Thought for the week: If you can’t take the heat, stay away from the fire pit.
As an aspiring writer, I subscribe to various trade publications, my favorite being Writers Digest Magazine. The magazine offers solid advice, contest opportunities, author interviews and inspiration among other things. One piece of valuable advice I garnered from WD was the recommendation to create a writing support system by becoming part of the writing community, in other words make some writing friends. What a novel idea. This craft can be isolating.
My first step was to join a local writers group. I went to my favorite source of information, the local library, where a helpful librarian directed to me to a group that meets twice a month.
Naturally, I had preconceived notions of what the group would be like. I imagined people like myself, amateur stay-at-home Moms who wanted to reenter the work force by becoming writers. No egocentrism involved there. I assumed between chats about writing we would swap stories about our children’s sports events and share recipes.
As it turns out, my group is primarily male and filled with some excellent writers with varied backgrounds: retired teachers with advanced degrees, a journalist, a songwriter, a film school graduate, self-published authors and traditionally published authors of novels or short story anthologies.
This threw me, I was not sure I was either worthy or courageous enough to be in this group, not to mention, read my romantic suspense Novel in front of them. I wondered how my membership might enhance the group. I hung in because there was no question I would have an opportunity to learn something.
At the first meeting, I sat quietly listening to the others read their work. I had in tow, chapter one of my novel, Seeing Scarlet. At one point, the group organizer called on me to read. I shook my head furiously and refused. Very mature on my part, yes? If I could have, I would have slunk under the table and slithered from the room. I considered quitting but instead returned a few weeks later for the next meeting.
I brought the same chapter and after a few people read, summoned the courage to read. My delivery was akin to that of an auctioneer. I am not certain anyone could even understand me. The piece was entirely too long and halfway through, I could hear people shifting in their seats. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them checking their watches. Okay, I may have imagined that last part. Then, the critique of my work commenced. The quotes are only as accurate as my own recollection and are unassigned to protect identities:
“There’s way too much back story!”
“Where’s the action?”
“All I could think about was Scarlet O’Hara.”
I felt as if my heartfelt narrative was a slab of raw meat and the wolves were all having at it. Then, my personal favorite:
“I was falling asleep over here!”
They liked certain parts of it and some offered more carefully formed comments:
“You’re obviously a competent writer. It’s good to know you can form sentences with some degree of ability.”
Finally, the statement that cut to the quick:
“You’re quirky. You have a story to tell and it’s buried in there somewhere.”
I was upset, although I am not sure what I expected. I went home, drank some wine while wallowing in self-pity and flipped through the television channels.
What do a bunch of men know about romance anyway? What makes them think they’re so great?
Ironically, I stumbled across the movie “Gone with the Wind” on TMC. Scarlet O’Hara, humph! In truth, I had never seen the movie or read the book. Instead, I secretly scoffed about it. I began watching. Hours later, at two in morning, riveted, with tears in my eyes, I shouted at the television and shook my fist, give ‘em hell, Scarlet!
I had always presumed it was a sappy romance, but Scarlet O’Hara was the Heroine of her time, strong, determined, smart, witty, beautiful and maybe a little manipulative, but what choice did she have? I would be proud to have a character like her in my novel.
Watching the film, I realized a few things, you cannot scoff at romance if you are going to write it and you somehow have to make people care about your characters, so they could not possibly fall asleep in the beginning of your story.
What had I written? What was my novel about? Questions I needed to answer, before the reconstruction of the story could begin in earnest. I realized that I began telling one story and then morphed into telling another because I was chasing the market. I had committed the worst offense in writing; I had lost sight of my story and set aside good writing in search of commercial success.
The next day, still slightly steaming about the comments from my group, I re-read my notes from the night before and realized they were not trying to mean, they were trying to help me become a better writer. I felt even more embarrassed for my reaction. If someone is willing to hear or read your writing, take it for what it is, a gift.
Of course, a small part of my Irish pride still needed to prove to them that I could do better. I rewrote chapter one, over and over and over. Each time it got a little tighter and more fluid. After all, writing is only the beginning, then comes rewriting.
As regards the group, I stuck it out and I like to think I am earning my stripes. It has become something to look forward to although it seems like an odd cross between AA and group therapy for writers, not that I have experience with either.
If you join one, think of the first reading as an initiation of sorts. Learning how to take criticism on your work is vital to survival. You may never learn to take it without insult, but your writing will benefit from it, by incorporating the suggestions that make your work more polished.
Ultimately, being an author is a weird sort of solo act with many support personnel helping and guiding you along the way but you have to know what is best for your story.
I have since received much stronger reviews from my group and I now feel as though my writing better represents who I want to be as an author of novels-still unpublished, but unwavering.
Thank you for reading and keep writing!
Yet to come: Momentum; Seeking Support: Surprises and Stumbling Blocks; The Benefits of Insomnia; My First Writers Conference & Query Letter Hell!