Posts Tagged ‘writing style’
I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say life is hectic. Hell, it’s bat shit crazy for most people most of the time. I ain’t special. There will always be something or multiple somethings that will dig into your writing time and often your sanity. I’m a firm believer that if you wait for things like inspiration or the perfect conditions to write–you won’t get a lot done.
But even knowing that, over the years, I’ve noticed the way I balance my writing with my cray-cray life, tends to change over time. It’s a fluid thing. Sometimes I find myself being rigid with structure because I need that self imposed task master. Other times I find I’m forgiving of my inconsistencies because, at that moment, I need that too. Some days life has beat me up and I really don’t need to add to that. It thrills me that I’ve arrived at a point in my life where I can reinvent myself every day if I need to. I’m very proud that I’ve discovered the benefits of flow. I spent many years of my life being flowless and struggling with the need to seek a perfection that I’ve discovered does not exist. I’m more flexible than I’ve ever been.
Yesterday I had a kickass writing day. And the day before yesterday I had a kickass writing day too. *fist pump* And what I stumbled upon in my post-holiday-back-to-focusing-on-writing-spree, is that at this moment in time and with this manuscript, the thing I need the most (to finally complete what I’ve working on for so long) is continuity. I finally know my story. It’s inside me–I’m not searching for it any more. And I understand how to make it happen. And to do that to the best of my ability, I need to be immersed in the world I’m creating. Long periods of time would be ideal, but more importantly, if I don’t have that option (remember the bat shit crazy life stuff) I think it’s necessary I be there frequently. It feels necessary to keep my wheels greased and moving in order to keep all the bits and pieces of my story in my focus. So–right now–my goal is to visit this story as much as I can every day. And if I can only stop by for a brief period of time, then I shouldn’t berate myself. Instead I should be really proud that I’ve showed up that day, despite all the other really important things that are happening around my writing.
My focus is to have flow, frequency and continuity until I send this piece out to my critique partners–and to be proud of it–the work and the way I made the writing happen.
What is your writing strategy for 2016? Does your approach to writing change with the place you are in your work and with the outside forces in your life? Are you too hard on yourself or not hard enough? Do you have your own version of flow that helps you navigate a bat shit crazy life?
Traditionally, when writers hear the phrase Working like a Dog, their minds go to coffee fueled, butt-in-chair, word sprints with fingers flying over keys. We picture grabbing a hold of the task at hand and refusing to let go until we find a book on the other end.
But having observed my pup, Riley, walk a half a mile down to the bus stop the other day, I’ve discovered there’s more to working like a dog then one might expect…
And it resonated with me. Sometimes part of working like a dog means needing to explore the world around us. When we do some mental meandering, we might find the spark that ignites our next story. Or, if not the actual spark, we may be filling our mind with all kinds of creative kindling. Which is just as important, because when the spark does arrive, it has something to ignite. There must be dots to connect–ideas to set aflame.
Dogs are smart.
It’s as important to give ourselves as much time to fill up, as we give ourselves to empty out between the pages of a book.
This is the balance of art and life.
And naps–don’t forget the importance of naps! Trust me, Riley knows what he’s barking about.
As a thanks for the canine guidance, tell me your favorite dog book. It can be anything from picture book to novel. I think mine is The Art of Racing in the Rain.
A funny thing happened on the way to my NaNoWriMo revision. I had a complete epiphany about how the book should be written. Out of the blue, a new supporting character walked up, plucked me in the forehead and said…I’M HERE! She is sooooo different and interesting–I just had to let her tell me who she was and where she came from. And as I started to give her some space on the page, she also illuminated the main character. And now that I know my MC so much better, she’s begun to pull in other characters and plots I hadn’t been expecting. Interesting things have started happening and it gives me chills.
But what about my draft I worked so hard on? While I had the best experience putting my inner editor away while participating in NaNoWriMo, right now I’ve found myself slipping comfortably back into my old drafting style. And surprisingly it feels amazing–like pulling on the coziest pair of sweat pants I own.
