Falling in Love With Your Own Writing

Joe’s Post #177

Listen to what Boromir says.

Listen to what Boromir says.

Is there anything better than falling in love? What about falling in love with your writing? Is that a good thing?

Well, no. No, it’s not.

It’s something I’ve been struggling with as I rewrite my novel, Yager’s War, for submission.

Set in 1940, it tells the story of a Chicago detective in Holland trying to find his missing sister before the Germans invade.

When I first wrote it, it had more of a mystery feel. Dead bodies. Gun battles. Lots of tough guy talk. Some hot sex. But from my writing group and my dedicated readers, it became clear that I needed to shift it a bit, and focus on the humanity of the story. Less Jack Reacher and more Gorky Park.

Why? Because I’m trying to write a deeper story. A story with emotional weight.

I spent a TON of time reworking my first 50 pages to see if I could hit this goal, and after many tears, much staring off into space, and a lot of bugging a published writer friend of mine, I think I finally got the right feel to the story. Good pacing. Some heart. Compelling characters in a compelling story.

If my novel was a kitchen, this is what I would like it to look like.

If my novel was a kitchen, this is what I would like it to look like.

For most of 2017, I’ve been hard at work recrafting the rest of the novel to be as good as those first 50 pages. It’s been hard and, frankly, a lot of the novel has been totally rewritten. It’s sort of like doing a kitchen renovation where all you want to do is replace the sink and end with redoing the counters, cabinets, floors, lights and adding a 75” TV, cuz every kitchen should have one.

But perhaps the toughest part has been letting go of some of my best writing. There was one scene that I loved. I loved writing it the first time. I loved reading it the second time. And the third.

It was powerful. It was emotional. Hell, I think I even gotz all the grammar right.

But here’s the horrible truth, a truth that we writers must face sometimes.

It no longer works.

The story has evolved in such a way that this beautifully written passage was no longer relevant.

It’s very sad.

It was hard to let it go.

But then I remembered what someone told me about letting go of things I’d collected in my house. You know, the sentimental things – the ashtray that my mom used to use, the chair my grandfather made that was now nearly in tatters, the 10,000 VCR tapes that I’d collected over the years… the things to which you attach memories, the things that have meaning but take up an awful lot of space and you no long need.

Well, someone said take a picture of those items so you’ll always have the memory. And, you know what? That worked like a charm. A friend saved me from being a hoarder.

So I applied the same principal to that nice bit of writing. I didn’t take a picture of it, but cut it out of the story and pasted it into a file called, “Things Joe Can’t Delete but Loves.” Like my original Sim City from, like, 1989 which hides somewhere in my computer games file.

Doing this allows me to move on.

And, hey, it can be resurrected.

And, hey, it can be resurrected.

In my mind, I imagine my kids looking at this after I die and saying, my goodness, Joe REALLY could write. Who knew?

Rest in Peace, Good Writing.

Rest in Peace.

5 Reasons why writers are like athletes

Tennis

Paula’s Post #112

A quick check-in from La Quinta California, where I, along with my teammates, are in the last stages of preparation for the USTA Ladies over 55 Southern California Sectional Championships in Santa Barbara California.

So, in the spirit of this week’s competition, I’d like to posit my 5 reasons why I believe, writing is also a sport, and should be approached with a competitive mindset. Caveat, this is just my made up list, but for me, a helpful reminder of the many important ingredients that go into training to be a good writer.

1. Practice – Just like in the world of competitive sports, the world of ‘competitive writing’ requires practice. And don’t think for a minute you aren’t competing (whether against all the other writers out there who want to get published or, more importantly, competing against yourself to constantly improve on your ‘personal best’). On our tennis team, not all of our players are created equal. Some are younger. Some are older. Some are slower. Some are faster. Some have finesse, some have power. Perversely, in tennis, a sport that celebrates agility and quickness and where players are considered ‘over the hill’ when they hit their early 30’s, most of the standout players on my tennis team are older. And baby, don’t forget this is senior tennis, where you can’t even get in the game unless you’re over 55. So I do mean ‘older’ in the nicest possible way. But here’s the thing: my older team mates are generally ‘ better’ because they’ve practiced more. They’ve learned certain ‘skills’. They’ve learned to keep their mind focused and avoid distractions. They’ve learned to pace themselves. They know that ‘the game’ requires both physical and mental agility. They know that by practicing, they can not only stay limber, they can get better. And for me, all these things are true about writing, too. On this note, you may want to check out my 5writer colleague Silk’s post on “Late Bloomers“.

