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October 3, 2011
Critiques are very valuable, but in the end, you have to be the judge of your own stories. You have to believe in your own writing. And trust me, negative critiques come to everyone.
I was reminded of such a case when my granddaughter was here overnight recently and wanted to watch two Narnia movies we have on DVD. I was pulled into the magic of the stories again right along with her. I love C.S. Lewis‘ books, both his adult works and those for children.
Going Beyond Criticism
He’s probably most famous among children’s writers for his Chronicles of Narnia books (and now movies). Surely his books were well received from the beginning, right? No–his critique partner (none other than J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame) didn’t like it.
From C.S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands: The Story of His Life with Joy Davidman: “When Jack [C.S. Lewis] had completed his story about four children who discover a magic wardrobe and, through it, find a way into the land of Narnia, he showed it to Tolkien, who was unimpressed. Feeling, perhaps, that Jack had aimed rather more at achieving an effect than at creating an Other World of the kind he was writing about in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien told him that ‘It really won’t do, you know!’ Jack was discouraged and put the book to one side for a while before returning to it and rewriting the first few chapters. However, he still felt uncertain about whether it was any good or not, and decided to ask the advice of someone else.”
Thankfully the second person he asked was more enthusiastic. Jack then went on to complete this book, which became the first Narnia book: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
What about you? Do you have a story that still resonates with you–but you put it away because someone didn’t care for it? I do. And I’ve dug out both unfinished novels to look at again.
While it’s good to get outside feedback, don’t let negative feedback be the deciding factor. If you do, you just might deprive the world of stories that will inspire for generations.
May 13, 2011
I took a break today from doing final revisions on a novel and picked up a little writing book called Some Writers Deserve to Starve! (31 Brutal Truths About the Publishing Industry) by Elaura Niles. I don’t find the chapters very brutal–just honest. And I agree with nearly all of them.
If you’ve been writing any length of time at all, chapters like “Putting Words on a Page Does Not Obligate Anyone to Read Them,” “All Publishers Are Not Created Equal,” and “Writing Conferences Cost Bucks” will resonate with you! Frankly, I expect there is a great deal of truth in all 31 of Ms. Niles’ chapters, but I have been spared a lot of it.
What About This One?
Two of the author’s brutal truth chapters are “Writers Rarely Help Other Writers” and “Not All Critique Groups Are Critique Groups.” Because I’ve seen what she described over the years in various groups [that didn't work for me], I believe she is right much of the time. But it also reminded me how wonderfully blessed I am to have a writer friend who DOES help me.
From time to time, I trade manuscripts with a writer friend in Australia. Her thoughtful responses in the detailed critiques have been very helpful in many areas: strengthening endings, picking up loose plot threads I had inadvertently dropped, telling me which chapters dragged, etc. I’m grateful for her honesty–which is NOT brutal.
How About You?
What has been YOUR experience with critiques and critique groups? Have they been helpful–or not so much? Is the advice good–or in such conflict that you don’t know what to believe? Give me your thoughts.
April 27, 2011
Time for links to great articles on the web! You’ll enjoy them–and learn a lot besides!
6 Common Plot Fixes: Concerned you may have some plot problems? Don’t worry. Here are six easy ways to adjust your manuscript to keep your plot from feeling forced or unnatural.
Where to Find Free Images to Use on Your Blog: It’s extremely common for bloggers to reuse images from all over the Web, thinking the images are fair game. But are they? Find out how to get the images you want without (illegally) stepping on any toes.
7 Myths About Feedback: If you’re timid about feedback—toxic or otherwise—the time has come to see feedback for what it really is: an invaluable resource that can inform and energize your creative process from the first draft to the last line edit.
DropBox: Want a place to put all your information and photos from phones, laptops, Macs, PCs, and all your electronic devices? Put it in DropBox, and it will update to all your devices automatically. No more need to transfer files. It’s a free download.
March 11, 2011
I just finished Jordan Rosenfeld’s eight-week online writing class called “Fiction’s Magic Ingredient.” She’s the author of that very helpful book Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time.
Here’s the class arrangement: there was material to read each week, then send-in assignments (usually two assignments ranging from 500 to 1000 words long) which Jordan critiqued and returned within a few days. We could write new material or apply the lessons to a work in progress (which I did). [More about the class below.]
