Critical

The critiques were pretty painless last night.  I made a “joke” about being nervous to our leader and so she “let me off the hook” early by making me first.  I’m actually grateful for that.  I was able to get it out of the way and relax about it the rest of the night.

I wasn’t bothered by any of what they said, in fact I anticipated some of it.  There are some areas in The Teacher that are entirely too detailed and serve no purpose for the story.  What I now have to decide is whether to cut them down, or to make them serve a purpose.  While I personally kind of like some of the details, there was a consensus among the group that a few specific areas needed to be “condensed” and what the leader told us the first night was, “take what you want and ignore what you don’t, but if there’s some consistency in a particular area, you should probably revisit it,”  so I guess I will.

A lot of the other comments were about wanting to know more about certain things that are actually already addressed in other areas of the book.  That’s one of the downfalls in the way this works.  I get to submit 25 double spaced pages, three separate times.  They do not have to be the same pages, so I can have up to 75 pages critiqued.  But the first draft of The Teacher is 418 pages.  You can’t expect to know everything about the story and the characters and their backgrounds in 25 or even 75 pages of a 400 page novel.

So all in all, I feel pretty good about the feedback.  I agree with a lot of the comments that require changes and feel good about what I covered in other places that they asked for.  While I may not be as close to Book-Deal ready as I had thought/hoped, I do feel good about what I’ve done and what I can do to improve it.

So…  full speed ahead!

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Wish Me Luck

By the way, tonight is the night.  In two and a half hours I’ll be at my writing workshop thingamajig and I’ll be getting my first, formal critique/feedback on my manuscript.

The tension mounts by the minute.  I’ll be taking some Ativan later (yes the anxiety is that real).  I want to take it now, but I’m afraid if I take it too early, it’ll wear off too early and that would be bad.

In the end it will all be fine, but that doesn’t really help me much right now, so…

Wish me luck!

Holy Hectic, Batman

What a day this has been.  After all those comments I made last week about not putting off the critiques until the last minute, I haven’t been able to get around to doing them until today, even though I got the samples earlier than last week.  And I’ve only been able to do one.  The other one I haven’t even cracked open yet.

I admit I’ve really been putting off doing it because it’s just so tough.  I want to be helpful, but fair, but honest, but constructive, but nice.  This does not come to me naturally, y’all! (I can’t believe I just used that word.)

I noticed last week that a lot of people did their critiques and comments electronically, using the review options (track changes and comments) in Microsoft Word and then printing out the hard copies for the writers.  The first of the two samples and the only one I’ve touched so far, the writer asked us to do it that way.  I’m not sure if that slowed me down or if it would have taken me a long time anyway, but it took me three and a half hours to do my critique and comments on an 18 page sample.  And that’s after having read the story last night.

There were a lot of technical problems with the story and some confusing points that slowed me down and I had to figure out how to comment on those in a positive and constructive way that still said, “You need to change these things.”  It’s not easy!

In addition to that, I had actual work to do today and errands to run at lunch, and blogs piling up in my reader and my own mental blocks against doing this in the first place, all standing in the way, holding me back.

I just don’t want to do them.  Not because I’m being lazy.  I just don’t want to tell people I don’t even know what I think of their writing…  but I want them to do it for me.  And I want them to like what I’ve done and have only great things to say (which is probably too much to expect) and I want them to be supportive and encouraging.  I don’t really believe in karma or good juju, or whatever.  I just don’t.  And yet, I do believe you get what you deserve.  You get what you give. (That’s different, right?)  So I’m doing the critiques and trying to be genuinely helpful in spite of my own insecurity and my fear of coming across more harshly than I mean to and hoping that they won’t, or that I won’t take it that way.

And so here we are on Tuesday night.  I’ve done one critique and have another one to go and yet, twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes from now, I will already be in the work shop, either listening to what they thought of my sample, or telling them what I thought of theirs, and I haven’t even started on the last sample, yet.

No pressure here…

In Over My Head

So I had the second meeting of the writing workshop/class/group/thingy, last night.  I’ve been really looking forward to it and I’m glad I’m doing it, but I’ve been in for a few surprises.

Last week, we met at the leader’s beautiful house in San Francisco where we chatted amongst our selves for a little while, waiting for everyone to arrive and settle in and then the group leader gave us copies of some pages from a book she had.  After she passed the pages around to everyone she began to read selected sections of them out loud to us.  Following along with her and trying to keep up, I wasn’t able to read them myself and I wasn’t able to fully process what they were saying and what I took away from the endeavor was:

“Secrets are lies and lies are truth and truth comes out in writing in the form or your secrets.”

