Open Letter to The Writer Who Left My Group

IMG_8652Dear Writer Who Left My Writer’s Group,

I was sad when you dropped out of our writer’s group. You had good input, and I really liked your story.

I felt bad about it, like it might be partly my fault. See, at our last group, you got a tough review from another writer. And you also got a tough review from me. I don’t think I remembered to tell you how much I liked your story, and I should have. Maybe that would have helped.

See, I’ve been there. Two months into my writer’s group, I got a tough review from the same person. I fought tears during group, trying to put on a brave face, like it didn’t bother me. I thought I did a good job, but other people could probably tell how upset I was. I know I could tell how upset you were.

After that group, I thought about just giving up. Not writing anymore. It seemed pointless. I mean, I’ve been doing this for awhile, and if I’m not where I want to be, then why bother? I almost dropped out of group.

Then, I got together with a friend, who said all the things I needed to hear at that moment. That the critiquer was just trashing my work because he was jealous of how awesome I am. That he didn’t know what he was talking about. That obviously he was just an idiot with no taste. I mean, my friend was wrong. But it got me out of that funk I was in.

See, the problem was that my critiquer was right, and I knew he was right. That’s why it stung so badly. He wasn’t right about everything, of course. But he was right about enough that I knew I needed to take a good hard look at my writing.

I’m going to confess; I’ve been a lazy writer. I haven’t always worked as hard on a piece as I could. And should. My anger inspired me to be a better writer.

My critiquer is now a good friend. And I really count on his input, because I know he won’t sugar-coat anything. It still stings from time to time, but I don’t take it personally anymore.

So back to you, writer who left. I was going to tell you all this. I wanted to contact you after group and let you know that we’ve all been there, that I like your story, and encourage you to keep going.

But your profile on Meetup didn’t allow me to send you a message, or give me any way to contact you. And then you left our group, so now I really can’t get in touch.

I’m sad you left, but I have to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Maybe it really went down the way I think it did, or maybe you had to leave for a completely unrelated reason.

Either way, know that I’m thinking of you, and I’m hoping I see the best version of your story out there someday.

And know that next time, I’ll make sure I tell other writers that I like their work, try to end on a positive note. Because maybe you would have left anyway. But if I had said that it was good work, and then you left, I wouldn’t feel bad.

I’d just figure you weren’t ready.

Best of luck, wherever you are.

Doree

P.S. This comic has been stuck in my mind, so I thought I’d share it.

How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

insecure2bwriters2bsupport2bgroup2bbadgeI’ve joined the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. On Wednesdays, we all post about our… well… insecurities.  Like the group name.

How long does it take to write a novel, anyway?

I’ve been working on mine for the last two years.  Give or take 20 years.

I first got the idea when I was in college, and though it’s evolved quite a bit since then, some things haven’t changed.  I’m working on writing it and editing it and all those novel-type activities.

I start to doubt myself when I realize how long I’ve been working on it.  It shouldn’t take this long, should it?

If you ask George RR Martin, he’d say between 1-6 years.  Stephen King comes out with a new book once or twice a year, plus short stories.  And Nora Roberts?  Four or five books a year.  Wow.

So, I guess the point is that it takes as long as it takes.  I’ve written several (bad) practice novels.  Each time, I get a little better.  Since joining a writer’s group, I’ve made a lot of progress with my writing.  More than I had with online writing groups.  It’s tempting to just want to be done with it, to say that it can’t possibly be good enough if it’s taking this long to write, but that’s just not true.

I really believe that failure only happens when people give up.  And I’m not ready to give up.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”

-Neil Gaiman

With Age, Comes Wisdom… Right?

IMG_4863

I’m not old, and I’m not saying I am.  But I really don’t feel my age.  I have friends who are all different ages, including two who are still in their mid-20s.  I really do sometimes forget my age.  And then sometimes I’m reminded, and I have to laugh.

I have a 25-year-old friend who knows EVERYTHING.  He’s smart and makes good arguments.  So good, that I sometimes find myself wanting to believe what he’s saying, even when I know he’s not right.  As I listened to him say something the other day in that arrogant so-sure-I’m-right tone, I realized that I was listening to my 25 year-old-self.

I was really annoying.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still a know-it-all.  But I’m able to keep my mouth firmly closed and my opinions to myself on occasion.  That’s what happens as you get older, I guess.  You learn that not every pearl of wisdom that enters your head needs to be shared with the world.

And that they’re not all pearls.

A long time ago, I remember reading that Dean Koontz hated some of his early novels and let them go out of print.  That he didn’t want them re-issued because he didn’t like them.  I thought he was crazy!  Why not let your early works be re-published?  If people want to read them, they can’t be bad.

With age comes wisdom.  I get it now.

I look at some of the stuff I wrote in my 20s and cringe.  I wasn’t a bad writer.  In fact, for school papers and stuff like that, I was way above average.  So much so that I thought my fiction writing must be exemplary as well.

It wasn’t.  At all.  Really.