Does that mean that NaNoWriMo was a waste of time for me? Hell no! I figured out what I wasn’t supposed to be writing–which is kinda important. LOL! And some how the very act of doing something completely different has taught me how to do the familiar better than I was doing it before.
What a tangled web of words we weave.
What strange and convoluted things do you do to weave your word web?
You might have noticed I missed Tuesday’s blog. I attempted it, but the 11yo and I either came down with food poisoning or the stomach plague early Monday morning. I spent most of Monday in a heaving, feverish stupor, using all of my energy to get the 8yo to and from school. We’re finally feeling better, so this morning it was back to getting the youngest two boys on the regular schedule. Adding to the morning madness, the 13yo (on spring break right now) was also going into school with them to get some dyslexia testing done in preparation for next year.
Sounds easy enough–except it wasn’t. It rarely is.
For starters, the 11yo, on top of being sick this week, was having a lot of anxiety about school–a product of our WCSD fiasco. Grrrrrr So in addition to calming nerves, I was also making lunches and trying to find red clothes for the 8yo’s school production. There was lots juggling going on, but we finally got in the car. And then I realized my keys were in the jacket I wore yesterday. Time was getting tight now. So I started to back out of the driveway when I realized…SHIT! The 13yo is still in bed sleeping!!!!! I threw the car in park, regretting the decision to bring my regular coffee mug instead of a travel mug in the car as I sloshed all over, run inside and start bellowing. By the time I got to his room, the 13yo’s eyes were still clouded with sleep, but he was standing in the middle of the room staring at me like a zombie.
ME: YOU HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL AND WE HAVE TO LEAVE IN 2 MINUTES!!!!
HIM: but is was sleeping.
ME: AND NOW YOU’RE NOT. PUT ON THESE CLOTHES *rips things out of closets and drawers* BRUSH YOUR HAIR AND TEETH AND PUT ON DEODORANT.
HIM: but i was sleeping.
ME: YOU NOW HAVE A LESS THAN 2 MINUTES. I’LL MAKE YOU AN ENGLISH MUFFIN FOR THE CAR. GO!!!!!!
ME: *sends death glare and runs upstairs and makes english muffin*
ME AGAIN: (BELLOWING) WHY ARE YOU STILL DOWNSTAIRS?????
HIM: *sauntering up the stairs with a big grin on his face* You are so lucky I’m not a girl. *mutters something about make-up under his breath*
ME: I DON’T WEAR MAKE-UP. YOUR SHOES AND COAT ARE BY THE DOOR. DO NOT DRIP BUTTER ALL OVER THE PLACE.
We get in car…
OTHER BOYS: WOW! You guys did all of that in 3 minutes. You’re really lucky we’re not girls, Mom. *snort*
HIM: Why is there coffee all over my seat?
ME: I’M A GIRL AND I’M FAST. I’M LIKE THE FASTEST GETTING READY GIRL YOU’VE EVER MET. AND JUST SIT IN THE COFFEE. YOUR PANTS WILL WIPE IT UP. IT’S NOT LIKE YOU DON’T USE THEM FOR A NAPKIN ANYWAY. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD GET BUTTER ALL OVER.
HIM: *shakes head*
OTHER BOYS: You ARE fast but that’s probably because you don’t wear make-up. But Dad’s really slow for a guy and he doesn’t wear make up. *scratches head*
ME: BECAUSE DAD IS DAD!!!!! *guns accelerator* NOW EVERYONE PAY ATTENTION AND STOP TALKING ABOUT MAKE-UP. WHEN WE GET TO THE PARKING LOT IT’S A FOOT RACE TO THE DOOR. WE’VE GOT TO MOVE PEOPLE!!!!
And we did. Except for the discussion about the water mark on the wall of the gym and how it got there. Clogged gutter? But what matters is that WE WERE ON TIME and all was well. And after some fun retelling of the morning’s events to the school staff, my heart fell back into a normal rhythm. In fact, as I was walking back out of the school with a tiny little ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds, I actually smiled until I realized…SHIT!