Or something like that.

Then she told us to take a few minutes and write about a secret.

I really didn’t know what to make of that.  I’ve already told the biggest secret I was keeping.

Before we left for the night we selected which weeks we were going to have our stuff read and critiqued by the group.

Over the last week, I received writing samples from three of the people in the group and was expected to read and critique each sample.  I didn’t really know what that meant, exactly, and as I mentioned yesterday, I found that harder than I imagined I would.

I received a chapter from a memoir which was competently written with lots of descriptive imagery and scenery and even showed a bit of growth in the person the memoir is about, but ultimately was just a piece of a larger work.  I wasn’t personally interested in the location and history of the place in which the story happens.  The feeling and sentiment of the character is moving, but not overly compelling to me.  I marked a few typos here and there, indicated an analogy I really liked, but mostly had very few comments to make.

I received a short story, 15 pages, the first half of which I really enjoyed.  Beautiful locale, really well written, with just a couple of stumbling points in my mind, but then halfway through I felt like the story fell apart and she rushed the second half entirely.  Again, I marked some typos, made a few notes and comments, but for the most part, I wasn’t engaged in the story.

Then I received two pieces from the third person.  An 8-page short story that was whipped out in one morning, because she hadn’t expected to have to submit so early and it just played out that way.  Given that she wrote it in a couple of hours and sent it out with not much editing, it was really good.  Well written and executed.  And sad, depressing subject matter.  The rest of her pages were an excerpt from an early stages novel in progress.  There wasn’t much to glean from that in my opinion because it seemed to come from somewhere in the middle of the book and didn’t cover much.  There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t grab my attention.

But what really had me worried was when we got to class and the rest of the group started giving their critiques.  We sat in the circle and started with one person, going around the room, each of us taking a turn giving our feedback.  We have a four-minute limit and when that time is up we move on.  I listened as each person started commenting on the imagery and the symbolism and the subtext and so on and so forth and I thought, “well, shit, I didn’t see any of that.  I wasn’t even looking for that.”  I don’t think like that.  I don’t go looking for those things.  If they jump off the page at me, fine, but most of the time I see just what the words say and not much more.  So I didn’t need my full four minutes and I didn’t have much to say and I felt like I wasn’t pulling my weight.  And then I felt like a fraud because when it was my turn to talk, I found myself saying things like, “I really like this story” (I didn’t), “This was beautifully written” (sometimes true, sometimes not.  I mean we’re all competent writers or we wouldn’t be there, but some of the pieces weren’t exactly exceptional).  And then I was trying to give my feedback on the things that I saw that needed work and I was so afraid of saying something wrong that will come across as mean-spirited, when it’s really just an observation, an opportunity for improvement or clarification.

I drove home seriously worried about next week.  I am one of the three people who signed up to submit pages for the next session.  I’ll be submitting chapters 3 & 4 of The Teacher.  They happen to add up to exactly 25 pages, wich is convenient, but also, Chapter 1 has been posted on this blog and read by several people with lots of commentary.  It’s pretty polished.  Chapter 2 was given to two people and both had encouraging positive things to say.  So it only stands to reason that I would move on to Chapters 3 & 4.  But I found myself worried.  What if I’m the one person in the room who doesn’t write flowery, symbolic, laced with subtext, deep, meaningful stuff?  What if they all come back next week and tell me that my chapters are vapid and meaningless, with no substance and nothing to pull you in?  What if I just look like an idiot because I’m not an abstract thinker and that’s what this calls for?

Okay, let’s be honest here.  I know I’m a decent writer.  With the occasional lapse in proper comma use (or is it coma? – See, I’m screwed!) I’m pretty technically proficient.  Spell check is my best friend, unless I’m spelling the wrong word the right way (see coma/comma) in which case it’s of no use to me whatsoever.  But I’m also pretty straight forward and literal.  I’ve never been an abstract person.  Suddenly, I feel like a kid wearing his daddy’s clothes in the middle of a grown up party.

I know everyone will be nice.  And the truth is, people who look for those kinds of hidden, deeper meanings, will probably find them even if they’re not really there.  And all I have to do is sit quietly scribbling notes and nodding my head reverently.  Try not to roll my eyes and, please God!, don’t let me blush.  (That’s a pipe dream.)

I want the feedback and I know I’ll gain something from it.  I just don’t want to feel like too much of a fool.

I’m so in over my head.