Fake it til you make it

Joe’s Post #126

from brainyquotes

from brainyquotes

Everyone has their cool, purple-pictured philosophies they practice. Or say they practice.

But today, I’m going to admit to a secret philosophy that has largely been successful in my life. Especially as a writer.

Fake it til you make it.

Now I don’t mean out and out lie. I’d never write a query like this…

Dear Agent,

butterflyAs a former CIA operative now working for the illuminati, I am in the unique position to write a novel about the assassination of the president by a butterfly assassin drone. Having developed – and indeed used – a wide variety of neurotoxins, I can bring a level of expertise to the subject that is second to none.

If you don’t believe me, I hope you haven’t touched this letter because it is coated in AXT, a delightful ebola-measles mix that’ll kill you in about 20 minutes. Please find my contact information below. And say the words, “I will publish you,” on the message machine.

No, lying isn’t what I’m talking about.

Faking til you make it isn’t new. It’s even maligned by people who clearly don’t have to fake it and who’ve made it. So, good on them.

For me, though, it’s about using my imagination. Or living in a dreamworld. It’s pretty much the same thing.

Every time I sit down and write my novels, I sit with the idea that this will be the best novel I’ve ever written, so good that it’ll be loved by my dog, my girlfriend, and, I hope, my writers group. It will be even be good enough to get published.

That’s faking it. For me.

SOTLIt’s not, “oh, yeah, that movie, yeah, that was based on a book I wrote”. Or, “oh, sure, I make so much money as a writer, I could buy Iceland.” Or, “I write 12 hours a day, seven days a week and man my life is hard.” Or, “I could have written that story so much better.”

No, those are just lies. Ok, crap, I may say that last one every so often, but I try to be authentic about what I do. The good and the bad. Hell, read the blogs.

But I do believe that if you act like a published writer, behave like one (and no, I don’t mean, “I know I didn’t make a reservation, but you know who I am, right?”), that you’ll become a published writer.

So, I keep doing it and doing it.

Sooner or later I will make it.

*****************

Best show last week – Modern Family may be the best sit-com on TV. Maybe ever. It’s so clever, so funny, so fast that it has to be watched more than once.

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. Ok, so it got all sorts of grand endorsements, including from James Patterson, and Vince Flynn. But I’m finding it a total grind. The author, much to my astonishment, pretty much ignores every piece of writing advice out there, and has his main character meandering through the story without a purpose.

Pages written on new book  40 (At this rate, I’ll get a book done this year, but only just.)

Social Media update – My twitter hoard continues to grow. Imagine the dark lord getting an orc or two every week or so. No wonder it took him a thousand years to try to reconquer Middle Earth.

Health  Totally hit by the flu. Lost 7 pounds in 5 days. Pretty impressive. 0 energy for 3 days. Like 0. Nearly passed out trying to do up the youngest boy’s skates.

Best thing last week  No one else got what I got. Otherwise I think we’d have all hung out in the bathrooms. Plus I think I pooped out something from 1980. Forget colon cleanses, a good tummy bug will clean you out far better.

Worst thing  The flu.

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

The BEST book he’s written so far IMHO.

Lastly, but most importantly, my favourite author, Sean Slater, had his newest book released in Canada. I honestly believe it’s his best and he got virtually no support from the publisher so if you see it anywhere, buy it. Or hit the Amazon link below.

Slater

Conflicted… again.

Paula’s Post #84

I”m conflicted.

If you read my post from last week, Open for Debate, you’ll note that this week, I had every good intention of continuing with the topic of ‘deconstruction’ as a tool to improve our writing. As I noted last week:

Just like the title on the Meccano box says: we’re going to start with ‘parts and how to use them’. Each of us will figuratively rip a bestselling novel apart, and then examine the bits and pieces of the type of book we want to write. We’ll study each of those bits and pieces, having regard to the end product we wish to write, until we have a solid understanding of what made those novels ‘tick’.

