Saturday, April 09, 2011

Validation -or- A Change of Plans

Writing is a difficult avocation. You do it all alone, just you and your computer or a notebook. You see flashes of scenes in your head and try to make them come alive in the printed word. It can take years to produce a book between the planning and the researching and the writing and revising. And, while you do most of this, there's no way to know whether what you're working on will be good enough to be published or not.

I was always a good student. In school, you get grades as you go along. Your homework is graded. Your tests are graded. At the end of each quarter, you get a report card. There's constant feedback on how you're doing.

I haven't quite figured out how to get the equivalent feedback on my writing. One of the ways is to join a critique group, but finding the right one is often a challenge. I've belonged to three of them and found problems with all. The first one was good for me for almost a year. I learned a lot from my critique partners and, hopefully, they learned a lot from me. But one got a publishing contract, one dropped out for other reasons, and we never got back the momentum even when we tried to add new members. The second one wasn't a good fit at all. The writers wrote in different genres, didn't get mysteries, and there was at least one member who, although he never submitted any writing of his own in the time I attended, seemed intent on ripping apart everything the other members submitted.

Most recently I've been a part of a large online critique group with loose rules. Because of the nature of it, there's a lot of new writers who haven't learned the basics. I've been having trouble finding potential critique partners who are better writers than I am and those who can give me useful feedback.

So, in an attempt to get better feedback on the quality of my writing, I entered two national writing contests in February. Both promised scoresheets with critiques of your submission and I thought that this might be a way of gauging where I stand. I also hoped I had improved enough to make the first round cut in at least one of them. Yesterday I found out that I hadn't done that.

After a few tears and a splurge at the Friends of the Library book sale, I did some serious thinking. You see, I'd given up a lot over the past two years to put in time on my writing in an attempt to create a publishable novel. My priority for the weekend is always writing, revising, blogging, or critiquing. Last weekend I skipped a friend's concert because if I went, I knew I wouldn't accomplish my writing goals

And the question became, do I really want to give up hiking in Saguaro National Park, enjoying Sabino Canyon and Tohono Chul Park and the Botanical Gardens for the rest of the spring? Do I want to miss movies in the theater and farmer's markets and quilt shows and all the other things that other people do? No.

There's about two months before the temperature soars to the 100s and you just can't do anything outside in Tucson. Summer in Arizona is like winter in the northeast. People stay indoors, in air conditioning, rather than braving the hot, dry sun. I want to take walks after work instead of hurrying to my computer to critique another chapter of someone else's work or fight with a revision of my own. I want to spend my Saturdays enjoying the gorgeous spring in Tucson, visiting and revisiting some of the places I love to go, and resting from the week at a job I really hate.

With any luck, that will mean more pictures for my blog. At the very least, I'll get healthier. And, maybe once we hit the scorching summer, I'll feel like writing--with joy--again.
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