Sunday, November 17, 2013

Revisions! Revisions! REVISIONS!

I am in the midst of revising my ghost story set on Puget Sound…

No, I'm still near the beginning. And I just had a breakthrough that dictates revising will take even longer. I've decided the whole thing needs to be present tense.

THAT makes the whole thing harder. Not because the revision will take longer. It's because I will now need to go through the novel at least twice. Fully?

Why? Because I cannot possibly revise it if I'm concentrating on changing all the verb tenses. That in itself is a HUGE task. I use lots of verbs. At least one a sentence, unless it's a fragment. Even if it is a fragment.

So now, hopefully only through the next few weeks, I need to change every verb in the entire 80,000-word document.

Only then can I start really revising. And revising. And revising.

I won't gripe about it, though, not if it works. I'm sure, some day, it will work. Some day, if I keep revising, ONE of my novels will be worth publishing.

I hope.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Something is Just Not Right

You've heard the metaphors before… about the "shoe" fitting and such.

Imagine, if you will, poor Prince Charming. Start the action before the ball: He's feeling pressure to get married. Dad's overweight and old, the old man has gout and diabetes, and time is wasting. Charming needs to get married soon, and have kids soon, so that the line of rulers can continue without wrangling over succession once he gets too old to rule.

He has a vision of the right girl--not a purely physical image, for he needs more than looks if he can make it through years of marriage and still be able to stand her. He also has a fear: what if she doesn't like him back?

So he goes to the ball, his hands sweating from nerves. Most of the women just feel wrong. Some fawn over him, and he knows a month of marriage to any number of these would either give him a big fat head or make him gag. But then the image he hopes for steps into the ballroom. She's maybe a little shorter than he'd imagined, but still pretty. Her hands are graceful, and she looks so out of place and timid. She's perfect.

Two hours of absolute bliss follow. She seems to like him, they dance together, they talk together like old friends, and he somehow finds himself sharing his innermost thoughts with her. But then his world is shattered--at the first stroke of midnight, she starts hyperventilating, grabs her purse off the table next to them, and runs off.

He chases after her, but she's in far better shape, and suddenly she's gone, leaving behind a mere slipper.

And now he's stuck. He knows what his ideal is, but she's gone, and he doesn't have a clue how to find her. So he takes the slipper around, spending weeks searching the whole kingdom to find that perfect person for him. Sure, he meets all sorts of other ladies, some of them quite pretty, some of them who even sort of or almost fit the shoe. But he keeps searching, willing to keep looking because he wants the right person, the perfect fit.

So goes the search for a writer's group. There may be any number of groups in your neighborhood. You might have a next door neighbor who belongs to one. But ANY writers group won't work. They are all different, and a writers group that isn't the right fit won't do you any good.

(BTW, this discussion could represent ANY creative group, whether painting, sewing, drawing, manga lovers, etc. I once joined a sewing group, but I was the only one who was sewing clothing--everyone else was quilting. It was not a fit.)

I realized last night, as I visited a local writers group for the fourth or fifth time, that though it was a great group of people, it wasn't the right fit for me. I could attend every single meeting from here to eternity, but it would be like dating the same person week after week, knowing our relationship would not work in the long run.

What do I want in a writer's group? I'm pretty picky, so here's my list:

1. I need other serious writers to attend. By serious, I mean that they write all the time, revise what they write, develop their writing beyond short vignettes. I am perfectly happy if they are better writers than I, so long as they are writing. It's kind of like tennis. It's far more fun to play with others who are at or near your skill and commitment level than play with people who are far more or far less skilled. Mismatches are no fun for anybody (except for writers in number 2, below).

2. The writers need to be there for both themselves AND others. Some of the more serious writers are only there as a ego boost, to flaunt their writing in front of other people. These writers take criticism and questions very poorly, and are nearly always silent about other writers' works (unless they open their mouth to say something outright mean). The other writers should be there for feedback, but also be there to help other writers grow. I find that feeling my way through the writings of others makes me better, and I want other members to be just as committed.

3. The group needs to do more than clap. I've been in groups that are only encouraging. And I certainly know that many writers, especially those on the beginning of their writing journey, need encouragement most of all. I don't. I need criticism. I need honesty. I need tough love. If a piece is not good, I need the writer of it to have some clue, and to ask for help. And the others in the group should be honest, without hurting feelings.

4. The group needs to actively encourage further writing. Perhaps it's an assignment for next time. Even better, it's an individual thing--"Now that we've read scenes 1 & 2 of this play, can you bring in scene 3 next time?"--the writers need a reason to come back, some level of continuity. The activity is what matters. I don't need a social group, I need one that inspires me to write more.

5. Writers need to attend consistently. Attendance shows commitment, and it allows writers to bring in novel excerpts, submit plays in chunks, and get feedback on a whole larger work.

Remember, though, these are my stipulations. You may need something completely different. Your slipper might not resemble mine at all. And that is fine. I have only found my perfect kind of group twice, and I would still be attending if these two groups if they weren't thousands of miles away. I have hope, though, that I will find such a group closer to home. I am willing to drive if it means I can find the perfect fit for my slipper.

So I will keep looking, shoe in hand.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In Search of Writer's Group

I am in the midst of a LOVELY book right now. It's a collection of short stories by three women, called The Curiosities. And it is absolutely delightful. Below I have posted what the cover looks like.

Even more than the lovely vignettes provided by these three authors is their obvious time spent working together on their writing, reading each other's stories, offering advice, giving prompts, mentoring each other, encouraging each other's writing. The stories have little handwritten comments and drawings in the margins, capturing the sense of these works in process.

The book is well worth reading, but it makes me long for the writing groups I once had. The group I started in Independence, Kansas, which is still going strong thanks to the efforts of Cherilyn Fienen and other fantastic people. The playwrights' group north of Seattle, who were such an ideal group of intelligent writers, who were willing to ask hard questions, who managed to weed out the weaknesses in my writing in minutes, when all I could sense was that something was wrong.


Only I don't have any of that now. The local writer's group is not really a critiquing group. I need some writers on a similar journey to mine. Writers who see the worth in my writing--who can grasp the kernels of truth in it--but who also see what isn't working, who can tell me where I falter, where the prose or dialogue doesn't work, who can help me be better.

Worse still, I need them in person. Online simply won't work for me. I need to see their faces, interact with them in real space, in real time. I haven't met anyone like that here yet. Painters, yes. But not writers.

So I'll keep looking. These people may be here, waiting for the opportunity to find someone just like me… and we will find each other. I know it. And we will help each other create our own collection of "curiosities."