Transition and Effect

Through a writer's lens *not my original image

Through a writer’s lens
*not my original image

For the last couple days (Since Sunday truthfully) I’ve been preparing my chapter for this week’s NCN meeting last Monday. It was my day to read, and it was the first reading I had this semester. This is one of the most difficult transitions I have to make between break and the start of the semester.

During the summer I’m a writer, and during this time my group usually is impressed with the “improvement” to my writing. I’m able to become absorbed in my story in a way I’m not always capable of during the semester, because as a student I’ve got a thousand other things all vying for my attention.

Usually the quality of my writing dips at this point, especially for my first chapter written during the semester, but what I produced over the past two days actually surprised me. My characters were real, my world was alive with pulse and heart beat, and the danger was a constant and present threat. I went into the meeting wondering how I’d fair, and surprise-surprise NCN responded well to the chapter.

John even finally hit me with the gun I always unload on him when he finally said something along the lines of, “for a 10 page chapter this was a good show, the only thing I can tell you is that I’m not always clear on the connective tissues and how each individual story links up with the next.” Fair enough.

To you that might sound harsh, but a comment like that is music to my ears, because the chapters I write are starting to soar more often than they crash and burn. This is great news! If I can hold an audience for 10 pages, with a bit of work I think I can hold them for 300, and I never would have gotten to the place where I am this confident in my abilities if it weren’t for NCN.

So it seems I can write, and I can write well during the semester. I think what has made my writing flatline in the past during this “transition period” was my own mind. I was thinking oh man how can a juggle being a student and a writer at the same time, something has got to give. That’s a very negative outlook instead I should have been thinking, naw man you’ve got this! I’ve proved to myself that school doesn’t have to hinder my writing if I don’t let it… now the question remains if I can maintain this outlook.

Thanks for reading,

David

PS- About Orandamned. As you may have noticed I didn’t post a continuation of Orandamned this past Friday. I apologize. I was working on my latest chapter for NCN, and couldn’t change gears… I’m afraid I have a one track mind when it comes to storytelling. That being the case I’ll make it up to you guys this week. I’m in the middle of a deep edit for Orandamned (going through the chapters and polishing the story up one paragraph at a time) and when I’m finished I’ll begin writing a double length chapter that I’ll post this Friday. Thank you for your patience, thank you for reading, and thank you for listening. I appreciate it.

PPS- So what’s going on in your lives. If you’ve been paying attention you know a lot about me, but I don’t know you very well yet. If you feel like chatting hit me up in the comments below! Love to hear from you!

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A Letter to NCN

Another night with NCN, my novel writing group, has come and gone and yet again I’ve come away with a lesson worth remembering. We started off the night like any other, with a handful of us late, and the rest of us chatting and bullshitting amicably until they arrived. There was a significance to the night yesterday.

It was to be Tim’s last night with us for awhile.

He’s taking graduate classes now, and one of them happens to overlap with NCN’s designated meeting time. Unfortunately school comes first, and once again schooling’s getting in the way of education, but what the fuck you gonna do about that? Nothing. He won’t be meeting with us next Monday, and perhaps I’m a little down about that.

Anyway it was me and Molly’s turn to read. My chapter was one the likes of which I’d never written before. I feel like I know my characters better and better with every passing chapter, and they’re less characters now than they are real people. I know them. I know what’s to admire about them, and what parts of their psyche deserve to be feared, and nowadays when I jump from one POV to the next it takes much less effort now a days.

This chapter I wrote was stronger. My cuts were better placed, my setting flourished, and my action felt physically dangerous. I also did two in chapter POV shifts, and a short flashback. My group seemed impressed, I was myself… and only my girl seemed to be unsure of whether it was any good or not (Which happens every time I share something with her)! All in all I was happy with the critique I got.

They all enjoyed the quality of my writing and their main concerns were with plotting. I can agree there. The lesson comes during the critique. This is definitely my best foot I put forward, writing-wise. I poured myself into the chapter, corny as it sounds I really did. And it was such a pivotal chapter for me and the course of my novel that I had high hopes for its performance, so when the group gets hung up on a few points my distress might have shown outwardly, and how could it not?

I’m a storyteller, and I want this baby to fly. If this scene doesn’t do exactly what I want it to do the rest won’t flow and I’m going to have to work damn hard to make them understand what’s happening moving forward. This use to happen to me in baseball, little league, specifically when pitching. And it comes down to this, when I give a fuck about something, when I really care, I want to be the best  at it.

I never struggled pitching, no more than any other kid, but the concentration would be misinterpreted by onlookers. Sometimes if I wasn’t wearing a stupid smile on my face that spelt out in the most obvious terms, “This kid is happy” they’d assume I was having a bad time. That’s what it’s like in group sometimes.