2. The Right Equipment – Okay, even I am laughing a bit at ‘the girls’ making sure their equipment is in tip top shape for Santa Barbara. We’ve broken in new tennis shoes, have had the pro shop staff replace our worn-out grips and we’ve all been warned by our captain and co-captain to make sure that we have a back up racquet ready to go should something unforeseen happen. Just like athletes, we writers must have the right equipment. For most of us, that means a great laptop, access to dictionaries and a good thesaurus and perhaps most importantly of all, WiFi. Sure, there are exceptions, Danielle Steel has apparently written more than 100 books on her Olympia manual typewriter and Joyce Carol Oates prefers to write everything longhand, in 8 hour stretches. But they are the exception, rather than the rule. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going out on the court, carrying an old cat gut strung, wooden racquet in a pair of plimsolls. Not when my opponent is loaded for bear with graphite and ultra-lite carbon fiber. Give yourself an edge, it just makes sense. If you need a new laptop or some other vital piece of equipment for your writers world, get it! Maybe you’ll have to forego a few trips to Starbucks or some other small ‘luxuries’ but good equipment, for a writer, is a necessary as it is for a writer. It gives you that ‘competitive edge’.

3. Teamwork – Writing, as we know, is a solitary undertaking. So is singles tennis, where you alone face an opponent, one-on-one. But I’m a social being, and I play almost exclusively doubles. I like having a ‘team’ to cheer me on and support me. More than that, I like cheering my teammates on and supporting my teammates even more. We’ve said it before and we will say it again: if you do not have a great writing or critique group backing you up, get one. Your writing group helps you keep it in perspective. When you think you’ve written the best thing ever, and they tell you it is, well… ‘shite’, guess what? It’s shite! Your writing group is there to help you. To provide encouragement, cheer you on, help you get up when you’ve fallen down, celebrate your victories and console you in defeat. They are your team.

4. Support Network – This is really a corollary to 3 above, but writers do not exist in a vacuum. We have loved ones who support us. Just as an elite athlete has personal assistants, publicity agents, physiotherapists, personal trainers, nutritionists and sports psychologists, writers need a ‘support group’. If you are unpublished and laboring alone in your ‘writer’s garret’ like us, your support network may consist simply of another family member who volunteers to do the dishes or walk the dog to give you more writing time. It may be a friend who offers to be your ‘beta reader’. It may be fellow writers who provide companionship and collegiality (as we try to do for all our followers, via this blog). Point is, don’t ignore your support group. Don’t take them for granted. Thank them for all they do and for being there for you. And don’t forget to tell them why writing is important to you. If they know they are helping you to do something that is important, if they know they are appreciated, they will help you, gratefully.

5. The Mental Edge – Elite athletes rely on mental sharpness as much as physical sharpness. As an amateur tennis player competing in USTA competitive matches, I know how easy it is to get psyched out. How disastrous it can be to come to the court unprepared. Tennis is a quick game. You can lose a set in about 20 minutes if you are not careful. That’s why it is important to master nerves and keep your confidence up. Now, I admit the dangers of a fragile psyche in writing can be a little bit different, but not that much. We need to get over our stage fright. We need to be ready to share our work with others, and take criticism honestly and with a positive attitude. We writers must, just like elite athletes, become ‘tournament tough’ and ready to roll with the punches life throws our way. When we, as writers, feel we have ‘failed’ because we have didn’t win a contest or have received the latest in a long string of rejection letters, we mustn’t let that setback stop us from writing. We mustn’t stop creating. In writing, just as in tennis or any other competitive sport, we learn as much from our losses as from our wins (maybe more so) and thus must learn to use these setbacks and take all the positives from them that we can. Is your opening weak? What can you do to fix it? Did your muddled middle do you in? Go back to the drawing board and again study the three act structure and review some storytelling basics (like The Hero’s Journey). Your failures will help you get stronger.

Well, that’s my five. I could probably write down a hundred ways wiring is like competing in competitive sports. But five, as we all know, is our favourite number in the 5writers world.

