Chomping at the Bit for Critiques

Critiques are probably the most terrifying part of a writer’s life. They can be brutal and heart ripping, like someone saying your baby is ugly and should never have been born. Defensive natures kick in and you feel like lashing off someone’s head with a butter knife.

But I’m weird. I already have a beautiful son that no one would dare say is ugly. And even if they did, I wouldn’t care. I know my son is beautiful. But as far as my manuscript goes, I’m chomping at the bit for critiques. Because I’m sure it’s a bit ugly. Parts of it are probably downright Medusa-like.

I finished the first draft of my manuscript several weeks ago and sent it out to my critique partners, writing groups, and even submitted the first chapter to a few contests. I’ve heard back from a few, but I’m really waiting for responses from others that I know I want to hear. In a way, I want them to be brutal. I need them to be brutal. If I’m doing something wrong, I need to know about it. How else am I going to learn and get better at my craft?

My biggest weakness is waiting. Patience. I don’t have much of it. Apparently to be a writer in this new and evolving industry, you need at least some of it. I probably look like a bull-dog with a smashed face gnawing on the leftover dog bone from last year as I struggle with the last remaining ounces of patience I have left.

Sure, I have others things to do while I wait. I’ve already plotted the next book, written a few blogs, worked on the newsletter for my writers group, and not to mention throw in there take care of my son, house, family, and organize his birthday party. But I really want to start completing the revisions on my manuscript. Because I want to send out query letters by January. I know the revisions will take time- they always do. But they need to be done! And how can I do them without my precious critiques?

Well, I’ve done my ranting for the day. I’m off to go wait some more.

Reading Blitz

All writers (and aspiring authors) need to read. How else are they supposed to know their market? Of course, how else did most writers figure out that’s what they love to do? By reading. Duh. (I know, not a writer-ly word, but it fits).

I’m a big romance reader, if you haven’t visited the other pages on my blog, and also trying to improve my skills as a writer. Since I finished the rough draft and first round of revisions of my manuscript, I’m twiddling my thumbs as I wait for my critique partners to get back to me on what they think. But I’m not twiddling air between my thumbs; I’m twiddling pages. A whole new meaning to twitter! Maybe I should start a new website called Twiddle, and its all about the books!

Anyway, I’ve raced through 3 books in about a month (yes, that’s racing for me. Back off- I have an almost-3-year-old who is faster than most Olympic sprinters). In between books, I also finished plotting my third book and can’t wait to get started on it. I’m saving that storyline for NaNoWriMo in November. It’ll be the first time I participate and I’m seriously excited! (And nervous how in the heck am I going to write 10K words/week with my toddler running around!)

I’ve been on a great streak recently, not just with writing but with the great quality books I’ve picked up this month. I’ve expanded outside of my normal genres and included a few paranormal romances, historical war story, and even a horror/thriller from a critique partner during a beta-read.

The only negative thing I have to say about my reading blitz is that now I think my lasik eye surgery from 2005 needs to be retouched. Or I need reading glasses. (Maybe I’ll choose the less expensive option). My eyes are cross-eyed!

But it’s been a blast! I like to think of it as research, if only the stories weren’t so fascinating that I lose track of the art of writing and instead lose myself in the characters! There are so many good authors out there, that it makes it worth wading through the crummy ones until you find the real jewels!

Critique Groups are Supposed to Help, Not Hurt

I recently read another author’s blog that made me think about critique groups.

First of all, I love my writers group. And I’m not just saying that because I’m the President. My writers group and the fabulous other writers who’ve critiqued my work have been one of the best assets of my entire experience.

But the author’s blog I read claimed that her writers group ‘critiqued the voice out of her novel.’ I can only imagine session after session of sitting with her critique members and them offering suggestions of how to improve her language, grammar, and characterization efforts backfired. So when she finally read the ‘revised’ version of her manuscript, she couldn’t even recognize it as her own. Maybe it felt flat to her because she didn’t recognize her words. But her voice was gone.

How frustrating!

But then I thought about it further. She had the right to refuse those suggestions. They were just there to help, not to be vicious and purposely make her spicy work become vanilla. Why didn’t she speak up for her own writing? Why did she cave?

