Saturday, May 28, 2011

Brave Writer

So…I’ve been working on two new manuscripts over the last…oh…two years. Well, one of them I’ve only just started recently, but the other one – code named RLR – has been a work in progress for a very long time.

It started off with a bang – tons of words over a very short time. Then it slowed to a trickle while I was co-writing and editing a different novel with a dear friend. I still poked around at it, but really didn’t make much progress. Then another wave of frenetic activity where I counted words, set goals and plowed forward. Followed…again…by a period of procrastination.

Well, if the pattern is to hold, it is now time for more focus. More goal-setting. More WRITING on that particular story. And there is a story to tell – one that is still floating in and out of the little gray cells in my head. That’s how I know that it isn’t just a dead end, you see. I can still see the characters, still wonder late at night what Neil would say or what Sid would do… How can I get Neil another guitar after I wrote that he left his behind when he ran with Sidney? What will Sidney do when she finally meets her long lost father? Will the villain catch up to them? The answers are in my head. Now I just need to get the energy and momentum to get them past my fingers and into a file.

But then comes the really scary part. Letting someone else in on their story. Eventually, I have to share it with someone. I’ve taken scenes to my critique group over time, but nothing sequential. They’ve seen a bit of the story here, and smidgen of a chapter there. Not enough to tell if I’m building cohesive characters, let alone a plot that hangs together. Don’t get me wrong…their help is invaluable. They are readers and writers, which is a very good thing to have in a critique group. If your partners are readers, first and foremost, they can offer observations about your style, pacing, word choice, etc. that help tighten paragraphs and force you to think about why you write the way you do.

I’ve found myself wanting something more specific, though. I hoped to find a group or partner who also writes the same genre. I needed someone with experience in YA and children’s lit to take a peek and let me know if I’m heading down a solid path, or heading down a proverbial rabbit hole.

So, I got brave. I’m a member of a website called She Writes. Mostly, I’m a lurker and a blog advertiser. I read other postings from folks in the groups and I promote Carpe Keyboard and my contests, but I’ve never used any of their other features or services. Until one day last week. When I got brave.

I posted a plea on a few of the She Writes groups. A sort of personal ad. “Married 40-something writer seeks other writer(s) of young adult stories. Loves to read and offer sage advice. Looking for honest feedback. Hates pina coladas, but does have an affinity for rain, as long no walking required…”

You get the idea.

Got a response, from another YA writer who offered to trade some pages so we could test out a critique round. I sent her a few chapters. I held my breath for about an hour (okay…maybe a minute, but seemed LOTS longer than that) after I clicked Send. Part of me was worried that she’d hate it. She’d realize in the first few sentences that I’m a hoax. A quack. A woman curiously obsessed with teenagers and their stories, who has very little talent and even less skill with words.

But, because I was being brave, I tried to forget about it until I saw her rather quick reply. She turned around my chapters overnight – reading them and giving really insightful comments! And no…she didn’t hate it. Or if she did, she kept that to herself.

But I’m pretty sure she didn’t hate it because she went on to send me chapters of one of her projects to read and critique. And guess what? I’m loving her story and her style.

Like a blind date in a way. We know nothing about one another, other than what our She Writes profiles say (which is little). But we know that we are writers. And I suppose we can now realize that we are brave writers who seek out comments and critique. Brave writers who want to write better than we did last week, hope to write even better next week. And one of the best ways to get better is to get your work out there in front of readers. Be open to their reactions, ideas, and questions. Take comments seriously – without giving your audience all of the power. It still is YOUR story, after all.

But open up. Seek feedback. Soak it up. Learn from it.