Monday, January 16, 2012

Writing Friends

Nearly five years ago, I attended the Maui Writers' Retreat.  There is nothing like a week long intensive session on writing, where my work and co-attendees' work are torn to pieces, analyzed, and then repaired. And nothing like doing so sitting in a room all day, while there's a beautiful beach not a hundred yards away.  In one week in Hawaii, I met and built relationships with women who write like I do, who think like I do, and who understand how hard this process is, how hard it is to put yourself out there.  Relationships like those can last forever, if nurtured.  Since then, I've gone to other retreats, taken classes, and attended workshops.  I've developed a network of writer friends.  Writing is a bit like being an alcoholic.  You need a support group, but the people in your support group must understand your addiction.

Anyway, I just got back from a long weekend with Barbara, one of the women I met nearly five years ago in Maui at that same retreat. I got to meet her family, who I've known these five years, through her stories, but had, until this weekend, never met.  She and I spent the whole weekend reviewing my work and talking about writing. She took me through the plot of her story, with me poking and probing into things I didn't understand.  She also read my first chapter aloud, pointing out issues she had with it and letting me hear the flow, letting me understand how it sounds in someone else's head, because every reader brings their own interpretation to a story.  Having her read for me was an invaluable gift. 

Of course, I think I so frustrated Barb that I may never be asked down to sunny California again. In regards to changes she suggested, after about five or six times of me saying, I'll consider it, she realized that was my passive aggressive way of saying, not gonna change this one.  But I did accept more of her suggestions than not.  And her suggestions will only make my writing stronger, more powerful.  She pointed out things that were hard for me to see.  I know the story, have lived with it for nearly ten years, even though I only started seriously writing it about five years ago.  So I miss things.  For example, in my now first chapter, I bring Liz into the story without introducing her.  Barbara pointed out that someone reading it for the first time won't know who Liz is.  Honestly, the way it reads, Liz could even be the dog, instead of the teenage daughter.

I need people like Barb to beat me up, to tear my writing asunder (that's for you, Barb, knowing how you pinged me about my over-complicated vocabulary), to find the weak spots, to be totally honest.  Because, you know what? An agent is going to be brutally honest.  I love my non-writer friends, but most are worried that they'll hurt my feelings if they are blunt, if they say that sounds ridiculous or this doesn't make sense.  So I need people like Barb, people who aren't afraid, and who will help me make my work more convincing, more compelling, and maybe, just maybe, less descriptive (adjective wise). 

Just so you know that it's not a painful experience, I laughed a lot this weekend over Barb's frustration with my use of adjectives. I'm sure not all reviewers are as delightful, but she is.  One of these days, I'll get a video of Barb doing the crow dance and post it.  The crow dance is something she did at a previous weekend meeting with myself and Vivian. Barb was trying to get me to put some menace into one of my chapters, but I couldn't stop laughing when she was showing me how a crow might stalk someone.

I know, for a regular person, all this must sound pretty boring, but there's nothing like talking with someone who understands, someone whose eyes don't roll back in their head when I talk about problems with POV or tense or adverbs.  Next time you're reading a novel, think about the work that went into it, about how many people touched that story to make it a reality, and then look around and see if there's someone struggling, if there's a would-be author sitting next to you who wants to know what you think.

With that said, if you're a would-be-author and haven't established relationships like this, you should.  I can't even imagine what it would be like to go through this process without fellow up-and-coming writers there to motivate and assure me that I'm going to make it.

One for Sorrow

(While in California, I started taking pictures of crows.  If I e-publish, I may be able to design the cover, if I take enough pictures and create images to represent my novel.  This will be first of many you'll see in this blog.)


  1. I read some of your writings to you a long time ago....

  2. @Kathleen, actually you've read for me more than once. And I appreciate it, really.

  3. I know it is "Southern" but any writer who says: The simple, red, striped, bundle, of magnificent noxious flowers.,,, should be shot. I would only use four adjectives. Love you ... She how much a simnple sentence can say?


  4. Barb, you know the rules, any adjectives I take out of my story has to go into yours. So you better find a place for "noxious" cause I took that out. :-) Love you too, you four adjective crazy woman