I forgot to do today’s blog post. Seriously? But I was already drafting in my head on the way to the car when I started to laugh at an Ah-ha moment that hit me on the head like a thawing icicle. Back in the day, these kinds of fiascos would have have stopped me in my tracks. They would have been the road blocks in my day that I just couldn’t get around. Instead of laughing it off and going home and writing a blog post, I would have considered myself a sucky blogger. I would’ve convinced myself that since I wasn’t “perfect” at it–I shouldn’t do it at all.
I let my mind extrapolate on that thought. And then I realized that all the successful writing I’ve ever done has been since I’ve had kids. That’s an interesting correlation to ponder because it certainly isn’t because of the calm, cool and collected mornings the kids bring to my life. Or afternoons, evenings, weekends, holidays etc. You get the picture. No, the connection between having kids and being a successful writer is that they forced me to change how I operate.
They were the first things in my life where quiting was not an option.
And since I’m obviously a deep and sticky vat of mistakes as a parent and a person (like we all are) I was forced to come to terms with my imperfections. I had to learn to get over myself.
I used to lay in bed at night as a child, wishing I had the power to hit a switch and get a do-over on my life. I truly believed that at any point in my own childhood I’d screwed it up so much I’d never get out from under my mistakes. And these weren’t big mistakes. It might be forgetting a homework assignment or something else just as insignificant in the big picture. I didn’t seem to have a gage for that sort of thing. No importance-o-meter. The funny thing was that no one put this pressure on me. But it was there. I some how grew up believing that there was a clear right and wrong and once you lost your way it was impossible to find it again.
Luckily for me, my kids saved me.
Not all my mornings are as wacko as today’s was. But I’ll be honest, we have our fair share of these little chaotic nuggets sprinkled throughout our existence. And when I tell these stories, which the writer in me can’t help but do, I see a lot of people holding their stomachs, tears in their eyes laughing as they ask…
And how do you ever get any writing done when you’re a mom?
And I just laugh and shrug and tell them it’s a challenge.
But the truth is that those little wackos are they only reason I ever got any writing done.
Tell me–how have kids changed your writing life? Or just your life? Are you crippled with perfectionism? Or maybe just freaking unorganized in the morning? Spill your guts–tell me I’m not all alone with the wackos. :o)
I’ve passed the 30,000 word mark for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and although it’s still a ways away, I can see the light at the end of the 50,000 word long tunnel.
I know I’ve mentioned that this year, the challenge has been a lot easier for me than I expected, but that’s because I decided (after listening to LOTS of advice about NaNo) to do the things that weren’t necessarily comfortable for me, but are kind of essential for making November work. In no particular order, I’m going to highlight some of the things I don’t usually do, but decided I should do, in order to be successful.
* GIVE UP PERFECTION: I’ve always hated place markers. I don’t like to leave incomplete thoughts and information on the page. When I don’t know or remember something, I usually go back and look it up or work through it until I have the information I need to move on. This is a time suck! It’s word count repellent. Here’s an example of me using a place marker in my text…
I hadn’t seen her since I was blank years old and she…
I need to go back and look up how old I said the MC was when this happened in an earlier chapter, but I don’t remember which chapter I wrote it and I’m 24 chapters in. It would take me forever to find it, so I decided to let it go, save it for the read through after NaNoWriMo is over. NaNoWriMo is about flow. Letting your stream of thoughts come out organically. It shouldn’t be impeded by details. Of course I may have stopped drafting to write this blog post. *head thunk* You don’t want to do that either LOL!
*GIVE UP YOUR DEPENDENCY ON YOUR LOGICAL MIND: Every night after I complete my words for the day, I go to sleep thinking about the chapter or scene I have to write next. I especially like to do this at night as I’m nodding off to sleep. Ironically, I get some of my best clarity when my vision is relaxed and a little fuzzy around the edges. Basically I give my subconscious some time in the spotlight and it really works for me. The next day I may not know all the words, but I know where I’m starting and for me that is usually half the battle.
