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Sunday, June 8, 2008

It's a Matter of Perspective Take Two... And Writing Buddies

Ahhhh life. It's interesting and sometimes messy and sometimes painful. And when we go through those times of pain, our perspective can sometimes get stuck inwards so we can tend to our wounds. And only when a hard, crusty scab develops, and the throbbing has ceased, can we then focus outwards, towards the bigger picture. Some of us move through this transition more gracefully and faster then others. Some do it with tears, some without, and some never make this transition at all and remain stuck inside themselves.

I can spend this time writing about the NJ SCBWI June conference and tell you how star struck I was to meet Regina Griffin, Ted Malawer, Dan Lazar, Stephen Barbara, and Jerry and Eileen Spinelli (a real highlight of the weekend). And sure, I can share how great Karen Haas' session was on incorporating humor into your stories and all the other insightful sessions I attended. And yes, I can write my notes diligently here so I can share with you what I learned.

But what I learned was not found in those speeches or discovered in those sessions.

What I learned came after my hard, crusty scab formed, and only after me and my bruised ego decided not to jump from the ledge after all, (thank you Laurie).

Interestingly, what I learned is what I've been blogging about lately... It's all about perspective and truths.

The Truths about my Life:
True, I need a paying job to help support my family and I while writing. True, I have turned over almost every stone looking for one and nothing yet seems to fit. True, nothing about that situation has changed, at least not for now. True, things will still be hard for a little while longer and there really is not much I can do to change this immediately. OK. I accept but I don’t have to like it.

The Truths about Writing:
True, I am new to writing novels. This is my first one in fact. True, there will be those agents/editors out there who hate it. But it's also true, there will be those out there who love it. It's true I will have to weed through many, many, many painful rejections and it's true, I will stand on that ledge again, I am sure. But it's also true, that I will eventually find that one agent/editor whom I connect with. It's true, I am not done writing this novel, and that at times writing is hard, and at others there’s nothing in the world like that feeling when the words are flowing and your fingers are flying to keep in time with your racing mind. And I DO know it’s true that at some point in time I will finish this darn blankety-blank novel, even though at times, I think I never will. True, when I do I will celebrate like there's no tomorrow because, it's also true, that finishing will be a HUGE milestone in my life. And in typing THE END, it is true as well, that I will only be just beginning. Because we all know, truer words have never been spoken when I say, my road to being published will include many re-writes and revisions, be arduous, painful, and full of elation.

But here is the thing, the one earth-shattering-but-perhaps-not-so-new thing I have finally learned from this weekend's conference: While all of these things may be true, one thing that was not, was my ability to believe the little voice in my head. Not the one that said jump, quit, you suck! when my pain was real, but the one that I heard before all that, before I sent in my money and forms to attend the June conference. The one that said, This is not your year to attend. Stay home. Stop getting critiques until you’ve finish your novel.

It’s true, I didn’t listen to that voice even though I 99% believed that was probably the right thing to do. Now, I know listening to yourself is not really new or earth shattering. But, how often do you hear that little voice in your head and you talk yourself out of it? You say, You're just being pessimistic, or You're just being silly, or Try to be more positive.

Maybe you've already learned and mastered this life lesson and you no longer do that to yourself. And as soon as you hear that little voice, you perk up, listen without question, and your life is better for it. And to those people I say, Good for you! And I mean it because this is the greatest disservice we do to ourselves – not to listen to, or dismiss, that inner voice.

See, I think we get caught up in all these conferences and critiques and feel we are missing out if we don’t attend. But the truth is, at least for me, if you are not done, you are not ready. Period. What is the sense of showing an editor your first three chapters if you are not done? What if she loves it and says send me the rest (which I have had happen and I've had to say, I'm not done with it yet). That's not so bad. But what if you were done and they offered you a contract? You still need an agent, in my opinion. A novelist is not going to sign with an editor without representation.

My opinion is once you are done, then you need an agent. Once you have an agent, you're going to rewrite it anyway. Once your agent finds an editor, you're going to rewrite it yet again. And again. And again. Yes, it should be polished and well developed, and have distinct voices before you send it out to an agent, and a critique with an editor can help you get there, but if you are not done, making major changes before you are, really doesn't make sense. Not to me. Not anymore. In fact, I think it can become downright distracting, overwhelming, and potentially debilitating.

So what did my inner voice tell me that I finally listened to?

Writing Buddies.

You’ve heard of running buddies, right? Someone to push you to that extra mile, just one more step, you're almost there, through rain or shine... you get the picture. Well a Writing Buddy is the same concept. Writing Buddies don't critique each other. As a matter of fact, during this time, no one is allowed to look at your work. No one. It goes underground for a while, that is, until you have crossed that finish line called THE END. What is shared instead is the goal to cross that finish line. Writing Buddies’ goals are not to perfect pages at this time. In its place, Writing Buddies set a common goal - to write ten new pages this week, for example. Then they have a conference, via email, phone, or face-to-face and they talk about their progress. They talk about if they reached the goal, why or why not, what worked, what didn’t, and they brainstorm together new ideas for their stories, if stuck or needed. Then Writing Buddies set a new goal. And so on and so on and so on until both write THE END. And again, all the while, never actually sharing pages, just goals, progress, and brainstorming sessions.

