The next level

Just when I thought I had a handle on this writing thing, I attended a writing critique group where the other attendees were at an advanced level.  I had submitted the first part of a short story thinking it was pretty much ready to go, but wanting other opinions.

Everybody seemed to like it and some were intrigued with the concept.  Many mentioned they liked the tone, the dialog and interactions, and the story as a whole was fun.  So far so good.  Then they got down to it.  I took notes, writing down problems as they were mentioned.  When others mentioned the same problem I started with hash marks to indicate how many had a problem with the same thing.  They were as follows:

  • A cooking sequence was too long and too detailed.  It’s a romance, Jim, not a cooking show.  (My words.)  ||||
  • My protagonist capitulated too easily when she had the means and opportunity to put up more of a fight.  ||||
  • Protag is too passive, reacting to what happens to her instead of being proactive.  ||||
  • Her career is mentioned as being traditionally male dominated but exactly what she does is not explained adequately.  Inquiring minds wanted to know.  |||
  • The logistical whys and wherefores of the secondary character’s initial appearance in the MC’s vicinity do not compute.  What the heck was he doing there?  |||
  • There are point-of-view problems.  Those delineated by changes of scene are okay, but when head swapping happens within a paragraph, that’s a problem.  |||
  • There was plenty of opportunity to set up more conflict between the MC and the secondary early on in the story that could have taken care of some of the problems leading to a reader’s suspension of disbelief.  |||

Color me surprised!  Not only that, I was excited!  It all made sense, and I couldn’t wait to get home and work on it.  Of course I could have told them all, “You’re not the boss of me” and mutter about how nobody appreciates my writing.  Didn’t even enter my head, just had to put it out there.

Many friends and relatives have read my stories, and the feedback has been valuable (and often fed my greedy ego) but none of them are professional writers or in any way connected with the writing industry.  The level I need to reach in my writing is one that will leap the hurdles of professional slush readers for publishing houses and agents and cross the finish line with them still avidly reading.  Alas most writing submitted to said readers falls out of the race when they bash through any one of those hurdles instead of leaping over them.

I’ve poured over my notes from that meeting, the hard copies with notes given to me by some of those who critiqued, and later the emails I’ve received with attachments of the same from those who didn’t print.  I printed my critiques for the stories I critiqued, but may go with emailing them later for a couple of reasons.  One would be the price of paper and ink.  The other is the size of the font in doing a critique in Microsoft Word.  It’s really teeny-tiny when printed, and I haven’t figured out how to make it bigger.  On the screen you can always make the whole page bigger.

The upshot of the whole experience is that I’m faced with taking my writing to the next level.  Some of the things that were mentioned, I hadn’t even thought to examine.  Now I will.  The first time I went over all the critique notes, I felt positively manic.  I haven’t been so excited in a while, and I’m looking forward to climbing firmly onto the next level and then finding another.

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Is life getting in the way?

I’ve been having a heart to heart with myself as of late.  Maybe heart to mind would be more accurate.  They argue a lot.  Sometimes I feel like the all encompassing “me” just takes a back seat and listens:

“There is no excuse for missing an entire month without a blog entry.”

“Wrongo.  There are lots of reasons.  The grandkids were sick, and I needed to help out with them, hubby got sick.  Then I got sick, for crying out loud.  How can I write a blog post when I can’t sleep for coughing and can’t get more than a minute and a half away from the bathroom?  Now that I’m well we’re several states away for a funeral.  How can I work now?”

“Yadda, yadda, yadda.  Heard it all before.  When you were working for a weekly paycheck you worked when you were sick.  You also just found out your iPhone works as a mobile hot spot and had it turned on.”

See?  I don’t even need outside input to get into an argument.  This kind of internal dialog would become more positive if I channeled it from internal conflict into resolve which moves into action.  So that’s what I did, and now here I am writing this post.  Tomorrow we’re off to visit another Florida relative and while I’m there (and not pressed into service working on Mom’s computer) I plan to finish that short story epilog so I can start editing.

Progress.

I am in a couple of writing groups and a few forums.  (Wouldn’t that be fori?  Hah!  Just looked it up – forums or fora.  Who knew?)  Ahem.  The groups and forums – I hear so many times (and am guilty myself) that people stopped writing because life got in the way.  They used to write, then they had kids.  They used to write, but then went to college.  The phrase they invariably use is “life got in the way.”  My focus on words what it is, I finally had to look closer.  In my case my priorities changed and my self confidence couldn’t keep up.  The end result was that I got in my way.  It was me.  I remember overhearing my husband talking to someone who saw something I’d made.  It was something crafty, I think a reverse decoupaged and painted glass bowl.   He said, “I don’t know how she finds the time to do things like that, but she always does.”  That stuck in the back of my mind.  At the time I had three kids, and two of them were pre-school.  It wasn’t lack of time or energy that kept me from writing.  It was me, for whatever reason.

Now that I’m committed to writing and several people are convincing me I’m good enough to be published, I need to channel that internal dialog into resolve and action:

Blog post – check

Short story ending – by the end of the week

Novel Part I first full edit – by the end of the month

Novel Part II first draft – NaNoWriAgain – heck, that’s how I did the first half

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