* GIVE UP A COUPLE POCKETS, THE ZIPPER and MAYBE A CUFF OF YOUR PANSTER PANTS: In case you didn’t hear me, I’ll say it again…I am not an outliner. I’m never going to be that structured of a person. I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants pantster. But you waste a lot of time when you do your creative thinking in front of the keyboard or with the pen in hand. Jot down some ideas ahead of time. Pre-planning doesn’t have to be an old school outline. It can look like a doodle as long as it helps you to organize your thoughts a little better, freeing you up to write with more ease.
* GIVE UP THE STUPID IDEA THAT PERFECTION ON THE PAGE IS GOING TO SAVE YOU TIME: It doesn’t. If you like to write slow and methodically, I say go for it. I do it all the time. But I’m no longer under the illusion that I’m saving myself later work. I think you have to pay the piper along the way, no matter how you structure the process.
* GIVE UP FEELING SO ALONE IN A VERY LONELY PROCESS: Every night when I post my NaNoWriMo Word count, I get at least a few people cheering me on. I also check to see how everyone else is doing. I’ve even made some new online friends along the way. But ultimately, I enjoy that festive, collaborative environment that November brings. It really helps me to stay motivated. I don’t run into so many moments where I can talk myself into stopping. Momentum is fueled by the community collective.
What have you had to give up for NaNoWriMo that’s been a gift in disguise?
As I’m sure you’ve probably heard, in the writing world, there tends to be two kinds of writers. Outliners and Pantsters. Outliners pre-plan and organize their work to get the most out of their talent. Pantsters are those fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants creatives, who build their stories while their characters are whispering in their ear. There are ups and downs to each approach. Although most people will staunchly defend their drafting approach, I also think most writers will tell you there are positives and negatives to each style.
I’ve always considered myself a pantster. I’m allergic to outlines. Seriously, even with the book written–I have trouble writing the outline. *not-so-fondly-remembers-a-27-page-outline-while-on-submission* But this week there has been a revelation. I’m not a pantster or and outliner.
I’M A WEBBER!
What is this???
It’s that gray middle ground between pants and outlines. As I’ve been researching and brainstorming my WIP, I’ve come to realize that I don’t write without a plan, but my plans don’t look or act like outlines. They aren’t rigid and they don’t have a lot of structure. They look more like story webs, lists and thought bubbles. They are thought stew. They are bits and pieces of ideas I move around until a pattern of connections emerges. 80% of this happens in my head and about 20% of this gets scrawled on paper in a very messy fashion. (Mostly to indulge my love of notebooks) but also to ground the thinking process with the motion of the hand. I draw timelines. I dash out thoughts that interest me, even when I have no place for those thoughts in my current web. But I store them anyway, because I believe they might eventually belong–when I’m smart enough to understand my own story.
I’m a webber–plotting and planning in a pattern that is all my own.
Who are you?
I’m trawling for story threads. I’ve got my divining rod out and I’m looking for the well that holds my magic mush. I am plotting a first draft.
I have a solid little starter chunk of my WIP on the page–again. Yup. I said AGAIN. That’s how it works. I write. I get stuck. I unstick myself. I write some more. This whole writing a novel thing is a process. Somedays it feels like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. But really it’s about critical mass. I need to gather enough story threads and magic mush to weave and mold a complete book. I’ve had some material that has sparked me–enough to START a novel–but not enough to birth a full term book. This is not unusual. Not for me and not for a lot of writers.
Lots of people assume writing a book looks like this…
But really it looks more like this.
Kinda weird and wacky.
You feel like you’re doing the same damn thing over and over again, but really–you are making progress.
On a good day writing can be a challenge, so not having the enough threads and mush to make a story come alive can be VERY frustrating. And while I do believe that Stephen King’s Boys in the Basement will get around to sending up what I need… eventually…I have discovered there are things I can do to stir up pot making the threads and mush more visible. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing to light a fire under those basement boys…
*I’ve been reading really great books–books that inspire me emotionally and as an artisan. Some people say reading is counter productive for them because it masks their own voice, but I find it clears my head. It’s like waking up sleepy and having a strong cup of coffee. Reading fabulous literature illuminates me.
