Thursday, June 25, 2009

Social Networking that Damages

My friend Suzanne recently blogged about some of the joys of social networking.  Well, I decided that it was time for me to take the flip-side.  I'm not talking about facebook, myspace, blogger. I'm talking about the social networking sites that can literally suck the creative juices right out of you.

Several months ago, when I was still too shy to reach out to other writers, I joined a website that I thought would not only allow me to stew in a huge collective pot, but it was a chance to get my work noticed by a publisher.  I publicly supported this site time and again.  "It's amazing, innovative, such a big help!"  Naive and maybe a little desperate, I posted the first four chapters of my novel on this site which will go unnamed in this post.  The platform of the website is to invite critique from other writers or readers.  If the reader likes your work they leave you comments and have the option to publicly support your book.  This in turn gives you a numeric score that ultimately leads you to the center ring where your first few chapters will be reviewed by a publisher.

I'm not going to say that every critique I received was a pile of poo.  Actually I did receive a few useful suggestions and I made a couple of friends.  But out of the 75+ crits that I got, only those few were useful.  A lot of if was harsh, rash and sometimes even a little strange.  One critter went so far as to dive into a dramatic monologue about how he wanted to: see, feel, touch, taste and smell every tiny detail of my story.

Being the eternal people-pleaser that I am, I dove into revisions at the speed of light.  Whatever someone suggested, I changed it like they were some sort of writing expert sent to save me from self-destruction.  I wish now that I had never touched a single word.  

The changes I made essentially nullified my narrative voice.  The first four chapters became a conglomerate of suggestions from people that didn't even have the decency to read past the first chapter and none of them had read the entire MS.  The feedback that I'm getting now from honest to goodness critique partners and the few agents who've looked at the MS is that the book is much better from chapter 5 on.  AFTER the chapters that I let a society of nameless faces re-write.  I wonder all the time if I should go back and re-write those chapters from scratch, give my story a breath of fresh air and put more of 'me' back into it, but I think I've done all that I can.  The damage done was irreparable. 

Someone gave me a good kick in the pants the other day when I was whining about what "this person said" and what "that person said" about certain elements about my book.  She said, "not to be mean... but...  YOU'RE THE AUTHOR!  IT'S YOUR STORY!  Those were the words I should have had in my head all those months that I sat hunched over my computer, writing to please the mass of commenters that may or may not have actually read my manuscript.

These sort of social networking sites do nothing but damage in this humble blogger's opinion. They offer false hope of a publishing deal (which I don't think in two years anyone's landed one) plus you have to network like a fiend to get enough people to read and back your book to even nudge you up in the standings.  All the site manages to do is take valuable time away from the writer that he or she could use to ACTUALLY write, join a REAL critique group and QUERY and interact with AGENTS.  There is no magic formula, or website that's going to get you published.  This is HARD work and that's why when it finally does happen, you hear about your friends dancing around their kitchen like they just won the PowerBall or something.

The best way to find a critique partner or group is to follow writer's websites such as AgentQuery or QueryTracker.  Visit their forums.  Look out for other writers on Facebook or Twitter.  Read as many blogs as you can.  But don't stop there.  Don't just hand your MS over to someone just because their blog is cute. Do your research, swap emails, phone calls and really get to know the person before you start.  This is what I did and let me tell you--it's paying off.

Some may say that it sounds like "sour grapes" because my work didn't thrive on the site. Well, it IS sour grapes.  I wasted months of time and energy pushing my book to absolutely NO ONE. That's right, no one.  I won't make the same mistake with my new WIP.  I have friends and critters that I trust will help me live up to my potential as an author.  Plus, I TRUST myself.  I AM THE AUTHOR and IT'S MY STORY!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Love, Longing and Romance

Yeah, I like romance.  But it's not as fluffy as a lot of people assume.  And I don't think that what I write could be classified as 'sweeping romance', but I like a little mixed in to the story.  

The thing about a romantic sub-plot that draws me in isn't the love and it isn't the romance.  It's the longing.  It's one of those deep, dark emotions that I wrote to you about the other day.  Longing is the predecessor to any great romance and that's why I write it.

Love is an emotion that fills you up.  It makes you feel complete and its the motivation that allows mothers to do anything to protect their children. Romance.  Let's see, so as not to offend anyone, I'll just say that romance in my opinion, is just the feel-good marshmallow fluff on the sundae.  It's not the ice-cream foundation, just an added bonus on top.  Longing, on the other hand, is the ice-cream.  It's the drive, the pull, the motivation behind it all.  Longing is the voice of our heart's desire.  

Longing isn't a feel-good emotion.  Instead of making you feel full, it tells you that there's a big black hole inside of you that needs to be filled.  Longing is the reminder that there's something missing in your life.  If the main character in the story didn't have that deep, dark emotion, there would be no motivation to seek out the missing puzzle piece.  There would be no journey, no discovery and no reward.  It's the search to fill the void that pulls the characters through the story to arrive at fulfillment and a happy ending.