In closing, I just want to share with you my feelings about ‘my other team’. The women with whom I play tennis. These women are remarkable. Most of us started playing tennis again just a few years ago, after a long absence. Most of us were rusty. Some of us were just learning basic strokes of forehand, backhand, volley and over-head. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard as watching us in the first group clinic when we practiced running down lobs for the first time. It was comical.

In our first year in the league our record was 1-7:  we lost 7 games and won the last one of the season.

But then something remarkable happened. We decided to get serious. We signed up for more clinics and lessons. We studied the fundamentals of the game. We focused on sports psychology and nutrition. Our family and friends supported our commitment every step of the way.

And guess what?

We started winning. Consistently. In this, just our second season, we went 7-1. We are the Coachella Valley Champions in our division (a remarkable feat when you consider that ‘the valley’ includes the famed California tennis meccas of Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells).

Some of our players are over 70. Some of our players haven’t played a competitive sport since high school. But we are going to the USTA Southern California Sectionals this week because of our team work, because of our support network, because our mental edge and because of our commitment to practice, practice, practice.

If I want to succeed in writing, I know I will need to focus on these very same things.

10 reasons why blogging is better than novel writing

Joe’s Post #149

So this week, wrote a short story and sent it off. A good market if it gets picked up, but I’m new at this short story stuff. Blogging, though….

10 reasons why blogging is better than novel writing

  • Instant feedback. Or at least near instant. Instead of having to wait a week for a friend to give you feedback, or a few months for an agent, or a few years for the public, blogging will have people telling you suck within hours. How cool is that?
  • There aren’t any character arcs to worry about. No plots to plot. Nothing fancy about a blog. It’s a blog. Sort of like the difference between having 200 cats or one dog.
  • They are usually done in a few hours. You complete something. In. A. Few. Hours. It takes weeks or months or years to finish a damn novel. And it still may suck.
  • readersThey are easily read. Like reader’s-digest-bathroom-reading easy. A good book can be devoured in a day, but a good blog is done by the time you finish peeing.
  • They can start some conversations. Not too many people will talk about how amazingly I wrote a fight scene in The Darkest Desert, but they sure will when I make fun of Surrey.
  • I need no brainstorming help with blogging. I do need A LOT of brainstorming help from my friends to make my novel work. I tried calling Stephen King to help with my last book, but apparently he’s busy.
  • No critique group savages your baby. Oh, the trolls may savage your ideas on a blog, but they’re, well, trolls and don’t count for much. Luckily I have a good group, but the stories I’ve heard about bad ones would make your doubt your soul.
  • More people read the blogs than my books, which, granted isn’t a saying a lot. With the exception of my dog, my family and my few friends, not many have read my novel.
  • This is me pandering to my audience. Magic Mike eye-candy.

    This is me pandering to my audience. Magic Mike eye-candy.

    I get to put pictures in a blog. I wish I could put pictures in my books, too. Oh, and music, that would be super cool. But no, at the moment, no music or pix in my books.

  • It’s fun. Not that novel writing can’t be fun, but this is more fun.

And, is it just me, or is it harder to write in the summer?

Anyone else have any thoughts on blogging?

 

The time has come to write

Joe’s Post #141

retreatA writing retreat, you say? How can we 5/5/5 make this a success?

Silk outlined her research. Paula has her hosting planned out. We have pets to keep us company. We even have an agenda of sorts. Our agenda even has some writing planned.

But the real question is can we capture the magic of writing, again.

Or is that impossible?

I think it is. I won’t lie. However, do you need writing magic to write or can you replace it with something else? Like replacing coffee with green tea? Or the Coke with New Coke?

My solution… replace the magic with routine. I managed to get a novella of 37,000 words written in a month by simply putting my somewhat large butt in my somewhat comfy chair and pounding out the words. I know in the grand scheme of things, that’s not super impressive, but that’s more writing than I’ve done in a long time.

So on this retreat, I’m going to go with what worked. Get up about 7. Get coffee. Start writing. Stop for lunch. Maybe stop before that to pee. Go for walk. Write. Look at the pretty world for a bit. Write. Stop for supper. Eat something vaguely healthy. Read. Go to bed at a decent time. (If I write past about 7, then I get all writer-ie in my head and I can’t shut off my brain enough to sleep.)

In the meantime, 9 things to avoid while on a writer’s retreat. (Cuz I couldn’t think of 10 due to a lack of conviction on following through with #3.)