*I look back at my scrap pile and revisit the chunks of stories that have gone to the land of unloved toys. Why? Because these bits and pieces came from thread and mush that was once important to me. They came from things that made me think or feel and perhaps I am not done with them yet. It’s a bit like setting up a yard sale with all the stuff your kids haven’t touched in eons. Once in sight, those long lost bits make me fall in love with them all over again. There is good stuff in there–if I can turn it on it’s head and look at it in a different way–a way I was unable to see in the confines of a previous story structure.
*I spend time in bed day dreaming about my story. This is magic time for me. I’m sleepy and relaxed and my mind wanders to places I would never let it go if I was at full attention. I adore this thought limbo so much. It’s truly one of my favorite parts of the writing process. And trust me, it’s not like I’m sprawled out for hours at a time, day and night. I wish. In reality, it might be five or ten sleepy minutes between closing a good book and arriving at the Land of Nod. But those minutes bring me important stuff and I’ve learned to appreciate them.
*I also pay attention. I’ve learned to trust that content will show up for me to explore. It WILL show up. I simply have to be paying attention. I’ve gotten much better at accepting this and believing there are no coincidences. Just this week I saw a book in the airport by a non-fiction author that fascinates me. I had the urge to buy the book, but I was already reading another book that showed up. Yesterday I saw a blog post about the author of that airport book and I clicked on it and started reading. Of course they mentioned the new book. Then, within a few minutes I saw more information on the book and low and behold, it had content in it directly related to my threads and mush. I bought the book and I’m five chapters in and I have added a ton of threads and mush to my pile.
Doing all of the above gets me excited and stimulates my thought process. It forces the Boys in the Basement to be on high alert. And they are! I am tingling with excitement about how much more I can create with all the new threads and mush I’ve collected. I am sooooo close to starting over AGAIN. *head thunk* And that’s the thing to understand about collecting threads and mush–they don’t weave and mold themselves. You need enough of them to have material to work with, but mounds of raw product will never become art on it’s own. Craft is involved in the process. No one can pull a story out of my head but me. So, it won’t be long until you’re reading a blog post about the amazing, yet hair-pulling act of writing a first draft of my WIP–again. But that’s how I roll.
How do you collect the story threads and magic mush you need to make your writing work? Are you a researcher? Outliner? Do you bull-doze through multiple drafts in NaNoWriMo style or do you take a quieter, slower approach to mulling over your characters and plot lines. Does it change from book to book? Tell me your secrets, I might like to steal them.
There was lots of thoughtful conversation going on at the Eastern NY SCBWI Conference last weekend. Agents, editors, authors and librarians were giving great advice. I was dispensing what I hoped was good and solid information and lots of interesting question were raised by the excited and interested attendees. A combination like that always gets me thinking. What have I been pondering you ask?
First of all, let me explain the concept of a do over, because there is a range of do-overness and you should probably know the zone we are working in…
On one end there is the HARMLESS DO OVER: Kim opens a box of mixed candies that do not have a little chocolate chart like the Whitman Sampler. I pick up a square covered in chocolate, bite in and get a mouth full of jelly. I then peel all the chocolate off the gelatinous cube and eat it before humming the jelly in the can. I then grab another square of chocolate and find a delicious caramel. Do over successful with no major foul attached. Just don’t look too closely at the calorie count.
Then on the other hand there is the THE EXTREME DO OVER: Kim does something so devastatingly stupid the only way she can make herself feel better is crawl back into the womb and get born again and start over fresh. Yes, these events do happen and no I will not tell you what they are. I want you to like me.
But, neither of these do overs are the kind I’m talking about. I’m referring to the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD DO OVERS. These are the kind that have a little bit of scale-tipping power in your life, but aren’t going to break you as a human being. They fall somewhere between I can’t believe I forgot to remind the Tooth Fairy to come!!!!! AND After pulling the car up into my mom’s yard to accommodate a sleeping baby, I wish I hadn’t assumed my car was the ONLY car parked in the YARD!!!! (In my defense it was dark, my brother’s car was hunter green, he wasn’t there when I pulled in and he did not have a sleeping baby.)
