Archive for December, 2012

January 25th! This is the date I plan to have my beta copy of Eyes of the Eidolon out in print. No. Not “plan to.” Will.

Stonehenge has inspired me over the years to rewrite this manuscript several times over – each marked by significant improvement.TeethSmile At the end of each, I found myself asking, Is it good enough now?

The answer became apparent in the form of subsequent rewrites…

After finishing the first draft of this manuscript, I felt I was not yet a writer, but I didn’t know how to improve. I couldn’t understand the differences between my manuscript and the published works of those many professionals who spent years developing their craft. Fortunately, I found my critique group – Stonehenge. They massaged me with hot coals, diced me up with samurai swords, pounded me with meat hammers, but yet, they never left a bruise. Their honest words, kind encouragement, and realistic critiques allowed me to grow and understand those differences I lacked.

And so, the rewriting commenced. First draft, second draft, third draft, and fourth. Mind you, the original manuscript was 214,000 words. Fifth draft, sixth draft, and now seventh. I read books about writing, then wrote more. I listened to podcasts, then wrote again. I read books outside my succor, analyzed classic literature, studied genres of today, and learned through hard work, time, dedication, and by forcing my mind open to the thoughts of others. I attended writers conferences, met with agents, publishers, editors, and authors…

Now, I know my writing is publishable. The core story remains the same, but every aspect of this manuscript has changed for the better.

Why so many drafts? What was I thinking? I attribute this partially to my perfectionism, partially to my love of writing, and partially to the inspiration of my writers group and friends. But here’s the answer. After finishing the last words of every draft, I read the beginning and found myself saying, (aloud mind you), “Ugh, this is crap!”

Was it crap? I don’t know – I think the first few drafts were, but I continued believing this because I had learned so much over the course of rewriting each version. When I started rereading each, it was ridiculous to think this thing was publishable. Yes, I was down on myself and depressed. I tried to stay positive, but at times it proved nearly impossible. But the love of writing inspired me to continue my goal of perfection. And now I realize, writing is an art. It cannot be perfected. And I must say – as a perfectionist – this idea was very challenging to overcome.

Am I still improving? Yes! And always will! I will never be better than my potential, and this idea does not, nor ever will, depress me. It does not weigh me down. It thrills me. It testifies that I can always improve, that I can always be better than I am now.

But the acceleration of growth has reduced. I reread my last draft and thought to myself, This is pretty good! It’s not perfect, nor will it ever be, but for the first time, I am satisfied with it. I am satisfied with the writer I’ve grown into. I know my voice, have a definitive style, and understand so much more than I thought possible.

January 25th! Hold me to this promise. Bug me. Prick me with red pens until I turn black and blue. The paper copy of Eyes of the Eidolon will be available to my beta readers by this date. I look forward to your unique perspectives, inspiring views, careful hands, and final words. Thank you all for the gift of learning.

To quote Stephen King, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot, and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

I couldn’t agree more. It is through reading that we grasp how the written word brings other worlds to life. I think it’s safe to say that storytelling has existed just about as long as language has. Every time we tell someone about an experience we had, we are essentially telling them a story. Granted, they aren’t always good tales, but none-the-less, they are still stories.

In just over the last year, I’ve started listening to audiobooks while I work, since it doesn’t interfere with my job. It’s actually how I revisited Stephen King’s On Writing. But here’s the question. Does listening to an audiobook count as actually reading?

I say yes, and no. I think if you have a good grasp of how the written word is properly used, then yes, it can count. Maybe not wholly, but at least a fraction, say 1/3. I often find myself imagining that I’m reading the words as they’re spoken. I also say yes, because you’re exposing yourself to the art of storytelling. However, the reason I say no, is because even though I see the words in my mind, I don’t see the way they are on the actual page with all their punctuation and style. This is why if I have the print copy, and the opportunity, I occasionally like to follow along by reading while I listen.

One of the first audiobooks I listened to at work was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The reason why I listened to the audiobook in the first place, was because I couldn’t stand the writing style employed in the print book, which doesn’t contain quotation marks, and with certain contractions, doesn’t include the apostrophe. I should note that this is intentional by McCarthy, and is part of his unique style which he employs in his other books as well. Many of which have been made into movies. Unfortunately for me, I find I dislike reading his works. However, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Road, as it is a great story. I will add though, that some liberties were taken with the wording in the audiobook version, as certain parts were changed so that it read easier.

In my own writing style, I tend to use a lot of commas. It’s my way of setting the pace and cadence of my writing. I know I don’t always follow the proper rules on the use of the comma, but I’m aware and acknowledged it. It’s my style, and, as much as I’m disheartened by the thought, I’m sure that there is someone out there who won’t like my style, just like I don’t like McCarthy’s.

It’s often been said when it comes to writing, that first you need to learn the rules, so that you can properly break them. Many authors have said this in some fashion or another, and even the Dalai Lama has a similar quotation attributed to him. I’ll admit, in high school, English wasn’t my favorite class. I just couldn’t seem to care what the difference was between a participial phrase and a prepositional phrase. My teachers always praised my writing, so I figured, what did it really matter if I didn’t know all the terms and their differentiation. But when I started taking my writing seriously, I realized that I needed to bone up on my English. I still don’t think you need to learn all the rules, as there are quite a lot of them, but I will admit learning the basics is essential, and any extra beyond that helps. This is where I think reading a lot comes in handy. The more you read, or even listen to audiobooks, the more you absorb how language is properly used. You subconsciously absorb what sounds and looks right on the page.