But from the darkness comes light and through trials and tribulations, gun fire and sword play, magic and mysticism, my characters bond and through their longing, find love.  And isn't that lovely, full feeling the best reward?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

In The Dark

Sometimes when I'm reading Twitter feeds, I honestly feel like an eavesdropper.  Conversations between people you follow pop up for you to "listen" in on and once again I've been inspired by something I've seen.  I guess I should mention that I reluctantly joined Twitter, and once I did was instantly hooked.  It's like a bite of cheesecake instead of the whole slice.... ANYWAY....

A pair of tweeters were discussing dark fantasy, particularly YA and essentially what, why, how, when, prompts these readers to seek out dark subject matter. This is entirely a Cliff Notes version of what I read of the discussion....

...ANYWAY..... This got me to thinking.  Not about the YA market in particular, but why some of us gravitate to darker stories, twisted tales and so forth.  I'm not primarily a doom and gloom reader.  In fact, I'm not primarily a doom and gloom writer.  But I do like a good Anne Rice novel now and then, and let me tell you--that woman can write dark!

I think we gravitate to a dark story because we're looking for depth.  Don't get me wrong, everything I write is seasoned with a shake or two of romance and love is a deep emotion, but tragedy, hate, death, and downright spookiness has a way of sinking their collective teeth right into the fleshy parts of your soul. Maybe YA readers do seek this out.  They are hormonally driven, still finding themselves and trying to define their lives.  I don't know a darker time than the 'teen years', so I guess, maybe, they really can connect to that tone of emotion.  

I am lucky enough to have found a great critique partner who, unlike me, has really harnessed her dark side.  I don't think I could ever write the haunting scenes that she does, but nevertheless, that darkness pulls me in and doesn't let go, even after I've read the last word. The depth of emotion is amazing to me, and I enjoy the heartache just as much as I enjoy 'happily ever after'.  Where as a happy ending fills my heart with helium, a dark story can wring it like a wet rag.  Sometimes it's nice to have a cry and let the sorrow in for a moment or two.  It's a very human reaction to connect to those deeper emotions and wallow hip-deep in them.  It's okay to let a chill run down your spine.  And if you have to lock the door after you've read a few pages late at night, that's okay too.  

Bring on the dark!! Let me roll around in misery and spookiness.  When I'm done I'll read a bright, happy romance or a dashing adventure and it will all balance out. What's light without the dark--right?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Hip

I write from the hip.  It may have something to do with the fact that I've never been much of a planner.  I have a tendency to live in the here and now.  But for whatever the reason, the art of outlining a book is lost to me.

I usually start a project from a single idea, or in the case of my new WIP, a single sentence.  Then I run with it.  It's kind of exciting--not knowing what's going to happen next.  If the words are flowing and my muse is in the mood, the story writes itself, taking turn after turn before I have time to think about what might happen next.  But when the word fount is dry, I just have to wait.  I'll sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with an entire character conversation fresh in my head, or an idea will come to me while I'm loading the dishwasher.  I plop down in front of the screen and run with it.  

With my first novel, the words came fast.  Almost too fast.  It was like I'd bottled up all of my creative energy for years, gave the bottle a good, hard shake and pulled the cork.  It took just shy of three months to plunk down 137,000 words.  Can you say OVERKILL? I guess I really had been holding it all in! My second novel took a little longer.  It was a sequel, so I already knew the characters, but the story developed at a much slower pace. Six months later, I had a finished product through one round of edits and revisions.  The third installment took off immediately after I finished with book two.  I already had an idea, and I thought that it would be pretty easy to hit my stride. But as some of you know, I decided to shelf book three for a while, worried that I was wasting my creative juices on a dead end.  So I challenged myself to write something new, fresh and completely different.

The story was founded on a single sentence.  Not an idea this time, which upped the ante a little.  The new characters sparked my passion and just like that, I was back in the swing of things.  I can safely say that I am half-way done.  But--being a 'from the hip' writer, I've hit the brakes.  I have a general idea where I'm headed, but the road to get there is a little curvy. If I'd only taken the time to think the story through, write out a chapter outline, maybe I wouldn't be having this problem.  Maybe I would.  My characters are hanging out, mid-conversation, stuck in a sort of limbo.  I think they'll be okay with it though ;)  If I force myself to continue, I know that my writing will also be forced, and that just detracts from the reality of the story and the honesty of my voice.  I can wait.  I'll mow my yard again, plant some herbs, wash dishes. The story will make its way back to me.  I'm half way through the story and only a month in to writing it.  I've got time and I'll let my muse enjoy spring for a while and then just like a gun slinger, I'll pull the words right from my holster at where?  You guessed it... The Hip!