So, determined to make good on that promise, I walked down the road of good intentions this weekend, spending hours on Amazon and Goodreads, trying to decide exactly which novel I wished to ‘deconstruct’.

It had to be a good one. It had to be an author I loved, or could fall in love with. It had to be an author who’d met with high critical acclaim in the mystery-suspense genre.

Soon, a number of excellent candidates vied for my attention:

John Grisham’s Pelican Brief – a great yarn and a strong female lead. And I’d read it. A long time ago, but I’d read it. They even made it into a movie! A pretty good movie starring Julia Roberts.

Pelican Brief

Stuart Wood’s Orchid Beach – the first in his Holly Barker series. I hadn’t really read much of Wood’s work, (he’s more known to readers for his Stone Barrington series) but poking around, I discovered he publishes about three books a year under his contract with Putnam, and something like his last 30 novels have all been hardback bestsellers on the New York Times list for fiction. Not too shabby.

Orchid Beach

Margaret Maron: The Bootlegger’s Daughter – Where the heck have I been? I haven’t read Maron’s series either. But her protagonist, Judge Deborah Knott, according to my research, has just appeared in the 19th book in this venerable, award-winning series. What else did I discover? Maron’s won the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards. A stellar achievement. (I hopped right over and ‘liked’ her page on facebook).

Bootlegger's Daughter

Hilary Davidson: – Damage Done – The debut novel in her Lily Moore series and an Anthony award winner for best first novel, not to mention finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards. A pretty hot start, right out of the gate. But wait, I haven’t read that one either.

Damage Done

By now, I’m beginning to get a little knot in my tummy repeating this over and over again. Maybe I’ve been working too hard at my ‘other’ work’, I mutter under my breath. ‘What’s that dear’, my husband asks. ‘Nothing.’

I shake my head, startled at how far I’ve fallen behind in my reading.

Louise Penny – Still Life – Canadian author of mystery novels and winner of the Ellis and Anthony awards, for her debut novel featuring Chief Inspector Gamache of the Homicide Department of the Surete du Quebec.

Still Life

Whew! I can wipe my brow with relief. I discovered the fabulous Ms. Penny last year, and even blogged about it in my January post: Reflections on my ‘Not Writing’ Life.

Damn! I have a sneaking suspicion that is maybe what we are all doing with this whole deconstruction project. Not writing, that is. This isn’t good. Not for a writers’ group.

So that’s why I’m conflicted.

Last evening, I explained the whole deconstruction idea to my husband, always a good sounding board. He listened for awhile, mostly patiently, while I described what we hoped to achieve. He even hung in there as I read the first pages of several of the novels I was considering ‘deconstructing’ (he voted for Louise Penny, by the way).

In the end, however, he turned to me with growing impatience and said, quote:

“Success is measured by how well you tell your stories and not by whether you make the best seller list. You shouldn’t try to be an industry, some of them (the bestselling writers) are just bad writers!”

“Go back to your Hawaii novel and tell a good story.”

He thinks we 5writers are becoming way too pre-occupied with writing about writing, and have lost sight of the whole purpose: which is just to tell a good story.

I told him I would think about that, and would even include his words in my blog today.

So I am.

Food for thought: maybe I shouldn’t get bogged down in deconstructing someone else’s bestselling novel. Maybe I should just tell the story I want to tell.

I’ve told my 5writers’ colleagues that if I do ‘Deconstruct’ it likely will be either Louise Penny’s ‘Still Life‘ or ‘ Margaret Maron’sThe Bootlegger’s Daughter‘.

But I remain conflicted.

Yet, in the end, maybe we don’t need to be ‘all in’ on this. One of the best articles about ‘deconstruction’ for writers is Kathy Steffen’s ’10 Steps for Deconstructing a Novel (or How to Learn from Great Authors). Steffen prefaces her ’10 steps’ with the following advice, which I’ve excerpted in full:

The best way to learn how to write a book is to read and write. Seriously. The write part is easy (hahaha—at least in theory). Write. As much as you can—early in the morning, or at night, or at lunch, or write every day at a specific time, or, or, or…(for ideas on time to write, here are some ideas in Make Time to Write and Find Time to Write). You get the idea.

