Month: August 2011 Page 1 of 3

"Getting out" without going anywhere

I think a lot of people have this preconceived mental image of the Solitary Writer. As if we are some kind of rare animal you watch on the Discovery Channel, our every move narrated by a melodramatic British man:

“There she is, alone in the dim light, hunched over her laptop, pecking erratically at the keys. Watch as she mutters to herself and stares forlornly out the window. With her ratty hair and poor fashion sense, she really is an odd sight to behold. But when she produces that smooth, lyrical prose — oh! — she is a wondrous creature indeed.”

Okay, if I’m being honest, I suppose we are like that sometimes. I mean, my daily work clothes are cotton shorts and a tank top (or yoga pants and a hoodie when it’s cold) and I spend 50-70% of my day on the computer with only my dog Riley for company.

You’d think that all that alone time would mean I get a lot done. But sometimes it’s too much of a good thing. Sometimes I need chores to break up my day. Sometimes I need social interaction to stay sane.

Obvious solution: go out!

And yeah, that works. I like mixing up my week by spending a day at the coffee shop or the library. But when you’re a Poor Writer Folk, every penny counts. I tell myself that each smoothie, each tank of gas, is an investment in my career — and it’s true — but at the same time, I have to live within my means.

Enter Google Hangout.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think Google Plus is all that and a bag of chips. I mean, it’s fine, but what does it do for me that Facebook and Twitter don’t? Nothing. HOWEVER. Regardless of what happens to Plus, I hope Google will keep the Hangout feature. It’s like Skype, only different. Hangout works directly through your browser and lets you video chat (with up to 9 other people) for free.

In other words, I can “get out” without even leaving my home.

Author Jamie Ford has been hosting weekly writers Hangouts every Wednesday afternoon, and I admit I went into the first one thinking, “I’ll just try this once to be nice.” Turns out, it’s awesome. We chat for 15 minutes, work for 45, repeat every hour. To my surprise, I’m relatively productive during these Hangouts, which in turn makes me happy, which in turn makes me more productive.

I think it’s because I have more fun being distracted by fellow writers than my own pointless web surfing. And they make it easier to get back to work. When their keys are clicking, I know mine should be too. The internet, on the other hand, never says, “Okay, Kristan, that’s enough goofing around.”

So what I’m saying is, even the Solitary Writer needs friends sometimes. And the right kind of distractions can actually make you more productive. If you can’t meet up with a buddy or work at a coffee shop, give Hangout a try. In fact, tomorrow is Wednesday. Join me and Jamie if you can!

Six years (ish)

If you couldn’t tell from the last couple posts, my friend and I took a bajillion pictures in Nashville. Even pictures of taking pictures! How very meta of us.

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I have to admit, it got a bit tedious to stop and pose and smile every five minutes. But I’m so glad my friend made me, because now I have a wonderful record of all the things we did and saw. And for someone with a lazy lousy memory, that really comes in handy!

I’m also glad I wasn’t the only one carrying a camera (as I often am). My friend managed to capture several great shots of me and Andy, something I always wish we had more of. In fact, I’ve told him before, even though we don’t want a “real wedding” (in the hundreds-of-guests, big-poofy-white-dress sense) I most definitely do want engagement and wedding photos. Fancy ones.

These will do for now though.

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More from Nashville:

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In the round

On Thursday night, Andy and I drove to Nashville to visit one of my best friends. For three days we enjoyed good food, live music, and great company. As much as I love writing, and am looking forward to finishing my manuscript, it’s always hard to come back down to earth after a fun, carefree weekend like that.

What helps, though, is how inspired I was by the trip. Big softie that I am, I actually cried a bit at the Grand Ole Opry. They showed clips of Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood being invited to join the Opry family. They led us through the artist’s entrance, over to the dressing rooms, and then onto the stage. Standing on the infamous center circle, looking out into the auditorium, I imagined what it might be like as a young country singer. To see a full house. To hear the thundering applause. To feel all that history paired up with all those years performing for free in smoky bars, sending out demos to record labels, eating nothing but ramen, writing song after song at three in the morning. And then, if you’re lucky, to be singing at the Opry. A dream come true.

