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Writing: Fiction, Non-Fiction, What have you?

This is a listing of various things I have written so far and put up on the site. Comments welcome.


Writing Groups #3: Taking Criticism from Other Writers, Part 2

The Writing Critique The Catalog of Good, Bad and Ugly

I will be vulnerable here and reiterate a few less than favorable things that have been said about my work over the years.  Along the way, anyone who writes (or so I am assuming) creates a mental catalog of various comments that either stung horribly or inspired. The catalog of actual comments is of course far longer in EVERY category good, bad, mediocre and of course, just plain UGLY.

In regards to grammar:

  • You don't know how to do a paragraph.
  • You use too many commas.
  • You use too many adjectives and words than end in -ing.
  • You don't use commas correctly in direct address. (I do now, loyal reader, I do now.)
  • Your sentences have a tendency to get ahead of themselves.
  • Are you sure you took high school grammar?
In regards to content: Bad  and Ugly or "what the heck did they really mean" comments:
  • Is the promiscuous woman in the story based upon yourself?
  • I don't like Science Fiction. I like your mainstream stuff better—why don't you just write that?
  • You really aren't in your work, are you? I don't get a feeling from it of  just who you are.
  • You write best when you write simply and vividly. You long sentences hang up on themselves.
  • What were you thinking/feeling/smoking when you wrote this?
  • Why do you want to write? Don't you do other kinds of art also? I don't think you can do visual art and write, too. (I am a graphic artist and web designer also.

Writing CritiqueThe Good Comments:

  • Wow! Your ideas blow me away.
  • You write great dialogue.
  • You really should send your stuff out. Stuff that's not as good gets published all the time.
  • I never thought if that way before, it really opened my eyes.
  • I love your stuff.
  • I identified with your heroine/hero.

 Evaluating what I learned:

The grammar comments (some of them anyway) were probably true, and when they were pointed out to me—I learned how to correct them.

The other criticisms in the UGLY BAD category were more about taste (I like your mainstream stuff better...). The "you really aren't in your work" comment was made about my poetry and simply isn't true. It was only true for that person's opinion of my work. I don't dissect every area of my life, and some poets (this is my opinion) seem to put every little neurotic flip of the neuron into their work. I don't. That is my bias. I also sometimes use my left brain when writing poetry, not just my right. Poetry is supposed be about whatever you want to write about, or at least I thought so, but apparently I am supposed to just feel—not think in this person's view of the art form.

 Some of the questions/comments about my work were really more about the person ASKING the question than they were about me. Example: Is the promiscuous woman in the story based upon yourself? This was asked by a guy and I think any woman's sex life was interesting to him. When I told him, "No, it is based on speculation and some stuff female friends of mine went through"— he was disappointed, though I am surprised he didn't ask for phone numbers.

These comments offered me options, ticked me off for a couple of days, and strengthened my resolve to be true to the kinds of stuff I love doing.

CritiqueWhere I am at Now

Currently, I have belonged to a local writers' group since 1998. The groups' members started out as strangers and have gradually placed themselves among my best friends and trusted confidants. We don't critique each other's work, unless asked. Critiques are done privately—one-on-one, ant not shared with the whole group. Rather each week, we get up and read what we have written to each other—OUT LOUD. I think being made to present, to read, has helped me develop a better ear for my work.

People have called us a ”support group," and we don't shy away from that label, we embrace it. We are also a mentoring group. We learn from each other's mistakes and successes, benefiting from varied perspectives, genres and levels of the craft. People have read whole novels they have written (chapter-by-chapter, one chapter per week), children's books, nonfiction articles, political diatribes, etc. Some of us have published, some of us have not ... and yet we remain civil to one another.

I have been in other groups where someone has had a small success and gotten published, only to have that initial rush of joy taken from them because of sniping and jealousy by other group members. You have to rejoice with your compatriots, not begrudge them their successes. Writing is hard work, and almost anyone who has become successful for it has worked their butt off for that success. Yeah, sometimes a person gets lucky. Most other times, you have to make your own luck. Writers make their own luck by continuing in the face of rejections, their own ideas of perfection, and shrinking markets.

Bravo to the all the brave hearts that take on this thankless, yet greatly satisfying endeavor! Yeah, this is kind of me patting myself on the back. But everybody needs an "atta-boy" or  "atta-girl"every so often. Give yourself one along the way!

Credit: Please go to Debbie Ridpath Ohi's website: inkygirl.com to see more of her wonderful cartoons and illustrations.

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Writing Groups #2: Accepting Help and Criticism from Other Writers: Part 1

Lemming Writers Critique Group

Putting Yourself Out There

Writing is about vulnerability, about putting yourself and parts of your mind/reaction to the world on display for others to see, think about, and participate in. Because you are so vulnerable and open, you have to know when to take help/criticism from you peers and when to avoid it. In this two part blog, I am going to talk about my own experiences, and what I have learned from them. How such interactions can give you a real leap forward with your work and others can do serious damage. I have had both kind of interactions.  

Good Criticism and Advice

We can all be blind to the faults in our own work, especially when we are starting to learn how to write. And it does help to have an honest, CONSTRUCTIVE critique from someone else. However,i t is not helpful to have an axe session with someone who uses the guise of  "honesty" to make you feel bad about your work either.  When I was the main liaison for our local  writing group, I would get calls from potential new members who asked what kind of group we had, and if we would give blunt, totally honest critiques because "they could take it." The idea that there are groups where "they ream someone a new one" really isn't something I would be involved with. It was great that these folks wanted to improve their work and were looking to learn, but does anybody really need to abused for their art?