Now for the reading part. If you are a writer, you are probably a voracious reader. Read, read, read everything you can, especially in the genre you want to write. Reading other’s work will help you study story structure and analyze what works and what doesn’t so you can apply concepts of writing that resonate with you to your own writing. How to do this? Read first as a reader to enjoy the book, then go beyond the “magic” and take a look behind the curtain to discover how the writer enthralled you. Get that other part of your brain working—not the imagination part, but the analytical part. Read as a writer. Deconstruct your favorite novels.

Novel deconstruction isn’t a book report where you just tell what happened in the book. This is a method of digging beneath the surface of the book to see what makes it a can’t-put-it-down read. This can be an eye-opening experience. Give it a try!

Good advice, eh?

I’m going to think about that, but first, I’m going to catch up on my reading.

Arithmetic for writers, part 2: publishing equations

numbers

Silk’s Post #88 — Confession time. I have read much about, listened to experts on, contemplated, discussed and agonized over the lifeblood topic of getting published (a.k.a. what’s supposed to happen after your book is written). Nevertheless, if I had to take an exam on the subject, I’d flunk the course.

It’s complicated. The traditional versus the independent (self-published) routes. The large and small publishing houses, the agents, the editors, the book doctors, the vanity presses, the e-books, the online marketing channels, the promotion. All of it doesn’t sound like much fun, frankly. So I’ve been putting off any truly serious study of this topic on the theory that I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an account by a writer whose digital publishing dream turned into something of a nightmare. It finally pushed me out of my warm, feather-lined, fledgling writer’s nest and into the wild blue yonder called Today’s Publishing Reality.

So, reluctantly, I started flapping – in preference to going splat on the ground before I even have a manuscript ready for publishing consideration. That day will come. I’d like to have at least a rudimentary flight plan before it does.

The digitally disappointed writer is journalist and successful book author Tony Horowitz (Confederates in the Attic and other non-fiction titles), and his plaint, “I Was a Digital Bestseller”, was published in the NY Times op-ed pages this month. Okay, don’t get too freaked out. There are a lot of caveats, buts, qualifications and exceptions to this story as it might apply to you and me, the unpublished novelists of the world. First, his book on the Keystone Pipeline titled Boom was a topical, long-form journalistic work, not a novel. Second, after all sorts of disappointing complications such as his digital publisher going belly up, he still managed to get paid $15,000 to write itI assume he also got paid something by the NY Times to write about writing it. I know. What’s he whining about?

For me, the point was that an experienced, “name brand”, published author (with an agent, even) found himself lost in space when it came to the realities – the opportunities, challenges and pitfalls – of today’s increasingly complex and fragmented publishing industry. What does that mean for a nameless little baby chick like me? Or maybe you?

So after being shook up by one author who has sworn off publishing e-books and has resumed his love affair with traditional print and traditional publishers, I checked out the other side of the story. You can too in the blog post by author Brenna Aubrey, “Why I Turned Down a Three-Book New York Print Deal to Self-Publish”, which makes a compelling argument for just the opposite. How to judge who’s right, if either?

So I started doing some basic research, and of course quickly got lost in a thicket of information and perspectives. Paula, our 5writers Research Queen, initially came to my rescue with an excellent report on the website Author Earnings by Hugh Howey, titled “The 7k Report”, which neatly sorts through a ton of data regarding the financial side of various publishing channels (Independent, Amazon, Small-Medium Publishers, Big 5 Publishers, Single Author Publishers). The report’s conclusions favour Indie publishing over other routes, in terms of benefits to authors.

But the eyebrow-raising numbers, including the apparent explosion in the number of published authors and books – now that just about anyone can do it for themselves – only served to raise more questions for me. Like: how many books really are published every year? How many authors are out there? How many of them make a living at it? What are the chances of “making it” and what factors really differentiate those who do from those who don’t?

