Writing Problems: I Want to Be Done

So a couple months ago I finished polishing up my manuscript, and sent it to my critique partner and posted it in my critique exchange group. I’d finished inputting criticism from the last round of critiques, and I thought to myself, “I’m in a good place.This will be easy.” Not that I believed that there wouldn’t be problems — of course there will be problems, there are always problems — but there would only be a few. Things I could fix in a few weeks. Then I’d clean it up again, and boom, off to agents I go.

Well, no.

While problems of plotting aren’t getting mentioned (thank goodness) and there don’t seem to be overwhelming instances of my characters not being up to snuff, my to-do list for this manuscript keeps growing, and growing, the more I read my criticisms. And I realize my original goal of being ready to ship out by the end of June was laughably naïve.

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This is not what a page from a manuscript you’re “almost done with” looks like.

 

I know I can’t let myself get hung up on everything that critique partners tell me. Sometimes you just have to leave a piece of advice behind.

 

But, you have to take some of it, too. Especially when there are persistent problems — wishy washy character, descriptions that don’t go far enough — that you know about your writing, and that people are still noticing when they read it for you.

I want to be done. Not because I’m sick of my story (I wouldn’t have gone through this many revisions if I was capable of getting sick of it), or because I have other ideas (I do, though), or that I just don’t want to do the work (though yeah, I’m lazy). No, I want to be done because I don’t want to do it forever. I don’t want to be caught spinning my wheels, rewriting and editing the same things over and over again, never reaching a real stopping point. I don’t want to put of getting published. And I don’t want to keep finding so many problems that I decide my story is unfixable and quit on it altogether, burying it as far into my drawer as I can.

I don’t want to get frustrated, and leave my story unfinished. I want to see it through to the end, and make the best attempt that I can to put it out into the world.

To do that, my story, my characters, my writing, have to be as flawless as I can make them.

Which, unfortunately, means I’m not done, as much as I wish I was.

Critiques: What to Take, What to Leave

As a writer, it’s really wonderful to have people who are willing to take on the time consuming task reading your work and giving you feedback. Outside eyes can see where things aren’t working, can look without sentiment on the parts that have become too precious to you to know if it’s really good or not, and they can reaffirm decisions that you were hoping, hoping, hoping were the right ones when you put them to paper. And, possibly most important, they can give you a perspective you didn’t know you were missing, rounding out your stories, and your characters.

But it can also be a little too much.

20160606_105650The problem with so many new voices is that there are so many new voices. If more than one person is looking at your story, you’re bound to get more than one opinion on different parts. Or one reader will find they don’t like one bit of your story that you always thought worked, that reads to you like one of the best bits of the manuscript. You get a list of things you feel you should change, to the point that you feel you’re rewriting everything every time a new critique comes in. It’s overwhelming, and makes you feel as if you’ll never, ever get this damn story finished.

It’s really important, when working with critiques, to take readers’ opinions of your work seriously, to accept that you’ve made mistakes that other people have found, and now you have to take the time to fix them.

But it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to take every single bit of advice you’re given. When your book finally makes it out in the world, it’s basically an impossibility that it will be universally beloved. No matter what you do, or how you change it, someone will think that it doesn’t work, that it fails, even if others love it. Some of that opinion will have to do with your own skills and the quality of the work, and some of it will have to do with that person’s point of view and life experience and how that causes them to relate to what you’ve written.

I have a problem with internalizing every critique I get, and trying to apply a fix to my manuscript. It’s how I wind up with stories that get rewritten too many times, that get changed one way and then back again, stories that never feel quite done. I love getting all of these opinions, knowing what’s boring or preachy or what is good or clear or exciting. But I also have to trust my own self on some things: that this bit of word choice is what I want; that this flashback does add to the development of my character; that the timing of this joke works just fine. When I agree with the criticism, when I can’t ignore it, I’ll change the wording, I’ll work out the puzzle — it’s something I actually enjoy doing, after all. And I’ll give every bit of criticism its moment, analyzing it, weighing whether or not it will make my story better.

But I won’t make it perfect for every individual who ever picks it up — it’s not possible, and it’s not something I would expect when people take in my critiques. I’ll take what works for me, and make my story the best in my own eyes.