One of the main things I’ve come away with from being a part of this writing group, is seeing how others interpret my style while reading my works aloud. As a member of Stonehenge, when we submit our works for critique to the group, the author chooses one of our fellow writers, sometimes several, to read aloud what we’ve written. We do this in order to see, or rather, hear, how others interpret our written word. I find this to be extremely helpful.

So, even though my advice isn’t brand spanking new or even a good twist on an old theme, here it is. If you want to be a serious writer; write, read, and listen to audiobooks. And, learn how to properly use the English language so that you can improperly use it effectively.

Stephen King recommends the classic, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I would add to that, A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker. I will also add, that one of the many beauties of the internet, is that almost anything can be found online. If I feel something I’ve written just isn’t quite right, it generally only takes a minute or two of searching to find myself saying, “Doh, that’s what I meant to write.” There are a good number of grammar based sites out there on the web, but one that I find the most helpful is by Mignon Fogarty, AKA, Grammar Girl @ http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

What makes Grammar Girl so great, at least in my opinion, is that it’s also a podcast, which means I get to work at two things at once.

So there you are. Now you have my not so sage advice  to being a writer.

P.S. Since this is a blog based on a writers group, I would feel amiss not to add another little bit of advice. Check out a writers group, at least a few times, and even few different ones. They aren’t all the same, and you may have a hard time finding one that fits you, but they can be beneficial. I will say though that they aren’t for every writer. As a matter of fact, some of my favorite authors are against such groups, believing that the cons outweigh the prose. Yes, that’s an intentional pun. But if you don’t ever give them a shot, how will you ever know? Unless you live rurally, I’m sure there’s one local, and if not, there’s plenty online. And if you’re in the Sacramento area, pop your head in some time.

This post is part of my ongoing series inspired by my revisiting Stephen King’s On Writing. To check out the rest, visit my personal blog @ rienreigns.wordpress.com

 

 

Accepting Critiques with Grace

Posted: December 19, 2012 by sryeager in Steve's Words

Over the past two years with the Stonehenge writing group, I’ve taken away many lessons, ones learned both directly and indirectly. The biggest lesson, to date, has been on how to accept critiques with grace. I’ve probably not always been the best role model for it, but on reflection, I’ve developed a few simple rules I now employ to make the process easier on everyone involved.

1) Bite your tongue.
2) Not everything is about you.
3) Know what feedback you are looking for beforehand.

The first rule, bite your tongue, is one that everyone who has gone through the critiquing process has violated, including myself. But, shutting your mouth, and opening your ears is how to learn. Resist the urge to explain everything unless someone asks a direct question.
Realize that most people giving feedback are probably uncomfortable and not sure how you will take the feedback, so they hold back because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or are afraid they might say something stupid.
The time to ask questions is once someone has finished with all they have to say. If you feel a probing question is warranted, ask it then, but otherwise, keep quiet and nod.
When someone gives advice on how your story could be better, don’t get defensive, instead, politely say, “I’ll consider it,” and do so. Some ideas may be good and with a group of storytellers, everyone there is already rewriting your story in their head.

The second rule, not everything is about you, is to understand that the words you write are not something carved in stone by God. If you want to have others read your stories, you have to be open to change. Everything you write can be fixed by changing words on a page, so keep a level of detachment. All of us will write stinkers and on the rare occasion, something brilliant. The trick is to learn to tell the difference.
You can’t take everything personally, either. While you might think you bled on the page, and after a reading, others are saying, “Meh,” then the problem is you, not them. Change. Realize not everything you write will be liked by everyone and failure is a better teacher than success. If all you are looking for is an atta boy, then a writing group is useless for any sort of personal growth.

The third rule, know what feedback you are looking for beforehand, is to know beforehand what questions you want answered. Lay those out before any critique. Maybe you are looking for grammar structure, or wondering if a character is connecting, or the motivations make sense. Give people in the critique group something to focus on during a read-through and I can guarantee you will get far better feedback.

Writing, unlike other forms of art, allow the reader direct access to the soul of the writer. When viewing a painting or photograph, we may perceive a piece of emotion or desire, but it is limited by ambiguity and by our personal filters. This holds true for the written word, yet the reader has more to work with. It’s all there, on paper or the computer: the soul exposed. Even if a story is about a world non-existent, the characters are built upon by the experiences of the writer, and in doing so, the reader may decipher who a writer is.

This being true, for me, writing is extremely personal. I am an introvert. I do not easily share my innermost thoughts or emotions with strangers, and oh, how I relish in the anonymity of the digital world. But, to grow as a writer, I needed to find peers of the field.

So, I found Stonehenge. I have been with them for over a year now, and I have seen my writing grow; I would not be as strong as a writer without their help. Although I remain an introvert, always will, I have found comfort in sharing my self, my writing, and my worlds. I took a leap in the growth of a human being by pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.

This blog is the culmination of Stonehenge Writers pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone, as a group, and entering the digital aether to share our knowledge, our goals, and our questions to the world. I invite you, join us. Share in our journey, share in our souls, and share in our words. You may not live near us, but with the click of a mouse, we are bound only by miles to share thought and vision.

And now, I leave you with this tiny fragment of myself:

I ride
Past the sound an’ past the light
All is a blur of cosmic flight