The MIDDLE OF THE ROAD DO OVER is what we are talking about today. And we are going to limit it to all things author-ly. So if the “today me” got to give the “past me” good advice, this is what I would tell her to do…
* Start the next book immediately and w0rk on it with gusto while you are trying to get an agent, while you are on submission and during the debut year.
* Blog consistently from the beginning, but blog conservatively. When I first started blogging, I only did it when the mood hit me. DO NOT DO THIS. The people who follow you will show up regularly if you provide a steady product. If they have to work too hard to read your blog, they are going to read someone else’s instead. But, when I first started to finally do regular posts, I was doing posts on M-W-F. This was fine when I wasn’t a debut author, running around pulling my hair out, but when my marketing needs and author obligations became bigger, the 3 day a week schedule became too much for me to handle. If your blog posts are taking away from your writing time, you are doing too many posts. My advice would be to blog fewer times a month, but on a regular schedule. You can always add more days if you find it works for you.
* Although you do not have to come to children’s literature with a built in platform, you will be expected to build one. Think ahead about how you might like to handle some of your social media. When I was first starting out, I just wanted to connect with people in any way I could. I didn’t think of the details. If your expectation is to be a public figure aka a published author, use YOUR name or your anticipated pen name on your social media. Here is an example why.
If my name on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc…is Kimmiepoppins and I end up having one or more meaningful online interactions with someone one and they want to go and buy my book, kinda of spur of the moment, I could run into a BIG problem. If that person is wandering around a bookstore searching for something written by Kimmiepoppins–they aren’t going to find it. I’ve just lost a sale. My book is not associated with my nickname, unless I write a picture book–then my pen name is TOTALLY going to be Kimmiepoppins.
Keep in mind, you won’t be able to anticipate everything about social media, it changes too quickly, but do your best to plan ahead for who you want to be, not who you are at this point in your career.
* Understand that if you’re not failing, you’re not dreaming BIG ENOUGH. Failing is part of the process in becoming a success. Seriously. I’m not lying. But I should also warn you, I do believe there is a difference between taking calculated risks and being a dumb ass. If you think you can knock off a quick first draft of something, get and agent and sell that puppy, the odds are not in your favor. You’re not progressive, your delusional. But if you put the time and effort into learning your craft and you write your 82,000 draft and then you think a book about a girl who’s best friend is a dust bunny, but she falls in love with a vacuum is going to be the next BIG THING. Who am I tell you it isn’t so. I say go for it. You can’t truly lose because you’ll either hit the jack pot or fall forward into a bigger success down the road.
* Read a zillion books inside your genre. Read a steady stream of books on craft. But also read outside of both of these areas. Read good adult books. Now listen, I’m the first one to tell you YA gets a bum wrap. Ever heard someone get asked why they don’t write real books? Yeah, idiots abound. Here’s the truth. There is crap in every genre. There are AMAZING books in every genre. Read really good adult books. It will stretch you as a writer, as a thinker and as a person.
* Know when to end a list and feed your kids so you’re not rushing to jujitsu and then having to come home and do homework when everyone is tired and stinky and grouchy and it cuts into the fun time of reading books together early enough so that you can sit down quietly with a bowl of ice cream on hump day and still get to bed in a timely manner that won’t turn you into a zombie the next day when you have to be up at 5:50 to start your day all over again. That is my best advice.
Turn around is fair play. In your experience, what DO OVERS would you give as advice to writers trying to figure it out as they go along?
I’ll be honest, I’m not really a researcher in the traditional sense of the word. I hear about writers attacking mountains of data for non-fiction and historical fiction–and quite frankly–I start to hyperventilate. That stuff freaks me out!
