Validation -or- A Change of Plans

Saturday, April 09, 2011
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.


CW Johnson said...

First I should tell you, you've caught my attention because you soundly beat me up, LOL. However, I must say, I'm in a great position to know just where you're coming from. One thing I can tell you: When you put your book out there, published or not, you're going to be misunderstood, scoffed at, debased and demoralized. You will be praised too, but you'll pay little attention to that. The negative will sear holes in your confidence like nothing you've experienced before. This will be your baby. It doesn't matter if you're Stephen King it's going to happen. I know because he said so in his book 'On Writing'. Not everyone (and that includes contest runners and professional critiques)will like your book. There just might be a good many who don't. Write because you love it if only to finally accomplish it. It will be something you can uniquely call your own. You will treasure it I promise you, and it will last forever.
Your writing friend,(even though you beat me up!) CW Johnson

Elise M Stone said...

Hi CW,
I appreciate you taking the time to wade through these posts of mine and leave a comment even though I beat you up. :-)

When I decided to write book reviews, I also decided that I would be honest. There are too many favorable reviews posted by friends and family of the author. I also belong to a writing group whose members don't think they should ever give any writer a negative review because it's so hard to write a book.

But what about the readers? Is it fair to them to say a book is terrific when it's really just okay? I don't think so. So I give my opinion.

If I'm going to be honest with other writers, then I have to accept the criticism I receive, even if it stings. And those contest results stung a lot.

The thing is, some of the criticisms were valid. After a while I was able to look at the score sheets more objectively and admit that my book needed more work. It's getting better and will be better still later this year.

And I do love writing. I've discovered I'm one of those people who can't not write. After a few days of not writing, I feel restless and out of sorts.


CW Johnson said...

Oh I'm with you on that one. I've written some scathing reviews let me tell you. I must say in my defense, however, Very few friends and family have reviewed my books. It's funny but true, most people think friends and family are automatically going to buy, or at least download their book, but it simply doesn't happen. Friends and family tend to be the most skeptical right from the start. Scathing reviews are our best teacher. I can't tell you how many times I've changed my books because of a scathing review. Your mention of the dreaded LY qualifier (adverb/adjective tipped me off that you were a budding author like me. That's the first thing new writers seem to cling to, probably because it makes sense, that and the 'he said, she said' rule, the head bouncing rules...etc. Just about the time you get them into your head you read a string of best selling books that break all the rules. I notice them everywhere. One of Stephen king's books in the Watchtower series comes to mind where he writes "she smiled uglily". (Yeah I read a lot of Stephen King.)
I would like to have a chance to read your book. Is it in PDF?
Still your friend, Bill

Elise M Stone said...

I've responded to this in email. There's more room to type and see what I'm typing. :-)

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A Clash of Kings
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