Avoid….. negative calvin and hobbs

  1. Negative people. We all have enough negative voices in our heads, we don’t need them personified in our writing space.
  2. Watching TV. The opiate of the masses. Aka my favorite thing to do. When time is precious and writing time scarce, there’s simply no time for the Simpsons.
  3. Drinking (a lot). Why? Once upon a time, I could drink and still be a functioning adult (though candid pictures of me may show otherwise). It’s not like I get all Hemingway-ish and suddenly find my muse after one drink. No. I find a pillow and start to snore – and I’ve found I cannot write in my sleep.
  4. Gaming. No Clash of Clans. No Candy Crush. No FIFA 2015. Sacking someone’s town hall in CoC will not get me published and I may even be sacking the town hall or an agent or editor. Luckily, though, I go by the name of SeanSommerville69, so I’m tanking someone else’s career.
  5. Eating too much food. Very similar to too much alcohol, minus the dancing on the table and singing My Sharona until the bouncers throw me out. Too much food makes we want to do #2.
  6. Shopping. No heading out for new shoes, new iPhones or new appliances. No buying dog toys, waterguns or new, non-stick pans. No looking at cars, dresses or houses. Just say no to shopping until you get back.
  7. Spaghetti sauce and white shirts. Trust me on this. Either don’t bring a white shirt, or don’t eat spaghetti with sauce. If you do, you’ll run out of clean shirts and that leads to either having to go shopping, spending time cleaning the damn shirts or having to eat your oatmeal topless.
  8. Facebook. It’s the work of the devil, anyway. If you can’t give it up, then limit it.
  9. Fear. Fear feds doubt. Makes it fat. Doubt then sits on your shoulder and poops all over you. Just let the fear go, have some fun. Write.

Will we be able to find a way back to writing? I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you at 8pm, we’re sitting with our laptops open, some of us are muttering to ourselves, but all of us are pounding away on our keyboards.

Stories are being created. Characters developed. Worlds built.

What better way to start?

How do you get back to writing?

Joe’s Post #140

kris booksI know it’s going to be different for everyone. Like our group. We’re getting ready to have us a writing shin-dig. A bootcamp for getting back to writing. We’ve set aside 3 days, we’ll be taking over Paula’s house, and we’ll be putting our collective butts in chairs and writing.

For me, though, I got the not-writing bugbear off my back in early May.

How did I do it? Well, it was a bunch of factors.

  1. I had a very supportive spouse who made sure I had time each day to actually write. Without her, none of this would have been possible.
  2. I had a deadline. Deadlines work for me. TOR had an open call for a novella so I thought, what the hell. Three weeks later, I have 40,000 words, 200 pages and the rough draft of a story
  3. torI got out of my head a bit (not completely, mind you, but enough to put aside all the negativity and just write.
  4. I’d get up, get a Timmies. Sit down in my chair. Write. Day in, day out. It’s the only way that works for me. For writing. For exercise. For chores. Whatever. I need order in my chaotic world.
  5. I had a story I wanted to tell. It didn’t matter that the odds were stacked against me. It didn’t matter that I began without an outline or deep character backstories. I just wanted to get it out.

The truth is, though, all those factors existed before. Well, maybe not the TOR open call, but other open calls, other agents looking for writers, other contests opened to anyone.

So what was different this time?

Which one of those 5 made the difference?

For me, this time, it was all 5 coming into play at once. I’d done #4 and written about 50 pages. It was a struggle. #3 got in my way a lot. I’ve had #1 all along and deadlines, hell, we used to have a lot of them in the writers group.

But when all 5 come together, watch out. Especially if you can somehow work through #3. Get past all the rejection slips. All the people who tell you you can’t write or write about THAT. Get rid of that negative voice that says you can’t start a sentence with ‘the’ because you heard it in some workshop. Forget what you read in a book about books. Get past past failures.

The key to writing may be different for everyone, but for me it became a matter of all the right things falling into place at the right time. I hope that after our bootcamp, everyone else will catch fire as well.

Is productivity only measured in words?

Karalee’s Post #93

siwc2014For the next four days our 5Writer member Silk will be attending the Surrey International Writer’s Convention for her annual mixing with authors, agents and fellow writers. This year Silk has a bent for learning more about publishing and social media as well as attending lectures on the craft of writing . And of course, much information is exchanged among the attendees after hours in the bar and at dinner.