Remember I began by saying; it's all about perspective... So, I didn't want to go to this conference. I didn't think my story was ready for a critique. I didn't listen to myself because my perspective of that inner voice was off. I thought that voice was being depressed or negative when in fact it was being protective and intuitive. In the end I learned. Yes, I learned to listen to myself but also maybe I needed to go down this route in order to once and for all respect my process. I tell writers all the time to respect your process and know it will be unique to you but I never allowed myself that same perspective of my inner voice.

And, in the end… isn't it all about perspective?

8 comments:

PJ Hoover said...

Hey Sheri! Great post! All writers are different. I NEVER show anything to anyone until I'm done with a first draft (and probably at least another revision). I know my first drafts need way too much work and that I'll change a gazillion things in them right away. But other writers are different. They write three chapters and submit them for critique. Not my style, but if it works form them, then so be it.
You just have to know what works for you.

Cathleen Daniels said...

Great post Sheri. Its actually been rather amazing for me to have been a viewer on the sidelines as this all unfolded. I felt so inadequate Saturday night trying to find something positive to say to help you off the ledge! I know the feeling well and it was hard to watch you in the low part of your process. I kept wanting to fix it for you. You are cementing for me the necessity of sitting back and letting people follow their trail to their own conclusions, healing and growth. I see now that a hard won truth is so much more powerful then any words of support I could offer to 'fix it'.

You are so right about listening to ourselves. Your experience answered my own angst and desire to sit down over the summer & beyond and just finish my book without anymore feedback until it's done. It was an important revelation for you and I think I was meant to be standing around through out it, learning from it as well.
I am so very glad I met you,
Cathy :) XO

Sheri said...

PJ, Thanks! I agree and sometimes you just don't know what works for you until you try. Now I know. I thought submitting three chapters at a time would cut out some of that revision process later. Who knows maybe it does, but it sure makes it very confusing and overwhelming.

Hey Cathy, or should I say writing buddy! I am very excited about our new commitment to helping each other finish our novels. And hey, sometimes just having a friend to cry on is the best thing. You offered immense help and support all weekend! (not to mention the tear-streaming-laughter Friday night!) I do know we were meant to meet and definitely for you to be there the Aha! moment struck me.

Thanks both for all your support and encouragement!

Jim D said...

Interesting about "Writing Buddies". I'm in a group with 4 other writers that e-mails every Sunday with goals, progress (even if it's zero progress), brilliant ideas and those that failed. I think it's important to communicate it that sort of context. (It goes without saying critiques are also important.)

Great post.

Jim D

Sheri said...

Thanks Jim. And welcome!I know it was a rather long post, but sometimes those can't be helped. I agree with you, critiques are very important. What I've learned, is for me, premature critques, however, can stop me in my tracks. So I really hope this writing buddy system will work.

I will keep you all informed as my new Writing Buddy and I go through this new experience.

Anne-Marie Bellshot said...

Hi Sheri,
I'm so glad I met you at the conference. You're a delightful, encouraging, talented writer.

All writers get hit with criticism--often constructive, but sometimes just hurtful. But it's never a waste because we always learn from it.

Maybe we learn not to work with a particular editor or agent in the future. (I know what agent I will never send anything to!) Or maybe if we're lucky, we meet the one who feels a connection to our work, our baby.

As hard as criticism is, it often makes our writing stronger, and hopefully us as writers, too. But as you've said, that process can only begin after the scab starts to form over the open wound.

The conferences are never a waste because they provide opportunities to meet other aspiring writers with the same hopes and who can offer insight into and suggestions for our stories. And we meet publishing contacts who might say, "I'd like to read more."

Unfortunately, the conferences do get expensive. I try to do one a year. The other 364 days are spent writing, rewriting, listening to critiques, and continually improving my stories. I'm always hopeful that by the next workshop or conference, my stories are that much closer to eventually getting published.

Keep plugging away at the novel. Stay your same, sweet, optimistic self. And I'll be in line to buy your first novel when it hits the stores!

Sheri said...

Hey Anne! Sorry it's taken me so long to respond and thanks for stopping by! I loved your humor and insight at our peer critique and it was a pleasure meeting you.

I know what you mean about the expense of conferences. I try to go to a workshop at least once and the annual conference.

For now I will not be going until I am done with my novel once and for all! Or at least, I will not be participating in any critiques until then...

I couldn't agree with you more about criticism and becoming stronger. In the end it's all needed and necessary!

Hope you check in again soon!

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“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous