Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

What it says up there. And also Happy Holidays to everyone, and a bright New Year

Friday, December 21, 2012

Post Apocalypse

They were wrong. Not the Mayans, but the people who hung their beliefs on the notion that turning a page on a calendar (all right, a rock, but it's the same principle) meant the end of the world.

If you want to write, you need to be aware of the end of the world - or, more accurately, of milestones you must pass. 

Getting your first bad review is crushing. Especially if it's from some nameless person on However, it's not the end of the world. As Mr. Nelson put it, you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself. Write the books you'd like to read.

Learning that your book has earned a pittance is crushing, but it's not the end of the world. Realize that writing a book is not the end-all. It's a step on a career. There's another one to be written, and one beyond that, and slowly your audience will build.

Getting a rejection letter from a publisher - especially one of those horrible form rejections - is crushing. You feel worthless. But it's not the end of the world. You failed to hit it off with ONE editor at ONE publisher. There are more fish in the sea, and these days more ways of publishing your work.

Having writer's block is crushing. You feel miserable. You'll never write again. Why go on? But it's not the end of the world. Writer's block is common and it's self-curing. What it generally means is that subconsciously you're working out problems in your story, and when that process is churned through, the words flow again.

Take heart. We're still here. The sun goes on shining, the sea rushes to shore. Hey, it's not the end of the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Critique Group: Da Rulez

Last time I mentioned critique groups. Let's run with that for a bit. I'm in one that works pretty well, mainly because we are all published writers who know the process and because we established a few simple rules early on. Here they are:

  1. Give us time. If we're going to critique a novel chapter or a short story, we need time to read it and think about it. We distribute our material by email, so it's fairly easy. Get the material to the others about a week ahead of your meeting.
  2. No hunting. This means no cheap shots. Once at a college writers' festival I was horrified to hear the guest writer, a big name, condescendingly tell a student who had submitted a story, "I could write a good story about this. You can't. This is crap." That's a cheap shot; it in no way helps the writer and is merely a put-down. No fair.
  3. Don't bring just a crowbar. Bring a hammer and nails. In other words, you're not there just to tear down, but to suggest ways of rebuilding, making the story workable and more readable. Offer constructive suggestions.
  4. But don't take my word for it. If one of us has a brilliant idea for improving a story, and the writer of the story says, "" then that is that. No one is obligated to take your advice. Don't get your feelings hurt.
  5. We read your words, not your mind. If five members of your writers' group all ask the same question or stumble over the same plot point, you're at fault. It's no use complaining, "But that's not what I meant." Your job is to find out how to write what you meant so you don't mislead your readers unintentionally.
  6. Don't pet a bad dog. Never lie; if you don't like a story, say so, if you can then explain what would have made you like it. "I really loved this" is not good criticism, though writers eat it up. Sure, praise good writing, but suggest ways that the whole piece can excel.
  7. What happens in Vegas.... Trust the other writers. Be friends with them. Don't hold grudges and don't be quick to get your feelings hurt. Once the stories are out of the way, socialize and have a good time.
  8. It's not you, it's not me, it's the story. I've collaborated before, and that was our prime rule: get rid of the egos. It's what's best for the story that counts. Think critically, think analytically, and give and take criticism honestly and without hurt feelings on either side. That's key.
There may be more...but I think these are the most important.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hanging Out in Thunderstorms

Writing, he observed unoriginally, is a damned lonely business. But there are ways of compensating.

A friend of mine once said, "If your ambition is to be struck by lightning, hang out in thunderstorms. If you want to write, hang out with writers." The trick is to find ways of doing that.

One of the best is to join a writers' group - IF.

  • If you can find a reasonable number of reasonable, like-minded people. It takes exactly one jerk to ruin a critique/comment group for everyone. RULE 1: We're all in the same boat, so let's row in the same direction.
  • If all of you can both give and take criticism. Criticism is not acid; it hath not the power to etch your soul. Realize when you are giving it that your goal is to be constructive, to help someone else write the best work possible. Realize when you are receiving it that even the best criticism is only a suggestion. You don't have to take it if you don't want to.
  • If you really want to improve your writing rather than just hear fawning praise. You want to be as critical of your own work as you are of others'. I doubt if there is one piece of writing, including holy writ, that could not be tweaked and improved in at least small ways. When people have difficulty with something you've written, be willing and ready to tear it down and build again.
  • If it's not all work and no play. Socialize with the others. Learn what there is to know about markets and publishing. Celebrate others' accomplishments; commiserate on others' near-misses. Laugh with them. Be friends with them. They're writers like you. They understand you.
How to find writers in your area? They're thick on the ground. Ask around. Establish a special email account for contact. Post a note in the local library. When you find one, that one will know another and that one will know another.

But once you've got a core going, audition new members. Make sure they know Rule 1. Make sure they're congenial. Then meet regularly - every week, every two weeks, every month, whatever.

You know what? I'd bet that eventually you begin to look forward to those meetings. They make the lonely job of writing a little less so.