Dispiriting critiques – throw a writing dog a bone, would ya?

A bad critique can be dispiriting.

I started out really happy with what I found when I went back to look at my draft of Biomalware.  I know it needs a lot of work.  I’m sure it’s going to change over time, but I think I’ve got the bones of a really good story.  Maybe it’s too early to be submitting it to a competition but the deadline is next week and I don’t want to wait a year.

I’m submitting the first fifty pages and a summary to the James Jones Fellowship contest.  The award is to “honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture.”   I think my novel falls into that.

There may be even more competition this year because I saw it in Writer’s Digest, so I’m sure a whole lot of other people did too.  Now, I may not have a chance in hell but I’m submitting whatever I’ve got at the end of the month because if I don’t submit, there’s absolutely NO chance I’ll win, place or at least receive an honorable mention.   (I say at least but it sounds pretty damn good to me.)

So, I did a quick edit and sent it out to my writer’s group and a friend, hoping for feedback to help me clean it up and focus it.  I received a couple quick responses that made some suggestions but were generally favorable.

Then, last night, one of the group ripped into it.

For the love of God, if you’re critiquing someone’s work, find one or two things that you liked about it.  Don’t just hammer them with everything you see wrong!  It’s guaranteed to put the writer on the defensive and it’s just not nice.

Now, he gave me some good notes and some that I totally disagree with.  It’s my book so I get to decide what to take and what to leave.

But there’s a weight when someone rips apart your story that way.  It drags you down.  You waste energy and time fighting out from under it.

Now I have to somehow overcome this malaise.  Right now I just want a nap and a piece of cake.  I’m not going to have either though.  I’m going to get through my work day, do what I need to at home (which will probably take most of the evening) and eke out some time to work on my book.

Maybe some good music will help.

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Hey! Who wrote this book?

Open Book

 

Hey! Who wrote this book?

It all started earlier this week when I was preparing a talk on Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. There was an intro by Edwidge Danticat and I decided to look her up. I’d known of her writing for years and always thought of her as an older woman.

She’s only FIVE years older than me!

AND she’s been wining awards and recognition for her writing since I went off to college.

Argh!

I posted about that on Facebook, questioning what the heck I’d been doing all this time with my writing, and an old friend suggested we share works in progress to help move things along. Being as he is a really good editor, I pulled out my Biomalware manuscript from last August that I wrote during Camp NaNoWriMo.

Now, what I want to know is, who wrote this book when I wasn’t looking? Because there’s 149 pages and it’s not nearly as bad as I remember. I guess what they say about giving it time in a drawer is true.

So, yesterday I took the afternoon off to work on it. Of course, I got a stomach virus but that’s a story you don’t want to hear and I STILL managed to get the novel outlined and rearranged some pieces of it – after a nap.

(I’m sure I’ve mentioned Biomalware before but to bring everyone up to speed, the novel is set in the near future where a new strain of genetic modification to crops has created food which isn’t food for everyone, some people cannot derive nutrition from it. Now it is infiltrating even the organic crops through pollen contamination, and that’s not all it’s doing.  The short story that started it is here, in case you’re interested.)

My next step is to use the information on Scenes and Sequels that I learned from Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal to focus the action in each chapter. (If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it. He hasn’t written much lately but the information on how he writes is really useful.)

Then I’ll go back through and tighten up things using the rest of the info in his posts on things like characterization and THEN I’m going to look back at it and make sure I’ve done everything I learned from Donald Maass in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel.

Luckily, after posting on Facebook, I have several more interested readers to give me feedback once I’m ready, as well as my writer’s group.

Now, the problem is that I want to apply for the James Jones Fellowship Contest because I think my book fits in AND because the first prize is TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.

It’s awarded to “an American author of a first fiction novel-in-progress” and “is intended to honor the spirit of unblinking honesty, determination, and insight into modern culture exemplified by the late James Jones.”

What’s the problem there, you ask? Well, the deadline is March 1st. Luckily they just want the summary and first fifty pages so I will send that out to my readers at the end of the weekend.

Of course, we also plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Saturday and we have a family gathering on Sunday.

*slump*

Maybe I can get some rest next week.

Resumes, Presenting and Marketing

Public Speaking

I never would have thought a few years back that I would need a writer’s resume or a writer’s statement, but I have created both in applying for grants and other opportunities.  I know publishers and agents sometimes want to see them too.

Likewise, I never thought about the need to do book discussions with groups of people and to polish my public speaking skills but now I know that is a key component in growing your audience.   I’m going to have to get comfortable with this.

Today was my first time speaking to a large group (over 50 people) in a long time. I gave a book review/critique on the Maisie Dobbs series for a series of talks our Friends of the Library holds each winter. People seemed to receive it well. (Particularly the few I saw relaxed enough to sleep in the audience.)

I was asked, back in October/November, to do this talk and I agreed, having never read any of the books in the series.  In fact, I leapt at the chance.  I figured this was a great way to put something on my writing resume by presenting about stories and also let people know about my own writing.

I was nervous and yet I wasn’t.  I had been a little nervous in the morning but as I sat there waiting to begin and watching people filter in, I just felt a sort of happy energy.

The reason I had a little case of nerves as I prepared that morning was that so many people had been telling me how much they loved Maisie Dobbs.  I didn’t.

Oh, I enjoyed the historial parts of the books and the writing in general, but there were a number of things that irked me about the characterization and plotting so that I had quite a lot to say.

I was afraid I was in for the wrotten tomatoes, or at least some dirty looks.

But, in the end, several people came up to tell me that I was spot on with my assessment of the books or that they simply really enjoyed my presentation.

I was told by one library volunteer that she enjoyed the talk so much that she forgives me for not loving Maisie Dobbs the way she does.

For those of us who want to break into publishing, I’m afraid this is a necessary skill.  If we are going to publish books, we have to become reasonably comfortable talking to people, small and large groups alike, in order to interest people in our work.  It’s part of the job.  It’s part of marketing.

How to get comfortable?  Two things – preparation and practice.  I spent several days looking up information surrounding my topic and then writing out my comments and marking quotes to read.  I went over it in my mind several times.  With our own writing, that won’t be so difficult but it’s best to still have a script of sorts.  Then, we just have to give lots of talks.

I think doing author talks via the Internet with services like Skype for minimal or no fees will help increase our audience and reach.  I figure, if you can get someone to read your book, you’re on your way.  If they really enjoy it, they’ll tell someone else about it, particularly if they had the opportunity to meet the author and ask us questions.

Growing my audience once I have a book out there certainly seems worth the investment of time to me.

Back when I was studying to be a librarian, I learned to create a two sentence book talk that would hook a student’s interest in reading a book.  I’ve used that numerous times to put a book in someone’s hands.  Someday it will be my book.

Of course, now I’m kicking myself for not handing out business cards for my writing.  I think it’s time to visit Vistaprint.