The trick in getting anything out of a critique situation is KNOWING when the group has got your best interests at heart, cares for the craft itself and seeing you improve. The other thing you have to know is when not to take a suggestion: you can't be wimpy and be an artist. On the other hand, if you really want to learn the craft, you can't have a tremendous huge ego and think you "sprung fully-formed and perfect from the head of Zeus like the Goddess Athena." If you  believe your work is as good as Bradbury, Faulkner, Hemingway or any of the greats with just your first novel (unpublished) and/or  first ten short stories (also unpublished)—then you aren't looking to improve, you are looking for a fan club.

When taking criticism from other writers and deciding to make changes, ask yourself: Is this person right and is this really better for the work? If you gut feeling is: YES! Then make the changes. Otherwise, stick to your guns! It's your work, not theirs. You have to write for yourself, unless judgements of  others means more to you than your own voice. I know this is confusing, but part of the whole learning process is teaching you to trust yourself and your work.

 

Bad Critiques, Attitudes and Hidden Agendas

I think sometimes the worst thing anyone with artistic aspirations does is kill those of another person. Venom can get very poisonous between people in the arts sometimes, especially among those of us who write. This has been part of  my experience and totally anecdotal, and maybe you have been lucky enough to avoid it.  I have seen writing critiques used as blood sport between certain parties, and it ain't pretty.

Some of the stuff I have seen I would like to attribute to cloddish behavior (lack of social skills, social ineptitude, whatever you want to call it), other times its jealousy and other times it is just plain mean. The just plain mean stuff is usually from writers who aren't writing themselves and appear to be jealous of others who are. Then there are people who would rather snipe and criticize the work of others, rather than put their own head on the block and actually write something. In this last instance, they have literary pretensions not any real desire to actually write. (See wants a fan club above.)

I will be going into this more in Part 2 of this blog, and share some of the  things I have had happen to me along the way. Most of this  happened to me when I was a "newbie" and so desperate to have creative contact with other writers I was willing to put up with nearly anything. It is a good thing to get older, survive and know that when you think something is wrong or stinks—is usually is and it usually does.

 

Make It About the Writing

Writing Groups: Critique or Support  are among the most positive and horrifying experiences you'll ever go through. Make sure to find a supportive, constructive one where the focus is on the work and nurturing the artist. Avoid those that are about cults of personality, egos, and sniping—unless this sort of thing appeals to you. Everyone enjoys a little comeuppance for certain people or a little Schadenfreude for the pretentious, but in the long run make it about the writing and improving your work—that was the reason you went looking for help to begin with.

The last any of us needs to deal with is fighting with our own peers. Be a writer who is also a good sport! If someone gives you a thoughtful, beneficial bit of advice—take what you can of it, and pay it forward. Advance the craft, not your own ego.

 

Credit: Please go to Debbie Ridpath Ohi's website: inkygirl.com to see more of her wonderful cartoons and illustrations.

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Writing contests ... sometimes "abomidible"

I have entered a writing contest once in my life. The entry could only be 1,500 words long.  Most of my efforts at "short stories" land me in the 20 page range. Believe it or not, I admire people who are terse but it is not one of my gifts. So my first attempt at the story came in at 3,000 words. So I had to back in and cut half of it.  I took out most details that did not advance the story or described something in too much detail. Cute, but fierce Yeti or Abomidible SnowmanSeveral details were given for inclusion in the story: a unseasonal blizzard is  coming, there is a weird ad in the newspaper, and your character is alone. While I do love great literature, my heart is with genre fiction—specifically mysteries, science fiction, fantasy (light and dark) and horror. Literature is profound, but genre fiction is fun.  You can call it junk if you want to. I don't care. It's what I like and it is just where my mind goes.  So when I saw those story details for the contest, the first thing that knuckle-walked into my imagination was a yeti. I gave it a setting: a desolate Colorado landscape, part of a ranch that had sold off some its land in smaller parcels to survive. I gave it a main character: a sculptor obsessed with her work to the point it ruined her marriage.  She had bought a parcel of 100 rugged acres, and a sect of Tibetan monks was her nearest neighbors. They had also purchased a very large parcel of land.  I composed my  newspaper ad: someone looking to buy or be notified about road kill. And I had my lead character hear about an unseasonable blizzard coming early around Halloween. You can probably guess what happens: blizzard, unprepared heroine, auto accident, she gets hurt, the yeti saves her, and she is put up by the monks next door, she has an epiphany—blah-blah-blah. The monks turn out to be the secret sect that protects and nurtures the secret of the "Abominable snowman" and with all the military stuff in Tibet, they thought he would be safer in Colorado. I didn't win anything in the contest, and there was some commentary on the site (from the site owner running the contest) about some weird entries they go. I assumed, of course, they were talking about me. (Me, me, me—it's all about me, of course. When you have no confidence in your work, paranoia is a common side effect).  And so I never entered another contest because of the blow to my ego. Yes, this is sour grapes and wallowing—not my finest hour. However, I do think the owner of the site was kind of out of line calling some of the entries weird. Writers are creative folks after all, and she should know that from dealing with our type for years. And of course, there is always that moment when you ready the winning entry and SNORT! The story that won was well-written and had the plot of someone waiting on the results on an AIDS test and being all alone in a blizzard, contemplating how their life might change. Yeah, that is kind of profound and grounded... but... I wish I could say something bad, but I can't. Needless to say, my fragile ego recovered and I eventually started writing again.  You have to get up, dust yourself off and keep plugging away. In the end you do it for  love (Chorus Line reference) or you wouldn't do it at all.  WIAWOST="Writing is a way of slow torture." So back to the Salt Mines of Namibia or the LaBrea Tar Pits, pick your starting point of unpleasantness and pick up the pen (or tickle the keys of your computer) and write your way out.  

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