When I first read through the exercises Jordan wanted us to do, I tried them out in my head, and they sounded easy. On paper, though, it was a different story!
The Rubber Meets the Road
Heather Sellers (in Chapter After Chapter) remarked on this phenomenon. “A failing we writers have is that we confuse the voices in our heads with writing; we tend to do exercises in our heads because thinking and writing feel so closely related…What’s in your head does not count, not for sculpture, not for book writing. Pencil on paper is what matters.”
The work we all did for Jordan’s class reminded me of such writing exercises. I often read the exercises and think I understand and will be able to whip it off in no time flat. Not so!
Even after revising each assignment several times, Jordan’s insightful critiques came back with more suggestions on how to take the concept further, go deeper, weed out the clichés, and much more. I felt challenged–and grateful that I got my money’s worth. I have gone on to apply the lessons to my novel this week.
I don’t mean to over-emphasize the money issue, but most of us need to get the most bang for our buck that we can. I was comparing the cost of Jordan’s class (I signed up early to get her discount) and was very pleased with what I received.
The material sent each week (5-6 single spaced pages) was new material, not excerpts from Jordan’s excellent Make a Scene book. The new material built on that. The amount of critiquing we received really surprised me. It was much more than you get at a writer’s conference where you pay extra for a faculty critique.
Last year I signed up and paid for (in advance) two writing conferences. The cost of each conference (not including hotel room or food) plus the personal critique (which was extra) was as much or more than Jordan’s online class–and you got much less for it, in my opinion.
The other thing I noticed was related to health and family issues. About the two conferences I signed up for last year: I had a family emergency during the first one and was running a fever the other time–and missed both conferences. (No money was refunded.)
During Jordan’s eight-week online class I was sick ten days, but my fever didn’t endanger any of my classmates. I could still work, bit by bit, on my assignments. I didn’t miss any critiques. I also dealt with and worked around two unexpected family needs. I loved the fact that I didn’t pay for something I had to forfeit in the end.
This experience has made me re-think my coming year and where to spend my time and small amount of conference money. I liked being able to use my novel-in-progress for the writing exercises, for one thing. It was a great way to combine the current novel revision with the class. (With the conference critiques, both manuscripts had to be submitted at least eight weeks before the conference. I’ve done this in past years, and by the time the conference rolled around, I had revised it several more times so the critique wasn’t very helpful.)
I’m sure there are online scam writing classes to watch out for, but if you decide to spend money on further writing study, you can’t go wrong with Jordan’s Fiction’s Magic Ingredient class. She has another class of Fiction Magic starting later in March and a “Revise for Publication” class starting in May.
August 4, 2010
[Because this is a crazy week for me--gone a LOT--I am going to repeat a post from over two years ago. It definitely still applies!]
As I packed my bag to head to my critique group today, I gave thanks again for the wonderful group I joined a few months ago. I’ve been part of groups before, but this one surpasses them all for hard work, weekly dedication and just plain being nice!
Alas, that was not always the case. We writers need to nurture our creative sparks, rather than snuff them out. This requires appropriate self-care: solitude, healthful eating and sleeping habits, and a mentally stimulating environment. Is that enough? No.
Early in my career (like 30 years ago), I had all those things. I was very disciplined, ate right, walked daily, studied hard, and took time to dream my ideas into stories and books that sold. Yet my self-doubts grew along with my list of credits, my enthusiasm eventually waned, and I feared my success had been a fluke.
I was puzzled. Although I worked very hard, I was also careful to avoid burnout. I took time to relax with my friends. But, as it turned out, that appeared to be part of the problem.
The Bible says there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Today I’m blessed with many such treasures, but in the beginning I noticed many of my friends said things to me like: “Come on, you’re only writing. You can do that anytime”; “My nephew fell asleep in the middle of your new book”; “That book will never sell with that ugly painting on the cover”; “Jane’s advance was three times what you got”; and “How long does it take to crank out a kiddie’s book anyway?”
With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Safety and Security
Creativity grows and flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance. The writer in you, like a small child, is happiest when feeling a sense of security, and this requires safe companions. “Toxic playmates can capsize our artist’s growth,” says Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.
Every writer needs friends, but it’s the quality, not the quantity, that counts when it comes to your emotional health. Our choice of friends is critical. We have enough of a challenge when plagued by our own fears of failure or inadequacy without having to deal with someone else’s.