The first thing I discovered is that “official” numbers, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are useless. Writers of novels are grouped in with a whole bunch of other kinds of writers, including advertising copywriters. Also, such counts are based on people’s self-reported primary jobs, so everyone who isn’t a full-time writer who makes their primary income from writing (but may have published some novels, or perhaps has secreted 27 unpublished manuscripts under the bed) likely doesn’t get counted.

The second thing I discovered is that in seeking the answers these questions, I was travelling down a well-worn path. What one might guess would be easily obtainable facts turned out to be quite hard to nail down. And many have tried. For a highly entertaining account of one Austin, TX writer’s rigorous pursuit of the answer to the question “How Many Novelists are at Work in America?”, see Dominic Smith’s terrific essay on the website The Millions.

But what of the writer’s chances of success? Are there no statistics that can shed some light on that burning question? Again, yes … and no. Novelist and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist William Dietrich took a stab at this in his essay on Huffington Post titled “The Writer’s Odds of Success” in 2013. It was a good stab, but he failed to even draw blood, and the question escaped unanswered (sorry, no Pulitzer for this post, William). It’s still a good read, though, with lots of gossipy bits about the earnings of bestselling writers. Probably the essay on numbers and success that tickled me most was a post on Kirsten Lamb’s Blog titled “Are Successful Writers Just Lucky?” (one of her observations was that the harder a writer worked the luckier he/she got).

All these essays and blog posts are worthwhile reads. If you’re like me, they will enlighten and confuse you at the same time. However they offer many insights and interpretations that go beyond mere numbers. I especially recommend “The 7k Report” for its rigorous use of statistical data to clarify trends, complete with eye-popping charts and graphs.

But to cut to the chase (and without spoiling the recommended articles for you), here is some arithmetic for writers gleaned from various and sundry sources. I make no promises about their accuracy or reliability whatsoever, and caution the reader to recall the quip sometimes attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and made famous by Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

  • James Patterson made $94 million in 2012 (might as well start off with the good news) — Horowitz, citing Forbes magazine
  • More than 80% of Americans would like to be an author — Dietrich, citing polls
  • Only 5% of the millions of people who say they want to write actually do it. — Lamb
  • Only 5% of this who start writing a book will actually finish it. — Lamb
  • According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 145,900 American writers and authors in 2012, a quarter of them part time and two-thirds of them self-employed, with median earnings of $55,420 (but remember they include a ton of non-novelists) — Dietrich
  • Between 1990 and 2005, there was a 39% increase in the number of self-reported authors in the US. — Smith
  • In 2011, there were 329,259 books published in the US — Dietrich
  • In 2012, the number of adult fiction titles published with ISBN numbers in the US was 67, 254 — Smith, citing sources
  • 2.2 million books were published worldwide in 2011 — Dietrich
  • Self-published books make up 25% of the top 100 list on Amazon — Howey
  • Of 1.2 million books tracked by Neilson Bookscan, only 25,000 (just over 2%) sold more than 5,000 copies — Dietrich
  • A #1 ranking in “page turning narratives” on Amazon Kindle Singles is possible to achieve with as few as 700-800 sales — Horowitz, citing statistics for his book “Boom”
  • The average book in 2006 sold less than 500 copies — Dietrich, citing Publishers Weekly
  • The highest percentage of genre e-books on the bestseller lists (more than one third) are indie-published — Howey
  • Indie-published authors outsell Big-5 (traditional large publishing house) published authors on Amazon. — Howey
  • 76% of all books released in 2008 were self-published — Smith, citing sources
  • While the often-cited “rule of thumb” proportion of overall book sales represented by e-books is 25%, this figure accounts for only e-books through major publishers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBookstore, Google Play) and does not include self-published books or those e-published by small presses. — Howey
  • 86% of the top 2,500 genre fiction bestsellers in the overall Amazon bookstore are e-books. — Howey
  • While Big 5 publishers typically pay 25% of net revenue to authors for e-book sales, self-published authors usually keep 70% of the total purchase price. — Howey

That should give you a lot to think about, and hopefully some further reading that may toss you back and forth between elation and despair. But let me end by quoting some encouraging words from Kirsten Lamb, which bring some much-needed wisdom to this crazy writing and publishing game:

” … the odds are actually better than we might believe when we really take an honest look. This job is like one giant funnel. Toss in a few million people with a dream and only a handful will shake out at the end. Is it because fortune smiled on them? A few, yes. But, for most, the harder they worked, the “luckier” they got. They stuck it out and made the tough choices.”

