They’re all going to laugh at you!

Two years ago, I had lost all contact with other writers. I didn’t have a Facebook, Twitter, or WordPress account. I had never even read a blog! But I was back to spending several hours a day writing, and I needed someone who could relate. So, I googled for a critique group in my area. I discovered one that, coincidently, was having its first meeting the next night.

Did I go to that meeting? Of course I didn’t. I finally worked up enough courage to make it to the third or fourth meeting. And that was only because I feared I would quit writing again, if I didn’t have to answer to anyone. So, when one of my sons offered to go with me because he thought I would never do it alone, I realized how silly I was being and forced myself to go.

I had every intention of getting to know the members for a while before I submitted anything, and listening to their feedback on three submissions that night made me question whether I’d ever be ready to let them read anything I’d written. Then, at the end of the meeting the group leader asked if I could submit for the next meeting and, to my horror, I heard a YES come out of my mouth.

For the next two weeks, I debated whether I should quit the group or face them. I kept hearing Piper Laurie, as the mother in the movie Carrie, shrieking, “They’re all going to laugh at you!” Only, I didn’t quite think they would laugh to my face; I imagined they had already laughed when they read my submission. As it turned out, they gave me some helpful feedback on my story—and no one laughed.

In my rational moments, I didn’t believe they should have laughed, that they had real cause to laugh because, for the most part, I have confidence I can write. I just lack confidence in myself as a writer … or something. There’s a fine line in there somewhere. (Explain this, if you can.)

ANYWAY … now, I’m in the agent querying stage for my novel and every time I look at the list of agents I’ve compiled on QueryTracker, I hear that same Laurie shriek. Every time I paste my query into an email and hit that send button, I suffer a moment of what-have-you-done panic. If I’ve been following an agent on Twitter, I unfollow before I query for fear I’ll recognize my query in one of their can-you-believe-this-stupid-query tweets. But, barring a miracle, I have to query if I want to find an agent who can find an editor who can publish my novel.

At least agents don’t carry chef’s knives … right? Right?

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Who do you trust?

Because I have a surplus of questions, but a dearth of answers, I’d like to trade a few of the first for more of the second. The big question today is: who do you trust to read your writing? But that’s too simple, so I’m going to complicate things with qualifiers.

I’m curious about how other writers get feedback on their work.

  1. Do you let anyone read your work in progress (first or second draft) or only when you feel it’s nearly polished?
  2. Do you have a spouse, or other family member, who reads and discusses your writing with you and if so, is this person a writer?
  3. Do you have a close friend who read for you—and if so, is this friend a writer? (Revised)
  4. Do you have a mentor?
  5. Do you submit your work to a critique group—and if so, is this a face-to-face or online group?
  6. Do you submit only in a workshop/class situation?
  7. Do you think writers should rely on their own skills and listen only to feedback from a professional (agent or editor)?

I’ll start first by saying that none of my family members read my work … or maybe I should say, not anymore. And I have only two non-writer friends who read my last novel—one in progress, the other read the short version. Other than that, I must depend on the kindness of strangers. Actually, that would be my critique group members and two writer friends who read my complete novel, and a couple more writer friends who gave me feedback on a story or two. Presently, I’m in a small face-to-face critique group, just four of us, and these other three have read my novel, some short stories, and a few versions of my agent query letter. This group is most familiar with my style—and also my faults—which makes them my valuable front line. And though I bug one or more of them by email between our monthly meetings, essentially it’s a rather “formal” arrangement. I’ve often wondered if I should seek feedback from real strangers in an online group (I used to do that ten years ago) or what it would be like to have a true mentor.

Okay, I gave you some of my questions; will you give me some of your answers?

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Too much information!

I have read too many writing manuals. For now, my brain cannot process any more how-to advice. It’s likely a few skipped my mind when I compiled this list, but in full or in part, I have read these books in the last year:

  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
  • The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine
  • The Writers Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  • The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon
  • How to Grow A Novel by Sol Stein
  • Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner

Add to those myriad articles in writers magazines and online and I think you get the picture. The worse part is that I’m not sure, for all my reading, that I learned that much. That’s not to say these books aren’t good because they are. But since I had read many of these at least once before, more often than not, I found myself checking tips off as something I already know and incorporate in my writing. My brain feels saturated with know-how and I think what I need most now is to do.

I’ve been cheating myself by not stretching my writing boundaries. I write only what I want to write. I don’t write to prompts. I skip over writing exercises. I pass on writing classes. I ignore workshops. Until now. I’ve signed-up to participate in Merrilee Faber’s writing workshop.

Frankly, I dread it. Like I said, I’m spoiled. I expect that I will pout quite a bit during this experience. I will complain that I don’t have time; I have other writing to do; I’m not sure workshops should be given priority right now. But then, I’ll smack myself and do the work required because … the best way to learn to write is by writing.

Have you tried something new with your writing lately?

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A Tapestry of Writers

When I started blogging, I knew only two other writers who blogged, then I coerced a third to join in. After a short while, I got the hunger for more writers’ blogs to read.

If WordPress bloggers use tags on their posts, they are sorted into categories viewable at the main “dashboard.” As soon as I published my measly posts, I’d go to WordPress.com and see if mine was visible. While there, other bloggers’ posts caught my eye and I would visit and comment. Usually, they reciprocated.

Because half the party is in the comments, I would read theirs and sometimes click to visit the author of an interesting comment and probably leave a comment on their blog too. Those who came to my blog did the same. So, my blog friends became your blog friends became her blog friends became his … and so, the weaving began. Now, we’ve created a tapestry of writers.

That’s a beautiful thing, don’t you think?

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Grab a spoon and a hunk of bread!

Today I’m serving up another Sunday Stew, which I guess is a strange dish for Sunday … at least the way I was raised. We always had a nice big Sunday dinner. But today I’m just blogging about a few things I’ve been thinking about lately, a mixture of things, so stew it is.

If you’re a regular visitor here, you know I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. After my last post about it, I decided maybe I just wasn’t being aggressive enough. Soooo … I’ve spent the last three weeks doing my best to tweet, retweet, and respond to others tweets—including loads of people who don’t follow me—you know, being sociable. And yes, I have twelve new followers, but only a few of those actually followed me because of my experiment, and of those few “strangers” only two have any connection with writing. Seriously, one of my new followers tweets about surfing!? For me, what Twitter does best is waste a lot of my time.

In my ongoing quest to write publishable stories, I’ve been reading how-to books. So far, I haven’t found any secret to success. I’ve realized the rules for writing a story are basically the same as for writing a novel. Because of the differences in length, you just have to get to the point quicker, make every word count even more, and there’s less room for character development and description. Am I missing something? I submitted a flash and two horror stories to my critique group. The verdict: two good, one not so much. I’m learning.

I think I have a “platform” disadvantage. Or for fiction writers, I guess that’s called a readymade base … or something like that. In other words, I don’t already have a large group of people likely to buy my novel when it’s published. Some of you do. Either you write genre or you belong to a social, religious, or special interest group that supports its own. I write mainstream fiction, which usually is sold on name recognition. I don’t think tweeting is going to do it, people.

Finally, I think email sent in June must have traveled through a black hole or something. In the last couple weeks, I have twice received the same email sent by a friend in June, another email sent by my son in June, and three different blog posts from June! It would seem weirdness is afoot.