Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Retiring Writer

It's old news by now, but Margaret Drabble has decided to retire from writing. Yep. She says she's stopping completely because she is afraid of repeating herself.

I wonder how that's been working for her for the past few months.

I've spent more years of my life as a non-writing writer than otherwise, and I can tell you, it sucks. Characters float into your mind--and die. Settings prick at your awareness--then fade away. Conflicts beat at your breastbone, but your heart slows, your attention shifts and you're back to "reality." The pain of non-writing is subtle, and ever-present: That underlying itch of frustration (and depression) that you can't breathe away in yoga class, organize away in your latest "Rule The World In Seven Easy Steps" seminar, or buy away at the shoe store.

I've quit writing before, and I keep coming back. I think, as I stare down the maw of 40 years, I've finally accepted that I must write, always. They'll have to pry the word-processing software out of my cold, dead eyeball-socket-neuralnet connections when they shoot my body into deep space.

And as for repeating oneself--I've been doing that for years. I was once told, "There are only two stories--'A stranger comes to town' and 'the quest'." I think those are, in fact, the same story.

I already know which story I'll be telling for the rest of my life: Leap, and love will catch you.

What about you? What is your core story? And what would it take to make you "retire" from writing?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dishing It Out . . . And Taking It.

Back in the last century, I was an MFA student in Creative Writing. The centerpiece of our program was The Workshop (which deserves its capitalization). Each week, one of us would hand out a copy of our latest short story (all they taught us to write was the short story) for "workshopping." The following week, we fed.

While the writer sat in silence (after all--you don't get to talk back to your reader at home, do you?) A bunch of 22-year-old "artistes" spent 2.5 hours explaining to that silent writer everything that was wrong with his little tale. As an undergrad, I, at least, had been trained to "say something nice before you criticize." Not everyone had had my training, apparently. The object of the exercise, most weeks, was to impress the professor moderating the session with your brilliant, incisive dissection of your neighbor's work. I, to my credit, only cried once--and only after class was over.

Now I have entered the world of Critique Partners. I've begun the process with a couple of writers in my RWA chapter whom, after many months of scoping them out, I've determined are (a) kind people and (b) at least as smart as me.

They might not know it (in fact, I'm sure they don't yet), but I have a couple of unwritten rules for being a CP, and couple of expectations from my CPs:
(1) The CP's primary motivation should always be to help their partners write the best story possible.
(2) CPs comments should always answer the specific question, "How can I make this story better?" Scathing derision, sarcasm and non-specific opinions about the story such as "I don't care for this heroine. She's just kinda blah," have no place in a critique. If I cannot give a specific recommendation about how to improve something, I don't mention it at all. Anything else is either mean or lazy.

Right now, my CPs are reading this and going, "WTF?" So let me just state that they already intuitively know how to be useful CPs--and how to write well. I'm really glad I found 'em.

What about you? Do you participate in a critiquing process? And if so, what are your expectations?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Writing Readers, Reading Writers

"A REAL writer reads," declares an Authority On The Subject.

I am so relieved, because I read all of the time. AOTS would be really proud of me.

I read in the morning because I no longer have the stamina to stay up all night to finish the book. I read while I'm at the desk because I need "a little inspiration." I read when I should be editing in the late afternoon because, darn it, I'm tired and I just want a break. I read at bedtime because it helps me get a good night's sleep. On a good reading day, I can get through two, even three novels. My TBR ("to be read") pile is huge, but I am the tortoise, crawling through it book by book.

Of course, there is this other aspect to being a writer that AOTS did not mention . . .

What about you? How much do you read in a given day/week/month? If you write, do you feel you keep a good balance between getting your words down and reading other people's books?