Perhaps she thought the other members were more experienced than she. Therefore, her opinions (while mattered) weren’t as crucial as the others.

Perhaps she believed her fellow writers were experts in the genre she wrote. Or if not experts, at least liked the genre and had read a lot of books to be knowledgeable of it.

Very possible. Even plausible.

But bottom line, its her writing. At some point in every writer’s career, they will receive critiques and ‘friendly suggestions’ from friends, other writers, editors, and agents that may not be in the best interest of the story.  I’ve had several. But I at least recognize it’s meant to help. Everyone’s critique is his or her own opinion. It’s up to the writer to determine what they’re comfortable with accepting. To determine how open minded they want to be. To find out what kind of suggestions they are getting and how credible the sources are.

I know that’s a tremendous hodge-podge of what-ifs, and can scare the crap out of any aspiring author. It still scares me from time to time.

I think it all comes down to 3 things.

First, the writers group you belong to. What kind of people are involved? Are you comfortable reading in front of them and sharing your thoughts? Are they supportive, open, and constructive? Do you feel comfortable not accepting a crit?

Second, how open-minded are you? Meaning, do you defend every tiny detail of your manuscript when someone tries to make a suggestion on a character, setting, or plot line? Or do you cave at every suggestion without getting second opinions or really thinking it through?

Lastly, and most importantly, you gotta love to keep writing. Even after all the crits, suggestions, revisions, rewrites, and gut wrenching rejections from agents or editors (if you’ve submitted), you have to love the story. The characters. Everything about it. Because if you don’t, there’s no way anyone else will. You are your story’s greatest fan and biggest cheerleader. If you don’t love it, go back and ask yourself why. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your own voice.

All that being said, I feel very lucky. I’ve found a writers group I’m comfortable with.  They’ve made fabulous suggestions for me that I’ve loved and have only made my writing stronger. But I also don’t feel threatened when I don’t take one of their suggestions. If you don’t have the same feeling about your ‘helpers,’ find new ones. Stand up for your voice.

 

Revise, Revise, Revise… I Need More Coffee

For those of you who are wondering which stage of my manuscript I’m in, and what that looks like:

Even though this cartoon shows working on 6th draft, I’m currently on the first round of revisions (just me looking through it), which should take maybe another two weeks to complete. And about three more bags of coffee beans. Preferably French Vanilla or Snicker Doodle flavor). Then I send it out to my critique partners for their full glance-through. I have no clue how long that will take, but I’m sure that’s at least three weeks. Perhaps I should buy them each a bag of coffee. Or tea, whatever floats their cup.

I think in total I may have about 4 rounds to go through, but if it takes more, carpe diem and carpe cafe!

Keep writing forward!

Thinking Ahead… Revisions

Post-it notes

Image via Wikipedia

Alright, now that I’ve done a quasi-happy dance that I’m 3/4 done with my WIP, I know once I’m finished with the first draft I have to start revisions. MAJOR revisions. I’ve received feedback from friends in my writers group and a few online critique sites, and I’ve kept track of those suggestions in a separate file. But I haven’t incorporated them into my WIP yet, because I knew those had to be a part of the revision. If I sidetracked myself to work on the revision, I knew I’d never get the whole first draft completed. (Trust me, I’ve done that before and my first manuscript took YEARS to finish just the ‘first’ draft).

So, I’m keeping the ‘known fixes’ tracked on another file. The vast majority of the suggestions I’ve received I believe are good and I’ll implement them. There may be a few small suggestions that don’t fit (in my opinion), and I’ll wade through those as I go.

But I think its important that items for revision in any WIP be tracked on a different file, whether it be a notebook, computer file, physical file, or even sticky notes (that could be quite a mess, particularly with a 2.5 year old roaming the house that loves to tear up paper). If you think of something while you’re writing, or a friend makes a suggestion about Chapter 3 when you’re on Chapter 22, and you’re too tempted to go back and fix it right then, you’ll do that over and over again and the first draft will take three times longer to finish.