Joe will join her on Friday to do much of the same and  I’m sure they will fill us in on their experiences next week.

In the meantime I will encourage them to tweet #surrey2014 about exciting news or such and I may join them for a drink one evening. The conference will be exciting and tweets are already rolling:

Hallie siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

sean cranbury siwc1

 

 

 

 

 

 

kc dyer siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Cranbury, author and presenter has shared his work re social media if you want to check it out.

I’m not attending as I’ve dedicated my time and funds to the Writer’s Digest course I’m taking: 12 Weeks to a First Draft. That brings me to a quick discussion on productivity.

 

 According to the MW dictionary, the word PRODUCTIVE means:

: doing or achieving a lot : working hard and getting good results

: producing or able to produce something especially in large amounts

: causing or resulting in something

 

To me writers inevitably measure their productivity in their word count. Is productivity only measured in words?

Undoubtedly that is what matters in the finale since words are what our end product is. But before The End is achieved, there is so much behind the scenes work going on before, during and after our first and subsequent drafts until the book is ready for publishing.

My course has me looking at many aspects that go into making a great story. It’s not simple characters, settings and plots, but rather layers of depth that create a complex story with compelling characters and plot lines. That means a lot of time spent on ‘What if’s’ and looking (deconstructing) other books to see how other authors achieved their goals for an unforgettable story.

This week my mind-mapping  has continued and expanded to include sub-plots and how my protagonist and antagonist can become more emotionally complex, which also makes the main plot more complicated too.

I am having LOTS OF FUN and making great progress in my story. To me I have been very productive this week, albeit much of my work hasn’t directly added to my word count. It’s work that is very important, the backstage work that Silk talked about in her last post. This has to be mastered too in this craft of writing that we have chosen to do.

So this week my productivity has been:

  • most of my mind-mapping has been completed
  • character development, setting and plot lines are being layered in
  • Word count: words cut 760; words added 1600; total in first draft 2500
  • Hours in my office: 30
  • Times I journaled my progress: 0. I suck at this and need to follow-through even if only to see if it helps. I won’t know if I don’t try it.
  • Pies eaten: 1/4 pumpkin. My favorite and there’s so many pumpkins right now….
  • episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 0

If anyone is preparing for NaNoMo and want good advice, read Jami Gold’s blog on this topic. She talks about tracking two types of  arcs: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. I found this blog also helpful in developing my own story and not only for the one month go-for-it for NaNoMo.

Happy writing!

Commit to write and set your goals

Karalee’s Post #91

It’s wonderful to refocus and aim high. Yes, everyone in our writing group has agreed to each have a book written, edited and ready to self-publish within the next year.

To me our 5Writers group has expanded from being a critique group to an all-encompassing writing support group. We’ve challenged each other to write our manuscripts, continue and expand on our social networking as 5Writers, plus learn as much as we can about self-publishing and all that it entails. And, we will all support one another in all of these aspects along the way.

5 heads are better than one, right?

freytag's pyramid

I work best to deadlines and taking courses on learning about the craft of writing seems to light a fire under my butt and often kick-starts my ideas.

I can easily flip between feeling confident in my writing to wondering WTF am I doing? So, improving my writing skills definitely feeds my self-confidence to be able to write well enough to publish an awesome book!

Before our two day writing group retreat I had already started an online course by Dean Wesley Smith  called “Character Voice and Setting”. It is excellent and I enjoy how Dean uses videos to teach so it’s close to being in a classroom and taking your own notes. The assignments are in-depth too and put into practice the concepts taught.

12 weeks to draft

The other course I’m signed up for is through Writer’s Digest University called 12 Weeks to a First Draft  by Mark Spenser. This course is perfect timing for me as I’m pushed to figure out my plot-line, develop my characters and setting, and put into instant use the techniques I learned through Dean’s course.

I feel stoked and my FUN FACTOR is back to get my book written. My goal is to get the first draft outlined, researched and at least half written by Christmas. There, I said it.

To make it happen I need to commit to time and productivity goals so here goes:

  1. Spend a minimum of 3 hours in my office per day or 21 hours/week.
  2. Produce at least 500 words/day over and above research/outlining/blogging, etc. starting next week so I have this first week to do initial plotting.
  3. Keep up my regular exercise routine for my health.
  4. Meditate daily. I’ve found this has become essential to help keep my energy and mood balanced.
  5. Journal my progress daily. I haven’t done this before and I think this may open my eyes to how I work best and help my productivity for future books too.
  6. Of course, my dogs and family need some daily attention too!

dogs at beach

I feel that all 5Writers left our retreat pumped to rise to our new writing challenge. In the last year our group has become even more geographically spread apart and the feasibly of getting together more than a couple of times a year seems difficult. To help us stay connected and give us a regular venue for progress and feedback, we’ve decided to have a Monday morning group check-in via email. I love this idea and we started this week. Already it’s a great addition to our group dynamics.

Sometimes the simple ideas are the best! And who doesn’t like Monday morning coffee?

Does your writing group keep connected in-between meetings? If so, how?

Happy writing!

The end of the beginning

winston

Joe’s Post #104 — I still love words and few people do it better than my old pal, Winston Churchill. “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Now if I said that in the writer’s group, I’d get a few odd – and somewhat confused – looks. He was a bit wordy, that Churchill character, but he was wise.

But why is this important? Well, after the last meeting that both Paula and Karalee mentioned, we decided that we needed to shake things up a bit. We were becoming too stale, too fearful, too non-writerie. So we came up with a plan.

I won’t go into the details just yet. That’s for a later post, but good things are happening, again. We have a direction. A focus.

However, let me say that we will be taking on something we’ve never done. So, when I have to do something I’ve never done, like ziplining or becoming a parent or doing my own prostate examine, I do what I always do.

I talk to people who’ve been there and done that.

It doesn’t make any difference if they succeeded or failed or somewhere inbetween. All experiences are valuable.

So, for my next 3 posts, I’ll be talking to people who’ve undertaken what we’re about to undertake.

I hope that anyone reading this blog will pipe in with their comments and questions and even fears.

Until then, I’m off on another adventure myself.

teaseConsider this a teaser post.

You have been teased.

Is fear holding back your writing?

Karalee’s Post #83 — At our 5Writer’s meeting this week we agreed we are all writers (see Joe’s last post), and that we would all love to be published, and that above all else we are all writers.

Beyond a doubt this job is hard work.

Unlike in the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, none of the 5Writers are getting any younger, and we feel the need to start pulling ourselves up the learning curve towards the sign that says, “You’ve made it. You are now a published writer.”

Of course we would all prefer to simply write.

Our meeting has me reflecting on my writing past, my challenges at present, and what I need to start doing to reach my published goal.

Like Paula, I have my monsters lurking too, but my fear factor has changed as I’ve churned out more words under my fingertips and learned more about the craft of writing. I now have more experience taking my ideas and creating characters and stories.

So how has my fear changed?

First off:

When I decided I wanted to delve into writing in a big way, fear was a huge barrier. Could I really write anything someone would want to read? Then, when I thought about my friends and family reading what I wrote, fear spiked again. I write murder mysteries with nasty villains with nasty thoughts and nasty families and relationships. What would people I know think about how I think?

But I started writing anyway, turning my ideas into stories I thought were compelling.

After a couple of years:

I enjoyed writing and kept writing and forgot about the fear of putting down words that people would read and maybe judge me by. It didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. I felt more open to write without worrying and when I was writing I lived in my own isolated world that felt normal to me.

Then I got more serious about my writing:

I felt the need to bump up my writing skills and have other people read my work and give me feedback. I could do the same for other fellow writers. I started going to SiWC and I joined a writing group (one before the 5Writers). Once again I had to conquer the fear of my work being read and critiqued, but go forth I did, and my writing improved.

I got even more serious and joined the 5Writers:

To join this group I had to submit a piece of writing and a resume and have the existing members decide if I had enough to offer to the group. This was on a new level for me and rejection was a possibility, and of course fear to submit my work reared its ugly head.

I passed and have been in the group for four years.

I’m struggling though, at this higher level of expectations for myself. I have yet to develop an outstanding protagonist that pulls my stories to the level I’m striving for and it is driving me mad.

Silk reminded me that often our protagonists are a reflection of ourselves and I take this to probably be true for less experienced writers like myself that is-yet-to-be-published. I’ve thought about this and realize that I’m not pushing my protagonist enough, or making him or her different enough since “I” wouldn’t do that.

