Wednesday, May 9, 2007

First Day of School Jitters

With trembling hands and hope in my heart, I sealed the envelope with my membership application and a check for the dues, walked it out to the mailbox at the end of my driveway, placed it inside and waited for a response.

Then last night, I received the confirmation email. I am now a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I realize that on the excitement scale, this doesn’t rank up there with landing a book deal, finding an agent or typing The End on a first draft, but for me, this is news! Step 2 in my multi-part plan to become a writer. Step 1 was deciding to become a writer.

And what nice people! I received emails from two people last night and another today, all very helpful.

There are quite a few published authors that belong to RMFW, a lot of critique groups in the Denver area and several internet critique groups. A number of the published authors have comments on their websites that indicate that had it not been for their participation in RMFW and critique groups, they wouldn’t have been published.

But that’s not all! There is a writers’ conference, called Colorado Gold in September and I’m already very excited about attending.

This feels great. I feel like I’m really taking the right steps.

And then self-doubt and anxiety begin to creep in…

Gosh, what if I join a critique group and I accidentally pick the wrong genre for my novel and they make me give all my characters magical powers and I have to add elves and trolls, or I try again and show up at the wrong place and they make my protagonist have a heaving bosom and rip her bodice off, or they laugh at me and tell me my mother dresses me funny or tell me my plot is predictable, my prose is trite and I don’t have the chops to write a business card?!!!

OK, I’m not that nervous, but it is a little scary. Up until now I’ve never shared anything I’ve written with a stranger. I think my expectations are pretty realistic and I’m excited to have the chance to really improve my writing. It helps to know that most published authors write multiple manuscripts and work years to get that first gem to a publisher.

Having said that, I would love to hear from those of you who participate or have participated in writers' groups and critique groups. I'd also love to hear thoughts on writers' conferences, since there are so many of them.


Nic said...

You are standing on the edge of every artist/writers's abyss. We present our creation, the stomach clenches, we stop breathing, and the wait for the verdict seems interminable. I hate that abyss!

I can barely stand to be in the same room when someone looks at my art. If they comment, I'll analyse every syllable for hours. If they don't comment, I'll take it as gospel that both my art and myself suck.

But standing there, on that terrible edge, is what we are required and driven to do. I don't paint for my own amusement - I'm trying to communicate something (What? I'm not always certain). And the only way to be sure that something, anything was communicated is to walk out to the edge and ask.

Of course, the benefits of doing that can be profound, whether the response is negative or positive (or neutral).

It's scary, no question. But the fact that you've chosen to place yourself on the abyss' edge, is an act of courage.

Congratulations on your acceptance and when you get to the "critique" stage of things, just keep breathing. :-)

Lisa said...

Nicole, this is what I needed to hear. You also made me realize how tough it is, not only to get feedback, but to give it too. I am so self-conscious when I look at someone's art (with them standing there) and when I want to tell someone I've enjoyed what they've written. I always imagine that no matter what I say (I really love the palette you've chosen, this is a really harmonious composition, I love your use of imagery in the story, your characters are very well developed) that the artist/author may be thinking "who gives a rat's ass what you think...what do you know?" I've noticed that a lot of people tend not to say anything when looking at art, but I suspect silence is often less a negative review than fear of saying something the artist may think is stupid. I'll have to keep in mind that everyone who's put something "out there" has exposed themselves in some way and even uncertain, but sincere feedback is better than none at all.

Greg said...

hellzzz yea....big ups to RMFW for letting Lisa into their club. Time to get to writing some fantasy novels with dwarves and elves battling for the super shield of Lisanthium.

Nooo! First you got to work on a synopsis-- whatever that is. A synopsis is like briefly saying "first this happened and then this happened," right? Maybe if your group makes you write those fantasy novels you can make a character named Synopsis and he'll be able to have the power of summarization :)

Lovin' the blog. Keep pressin-on

Lisa said...

Greg, now that's why I never thought about trying to write fantasy or sci-fi. I just don't have the imagination for it, but now I think you may be on to something with the great and powerful Synopsis and her (I'm sure it's a her) superhuman power of summarization. That's awesome :-)

Therese said...

Way to go, Lisa! A good writers' organization or writing program can make all the difference.

I took my first writing workshop in my first semester of grad school--having never been in any writing class or course or group previously. The first time I had a short story critiqued, I got ambushed by two women with personal agendas that had nothing to do with me, and little to do with my story.

Maybe because of this, I'm very, very gunshy. And yet, as is obvious from my debut novel being published soon, I didn't let the bad experience slow me down. As sensible as you seem, I suspect you won't either if you have a bad run-in or two. Overall, what you gain will be worth the occasional speedbump.

Finding the right fit in a crit group is essential, but it isn't easy. One good approach is to discuss the ground rules with the other members before agreeing to participate. If the other members' sensibilities align with yours, wade on in.

The most important "rule" in giving and getting criticism is this: every work should be evaluated based on whether or not it succeeds in what its attempting to do. It should NOT be evaluated in terms of critiquers' personal tastes or writing styles. The only criteria that matters is "does the story work?"

If your fiction is as clear and articulate as your blogging, you have little to worry about. Carry on with confidence!

Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. For some reason, I’ve heard that same story a few times, so I’ll be sure to heed your advice to approach with caution. Evaluating work based on what it is attempting to do is something I need to write on post-its all over the house. If I would stop and ask myself that question after every 100 words I write, I’d probably avoid some of the roads I’ve started down and then figured out I have to back out of. I have a lot to learn I'm counting on persistence and a thick skin to help me through. Thank you again for the encouragement.

Maia said...

I just posted a long comment, but for some reason, blogger wouldn't accept it. Anyway, hope this one goes through.

I think writer's conferences and critique groups are essential to any writer. It's a solitary job, though we do it because we love words and story. I think being in writing courses and groups toughens the hide--an essential if you want to improve your craft.

Lots of people would like to write, but what separates the writer from the wish I could be a writer, is to simply continue doing it whether they receive encouragement, criticism, rejection, or acceptance.

A lot of writers continue to write despite constant rejection. There are four of us in my own writer's group. Our collective rejection letters would paper the Taj Mahal, but we keep on going. That's either insanity or a burning vision, don't know which!

Lisa said...

Maia, I wish I could have seen the longer post, but thank you for the wise words. I am finding that when it comes to writing, I have an obsession/insanity behind it all that outweighs the fears and insecurities. My primary source for learning aspects of craft (a novel is such an unwieldy beast)is books for now, followed by the great advice I've gotten from a number of people. I hope that at some point, the right critique group will come along to help me fill in more of the gaps. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights with me.

Leslie said...

Knowing nothing about becoming a writer, it still seems to me that you are taking all the (amazing and brave) steps to do and get what you want. I look forward to reading your blog - and the commentary that is posted along with it. In an otherwise so-so day I remember "geez, I haven't read Lisa's blog!" and it is a highlight (even if the subject is heavy!) I was excited to tell Greg about it and glad he's tuning in.
Anyway, I want you to know that I remain impressed and proud. That's my sister folks!

Lisa said...

Thank you. I am always glad to know you're checking in.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf