Writing Group Blues

I just got home from one of the writing groups I’ve joined.  A couple are based around getting together and just writing, this is the only one that is based on critiquing.

Now, I take critiquing very seriously.  When I was in school I was very fortunate to have a series of really good english and creative writing teachers.  They really pushed me to become a better writer, and almost more importantly to be better at giving and receiving constructive criticism.  There’s almost an art to being able to read through someone’s writing, good or bad, and providing an opinion and suggestions.

When I’m doing a critique I’m reading really slowly, carefully, making notes along the way.  I always come up with a few good points and a few suggestions.  Even if I really like the piece, I always try to come up with at least a couple suggestions.  Whether the writer uses them or not doesn’t matter, it’s about giving them a different perspective.  We have to push each other if we’re going to improve.

Today, I handed out the first five pages of my NaNo project.  It’s rough, I haven’t even given it a second look since writing it I told them all that as a disclaimer.  I sat back and waited for the list of issues to roll in.

Their response, “It’s good.”

I asked if the descriptions were too heaver or too light.  “No, they’re good.”

I asked if it flowed well.  “Flow is good.”

I asked them for any suggestions.  I got one, the transition from the first chapter to the second could be a little better.

That’s it.

Now, I know I’ve improved as a writer but there’s no way I’m that “good”.  No, I think it says a lot more about the quality of the criticism than about the quality of the writing.  That’s disappointing.

Pantser Slump

The greatest pleasure I derive from writing is also my greatest curse.

There are two general types of writers; plotters and pantsers.

Plotters are kind of the Type-A personalities of the writing world.  They have an idea, they plan out the characters, and lay out the plot line in great detail.  Then when they write all they have to do is connect the dots.

Pantsers are those who write “by the seat of their pants”.  They start with an interesting idea, a character, and they just write.  It’s a very organic process, they just see where the characters take them.  Planning is usually limited to a couple chapters ahead.

I am an unashamed pantser.  What drives me to write is curiosity.  Usually I start with a hook and I’m genuinely curious where the story is going to go.  How is the manly man going to react when he has to direct his daughter’s play?  I don’t know but I really want to find out.  Every story is a puzzle that I really want to solve.

As much fun as that is, it’s also my biggest hurdle towards becoming a novelist.

You see, as long as I don’t know what’s going to happen I’m hooked by my own story, but there’s always a point (around 80% done) when I figure out how it’s going to end.  I can see how the last little bit plays out.  The puzzle is solved but the draft isn’t finished.  Suddenly, I don’t have any motivation at all to finish the last 20% or so.  It’s work, it’s trudging, it’s painfully boring.

When I get bored, my attention starts to wander toward other story ideas, until I drop the original project and start something new.  The new project gets to about 80%, puzzle solved, and my attention starts to wander again.

Right now, I’ve got two books 80% finished and I’m struggling to maintain my focus on them instead of the flashier, new ideas that have been cropping up.  I really, really want to be a published author but there are so many difficulties that I never anticipated, this being one of many.

So, I desperately need to work on my writing discipline.  Not just in hours/words per day but in finishing what I start.  Even then, I can only imagine how painful it’s going to be to do the multiple cycles of revision to make the story readable.

I keep telling myself, “if it was easy, everyone would do it.”   Pantser or not, I’m working on it.

 

Writers reading

A while ago, I read a post on how a person’s reading changes after they become a writer.  The post said that being a writer has almost ruined their ability to read a good book.  Instead of simply reading the book and enjoying it, all the sudden they were breaking down how the scene was constructed, word choice, and style.  It took them out of the story.

I thought that had to be an exaggeration.  We’ve been reading for decades, why would that change just because we started writing?

Well, I thought it was an exaggeration until it happened to me.

I was at work and heading to lunch by myself.  I decided that I should swing by the convenience store and seeing if they had any good books on the rack.  This was a little out of the ordinary, it’s been a while since I’d bought a paperback, I do most of my reading on my Kindle these days, but wanted something to read while I was at lunch.

ash s

So, I picked up James Hebert’s “Ash”.  I wasn’t familiar with his work but it looked interesting and figured it would be worth checking.

I got my plate of Chinese food, sat down, and cracked the book.  Then something strange happened, I started analyzing every sentence.  I couldn’t help it.   Sentence structure, word choice, etc.

Wow, that’s a great way to incorporate dialogue in the scene.  That’s an interesting character description.  Ooh, he’s good at switching between scenes.  These chapter lengths are interesting.  Hmmm, he uses a lot of adverbs.

It was really interesting.  Having read a lot of ebooks recently with questionable… quality, it was educational to open a book that has been so thoroughly vetted, edited, and produced.  I don’t think I’ve read any major books since I started really writing.  I real a ton but mostly on my kindle and usually indie authors, so this was a total change.  So, seeing something professionally produced was a drastic reminded of what a high quality book should look like.

Pen and paper

edited-paper

I’m a little over 200 pages into my sci-fi adventure story and I’m already looking ahead to the daunting task of making it readable.  By making it readable I mean editing, because it’s going to need a lot of work.  I purposefully didn’t do much in the way of editing while I was writing because I wanted to get the whole story down before I started going through it.  Knowing myself, I probably would have gotten so bogged down by the revising that I would have gotten fed up with the project and never finished it (I’ve made that mistake before).

The longer the story gets the longer the process of making it readable will be.  For as long as it takes to write a page, editing and shaping that page will probably take twice as long.  At least.

As I’m thinking through this process, one thing keeps coming to mind: there’s no way I’m going to be able to edit this on a computer.

For the most part, I’m a Luddite when it comes to technology.  I’m interested in it only so far as it can improve my life, no further.  For example, writing on a computer is far faster for me than writing with a pen and paper, so I write on the computer.  It’s also far easier to edit and produce short works on a computer, like blog posts.  However, with longer pieces in the past I’ve always printed them out to edit them.

I’ve always edited on paper because being able to flip through the pages, make notations in the margins, put sticky notes on the important scenes, and physically hold the papers has been a vital part of the editing process.  So, I can’t imagine trying to edit this 200+ page story on a computer screen.  There’s no way.

Yet, printing out 200+ pages and going through them by hand -only to make the corrections on the computer and have to reprint the entire manuscript for the second phase of editing- seems incredibly wasteful and inefficient.

So, where’s the middle ground?  I’m thinking that I will end up doing as much of the editing as possible on the computer, spell check, grammar, etc.  Then when I’m through with the minor things, printing the manuscript and looking for the bigger changes.  It still doesn’t seem very efficient but I’m not sure how else to do it.

Is this something that other authors have faced?  If so, I would love to hear suggestions because I’m still very new to this and I’m already feeling a little intimidated.

 

**Photo from Curriculum Design for ELL**