 

Critiquing creative spirits

whistler

Credit: Randy Lincks photo.

Silk’s Post #36 — After all these months of sweat over our manuscripts, we now have our critiquing retreat scheduled for June. Or as I’ve been calling it, Critter Week. With our lofty goal of getting all our 5 novels published (and why aim for less?), it’s appropriate that we’ll be meeting high in the coastal mountains at Whistler, BC.

Perhaps I should re-tag it the 5 Writers Critter Summit.

We convened at Joe’s house last week for a pre-retreat planning session. I was impressed with the nutritionally-balanced sustenance Joe provided, including some kind of sugar-dusted pastry things filled with chocolate, a very upscale cheese plate, and some cucumbers sliced so artistically it would have made Martha Stewart proud. He sliced them himself. I watched him. (End of colourful backstory.)

After we sorted out what our room arrangements would be for four women, one man and a dog, the conversation naturally turned to critique etiquette. It’s one thing to subject a chapter or two to the scrutiny of critters (during our monthly critique sessions, we were submitting 30 pages at a time), but quite another to submit your whole book to be picked apart … the book you’ve just spent nine months gestating, like a baby (in the analogy shared by Helga’s and Karalee’s recent posts).

Yes, there’s a bit of critique anxiety in the air. Look, it’s hard for creative spirits to take criticism. We writers share our thin-skin DNA with visual artists, filmmakers, designers, actors, musicians, in fact all manner of creative types. Creative people take big emotional risks by exposing their innermost thoughts, insights and feelings to the world in works of art that we hope will entertain, enlighten and move our audience.

When they applaud, they validate our art and empower us. When they boo, they crush our fragile egos.

Okay, creatives, don’t get your knickers in a twist over the “fragile egos” comment. If you bristle at that, it only demonstrates that you’re not really ready for honest criticism yet. But let me clarify. In my humble opinion (and with absolutely no professional credentials in the field of psychology), all human beings have fragile egos.

The difference with creatives is that, in order to make art that aims to have an emotional effect on other people, we put our own egos on the line and subject ourselves to the judgement of others. You can’t build a fortress around your soul when you’re creating art meant for the public. There’s a reason for the “tortured artist” stereotype. There’s also a reason for the “starving artist” stereotype, and one of the objectives of our 5 Writers group is to help each other avoid any hint of either torture or starvation.

Isn’t it every writer’s goal to be recognized, appreciated and financially rewarded? Well, there’s just one little step we all need to get through to make that possible. We have to be damn good. (Sigh.) So, yes, we’re back to the subject of critiquing (and critique anxiety), remembering it has one simple purpose: to make our books damn good.

spark

Credit: iStock licensed photo.

So, how to critique creative spirits in a manner that reveals their writing weaknesses and stimulates them write a better book, without sapping their confidence and killing their all-important creative spark?

Truthfully, this is an awesome responsibility. It requires honesty with diplomacy. We have to  be detailed enough to provide meaningful criticism without being picky or petty or prescriptive or sarcastic or dismissive. Critters need to explain why the strong parts work as thoughtfully as why the weak parts fail. We have to be forthright in our judgements about those things subject to legitimate critique (like character, plot, and pace), while withholding judgement about things that aren’t “on the table” (like choice of genre).

And, ultimately, we have to try to see the book we’re critiquing through the eyes of an agent, an editor, and a reader … a book that was written by an author who has become a friend and a confidant. This isn’t easy. But it’s necessary.