I had an immature writing style, and yes, I have some things published online that I wish I could go back and edit, because they’re not as good as they could be.  But the thing is, that I believe that throughout our lives, we should constantly strive for improvement.  Perfection doesn’t exist, so all any of us can hope to do is be a little better today than we were yesterday.  As long as I’m striving for improvement, my writing will never be as good today as it will be tomorrow, and so on.  I can’t just keep going back and changing what I wrote; when would it end?

I enjoy writing.  Most of the time, it’s fun.  My goal is to keep it fresh and fun, and to write for myself first.  Maybe I won’t like what I wrote in the past; maybe I’ll see all the flaws.  But you know, I don’t think that matters.  Yeah, I was annoying at 25, but I wasn’t boring.  And as well all know, friends, boring is about the worst thing I can imagine being. I have great affection for my 25 year old self (even if I would sort of like to go back and slap her.)

So I’m older and wiser, and in another 10 years, I wonder what I’ll think of what I wrote today.

Open Letter to Other Writers

That's nuts! Photo Credit: Doree Weller

That’s nuts!
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Dear Other Writers,

It seems like everyone who has anything to say these days says it in a public forum, whether that’s blogging or Facebook, or Twitter or self-publishing a book.

Through blog challenges, I’ve had an opportunity to read other people’s work, and it’s been a mixed experience.  Some of these blogs are hidden jewels that I wouldn’t have found if I weren’t doing blog challenges.  They’re well written, interesting, and I keep going back for more.

Other blogs have a ton of basic issues, jumping back and forth between present and past tense, poor grammar, and poor punctuation.  It’s to the writers of these blogs that I’m addressing myself.

Even if you don’t think I’m talking about you, I might be.  I’ve been there.  Early on, when I made the transition from writing for myself to trying to get things published, I thought it was going to be easy because I was “naturally” a writer.  Words just seemed to flow from my brain to paper, and I thought that every word I wrote was golden.

Um, no.

I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t getting published, so I decided to find an online critique website, and I started using Reviewfuse (which I think is now defunct as it won’t load).  I don’t remember what the first criticism I received was, but I do remember that it hurt.  It stung.  It was obviously wrong.

I almost decided not to bother with it anymore, and then my better judgement overcame my ego, and said, “You’re here, so why don’t you try taking their feedback?  You can keep an unchanged copy of your story in Word.”

Thank goodness my Better Judgement speaks to me sometimes.  After edits, that was the first story I ever got paid for.  It was only $50, but that’s a huge amount to someone who would have written that story anyway, for free.  And that also cemented it.  Listen to feedback = get paid.  Discard feedback = stuff sits unpublished on my computer.

I tell you this, because even if you think your writing is wonderful, it might not be.  I’m not going to make unsolicited comments on your writing style when visiting your blog because it seems rude.  It seems like visiting your house and mentioning the crumbs on the counter.  I’m just not going to do it.  But please, have someone other than your friends read your blog and give you feedback on your writing.  I’d be happy to do it if you ask.  Join a writers group through Meetup or online (I personally like Scribophile currently).  Ask a retired English teacher or another blogger.  Read articles about writing from Writer’s Digest or Query Shark.  Read Stephen King’s book, On Writing.

If you just want a place to put your thoughts, keep a journal or make your blog private.  I’m a huge advocate of just writing whatever you want in your journal, without worrying about grammar or punctuation or spelling.  But if you’re going to publish your work, even in a blog forum, please take it seriously.  Writing is a form of art, and it pains me to see you writing that way in a public setting.  If you, who calls yourself writer, don’t have a basic grasp of English language rules, then what hope do we have for everyone else?

Shall I just give up and understand that evry1 is guna rite lik dis?  (That hurt to type.  Forgive me.)

Fellow writers (and readers too), what do you think?  Am I being too dramatic, or do you agree that this is a problem?

What I Learned in 2014

In Vancouver, Canada Photo Credit: Doree Weller

In Vancouver, Canada
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Odd numbered years tend to be better for me than even numbered years.  And while 2014 wasn’t awful, it wasn’t great either.  That being said, 2014 was full of learning experiences, and I have to be grateful for those.  Perhaps, like literary fiction, 2014 will be better in review than it was while living it.

I learned that I needed to remember how much I love poetry and quotes.  When I was a teenager, I kept a notebook where I dutifully copied poetry and quotes that I loved.  I still have that notebook somewhere.  As I got older, I started saving things I liked in folders in my email, and promptly forgot them.  For years, I’ve loved upcycled notebooks and bought them, but then didn’t write anything in them.  Well, I now have an awesome poetry and quotes book.  I copy things down and doodle in it.  Writing things I love in there is more immediate than saving them on my computer, and it feels more personal.

Journaling is fun and therapeutic.  I’ve been a sporadic journaler for a few years, and even when I was doing more of it, it was mostly stuff about what I did during the day; nothing exciting. Recently I turned my journal into a place where I jot down all my thoughts.  Things about stories, reflections on my day, positive things that people have said to me.  And you know what?  Just like that, not only do I enjoy journaling again, but I find that it’s a good way to process my day or my feelings on something.

