Monday, July 26, 2010
The Rejectionist linked to it, and I followed it because I do love The Rejectionist, and I found a plethora of helpful and funny information. Thumbs up. Thought I'd share. Happy reading!
Sunday, July 25, 2010
I used to teach writing to middle school kids and learned about using writing workshops with elementary kids and I was intrigued by her seminar description, "starting early." I won't say reveal her name or what curriculum she sells, because, I don't know, it just seems rude. BUT. As I was listening, she said two specific things that made me decide, "Nope, this woman is just WRONG."
First, she said, "It's getting to where I just can't take my daughter to Barnes and Noble anymore. There are just no good books on the shelf these days."
Her statement practically made the hair rise up on the back of my neck, especially when she added a little smug smile. I wanted to raise my hand and ask if she'd read anything recently from the children's section, from middle grade, from YA... I know she was referring to children's literature, though, because A) we were talking about teaching young children to write and B) she referred to seeing a book series involving a cat whose author apparently studies astrology, which means she must be an Awful Writer, apparently.
After she said that, I started doodling on my page the names of great modern books, in a slightly passive-aggressive manner... The Hunger Games. Harry Potter. Missing May. A Wrinkle in Time. The Outsiders. Ramona the Pest. Percy Jackson. Tuck Everlasting. The Light at Tern Rock. Lots and lots of lots of fabulous children's books, that used to not exist at all. Not moral, preachy lesson-books for kids. Beautiful literature that touches and inspires. Clearly, she doesn't know where to look in the bookstore.
Secondly, she was talking about how this classical approach teaches kids to really THINK about books, to analyze and make proper judgements about them. She scathingly commented about how public schools these days all ask, "How did the book make you feel?" and then said, "It's not about how the book makes you FEEL. It's about what the author was trying to TELL you."
To this, I reply, "BZZZZZZ! WRONG ANSWER!" If you are reading pure non-fiction, okay, sure. You've learned something. But I'm reading fiction, I want an experience. If I'm not moved emotionally, I'm not going to keep reading. We vicariously triumph, suffer and grow along with our favorite characters.
Check out what Randy Ingermanson says on his blog Advanced Fiction Writing about creating a perfect scene:
"Your reader is reading your fiction because you provide him or her with a powerful emotional experience." and "If you fail to create these emotions in your reader, then you have failed. If you create these emotions in your reader, then you have succeeded."
So I'm not the only one that thinks it actually IS about how the book makes you feel.
I left that class feeling frustrated that I didn't say something to her, but I knew it wasn't the time or the place. She wasn't going to change her mind. I wasn't going to change my mind. But I was pleased, at least, that I have grown enough as a writer to not believe everything someone tells me about writing wholesale.
In my opinion, she had no idea about how to teach fiction writing. Maybe she will create great essays and arguments, but that's not what she was talking about at the time. Happily, I have the freedom to ignore her advice, since she's clearly coming from a worldview that does not match my own. I can take the one or two things she said that made sense to me and use those, and ignore the rest.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I'm enjoying myself, scrolling through various things on the blog, and I see an "Advice for Aspiring Writers" section. Cool, I think. So I click. And he has a post on, "The Odds of Getting Published." I should have known not to read this! I got a bunch of statistics that seriously depressed me. I won't quote them here, in case you are teetering on the brink of despair yourself. In that case, DO NOT click on that link! Seriously.
Now, it's not his fault and I love Rick Riordan. He is only presenting the cold, hard facts about the chances of ever getting published in this world, much less earning any money at it. It's certainly not the first time I've heard facts like this and it's good to remember. In fact, in Take Joy by Jane Yolen, she says we should write what makes US happy, because, "You are-- after all--the very first reader of what you write. Please that reader. You may not have any other." I didn't find that very joyful to consider at the time, but I understand she's trying to get us to think about enjoying the process of writing, not just seeking the end result of being published.
I've read many, many books on writing and few of them suggest that you will be able to give up your day job. Most writers will always need that other income. But still! It's a hard hit to take after you're already feeling guilty about watching Glee instead of writing dutifully! On top of a lousy day, too.
I share this NOT to depress you, too, but to share with you my journey as a writer. This is part of it-- that heavy feeling that I'm kidding myself, that this will never work. I bet lots of writers struggle with it. The question, "Why bother?" has haunted me all day. Some days, everything seems possible. This is not one of those days.
But somehow, even in the face of news like this, I want to keep going. So I will.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
According to Kristi, she succeeded in large part by being flexible. She worked her writing into her life as a mom instead of demanding that her young children work around her schedule. This is so much more feasible for me than spending hours in my office writing each day. That just isn't going to happen--I chose to stay home with them to BE with them. But that doesn't mean I can't keep writing! Kristi finished manuscripts while waiting in the stands during the kids' athletic practices. She finished manuscripts while in the waiting room of her daughter's dentist. She made the time to write. Her book, Writer's First Aid, covers many of the practical techniques and tips she used to get so much accomplished while still being present for her kids. She didn't just shut the door and say, "Come back in four hours." She lived everyday life with them and still wrote. What an inspiration! She also gave us an awesome handout with a list of books about time management and organization. You can find a similar list on her blog here.
Thanks, Kristi, for being such an encouragement!
I've not been doing very well with making time for writing, much less being flexible in when and where I write, so this is a good goal for me. I'm going to set a timer for 20-30 minutes each day and write for that period of time, even if it's in between dinner and bathtime for the kids or while I am waiting for them during swim lessons. (Maybe this can be a great excuse to finally buy a laptop so I can take my writing everywhere with me! :) )
If you are struggling with making time to write, perhaps you'd like to set a small goal to help you write more often. I'd also love to hear what works for you, if making time to write each day is not an area you struggle with!
Monday, July 19, 2010
I thought it went perfectly with yesterday's topic and asked her permission to link to her blogpost.
Critic Boy Strikes Again
Check it out and enjoy the rest of her blog while you are there!
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I've been a part of two critique groups and am currently a critique buddy of Fabulous Writer Friend. I taught writing in the elementary and middle school grades and worked with hundreds of stories and essays by my students. I write for assessment companies and sometimes they'll send the stories back for revision with comments. I've had helpful comments and some very not helpful comments. I've learned a lot about how to help others from the help others have-- and haven't-- given me as a writer.
How do you give helpful feedback? I think the key is to find the purpose and balance.
1. Purpose-- What stage is your writing partner at? If he/she is drafting, this is not the time to red-line through the whole thing. You need to watch out for things like credible character development, plot construction, point of view and voice. Big things. If they are polishing a final draft, you'll need to keep an eye out for more detailed kinds of things-- are they repeating a sentence structure too often? Are their verbs as precise as they can be? But it doesn't do much good to nit-pick on punctuation if their draft has a huge hole in the plot that you overlook in your fervor to catch every pronoun without a clear antecedent. The best way to know this is to ask them. "What kind of feedback are you looking for?" If they've been writing for very long, they can tell you.
2. Balance-- Any writer needs both encouragement and constructive criticism. Note the word "constructive." Here are some non-constructive criticisms-- real life-- I've received from people I've worked with as a freelance writer.
"This doesn't work."
"Clever title-- needs to be changed."
"This simile falls flat."
Boy, laying all that out there is sort of painful. Luckily, though, I more often receive nice comments (and I keep selling my work, which is the best compliment) and sometimes helpful comments such as, "This dialogue reads too old for the protagonist, probably because of this vocabulary word here. You might consider changing it." Or "This stanza feels like it's repeating the same theme of the previous without adding anything new. The word length is quite long for a poem for this age group, so you could cut this stanza without losing any impact." And she was RIGHT.
Whenever I get constructive criticism, it may sting for a moment, but there's this lovely "AH-HAH! That's IT!" feeling. A writer can recognize the truth in a statement that helps her writing and be grateful to receive it. Insulting feedback only hurts and makes writers feel defensive and want to quit. If you have a partner who is doing that to you, find someone else to critique your work. And if you are critiquing, remember it's really easy to hurt someone when you are leaving remarks on their document. Remember they can't hear your tone or see your smile to soften what you say. Be gentle, even if you have to tell them there's a major problem. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
What I've found to be a helpful tool is to use the Comment tool as I read. Anything that stands out to me as a reader, good or bad, I leave a comment on. I don't usually make suggestions about how to improve problem areas unless it's really clear-- I just note that something confused me. I do not want to tell a writer how to write their story. That is vanity. I've had a few people rewrite so much of a page that it doesn't sound like me anymore. It sounds like them. That wasn't helpful. But I've also had people just be a cheerleader through my work. It feels GREAT. "Awesome line!" "I love this!" Who wouldn't want to read that? But if that's ALL you get, your work isn't going to improve.
And the goal, is, of course, to improve. Even if a writer never gets published, to improve one's craft as a writer is always a worthy goal to pursue.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Then a friend I will call Fabulous Writer Friend asked me to be her critique buddy and read her current work-in-progress. Reading and commenting on her work stirred up all that exciting stuff about writing...the way words flow together, that magic of creating your own world, watching your characters do things you didn't expect...and I began to think about my own work. I pulled out my old manuscripts. Then I got a notice about an upcoming writing conference held by our local chapter of SCBWI. Critiques were available for members, of which I am one. It gave me the motivation to get involved again. It's not that I've done ZERO writing of my own. I actually did write a picture book manuscript and sent it off to about five agents and got rejected five times and then quit for a long time. And the last time I went to a conference, they suggested the middle of my fantasy MG novel needed a new twist, so I tried to add one and it totally didn't work. I began another MG manuscript, this one contemporary with some poetry in there. I liked it, but it's probably too...blah. No good hook for it. So I put it away, too. Then I decided that I would probably never be successful and I should just use my time on other projects. I watched True Blood and Dexter and LOST and admired their story-telling abilities. I read numerous books. I tried to catch up on my sleep.
The problem? I MISSED WRITING. Not so much the actual butt-in-chair of writing. It's fun once it gets going, but getting started can feel like pulling fingernails out with pliers, one at a time. But reading books on writing? Oh, how I love it. So Fabulous Writing Friend said, "Hey, I'm reading this book called Fire in the Fiction. How about you get it and we can discuss a chapter at a time?" Awesome! So while I was ordering that, I happened across another cool website that recommended another cool book (which I will post later) and I ordered that. And then that website had another book on it that I liked the looks of, so I ordered that. And so now I have three books on writing, well, four, really, and I'll tell you more about them as I get to them. I've also been enjoying reading a lot, even rereading mindless brain-candy type of writing because...well, I enjoy it. But I think I may be ready to jump in again to the world of writing my own stuff. It always calls me back. I'm pretty short-term when it comes to most projects. I am easily distracted and get bored fast. But writing is so complex that it always fascinates. That's just one of it's many lures! So, in that spirit, I will be reviving this blog. Hope you will join me. :)