Since I have previously finished only one first draft of a full length novel and only a partial first draft in our 5 Writers challenge, I’d have to be considered the “junior” member of our group (at my age, you have to love being a “junior” anything). However, when it comes to critiquing creatives I have decades of related experience. And in the task ahead, I know I’m going to have to tap into every lesson learned.

Way back in time when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, as a junior graphic designer and copywriter, I once got fired from a great job at a design agency for being too headstrong. Speaking of fragile egos, I was devastated. Tears were shed. Souls were searched. In the end, instead of turning to something safer, like rodeo riding or nuclear physics, I went into business for myself. I vowed, Scarlett O’Hara style, never to work for anyone again.

It took what seemed like forever, working from the smallest home office in the world, to build up my own agency. In a few years I hired my first employee, and a few years later I had a dozen, including some of the best creative talent in the marketplace. Now I was a creative director, not just a designer and writer, and had to learn a whole new skill set: critiquing, coaching, and leading talented people who each had their own great ideas, their own vulnerable egos, and the chops to easily walk out the door and find a good job somewhere else. The path was not without pitfalls, but a truckload of creative awards and many continuing happy relationships with creative colleagues to this day demonstrate that I must have learned some lessons over time.

Apart from my never-ending attempt to master the discipline of “people skills” – a cosmos filled with both shining stars and black holes – one of the most important of those lessons was to recognize that the job of the creative director is to encourage originality (what’s the big idea?), while seeing the work from the point of view of the target market (does it resonate?), and presenting it in a way that will sell it (can it get past the gatekeeper, aka the client?).

In my new career as a writer (and critter), these principles still hold true. A “damn good” book has to be fresh and authentic. An original “voice” is gold. It has to have audience appeal (which also means the writer has to have a keen sense of who that audience will be). It has to move people in some way, have an effect. And it has to get past the gatekeepers – in the book world, these are agents, editors and publishers – or it simply won’t be sold.

Yes, okay, I know it isn’t the whole story. I’m leaving aside the gigantic subject of self-publishing, which will perhaps be a subject for another day.

I’m also leaving aside the suspicion, harboured by many unpublished writers and unfortunately supported by at least anecdotal evidence, that getting published is more like winning a lottery than achieving a level of excellence deserving of recognition. It’s true. Life isn’t fair. One of the other things I learned as a creative director is that you can put your heart and soul into a creative pitch, have the best idea in the universe, execute it brilliantly, seem to wow the client, and yet fail to win the account for all kinds of frivolous reasons. The fix was in beforehand, maybe over a game of golf. Or the client’s wife doesn’t like green, and you made the logo green. Or someone’s nephew works for the other agency. Or somebody didn’t like somebody’s tie/politics/joke/handshake. Or (dare I say it?) because the client just made a terrible mistake. We’ve all heard of manuscripts shot down in the first five pages for reasons that sound just as ridiculous.

But, as critters, it’s beyond our power to make life fair.

So our challenge at the 5 Writers Critter Summit is simple but not easy. Help each other write/re-write damn good books with the “right stuff” to have a fighting chance of getting published. And offer our critiques in a manner that brightens, rather than dampens, each writer’s creative spark.

Like advice about how to write, there is a great deal of useful information out there about how to critique. Yes, it can be a learned skill to a great degree. But, like writing itself, in the end it’s an art.

Out of the frying pan …

iStock Photo licensed image

iStock Photo licensed image

Silk’s Post #28 — You know what comes next in that old saw. That’s the beauty and the curse of clichés: They’re useful shorthand for things commonly experienced, and therefore instantly understood. But because they’re so familiar, so normalized, so predictable, they’re like the cold, dead planets of literature – all the heat sucked out of them, devoid of life.

My mission in this post is to re-animate, in gut-wrenching detail, the second half of that old nostrum. And explain what it has to do with the 5writers5novels5months challenge.

Because we’re definitely into the fire now.