Reasons Friends Turn Toxic
Jealousy makes some people toxic. These friends usually want to write too, but aren’t presently working. If you’re producing pages of a novel or interviewing experts for your magazine article, it’s harder for them to collect sympathy for being the victims of some mysterious writer’s block. Undermining your self-confidence is easier than completing their own work. Confront the issue kindly and ask for their support instead. If their put-downs don’t stop, consider ending the pseudo-friendships.
Sabotage from non-artist friends has more to do with your lack of availability. These friends may not understand your need to set aside time to work. Sometimes this becomes an unconscious test of your friendship. Will you stop work and be with them? (You wouldn’t expect your teacher friend to leave her classroom for two hours to go to a movie with you. That’s her work. Well, writing is your work, and every bit as valid.) So what do you do when your best friend shows up halfway through your writing time to go antiquing? Be gentle, be firm, but hang tough.
Plug the Drain!
Be aware also that some friends are so emotionally draining that being with them extinguishes your creativity. A hyperactive, life-of-the-party friend can leave you too wound up to work. Or your friend with serious problems may dump on you until you absorb all her negative feelings. If these draining friendships are valuable enough to you to keep, then choose your contact times carefully.
For example, during my rough draft stages where creativity must be high, I reduce time spent with such friends. I also learned to use my answering machine to screen the repeated ninety-minute, heart-rending calls that derailed my whole writing day. I returned these calls after my writing was done. I’m afraid that sounds pretty cold-hearted, but it was the only way I could get my writing done.
Next time I’ll talk about traits of a true writer friend–the kind every writer needs and deserves. What traits in a writer friend do YOU desire?
July 30, 2010
Over the weekend, I hope you’ll have time to check out some very helpful and thought-provoking blogs I read this week.
Kick back, relax, and enjoy these gems!
Gems of Wisdom
**Agent Wendy Lawton wrote a series called “Career Killers.” Full of wise advice! One post is on speed writing. Other “career killers” included impatience, playing “around the edges,” sloppiness, and skipping the apprenticeship. If you avoid these mistakes in your career, you’ll be miles ahead of the average writer.
**Are you trying to combine babies with bylines? Try “Writing Between Diapers: Tips for Writer Moms” for some practical tips.
**Is your writing journey out of whack because you have unrealistic expections? See literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s post “Managing Expections.”
**Critique groups are great, but you–the writer–must be your own best–and toughest–editor. See Victoria Strauss on “The Importance of Self-Editing.”
**We’re told to set goals and be specific about what success means to us. Do you have trouble with that? You might find clarity with motivational speaker Craig Harper’s “Goals and Anti-Goals.”
**And finish with Joe Konrath’s pithy statements in “A Writer’s Serenity Prayer.” You may want to print them out and tape them to your computer!
Share a Gem!
What have you read lately–online or off–that you felt was particularly insightful or helpful or thought-provoking? I’d love to have you share a link of your own!
May 10, 2010
When I’m frustrated, it’s usually a sign that I’m trying to control something I can’t control. This can be a person or a situation or an event. The process can churn your mind into mush until you can’t think.
On the other hand, making a 180-degree switch and focusing on the things I can control (self-control) is the fastest way out of frustration. This concept certainly applies to your writing life.
Words of Wisdom
Remember the Serenity Prayer? It goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
How about reducing frustration with your writing life by applying that wisdom to your career? Here are some things to accept that you cannot change:
- How long it takes to get a response from editors and agents
- Editors moving before buying the manuscript they asked to see
- Size of print runs
- Publisher’s budget for your book’s publicity and promotion
Trying to change anything on the above list is a sure-fire route to frustration and wanting to quit.
However, do you have courage to change the things you can? Here are some:
- Giving yourself positive feedback and affirmations
- Reading positive books on the writing life
- Studying writing craft books
- Writing more hours
- Reading more books in the genre where you want to publish
- Attending local, state, regional and national conferences you can afford
- Joining or forming a critique group
Wisdom to Know the Difference
If you’re battling frustration and discouragement with the writing life, chances are good that you’re trying to control something beyond your control. It will make you crazy! The fastest way back to sanity is to concentrate on what you can control about the writing life.
Choose anything from that second list–or share an additional idea in the comments below–and get on with becoming a better writer. In the end, that’s all you can do–and it will be enough.