Colored pens make everything better.  Okay, they don’t cure world hunger or addiction, but if I’m having a bad day, doodling in my journal in colored pens makes me smile.  It doesn’t matter if I can’t draw; as long as it’s in color, it looks great.

I learned that no matter how many friends I have, there’s always room for more.  I’m an introvert, so in my mind, I only need so many friends.  I mean, there’s only so much time in life.  Despite my intentions, I ended up making a new friend this year, someone who will undoubtedly be around for the rest of my life.

Books aren’t written; they’re rewritten.  I know this, but I still have to learn it over and over again.  I just have to keep editing until I get it right, and every time, it will be a little better than it was last time.  That’s okay.  The best things in life take time.

Criticism hurts, but it won’t kill me.  I joined a fantastic writer’s group, and got some feedback that really stung.  After I got over licking my wounds and eating 41 pints of ice cream, I took an objective look at the criticism I received.  Some of it, I still disagreed with, so I filed it away and decided not to edit anything based on that.  Other parts of the criticism were spot on, and I made some changes based on that.  Once I got over tripping on my own ego, I realized that I was presented with a unique opportunity to improve.

I strive to be a lifelong learner, and I’m very excited to see what’s going to happen in 2015.  What, if anything, did you learn in 2014?

 

A Little Encouragement

Vancouver, BC; Photo credit: Doree Weller

Vancouver, BC; Photo credit: Doree Weller

Most of the people in my life aren’t readers, and they mostly aren’t interested in reading my stories or talking sticky plot points through with me.  I’ve come to terms with it, and since I mostly write for myself anyway, it’s okay.

When I submit something for critique, I ask for honest, unbiased feedback because my goal is to be published, not to get a pat on the back or get compliments.  My skin is thick, so I can take the negative and channel it into something positive and constructive.

I recently submitted Chapter 2 of the novel I’m editing.  Again.  I love this story of mine.  I love the characters.  I love the dialog.  And I love the plot.  I love everything about it.  I recently got three critiques on the story, two of which were helpful.  The third person who critiqued me gushed about my story.  But it wasn’t just, “Hey, I loved this chapter.”  He got specific about what he loved, quoted dialog he particularly liked and told me that my descriptions were great.  I struggle with descriptions, so this was so nice to hear!  He asked good questions about the story that will help me make it better.

It re-energized me.  I’ve started to feel a bit apathetic about writing, and I wasn’t sure why.  I think that in part, it was because I’ve lacked any kind of encouragement for so long.  I really didn’t even know I was missing it.  A little encouragement goes a long way.  I guess I need to remember that.

Head Hopping

Vancouver, Photo crédit: Doree Weller

Vancouver, Photo crédit: Doree Weller

When I read critiques from other writers, sorting out the useful advice from the less useful advice can be hard.  Of course, I don’t really want my work to be criticized.  I labored over those words and I kind of like them.  So, I don’t want to cut them, even if someone else says they don’t work.  What do you know, anyway?  Or, on the other hand, I sometimes go overboard and do everything a critiquer tells me to.

I cut down on adverbs and I try to keep “so” and “that” to a minimum.  I’ve put in more description and scene setting, taken it out, put parts of it back in, and generally have driven myself nuts with it.

Today’s topic is not about setting, but about something near and dear to my heart… head hopping.

We all know what this is, right?  It’s when a narrator switches point of view in the middle of the action.  Using different chapters to follow different characters isn’t head hopping.

I like bouncing around in my character’s heads.  Besides, if I know what’s going on, why shouldn’t you?  Head hopping is generally seen as a bad thing. It can be sloppy, an amateur technique. The problem is that when I read romance novels, I like head hopping. I like seeing the action from more than one person’s eyes. If I wanted reality, I’d read non-fiction.

I recently read a book I really enjoyed called The Last Prophet, by Kay Hooper.  She’s one of my favorite authors, and I enjoy all her books.  She did a bit of head hopping in her last book.  As I read the book, and was writing this post, I felt vindicated.  There!  See!  A really good author uses head hopping!

As I thought more about it though, I realized that not one of my favorite books uses head hopping.  Not one.  They all either stick exclusively to one point of view or they change point of view from chapter to chapter.

There’s nothing wrong with head hopping.  It makes for an enjoyable book and a fast read.  I can do it if I want to.  However, none of the books I love and admire do it.  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that not one book on the list does it.  I guess the question is then… does staying in one point of view make for a better book?  Or is it just that a more skilled author overall happens to write a better book and does not happen to head hop?  I’m honestly not sure of the answer.  But what I do know is that I’m looking carefully at what I’ve written and deciding if I need to keep shifting point of view, or if I can better get across what I want to through action.

I’d love to hear from other readers and writers.  Where do you weigh in on head hopping?