Let’s switch to a somewhat more evolved device in the writer’s tool kit and replace cliché with metaphor: the shift from our initial 5 month frenzy of first-draft writing to the next phase of reviewing and rewriting is like travelling from a hot, steamy, fertile jungle of a planet to one that’s burning under a relentless sun, where every warty pebble is starkly illuminated by the harsh light of critique.

Aaaargh, cough, cough. Too. Hot. Can’t. Breathe. [Brief delay, scrambling noises]. Gulp. Whew, that’s better. I just had to go get myself a glass of water.

Last Friday, the 5 writers met in person for the first time since we embarked on our (for us) epic challenge on September 5, 2012. We hugged. We chattered. We toasted ourselves with a bit of bubbly. And then we re-oriented and plotted the renewed course of our shared writer’s journey.

The easy part is over.

Easy? It certainly didn’t feel easy. In fact, as the self-admitted Tortoise of the group (and you can hold the Tortoise jokes, thank you), I’m still busy catching up. With new zeal, mind you, and a new drop-dead deadline of May 15. But the first draft stage – Act I if you will –  is the part of the journey when you can let your creativity run free and everything seems possible. You’re writing a book!  It’s work, but it’s fun. It overheats your brain, but it’s liberating. And at the end of it, you have this beautiful thing – your story, your creation.

The end of our Act I came February 5, 2013. And, yes, we took a fairly generous intermission. But now it’s time for Act II, where we subject our newborn stories to judgement. And even though our first critics, our fellow 5 writers, are a friendly and supportive audience, we’re committed to helping each other actually get published. That means some hard truth telling is in our near future, here on the Fire Planet.

Our come-to-Jesus meeting (or substitute the saviour of your choice) will take place near the end of June, in a venue yet to be chosen. No place too distractingly recreational, yet no place too familiar. No place our respective partners would be jealous about not being invited to. No place too luxurious, yet no place too cramped or spartan for at least a modicum of comfort. We’ll need it. We have work to do.

This is where a great writers group really proves its value. It takes a lot of trust to give, and take, criticism. As a group, we’ve embarked on this journey as companions with a common destination. In addition to our individual aims and ambitions, we also share the goal of helping each other succeed. We walk the fine line of encouragement versus criticism, teaching ourselves to be good teachers. In the process, the teachers learn a lot about themselves and the strengths and weaknesses in their own work.

But we don’t pander to each other. We don’t let precarious plot structures teeter without insisting on renovations. We don’t allow clichés to stand, or beginnings to stumble, or sub-plots to remain unresolved, or adverbs to run rampant, or middles to sag, or characters to lose their way, or endings to disappoint. So even when delivered in the most supportive of terms, this process is still a trial by fire – make no mistake.

All criticism is personal. And it’s not valuable if it isn’t genuine. If you want to forge a great book, you need to learn to stand the heat. Uncritical feedback, the kind you might get from a non-writing friend or relative who’s wowed by the fact that you actually wrote a whole book (and knows how much sweat you put into it), is a wonderful ego boost. But it doesn’t help prepare you for the next (and even hotter) circle of hell: the criticism of the agent or publisher, which most often comes in the form of a rejection letter. No critique. No rewrite advice. No hints as to why your manuscript is, in their opinion, not worthy of publication.

And if you do pass through that fire, you get to submit your work to the ultimate critic: the reader, and that particular kind of armed-and-dangerous reader called the book reviewer.

Because the publishing business is a pass-fail system. You get published, or you don’t. (Or you self-publish, which is a whole topic for another far-off day). And if you don’t get published, the only thing to do is tuck that manuscript into a drawer and let it cool off, then get started on a new one. If being a “writer” is your calling, the curtain has to go up on Act I all over again.

Back to the frying pan on that cosmic stove.

When the 5 writers began this journey and launched this blog, we were totally focused on the challenge of trying to get a book written in 5 months. Clearly, that was just the beginning. Our challenge continues. We’ve now refocused and recommitted to the next phase of that journey, and we hope you’ll stick with us as we jump out of the frying pan and into the fire (last cliché, I promise).

On to glory. We hope.

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