In effect I need to get out of my comfort zone! I’m still holding back due to the fear that my protagonist may be seen as “me” and not everything I want my protagonist (or my antagonist) to do is “nice” or seen as “normal.”

I have come full circle with fear still holding me back. I could stop and say that I’ve been spinning my wheels, wasting my time the last couple of years and not making much progress, but I believe everything happens in its own time.

What’s different this time though, is that I’m less fearful about what people think about “me” in my writing and I also understand the craft of writing more than when I first started. So, when one of my fellow writers said to me, “Make your protagonist someone you are not,” it made absolute sense, and I can now consciously change my bad habits and head in the direction I need to go.

Without working through all the learning and other writing challenges before now, this simple suggestion would not have the insight it gave me.

Thank-you 5Writers! Often times it is the subtle suggestions that have the greatest impact on one’s learning. Even though fear is still there, it is challenging me to push forward, not holding me back. It’s all a matter of perspective, right?

I’m pretty sure we all have some fear of putting ourselves out there for others to view part of who we are. What are your fears? Are they holding you back? Sometimes it is recognizing and acknowledging them that allows us to work with (or around) them and not against them.

Happy writing!

I’m on holidays for the next few weeks and will be back on schedule in the middle of August. Enjoy the summer weather.

 

 

Moment of truth

down-the-road

Silk’s Post #90 — Tomorrow (Tuesday) the 5Writers will get together to talk about where we go from here as a writers group. Over the four years that our current membership has been together, I think it’s fair to say we’ve all learned a lot about writing. But we’ve learned even more about ourselves, and about the value, challenges and rewards of collective creative effort and mutual support.

It has been an incredible experience – one that I would encourage other writers to seek.

What have we actually accomplished? I can only testify to our progress since I was invited by colleagues I first met at the Surrey International Writers Conference to join the group in 2010 – after our founder moved on to bigger and better things as bestselling crime thriller author, Sean Slater. I missed those first, inspiring days. But since 2010, here’s a brief recap of our evolution:

For two years, under the optimistic banner “Future Bestsellers”, our focus was a regimen of critiquing each other’s first drafts at a rate of 30 pages per month. We were all roughly in comparable stages of our projects. We put a lot of work into each critique, typically providing margin notes, summary comments (usually anywhere from 3 to 6 pages), and a face-to-face presentation/discussion. Thus were 10 books fully or partially critiqued. And we weren’t shy about it.

This feedback was critical to me. You might say it tore the veils from my eyes and forced me to look at my own work in a different way. Some sessions I would leave with soaring spirits, others with a heavy heart. But because of the caring and supportive environment our group has cultivated, and the honesty and intelligence of its members, I always left a meeting feeling that I’d learned something of great value that would help me become a better writer.

In retrospect, I believe that the even more important lessons were learned when critiquing the writing of others. It’s so much easier to see what works and what doesn’t work in someone else’s manuscript than it is to see it in your own. But if you have an open mind and are honest with yourself, you’ll recognize those same characteristics – both flaws and successes – in your own work. It’s a revelatory process.

But routine can be an enemy of creativity. So, two years ago, we decided to re-invent the group through the 5writers5novels5months challenge, which we launched on September 5, 2012.  This began with the wild idea – dreamed up virtually on the spot – to each write a novel in five months, and blog about the process. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know how it went. The mission to complete five novels on deadline was partially accomplished. The mission to start a blog that might be interesting to writers and others has been a whole education in itself, and, I think, a pretty successful venture. The mission to create a learning experience was absolutely accomplished, culminating in a fantastic, week-long writers’ retreat in Whistler, BC in June 2013, where we delivered full-book critiques (and ate a lot of candy bars).

But the publication mission is still to be accomplished for the 5Writers.

Over the past year, we’ve each pursued our own writing agendas and kept blogging, while a number of other priorities have kept the 5Writers extraordinarily busy. But now, the break’s over. We’ve come up with a number of ideas for again re-invigorating our group and challenging ourselves as writers. We’re ready for a new phase. We’re getting fired up. We all want to go that final mile on the road to publication.

And that new plan starts tomorrow. A meeting of the minds. A celebration of how far we’ve come, and a re-commitment to how far we still need to go. A new jolt to our comfort zones. And hopefully … a moment of truth.

Stay tuned!