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Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Writing Groups

Shortly after finishing edits on my manuscript, I decided to join a writing group. I dove in and selected the first group I found; short-cutting my research and ignoring the prospect of what needs that group should fulfill. This is not to say they weren’t a welcoming gaggle of creative sorts; but they were definitely a group of people quite far removed from my intended audience. I discounted this important factor because I was all about convenience and they met mere minutes from my house. I further justified my means because we had a common goal. We aspired to get published. Sold! 

Each member’s job was to post our work to the member site. It would be downloaded weekly for peer review/comments. I decided to participate as an auditor the first week and contribute the next. Feeling confident after that first session, I couldn’t wait for the next.

We opened the following Saturday with comments on the co-founder’s work. Most of the group showered her with high praise and accolades. When it came my turn to contribute, my peers were less than enthralled with what I had to say. Rather, as their discussion evolved, I found myself defending every comment I had made. I suggested what I thought was the obvious. The writer had violated the rules (six pages maximum, 12-pitch font, double-spaced, one-inch margin all around). She had crammed so much type into those six pages, I had great difficulty deciphering what was written. I listed two examples: 1) the typeface was ridiculously small (possibly 8-pitch), margins were non-existent; and 2) the content had an endless flow of vague pontification between the two characters. It was so extreme, by the time I was midway through the first page, I had no idea who was talking with whom and just exactly what the characters were talking about. The general consensus of the group toward my input was to discount its worth because I didn’t have enough background on her story. Apparently, they had been discussing her work for several weeks by that point.

Uh-oh, my work was up next. The first person likened my work to ‘…a soap opera that was going nowhere…’  On the heels of his feedback, the next iterated ‘…the opening was somewhat vague and cited one particular analogy I used: “…anchor that had been set and once it was lifted, the unknown of drifting aimlessly began…”  She was stuck on the anchor. She took the anchor analogy literally and was confused because she didn’t get the connection between sailing and my story. I let that one roll off my back.

When the erotic/fantasy writer gave her critique, my blood began to boil. Before she began, she took a dramatic deep breath and condescendingly shook her head a few times. Her action made me think a wise sage was about to impart invaluable gospel. She told me with a great sense of authority that I had gotten my genre all wrong. Given the fact I had written the perspective of both adult and child in the opening, there was no way I could target the specific audience of young adult. Technically, she was right about the two perspectives. However, her delivery was hurtful and did give rise to my blood pressure. I shut down and began to mentally obsess about her work. Here was a person with a creepy affinity toward writing about the sadistic pleasures, joys and erotic Utopia of something half human/half beast arriving at the ultimate pleasure in life once it has consumed the innocent virgin bestowing her expertise on my novel. My story in comparison was no comparison!  My analogy:   I had written the equivalent of Pollyanna spending a summer in the mountains and was receiving comments toward its merit from the devil himself (or in this case, herself)! I gathered every ounce of strength to prepare and focus in order to receive the last person’s comments.

She was the founder of the group. She was the only member who had already been published many times over–a former journalist; had worked for a few newspapers; written several pieces for local and national trade publications and was working on her first novel. She too took a deep breath and simply said:  “…I like what you’ve written. I think it’s a great start and cannot wait to hear what happens next… you’ve done a terrific job in defining your characters and there is sound emotion resonating from the pages… I can hear your voice…” 

The world is full of critics who have a wealth of judgment to support their criticisms. Listen carefully for the useful nuggets of information and leave the rest behind. Constructive feedback fuels the journey as it further strengthens the writer.

 

 

The Critic Within

Arrest the critic within. Disallow it to seize what could be your best work. True, a writer must have a plan as to the direction he or she is going, but the story must first be committed to paper. I would venture to guess some of my best work has been compromised simply because I allowed my ‘critic’ to  re-write, edit, and re-write again to such a point of distraction, I had completely snuffed-out my creative connection. Structure is somewhat of an oxymoron when endeavoring to be creative; yet there has to be some sort of semblance. A solid plot is a good start. Sadly, we will never get there if we insist on manipulating the message (and meaning) at the starting gate; thanks to the presence of the critic within.

What comes to mind for me is Charles Shultz’ beloved character Snoopy. Years ago, I subscribed to home delivery of the Sunday newspaper. I admit I was particularly drawn to the Sunday Funnies. When I got to the Peanuts comic strip, invariably, Snoopy would be perched upon the roof of his dog house with his paws resting on his typewriter’s keyboard. There would be a thought bubble over his head that read: ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’  Week after week, that same thought appeared over his head. Clearly, his critic within had high jacked his creativity and was holding it hostage.