How do you deal with critiques? Do you ever have a problem with suggestions you disagree with? How likely are you to change a large chunk of your story based on what a critique partner says?

 

On Critiquing (It’s Nice to Know You Can Be Honest)

Once again I’ve sent a manuscript off to be read by my critique partner. I trust her to tell me what’s working, where I’m doing well. But I also trust her to tell me what isn’t working, where I’m failing and flailing, to type in clear language whether this story is ready for me to suit up and fling into the world.

And it’s nice knowing she expects the same from me.

Sometimes when I’m critiquing, I’m worried that I’m being mean, even if in retrospect, and when comparing my critiques to others, that never appears to be the case. It’s what I want from other people, to flatly say “I don’t understand” or “This is boring”, “I don’t believe your character” or “This whole page needs to go.” I need to know how someone outside of my brain is effected by my story, and that’s what a good critique partner wants right back.

20160501_093218Still, I’m so anxious about making people upset, about having someone angry at me (I will stress for days if I say something weird in a text message and a friend never responds), and I too often equate my being honest with being mean. It’s how I wind up being too passive-aggressive from day-to-day. But, there’s no being passive-aggressive, or pandering, when you’re critiquing — none of us have time for that. We need to know what’s wrong, so we can fix it, editing and rewriting and scribbling circles in a notebook until the solution snaps in our heads like a firecracker.

It’s wonderful, to find other writer-people that you can be honest with. People who trust your opinion, who know the difference between constructive criticism and petty meanness.  People who you aren’t overly concerned with hurting their feelings (they’ll get hurt eventually) because you’re focused on helping them mold their story into the most near-perfect shape you can.

And if you can trust them to give the same back, that’s a pretty good deal.

Writing Updates: April 2016

QKNVDENHQPAfter getting comments back from my critique partner and a couple of people from the fantasy critique group I’ve joined, I’ve been spending the last couple of months editing my middle grade story. I think I’ve finally got it polished up to the best of my ability, and had planned on getting it ready to send out now….

…but, things never work out how we want. I haven’t changed the main plot, but I’ve made alterations to some character motivations and reactions, and I want to make sure they work for people other than me. So, off to the group for one last go!

Hopefully I’ll be able to get this out to agents in June, so while I’m waiting for comments I’m going to work on my query materials: the letter, the synopsis, the list of agents that I hope against hope will accept me.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my new adult WIP that I put aside a few months ago, to let it stew, so it’s probably about time to pull it out again and fix it up. Maybe I can get some comments on that this weekend, too.

I’m also trying to keep up with two posts a week on this blog. It’s been working for a little while — but I need to do a better job of coming up with content, and of writing posts ahead of time so I’m not struggling to get one out.

That’s what I’m writing — other writers, anything new for you?

Dealing with Crits (A Fear of Looking)

I have a fear of looking at critiques when I get them on my work. I have enough confidence in what I do to know that the thing I sent out was not bad. Really, it’s the best I could possibly make it on my own. Still, I worry over what might be said.

Did a character come across in a way that I did not want?

Do they not believe the turn in the plot?

Do my sentences make no sense, or are my descriptions boring and cliché?

Will they discover a problem so big that I can’t fix it with a few simple tweaks?

The answer to those questions, every single time, is a certain yes. There are problems I didn’t see, characters I need to clarify, and problems that involve either an overhaul or a rewrite. It’s hard to face this, to know that my hopes that this time the draft was perfect turn out to be unfounded. There are many things to fix, and many of them are not easy, and it’s like a million tiny pains every time I see a new comment box on the edited draft a critique partner emails my way.

But it’s always wonderful, after I’ve read the comments, after I’ve made my notes. I see the story fresh through another person’s eyes, I know where I failed, I know where the story isn’t strong. And then I start to think.

Those comments, as hard as they are to read the first time around, are like continuous shocks of caffeine into my story-brain. I keep thinking about it, how to fix it. I pace the room, scribble pages of ideas. I become so excited that it fills my brain while I’m at my job, or doing chores, and I keep writing even during the times when I would normally feel burned out.

The comments fuel me, even — especially! — when they show me how much I have left to do. The story stops being something I’ve driven straight into a wall; it’s a puzzle that I can pick at and work out. The critiques help me see exactly what the problems are, and once I know what the problem is, it can be so much simpler to find the solution.