I’m sucky at tasks with a high attention to detail and prefer to flit around like a butterfly, but I’ve also come to realize that I do have a Kim version of research. Like most people, I start with an idea. Usually a question–an itch that must be scratched. I spend a lot of time, while I’m revising my current WIP, tossing the new nugget of an idea around in my mind. I examine it from every angle. Usually I find, that while I have a starting point, I don’t have enough stuff to write a complete story. In essence, I’m lacking the threads to weave a full blanket. I’ve only got enough to do a half of a sweater. This idea tossing sounds like pretty typical behavior for most writers, but this is where I get a little weird. When I get stuck trying to find the rest of those threads, I go divining for inspiration in the book store the way this guy uses a dowsing stick to find water.
The first thing I do is wander around a book store. (One of my favorite things to do in the whole world. *sigh*) I keep my mind open and I touch books. I literally walk around trailing my fingers over spines and grabbing random books that have covers that pull me in. Then I read the jackets and see if anything resonates. If my mind and my fingers get a little jumpy with curiosity, the way that dowsing stick does over water, I add another book onto my pile of “research.” I usually come home with an eclectic pile of books and after I read them, I some how I find my answers. I’m not really sure how it works. On my more logical days, I believe that reading simply stimulates the mind and if you read enough, you’ll stumble across enough questions and answers to fill a book. Other days, I’m pretty damn sure that I was born to be an author and when you’re doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing, the universe is happy and rewards you with a little magic. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. LOL!
How do you like to research a new book?
Recently I’ve been knee deep in revision, doing some critiques for friends, and answering some writerly questions at a bookstore event. The collision of these processes has gotten me thinking and I’ve come to the conclusion that we writers are never as good as we think we are. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s hard to see the forrest through the trees. We get so immersed in the manuscript we’re working on that we lose all sense of perspective. We forget that just because we are turning around our best work, doesn’t mean it’s THE BEST WORK. And sometimes it also means that our best isn’t yet good enough in the publication competition. This is a very hard lesson to digest.
As I look back through all the phases of my writing journey, focusing on the times when I was ready, I realize that these moments were often more about me feeling ready than the work being ready. Sometimes I’d exhausted my capabilities, other times I was so freaking sick of the story I couldn’t look at it another minute. Sometimes there were deadlines. Other times I thought it was perfect. Silly me–perfect does not exist. I lacked objectivity. Often I still do. But that is not always a bad thing. Publishing is a tough business. It pays to have a little hubris mixed in with our neuroticism. It gives us the courage to keep going in the face of great odds.But that only works if we also have the ability to take criticism and use it constructively. I’m aware that everyone is wired a little differently, and what works for one, doesn’t always work for another, but here’s my takeaway…
I need criticism–it’s the platform that I use to plant my feet and push off of. Now, no–I’m not talking about the critique your crazy Aunt Myrtle gives you, that comes with her suggestions acted our in front of the family at the holiday get together when she hasn’t even read your book. I’m also not talking about the vicious review that says your kids are doomed to a life of hell because you, dear sucky author, are unfortunately their mother. That kind of feed back doesn’t count. I’m talking about the level headed stuff. Writer friends, agents, authors, editors, teachers, passionate readers. I’m talking about thoughtful advice. I repeat. I am never as good of a writer as I think I am and that feedback helps me. I know this is true because I look at what my book and manuscripts were like before I used the feedback and I look at what my writing was like after the feedback. Big surprise (NOT!) 99% of the time the work is ALWAYS better after the feedback.
So, on your quest for writing perfection, I urge you to be a sponge. Absorb all the universe has to offer you, then take the best and forget the rest. And here’s the thing about writers never being as good as they think they are. It works the other way too–sometimes, the writers who are ready, are also never as good as they think they are–they’re better. My guess is it’s because they learned today’s lesson too well–you can always get better with hard work and effort.
How do you deal with feedback on your writing? Do you cry and then wrap your mind around it later? Does it not even ruffle your feathers? Does it sting quick like a Band-Aid, but you get over it super quick? Do you avoid it at all costs? Yell and tantrum at the person foolish enough to try to help you? Does it depend on the day?