Friday, August 14, 2009

Attitude, Literary Fiction & Genre Fiction, Networking

Writing is a solitary activity. Or so we would assume, as it generally involves a person planted in front of a screen or notepad typing/scrawling ideas on a page. But this is always only the first step in the writing process. Revisions are best done after the draft is seen by multiple eyes. The more solid a group of people you have to look at your work, the better. This doesn't mean you need a lot of people, but certainly a group of individuals you can trust.

I happen to believe that all writers deserve not only a group (either in the form of a critique group or a collection of independent readers/critique-rs) but a network of other writers from which to gain support. The wider network is for access to knowledge, encouragement and inspiration. Sometimes, I think this is half of the reason for conventions and conferences. While writers learn about the process at these events, we also gain acquaintances.

For this reason, networks like Facebook are very useful. Whenever I meet another writer -- even if their subject matter is not similar to mine -- I reach out to them. If people respond with snappy phrasing, they are electing to sever the potential networking opportunity. It is really easy to get into semantic debates online, and as writers I think we should be more flexible with our interpretations of words.

For instance, the definitions between "Literary and Genre Fiction." While the industry likes to pretend these are definite labels, their use indicates otherwise.

Literary Fiction has subgroups: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Fairytales, Psychological --mind, I don't spend a lot of time on these books as they don't tend to hold my interest, but I'm sure you can see that some of these are certainly pretending at a literariness because the author's agent/editor has seen the ability to market them so. I'll bet the individual writing "modern fairytale" owns a lot of the same non-fiction and mythology tests I have at home.

These are marketing terms. We have appropriated them both as writers and readers in order to define and describe our likes. It has become a sort of jargon, but jargon and semantics allow for the embedding of meaning that can divide groups. So we lump "genre fiction" together, despite its diversity and create a loaded term.

Loaded terms and semantics can lead writers of either end of the debate to think that their writing is more applicable to the world at large than is another. I would think that neither would be right. The difference is not content, but audience. Who do you speak too?

A lack of understanding in this regard allows people to sever themselves off from community. That might not be the intent, but it is the result of having a poor attitude.

All writers in your community are worthy of respect. Everyone is equally imaginative, but their manifestations differ. Our processes, like our minds, and interests are diverse. But and all forms of writing have literary value, at least as their most essential idea. The ability of the writer is to convince the audience of the impossible, experience the different, or gain a new perspective. Any of these goals rely on skill and communication, and can coexist.

So as wordsmiths we should be wary of the meanings of words and know that when we touch on loaded terms, our interpretation of an individual's intent and perspective are not necessarily accurate. We should be aware of the ability of a word to inspire an emotional reaction, and be conscious of that reaction. If possible, we should not take insult where insult may not be meant if semantic difference can be acknowledged.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Critique Groups

I like people. Yes, I know that might be a rare sentiment, but it's true. So naturally I feel the need to work with others on projects and utilize group critiques to improve my writing, but I have been a part of good groups and not-so-wonderful groups. I don't think that there is a strict line dividing these two, but that what works for one individual might not for another. Personally, I want my critique group to be near enough my audience as to be able to give me feedback close enough to the responses I could expect from readers. Other groups I've been in have focused on what editors want and what is "good and bad" as defined by the writer pursuing the art of writing for the art's sake.

There are positives and negatives in each of these options, and I think the true value of each is only realized by the individual to whom the structure is best suited. Likewise is every group affected by the personalities composing it, the dynamic can develop either a creative or destructive atmosphere for its members based on their relationship. I am still working out how this happens, as I have had one group that worked for most of its members but seriously discouraged me and am currently a part of a group that grants me just what I need at some points and major discouragement during other sessions.

Small is a necessity for a serious critique group. That is the first and only ingredient I can identify. Everything else I consider after that point is ambiguous and subjective. There is a balance between just enough and too much negative feedback, and between positive and negative critiques. How a group manages to maintain this balance seems based on the dynamic, however, rather than the rules governing the group.

My most successful critique group consisted of myself (naturally) and three others. Melissa is the Grammar-nut and at the group's inception did not hesitate to dress down any and every story presented to her. Erica, on the other hand, told us what we did well. Roy, who still thinks he can't critique, tells us where to go into more detail, whether something was confusing, rushed or all-out info dump. I watch out for structure. I'm a big-picture gal, and want well-developed worlds, and so am always asking for more in that regard. All together, the group has just the right balance of skill-sets to be of great help to its members.

Currently the group has gotten larger, and we have been trying to create new groups. There is a workshop group and a critique group. The workshop can be composed of however many members need it, and is in no way worrisome. Creating a self-sustaining and rewarding critique group for these new members is much more challenging.

I think some people might wonder why I'm trying to help others set up a critique group, and the answer is that I am trying to establish a network of critique groups. My city has little support for writing, or the arts, and so I have been trying to create that base of support. It is essential that this new critique group can sustain and reward its members. I am currently obsessing with how to make this work. What dynamic works for the individuals I am considering?

Next step, of course, is talking to them. See? I like people. How crazy is that?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Starting Out

This is it for me -- the world after college. I made myself promises, and now while I trudge through online lists and job search sites that try to pigeon-hole my diverse abilities into "hospitality," the call of my own writing grows louder.

For anyone unfamiliar with the process, characters do talk to you. No, I'm not crazy - well, not lock-me-up crazy. But if you foster your imagination you get all the perks (story ideas come easily) and all the downsides (characters do not leave you alone). I've been on a seesaw the passed three years after transferring from a community college to a university. The need to pay rent and get the research paper done cut into my writing time. Only, I'd already been writing so long, that as the time dedicated to it temporarily deteriorated, my characters would startle me with the abruptness of their presence in my mind. It is as if the subconscious mind suddenly screams "I'm here! Don't ignore me!" and then, "Now! Write Now! And if
you don't -!!!"

There is no empty threat in that. For me, if I have enough of this random urgent need to cement myself in front of my computer and no time to actually do it, guilt builds.

So I graduated. So I'm looking for a job. There are no excuses left. I am on the path I will be walking for the rest of my life, so I had better make certain it is the single fulfilling future I have wanted.

Eight years of school in two cities was hard work. This will be too, and here I will discuss precisely how and why I get myself to whatever point it is I am headed towards.

This week I am writing short stories. I'll admit I feel a little out of the practice. I haven't written any since Community College. I have been so enmeshed in revision of one novel the past four years, that the practical steps I need to make while progressing on said novel were ignored.

So here I go!