I’m afraid of my critiques, but I love them, because they make me excited again about whatever it is I’m trying to work on. Without them, I don’t know how many things I would ever, truly, finish.

Moments in Editing: When You Can’t Sit Still

After so many days of staring at the file on your computer, you finally get over yourself and open up the critiques on your story. The comments are positive, but there are problems, you knew there were problems, and you’re glad that people are pointing out the things you can’t see on your own. You see the difficulty you’re going to have reworking parts of your story, but most of the solutions pop out to you.

Then, you see that one comment. The one that makes you think, the one that makes you realize that maybe you didn’t figure out your characters as much as you thought. The one you know requires changing more than a couple of sentences.

There’s no easy solution to this, but your brain starts sparking and firing. New ideas pummel you from the inside, so you can’t sit still. You jump from a chair, you walk in a circle, you move in a way that will actually match your pounding heartbeat so your brain can slow down for half a second, and you start to see it. You start to see your answer, and with that answer you start to see your story and your characters clearer than you ever have before.

Maybe you don’t see how to fix it… but you see how you can start to fix it, you see how if you follow through and do this right, your story will be better and more true than it was before.

Because of that comment that you finally took the time to read.

You take a deep breath. You go back to your chair. You pick up your pen, and you begin to writ.

Writing Updates: February 2015

Even monthly, I forget to do this!

I feel a bit guilty. I’ve been doing a terrible job keeping up with reviews. But! I have what I’m going to say is a good excuse.

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Amelita galli-curci” by Bain News Service, publisher via Wikimedia Commons.

The rough draft of my current work-in-project is going really well. I hit the climax, and now I just need to do the wrap up before this thing is all written. (I keep wanting to add on the qualifier “but I’m going to have to rewrite most of it”, which I should quit, because it’s a rough draft, if I don’t think I have to rewrite most of it then I’m not thinking right.)

Once that’s done, and typed up, I’m going to set it aside for a couple of months, to let some of the preciousness wear off, before I do a reread and figure out what needs complete rehashing, or has to go entirely. While that’s fermenting, I’m going to go back to the old middle grade fantasy manuscript I started doctoring up last year. I gave it out to some friends, and their criticism is trickling back in, so maybe with some other perspectives sitting at my shoulders I can really amp up this story.

I am running into another problem of wanting to do too much at once, though. I had written a middle grade contemporary also, which I liked, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the emotion, which I felt sat super flat through the whole thing, to come to the surface. (Also, it was way, way too long.) I have been reading some novels in verse recently, a format I really, really love, and I started wondering if that would be a better fit for this story. I’d like to give it a try, at least.

So now to decide…what the heck do I work on?

That’s me–writers, what are you working on right now?

Earnin’ My Keep with My Critique Partner

The critique partner I mentioned in a recent post just sent me her manuscript the other day. This is something that I’ve read portions of before, but in other versions where her character had different beginnings, met a few different people, and was even narrated in a different perspective. As I said in that other post, I’m so happy the get this manuscript because I love her writing, I love this character, and I love that I have the chance to see her adventure from beginning to end. (Also, this puts me in a position to help twist and turn and fine tune the path of said adventure, which is thrilling.) On top of all of that, though — I’m relieved.

Since graduation, I’ve sent her my whole manuscript TWICE, plus a few short stories I cobbled together. She’s sent me a few short stories of her own, and asked for help in plotting out her rewrite, but, I feel, nothing near the volume I’ve asked her to critique for me.

click to return to the previous pageThe “partner” in the phrase isn’t something to take lightly. There should be a near-even amount of back and forth, of assistance and gain, going between the two. Lately I’ve felt as if I have taken an unfair amount of time on the receiving end, so while I’m always anxious to hear her opinion of a new idea of mine, there’s a little bit of guilt involved in knowing I’m not doing the same for her (who cares that she’s not currently asking for help and I am, my guilt certainly doesn’t care).

I like feeling like I’m earning my keep, that I can even out the trade off we’re doing with each other so we can both always feel like this relationship is beneficial and good. At least until I send her another manuscript in a couple of weeks.

 

Writers, do you have a critique partner? Do you ever feel like one or the other is taking up all the time, whether it’s true or simply in your head?