Sunday, May 30, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
I got a direct shot-in-the-heart kind of critique last night. Floundering with a piece of work I’ve been laboring over for years now, I submitted yet another section of it to my writing group. The piece is lacking conflict. CONFLICT! This absence of conflict stops me everything I get into a good rhythmic flow in my work. I fill my head with self-cursing babble and repetitive litanies that damn and condemn my inability to create a CONFLICT for my characters to solve. Resolved to being a loser then, I eventually put my work on a shelf and write other things instead.
Of course, it doesn’t go away; relentless visions have their way and once again, I pull it out to write some more. Before long though, my own conflict wrecks havoc on my psyche and I crumble under the weight of self-loathing.
I have been encouraged by my writing group to silence the voices in my head and keep the work out on my desk. I am trying. Still, the word CONFLICT won’t go away. It trips me and captures me and wrestles me down like a violent assault. I am not a battler; I will recede every time.
But tonight I got a different message: I have to stand up and fight one battle or another. I can fight the word CONFLICT or I can fight the internal condemnation. There is no other choice. Either way, I cannot retreat from one battle or another.
Linda’s critique was soft: she read to me from a book titled Shimmering Images by Lisa Dale Norton.
“The trick with this kind of structure [collage structure]is that each of the
shimmering Images has to explore some shared larger topic…
What happens with this collage approach is that the whole collection of little stories,
their flow, and the unspoken but implied juxtapositions and connections within that flow
take the readers to a place of greater understanding in the end.
You don’t have to tell readers what you want them to ‘get’ about your life experience.
You just show them a bunch of Shimmering Images, like a slide show of pictures”
- - Lisa Dale Norton
Sherita’s critique was a blunt-force blow like a wrestling coach throwing me back into the ring. After a tirade listing a string of conflict options, she concluded with a climax to her passion-filled voice, “it doesn’t matter! Just do it, damn it!!” We all laughed, but I felt a shift in my brain as I saw the villain in my head put down his megaphone.
“OK!” I said. And I meant it.
Thank you, writers, Thank You!
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Remember my statement in part one: I believe very strongly that writing should not be competitive. This statement is the premise of this post.
Begin to welcome the critic by thinking very carefully before you hand over a piece of your writing to critics. By “think carefully”, I mean think clearly, deeply, and analytically. The act of handing over is the act of letting go. The physical act is letting go of your words, your craft, but the internal act is letting go of your ego. So the first question you have to ask yourself is, why am I seeking critical feedback? If you are looking for praise and recognition, then you aren’t at all ready to let go.
Prepare to Let Go
1) Ask yourself these questions:
· Why do I want critics to read this?
· What problems do I have with this piece of writing?
· What questions do I want to answer as a result of objective feedback?
2) Trust your reader(s)
· Seek critics whose writing you admire
· Seek critics who have skills and talents you either do not have or that are not particularly your strengths
· Seek critics who are honest
· Seek critics with whom you have a trusting relationship
· Seek critics with whom you share a mutual admiration and respect.
3) Open your heart and mind
· Touch your manuscript and give it a blessing in whatever manner fits your style
· Remind yourself that whatever happens, you and your manuscript will survive.
· Think about the transformation from good to great. No matter how “great” you think your work is now, choose to believe that greater is its potential.
Once you have mentally and emotionally prepared yourself to let go, then do it. Turn it over to the critics and wait.
The hardest part is over once you let your writing go to the critics. When you get the writing back filled with red marks and comments, you should be excited, provided you did your homework and properly prepared yourself for this moment.
Read the comments with a completely open heart and mind. This means that when you read questions written by the critic, you answer them, both in your mind and in writing. And when you see that the critic has changed a word or words, altered sequence or revamped your punctuation, you read the changes and consider them. Read them out loud. Think about them as objectively as you can. Read them again and again.
Finally, make changes from that place in your gut (instinct, intuition, not emotional defense) where you know what is right. Don’t judge the critic, and don’t ruminate over the suggestions as if they are personal insults. Simply make the changes that you are inspired to make and let the others go.
PS – Don’t forget to thank the critics for giving you their time and energy to read your work.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
I am still thinking about critical comments, but today I am thinking of them in terms of our work.
As writers, we read with a critical eye: therefore, we are critics. As writers, we also know that we need objective feedback on our work, so critics are, with a twist of irony, some of our best friends. Actually, the word “friends” is a bit questionable in this case, but if I elaborate, it will take me on another tangent, so I’ll save those thoughts for another post…
Today I want to write about the spirit of giving and taking criticisms regarding our writing.
I believe very strongly that writing should not be competitive. I understand however, that may people are competitive (I am not one), and therefore, the act of writing is often submerged in the characteristics of competition: offense, defense, and various “winning” strategies. This is important to note because as the critic, you have to tip toe through these elements with a great big, bold banner declaring your intentions.
You also have to know exactly what your intentions are. Your intentions may vary slightly from time to time, but generally speaking, these should be your base intentions: 1) identify confusion and inconsistencies (never fix them, simply identify them); 2) identify words, phrases and whole paragraphs that read exceptionally well; 3) identify errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar; 4) ask relevant questions to direct the writer to elaborate in some areas, cut others, reorder where needed, and add whatever you think is missing. Your intentions should also include something about meeting the needs of the writer regarding each specific piece of work. These are the mechanics.
The most important and overriding intention of all is to encourage the writer to keep going by seeing that what she has done so far is really good and that she has the ability within herself to make it really great.
You do this by honoring the style, the message, and the writer.
Begin each critic session with an open mind and an open heart. Before you ever pick up your red pen, feel the manuscript against the palms of your hands and envision the writer. If you are a praying person, thank God for the writer, the message, and your opportunity to be a part of the process.
Monday, May 24, 2010
On Saturday I went to the Indiana State meeting of Pen Women, hosted by the Indianapolis chapter. We met at the Universalist Unitarian International church in the informal sanctuary, walls lined with art by various local artists. The program consisted of three presentations given by Ellie Siskind, an Indianapolis painter, Sarah Long, a Terre Haute poet, and Daniel Fisher Executive Vice President, New Century Publishing Company, an Indiana-based publisher.
Ellie Siskind, also a very good story-teller, shared her passion for her art through the description of significant moments and events in her life that kept her focused on her work in spite of the requirements to make a living until she was “discovered”. She reminded us that not only is it important to believe in yourself, but also to surround yourself with people who see the beauty in your work and the potential for development.
Sarah Long shared with us a booklet produced by a group of poets in the Terre Haute area. Each contributor designed a front and back page with original poems and hand-drawn illustrations and make 200 copies. Then they gathered one afternoon to collate and staple to produce 200 copies of their book. The book is for sale locally (her poetry group meets at The Coffee Grounds in Terre Haute) and all proceeds go to a selected non-for-profit organization in the community. I really liked that idea and thought it might be the direction to take with our journaling group’s vision to compile some of our pieces into a tangible product.
Finally, the Daniel Fisher described in detail the process of transferring a final manuscript into a book. I knew it was a tedious and detailed process, but for every step I knew about, he told about 5 – 6 more in between. New Century Publishing Company aims to publish Indiana authors, but they are not closed to authors in other locations.
Pen Women is a national organization of professional women who work in the arts. The first meeting was held in 1897 in Washington, D.C. Within the first year of existence, Pen Women had expanded to include chapters across the country including Maine, Texas, New York and California. Today there are more than 55,000 members. Pen Women is an organization committed to their mission of “Mentoring, encouraging and promoting emerging professional women in the arts …”