selfish asshole. It’s all me, me, me, all the time. (And while some of us are like that…not everyone wants to hear about it.)
2. There must be a climax. In a history narrative, you lead up to the main issue that will illustrate whatever it is your trying to say the best–for example, a narrative on the Civil War could end at Appomatox or the assassination of Lincoln or in any number of places, depending on what you’re trying to express. In a memoir, you lead to the highest point of crisis that is resolved–Maya Angelou ends I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when she’s still a very young woman (I won’t tell you the end) because it’s a turning point in her life. A work of fiction must do the same thing, only the writer gets to make up what the climatic point is.
3. An initiating event. You must go from point A to point B. We just talked about the climax. The beginning however–how long is the non-fiction narrative going to last? In a biography do you start with the historical figure’s birth? Their first memory? The landing on Plymouth Rock to the 1960s? Like a novel, in non-fiction you have to pick your timeline–it helps determine the level of tension and how that tension will be used.
4. Characterization. Here’s a punch in the gut: even with journals and articles and photos and portraits, the historical creation in a non-fiction piece will always, always be just as made up and influenced by the writer of the piece as a fictional character. Why? Because as much as we think we know a person, even ones we live with, let alone ones who have been dead for years or centuries, we just don’t know some things. We don’t know the conversations that were overheard, or the little bits of food that they tasted, or how itchy a certain pair of undershorts were. People just don’t write about those things in their diaries. Sure, you may know they went to jail or that they died drunk in a gutter, but you don’t know what was in their minds when that happened–because odds are the character/person didn’t know himself. But the writer knows and must always know. Even if it’s fake, the writer must know or the narrative, the story, will seem fake.

The July Goal Piggy Back Post

Happy July, everyone.

So Deb set up her goals and ten points to her!

Now for my stuff:

1. rough out concept for 10 minute play competition in November
2. two rough drafts of poems for poetry competition in November
3. get two submissions for CWC ready–and this has suddenly become more like writing new stuff as I streamline things a bit…so this is probably the bulk of my month…but then I won’t worry about it for a while.
4. finish out the little black book challenge that I set for myself last month. I didn’t do too bad, but I’d really like a complete notebook done. We’ll see how that goes with the Last Night rewrites.
5. prep bio, pub credits, photos, query letters, and agent research for CWC

Plus finishing all the critiques and maybe getting something ready to submit to UGWP–that’ll depend on the little black book exercise.

What does your writers group do for you?

I am blessed with two fantastic writer’s groups.

Here is why:
My writer’s group members show up–and when I say show up

  • his car broke down (like it’s not gonna move at all without serious work)-John called Eric and they both made it, leaving the car on the side of the road until later
  • I showed up the day before I gave birth
  • Marie came on her daughter’s birthday
  • Kacie and Ali both drive from “Way the Hell Away” to get there every Sunday
  • Mary was recovering from pneumonia and still showed up at last night’s CWC meeting
  • Fred showed up every single meeting, through blizzards and storms until he died–death was the only thing keeping him away

Everyone has shown up on their birthdays, sick, tired, grouchy, whatever. They always have their critiques done and most times have produced new work for others to read. Employers would give their eye teeth for this kind of loyalty.

And last night here was the kicker:

Locked out of Panera because it was Memorial Day, Ali, Shane, Deb, and I all waited outside–in the rain–for recovering-from-pneumonia Mary so that we could come up with an alternative meeting place. We go to On the Border. We’re halfway through the critiques–Mary’s short stories–and the power goes out.

Do we stop?

No.

There, in the dark, with everyone else and their brother listening, we continue to critique in near-pitch blackness. The only light came from the outside cars passing by. The waiters were wondering what the hell was wrong with us…but they had to stay and clean by the light of their cell phones, so I don’t think we had it the worst.

So we finished critiquing Mary in the dark and did all of Shane’s. Someone at another table brought us an oil/candle/lamp thing that did nothing to illuminate pages (we probably would have set the whole place on fire if we tried to read our notes by open flame). It was a nice gesture though. I’m sure they were amused by our discussions of gutted antelope, witch burnings, and wife battering.

So, I hit this snag with a novel that I’m working on–namely ‘Critique Induced Block’. Apparently I don’t have a good reaction to a work-in-progress being critiqued while, well, in progress. I start second guessing what I do. And the reason I was doing it.

In order to buy myself some time and get my WIP finished, I have polished up my very first novel. Yep. That one. The one that should be locked in a drawer according to a good many writer’s books.

I put it aside years ago. According to my Word program, I haven’t touched the thing in five years…almost exactly. My son was two. I remember that I started writing this first book because my whole idea was to have a writing career where I could stay home with him and write novels. This would be an instant bestseller and I’d be set. I finished this 600+ page whopper in two years, because I started right before Owen was born.

When I was finished I looked at all of those 600 pages and just couldn’t bring myself to revise. It was too big. Too much. I went back to school, wrote a bunch of short stories, wrote Following Julia Roberts (a much shorter novel–designed specifically so that I could revise it) and basically chalked this first guy up to experience.

But now, having started to polish it, I’ve discovered I’m not scared of it anymore and am more than a little curious to see what would happen to it once readers tell me how to fix it. I know some of the major flaws already: it’s way too long, there’s definite deus ex machina at work throughout, I have a ton and a half of characters…and apparently I thought ‘descriptive’ meant ‘repeat until your readers get bruises on their heads from all the beatings’.

Here’s my dilemma: I’m worried that I may be ‘cheating’ on the CWC submission idea–where you’ve got to work on new stuff. But I am working on new stuff. I’m just not submitting it. I want to be done with it (or close to) before I send in the new stuff.

The flip side is that I feel that part of the CWC idea is to work on making ‘publishable works’–and the group is around to help me with that. And, after looking through what I’ve got, I think that what I thought was drawer-worthy might could be fixed.

And yet another part of me wants to feel that I gave all my writing a fair shot.

But you want to know the biggest reason why I think that I should go ahead and give this First Novel a run through a critique group?

Because I remembered, as I read it again, that I had a lot of fun just writing it–deus ex machina and all.

How to make the happy; or, curse you Mary! Part 2

After the Llorona CWC critique on Monday I got to thinking about what Mary said about the story being dark. Considering that the story opens with a murder/suicide, I would say she has a point.

But now I’m in a quandry on how to balance the story. See, the story ends*, if not happily, then at least hopefully. How do I balance the light/dark sides? It has to start dark, because the whole idea is that the family that I’m writing about comes out of this dark period ‘into the light’, as it were. However, will a reader throw the book down in disgust because the story is too depressing to continue?

There was much argument about The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, being way too dark–opening as it does with the rape and murder of a twelve/thirteen year old girl. That story is saved, at least for me, because it’s narrated by the little girl from heaven…so you know at one level that she’s okay before you even find out what horrible things happen to her, plus you have that youthful voice making it seem less jarring.

I have no such balance at the moment.

Right now I’m not gonna worry too much and just see what comes out. That way I can see if there’s a spot of light somewhere later that can come in earlier.

But it’s still a bit of a worry.

*Story ending disclaimer: I won’t really know how it ends until it ends.