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Later that night we went to the Bluebird Cafe. It was like going back in time, to those smoky bars I was talking about. (Except there was no smoke, and I think these guys get paid.) Four songwriters, plus an amazing accompanist, played “in the round” — an unmarked circle in the center of the cafe. We sat close around them, practically elbow to elbow, while they took turns sharing their songs and their stories. Again I was struck by the passion, the heart, in their music and their words. It reminded me of my own journey, my own heart.

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From L to R: Shannon Cain, Bill Maier, Robert K. Wolf, and the accompanist, who I think is named Jack Otts. Unpictured is the fourth singer/songwriter, Michelle Hemmer.

They sang of love and laughter, of heartbreak and regret. They sang from a place of honesty. The clarity of their vocals, the purity of their guitars… Genuine emotion poured out of both the musicians and the audience, like so much magic.

That’s what I want to do with my writing. I want to stand on the Opry stage, and I want to sing at the Bluebird Cafe. I want to achieve my dream without forgetting where the passion started. I want to bring readers in the round with me.

Give and take — a post about feedback

Yesterday Sarah informed me that this week is WriteOnCon 2011, a free online writing conference featuring chats with authors, Q&As with literary agents, and workshops with writers at all levels. It’s not too late to check it out, so hop on over! There are some great resources and opportunities.

Taking my own advice, I spent a good part of my morning at the YA query critique forum, handing out opinions and watching for Ninja Agents. I haven’t yet decided whether to post my query for feedback and potential consideration, but I did work on it just in case.

Either way, this all got me thinking about feedback — how to give it, and how to receive it.

As a Critique Giver, your goal is not to rewrite someone else’s work, but rather to point out what wasn’t successful for you and hopefully explain why. This allows the writer to figure out their own solution, and that is how they become a better writer.

With some people (like critique partners) you might feel more comfortable giving specific suggestions, because you know them and their writing style/voice so well that you can imitate it in your edits. That’s fine. But you still can’t expect them to use your exact wording, because bottom line: as a Critique Giver, it should never be about you.

Side note: Comments based on your singular experiences are particularly unhelpful. (And annoying.) Example: “Oh, that house would never be violet! I had a house once, and it was brown.” However, comments based on your knowledge or facts are just fine. Example: “Um, that character would never have violet eyes. Humans don’t have violet eyes.”

(Unless they are albino.)

As a Critique Receiver, you must listen to all feedback. Agreement is not required, and not really the point. The point is to get perspectives besides your own. Yes, some will be more useful than others, but even the worst or weirdest can teach you something. (Namely: to have a thick skin.)

Something I’ve been trying recently is to “just say yes.” To any and all feedback. Don’t get defensive, don’t disagree. Just go with it and see where it takes you. Accept All Changes (in Word or wherever) and then make them your own. Surprisingly, I’ve found this to be fairly successful. Hard as hell, given my stubborn personality, but successful nonetheless. Just goes to show, once again, it’s not about you. So check your pride at the door.

Of course, most of this post has been about attitude (because that’s the most important part!). In terms of the actual how, I have just a few quick tips:

  • Start macro. (Plot, characters, pacing.) Giving micro-level feedback (grammar, diction, phrasing) too early is pointless and will take focus away from more important issues.
  • Serve a feedback sandwich. Good stuff is your bread; stuff that needs improvement is your meat and/or veggies. Starting and ending with positive observations makes the less-positive comments easier to swallow.
  • Pick your battles. Figure out which 3-4 things need the most work or will have the most impact. Don’t try to fix everything at once. It will just overwhelm the writer.

All right, I’ve used up my annual quota of italics in this post, so it’s probably time to call it quits. Hopefully I’ve said something of value. If not, just give me feedback on it.

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