I’m much more aware of my own critic today than I was even five years ago. I’ve learned what a negative impact its existence poses on my own creative flow. There is no magic formula that spells out what the perfect blend of words should be. A writer is able to feel it when it happens. What I do know is when I get the compulsion to self- critique or self-edit, I shut the notion down. The experience of riding the wave of writing flow and paying word upon word forward in the development of a story is far more productive and quite fantastic as well.

Here is some food for thought:  Someone was once praised with the completion of his manuscript with the following sentiment:  ‘Congratulations!  You’ve just completed the first draft of your novel…’  The moral to this story is just that. When you finish your first draft, the critic within is allowed to participate in the second…

-D.Lunsford

 

 

Stream of Consciousness Writing

What is it?  (My)simple definition:  interior monologue dumps; (my) expanded interpretation:  the necessity to take one’s pen and paper, sit quietly and expunge all  that incessant chatter that vies to consume one’s mind and circumvent creative processdon’t worry about flow, punctuation, grammar, etc. and write the thoughts with a pen in your hand and a paper on the table. DO NOT type!  The connection of hand to pen; pen to paper is vital to this exercise.

In the early 90’s a friend suggested I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within. I was attempting my first novel. There were some days when the writing felt fluid, but far too many others when I felt as though I was phumphering and limping along writing chapter upon chapter of nonsense—no stream or flow to the story. My moment of enlightenment did not come until many years later when I realized I had written an entire novel which had nothing to do with writing for an audience and everything to do with writing an emotional outpouring for me. In fairness, there were some humorous anecdotes and teary moments, but none of what I had written resonated for others quite as much as it had for me. It was only after I dug into the depths of Ms. Goldberg’s book that I was able to learn how to listen to what I was writing.

Moving along to the mid-late 90’s I began a fresh project. I had grown some as a writer, yet there was still plenty of mountain to climb in front of me. Another friend suggested I read Natalie Goldberg’s latest book:  Wild Mind, Living the Writer’s Life. After reading Writing Down the Bones, I had become an instant fan of Ms. Goldberg’s work. I felt fairly confident toward the whole listening concept and truly endeavored to implement such a practice whenever I wrote. However, there was an annoying presence more often than not—a mental chatter that never quite dissipated… Once I started reading Wild Mind, I was convinced Ms. Goldberg had miraculously heard my pleas to quiet the ‘noise’… Not a coincidence I received the recommendation to read Wild Mind and that was my first exposure to stream of consciousness writing.

Less than two weeks ago, I purchased a copy of Julie Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way. You guessed it, yet another friend’s recommendation. Ms. Cameron’s work is captivating to say the least. The knowledge she imparts and the guidance she provides are absolute gifts. She is a spiritual conduit for many artistic endeavors and the premise is for the artist to start at his or her beginning with a committed, disciplined (and daily) practice of stream of consciousness writing. She refers to the pages as ‘morning pages’. While I am barely thirty pages into her book, it is abundantly clear to me Ms. Cameron is committed to guiding many creative souls to their eventual artistic Utopia—be it writing, sculpting, painting, etc. It all begins with those ‘morning pages’  of stream of consciousness writing…

-D.Lunsford

 

This Writer’s Journey

I am a writer. I have been writing stories ever since I learned how to hold a crayon. My early novels were pictures only. When I learned how to write words, ‘cat’ was one of my favorites. I had drawn so many pictures of them to that point, it seemed appropriate to use their images as my inspiration to match up the words I was finally able to write.

I don’t have an audacious resume—a BA or an MBA for that matter. I don’t have an endless bevy of credentials outlining Pulitzers and Caldecott awards, or a bounty of published works. However, I am in great awe of all those who do; such an amazing accomplishment to have achieved. What I do have is a deep-seeded work ethic and an endless love for words—how they are placed through the art of writing. I believe in doing the right thing and endeavor to follow the Golden Rule in each and every day. I seek out strangers often to learn about them and their lives. They are my inspiration for a character in a story I have yet to pen. I have written three manuscripts, endless pages of prose, and even managed a short story. Titles are my love; Fly High on the Wind, The Long Reach, and A Job is Just the Canvass–all titles I have captured for the stories I have written. I have queried and searched and queried some more. My writing journey is a steady quest and as bizarre as this may sound, I am grateful for the many rejections received thus far. They are lessons learned and determination personified because I will never give up writing nor the glorious destination toward publication.

It is not first about the money. It is about the story and a well-written one at that. Words matter. What matters even more is how the words are placed on the pages. They either grab the reader from the first placement to the last or they immediately kick that same reader to the curb because watching paint dry would have been far more entertaining than reading those poorly placed words. There’s an old adage: ‘everyone has a story to tell’…But, not everyone can write that story.

Echo Ranch, my debut novel, is intended to release to the public on January 14, 2014. This is a story that was not only meant to be told, but to be read as well. I am back at the keyboard working on my next writing adventure. It’s what we writers do… we write!

-D.Lunsford