Once in awhile I’ll bring a high-stakes chapter, and when I’m getting critique that’s telling me there’s still a lot of work to be done even though on my face you’re seeing concentration it doesn’t mean I’m having a bad time. It means I care and I’m listening and I’m not bringing you work that I phoned in, I actually give a damn about the story.

Why would I feign delight at my project falling short of my intentions? It makes no sense. If a team of scientists thought they were on the right track to curing cancer, but it turns out the latest drug not only kills the cancer cells but also shuts down vital organs and isn’t a viable option for actual cancer patients because of it… in that case the researchers might feel a complex set of emotions, satisfaction that they are on a path that is so damn close, and frustration that what once seemed so promising ends up missing the mark. Sometimes an inch feels like a mile you know?

So no, I’m not daunted, and I’m not upset with the group. The critique they offer is invaluable to me, as it always is, but I am frustrated, and I have never been able to hide that frustration. And that’s ok. Everybody is different, and I definitely have my issues but everyone needs to calm down, because it’s normal for people to get frustrated from time to time… and you know you gotta learn to let them live with it.

I know in this society we want our professionals to be Don-Draper-cool, but I think that’s unrealistic and unhealthy. It definitely is for me. If I can’t get frustrated around friends and colleagues, than who the hell can I let my guard down around. Nobody. So NCN, if you read this, you need to chill when you think I’m taking things personally, because I’m not, I’m not shutting off and disregarding your critique, I’m thinking about it and hoping to hell I can apply it when I sit down to write the next day.

Sincerely,

David

PS- Tim, I’ll fucking miss you man.

PPS- Ian, when you get that new job, I’ll miss you too!

“So What’d You Think and Be Honest…” (An FML Story)

When some one asks you to read their first story…

This summer I worked with the Butte College Literary Arts Club to put out a journal called The Inky Squib. We took submissions from any student currently enrolled and taking classes at Butte, and the only student this excluded was myself because apparently it’s unethical for editors to have a horse in the race… I can understand that. I’m very proud of this journal, and the submissions we received (1 day soon I’ll tell you all about how this project came to be).

There’s one poem in there that I’d like to talk about in particular. It has to do with the appreciation of work when somebody shares their writing with you. I talk about storytelling freely, and as such some of the folks in my life (younger writers and people from my hometown who think if they talk about writing enough one day they might wake and discover “holy shit I’m a writer!” ;P) treat me as if I’m a source of information and an authority on the subject. Because they view me in this light, I do get asked to evaluate fresh works.

This scares the shit out of me!

When I’m talking craft, nothing’s at stake. A budding writer might pick my brain, but more often than not they’re looking for an opportunity to tell me about the stories they’ve loved and that have inspired them. I can easily tell when this is what they’re after, and it doesn’t bother me. We’ve all been there, and what they’re really looking for isn’t advice on writing, but someone who will understand their budding passion and who will tell them, “you’re on the right path my friend, and you should do this.”

All I can do is be encouraging. Some people will sample the writing life and realize just how much work goes into the process without seeing results. Without ample gratification some folks will opt out shortly, or call themselves writers for ages and ages with maybe writing a poem here or there to justify their self-definition. That’s fine too. I suspect these folks will dive in again later on in life with more resolve.

But when one of these folks ask me to read their work and tell them what I think about it, now we’re in dangerous waters. When I talk to them about craft I’m very positive, anything is possible with hard work and critical thought. I imagine the ones who come to ask my opinion on their short stories or poems really do want to be writers, but this is the hardest part, because I take critique seriously and that first short story of ours so rarely applies techniques common to good fiction writing (mine didn’t).

I begin to read their story and usually find that the first couple of pages are throw away. The author is hunting for a jumping point and gaining confidence with their character every word of the way. Finally they find it and there’s a development. There will be a few too many intrigues that will remain unanswered by the end of the piece, and when the point of greatest conflict comes along the budding author will usually write it as fast as they can when instead they should have slowed down to really savor the heart of their story.

If I didn’t give a shit about them and was selfish I’d only lie and tell them I liked it. I can always name a few things they did well and mean it, and if I wanted to I could leave them with that and do no harm to our friendship. I don’t however. I try an be honest. Tell them where their jumping off point was, tell them the author was being too damn clever here, tell them this character seems a lot like you, is it? …You need to expand here. You’re being coy here. This dialogue isn’t convincing, and the worst by far, this feels a little cliche (I hate saying this one because it’s the last thing any of us wants to hear). I don’t do this to be mean, but they need to know that no matter how positive your outlook the act of writing can be damn hard work.

Thank’s for reading,

David

PS- The reason I bring this up is twofold. For One, I’d like to talk about that point in our writing where we’re gunning for the climax and things should start to intensify, but we’re just having trouble achieving that. For two, giving, receiving, and applying good critique is what has made me the writer I am today. Solid critique is writer’s-gold, and don’t forget it.