I actually have my revision items separated into categories. I have a characterization section, plot section, emotion section, even a dialogue portion. And when I come across something that I need to change, I note it in the proper section. Something quick, so it won’t take away my time from the first draft. (Example: Ch2, Parag4- Stacey needs to have more sense of smell.)

Occasionally, I’ll have a scene come into my head that I absolutely HAVE to write in full, even though I don’t know where it goes. A quick scene of 4 or 5 paragraphs of an argument or other pivotal moment, and I’ll shove that into my “Revision” file as well.

All of the revisions above are the bigger things, not the smaller stuff of grammar, punctuation, and word order. That in-line detail needs to be done once those major items are implemented. Otherwise, I’ll just go back and do it all over again. (Which is a given anyway- revisions take several more ‘drafts.’) A lot of times, I’ll get caught up in those in-line grammar fixes and miss the bigger issues like a major plot flaw, or the feel of a conversation isn’t right, or yet again my MC has bi-polar issues.

But I think revisions (the main parts of it) tends to be the most fun, at least for me. Even though it can be tedious, I like to take the step back and look at things from a different angle. Many times, scenes will progress completely different from the first pass. It’s always interesting to see how those scenes will morph into an alternate reality. Almost like those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books!

Writers: What is your process for revisions? What do you during the first draft when something comes to you that needs to be changed? What do you like more: first drafts or revisions?

Back to writing. Keep writing forward!

Head in the Clouds

Sunset, High Dynamic Range Image

Image via Wikipedia

Update from the Writers Conference fiasco.  The last posting discussed the silver lining of the literary agent willing to hear my pitch via phone, which I had on Saturday this past weekend.

I wasn’t quite on pins and needles like I’m sure I would have been for our in-person pitch session.  Over the phone seems a little less nervous.  But I was still a little anxious.  I knew my pitch, I know the manuscript backwards and forwards, know every little in-and-out of every character and setting.  But I’d never ‘pitched’ to an agent before. So when the call came around 1pm, my son was still napping, which I’m eternally grateful for.  To have a 2-year-old screaming in the background would have been a little mortifying (even if I had to huddle in my closet with my laptop in front of me). Funny picture? Yeah, that would have been me.

The call was fabulous! She had such great questions about my story, about my writing goals, and I loved the feel of the ‘conversation’ during the pitch.  It wasn’t me just talking about the story or myself.  It was a brief pitch of the story, and actual back-and-forth questions about it. Questions about what market I was targeting, other authors I thought it compared to, what her preferences were for the genre, etc. A nice discussion.

And now my head is in the clouds.  She requested the full manuscript. SWEET!!!! My first full MS request.

But, I know I can’t stay in the clouds for too long.  Because I don’t want to be dropped at 20,000ft.  I’d rather be dropped from 100ft. (Or not dropped at all, but always be prepared for every scenario, right?)  But I will say, the clouds are pretty up here!

*Sweet sigh* Back to writing I go!

Inspiration for Writers

Stonehenge, Wiltshire county, England

Image via Wikipedia

This is also about the story behind my new header for my blog page.

Writers search for inspiration wherever they can.  Anything to get the creative mojo flying in their brain, to see their characters as clearly as looking through cellophane, and to let the dialogue flow like a waterfall in Kauai.  Most of the time I’m able to write the best when I have certain music playing on iTunes.  Specific songs, for whatever reason, make me see my stories and my characters more clearly.

But also moments of peace and humility clear my mind of troubled thoughts and confusing noise.  Moments like our trip to Stonehenge back in 2007.  But we were also exhausted.  My husband and I had been up for almost 48 hours by the time we reached Stonehenge.  This was a brief interlude where my husband had to lay down and rest his back.  He looked so relieved and the imagery was too poetic for me to not capture on camera.  Every time I look at the photo, I ask “Who lays down on a bench at Stonehenge?”  Yep, that would be my husband.

But this always reminds me to clear my head when I need to.  I need to find inspiration from time to time, and little random shots like this always help.

So, writers, what makes you feel more creative?  What gives you inspiration for your creative mojo?  I’d suggest laying down whenever you need to.  Wherever you are.