Indeed, I’ve done a lot toward getting my writing out into the open in the last few months. Back in February I printed out several chapters of my novel and did an informal writing swap / critique with several friends of mine. We sat at a coffee shop and read each other’s writing and then discussed each piece. I asked specific questions about each of the characters—“What do you think is going to happen to X?” “What’s your impression of the relationship between X and Y?”
About a month ago I went to the spring conference of my local SCBWI chapter (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I missed the deadline for the professional critique session with one of the visiting editors, but I did take part in an informal critique session with several other women who were writing YA novels. I was the youngest one in the group by far. I was also the only one who was writing contemporary YA (versus historical or fantasy literature). Reading my piece out loud to the other authors had me internally shuddering at how bloody WORDY it was. A good revelation to have; I’ve done a lot of pruning to those chapters since then. The feedback I received from those writers was quite valuable.
After that, I did some polishing on chapter two of the novel and read it out loud to Adam. Less hiding, more feedback! And last night I was complaining to him that I hadn’t made much progress on the novel all week, so he challenged me to have the prologue and the first four chapters finished and ready to read to him by next Monday, April 9. If I’m happy with them at that point, I’ll probably share them with a few other people—a couple friends, maybe my sister, maybe even the “Share Your Work” forum on the message boards on AbsoluteWrite.com.
It feels like it’s been a long time since my last burst of fear about sharing my writing with others. Phew. This phase of my writing life is most welcome.
Sent a story to a friend for evaluation before I send it to magazines and literary journals. I really need to cut about 1000 words of its current 6000 words before I would feel comfortable sending it off. That tends to be the problem with a lot of things I write—a thousand words too long, every time.
The deadline for a local fiction contest is coming up. I’ve entered this particular contest twice, both times with stories that felt like rough drafts. Story 1, written in 2002, had not a plot or a point in sight. Story 2, written in 2005, was, of course, 1000 words too long. I had a rough time cutting those words to meet the word limit (3000 words) and still keeping the plot intact. I remember finishing it and printing it out around 6:30 on a Wednesday morning, then rushing it down to the main regional post office before work. It needed to be to the newspaper’s office by Friday of that same week. I’ll never know if it was rejected because it didn’t make it in time, or if was just plain old rejected. I never got a notice either way. I read it just last night for the first time in a long time, and I still think it’s an okay story. The ending, which I was so happy to conceive last year, struck me as weak this time around. Maybe I can revise it and make something of it.
Anyway, the deadline for said contest is this Friday, though at least I won’t have to worry about the post office this year. There’s an online submission option—hurrah! Now all I have to worry about is actually finishing my story before the deadline. Oy. I already had one false start. I started a new story with a title and theme I’ve been wanting to use for a long time, but, yet again, I’m having trouble getting a plot and a point to gel. This lovely entry here at 43T is a warm-up for tonight’s work on that story, so let me post this thing and see how far I can get.
Adam enjoyed my story, even though I wound up having to “finish” it with notes in parentheses instead of actual prose. (One of those notes was, “I don’t feel comfortable writing this sex scene at work!”) He read it after dinner on Wednesday and marked it up with the only red pen in the house. It leaked all over the place, but it got the job done eventually. Then, we went to our favorite pseudo-French cafe and discussed the high points and low points and possible endings over coffee and dessert. It felt really strange to be talking about my characters and storylines in a public place. My heart was pounding, and I don’t think that was entirely the effect of the coffee. There were a few people around (though two were speaking Spanish), and I was both curious and nervous to know how much they had caught of our strange conversation.
(I always assume people listen to my conversations simply because I always listen to other people’s conversations.)
I think some of the ideas Adam and I came up with will work for the ending. Writing endings for literary fiction is so difficult because there’s a certain type of payoff expected – the ending can’t be too pat or expected, and yet the reader also isn’t necessarily demanding a twist at the end. Besides that, you have to make the ending philosophically worth the reader’s while – he or she isn’t just looking for everything to wrap up; he or she is also looking for some sort of relatable moral implication. To make all of that not only exist, but also work together and not seem forced is, to me, the hardest thing about crafting a literary short story.
I’ve put this week’s story away for a while. I might get back to it next weekend to do some revising, but for now, I’ve got a couple more I want to concentrate on. I think I’ll be able to check off this goal soon—perhaps once I’ve shown a few more stories to Adam, signed up for a writing workshop, and sent out at least 2 stories to different contests or markets. Honestly, all of that will probably happen before the month is over. Adam even got a new red pen so he could mark up more of my work.
Oops! My deadline for giving my story to Adam was yesterday, but I still need to finish the final scene. Of course, it’s the most difficult one to write. I offered him the first 6 pages of the story last night, but it makes more sense for him to just sit down and read the piece in its entirety. I’m going to work on it during lunch today and then print it out before I head home from work.
Better news, though. I had completely forgotten about the short story collection I wrote for National Novel Writing Month last year. I didn’t finish a lot of the stories I started for the project, and a lot of the beginnings are long, long character studies that go nowhere… BUT, seeing as I’ve apparently been in a stupor of writing-related pessimism for the past year, I had to open the Word file again to remember that I actually did complete two stories, and they’re actually pretty good. I hadn’t read them for a long time, and I’d forgotten what happened at the end, so, thanks, Past Version of Self, for entertaining me and keeping me in suspense. I’m going to revise those two stories and try sending them out to a few literary journals.
I’m working steadily on the short story I’m going to print out and present to Adam on Tuesday evening. I don’t think it’ll be a very polished story by the time I give it to him, but it’ll be readable. My husband isn’t a writer, but he’s a reader, and I know I’ll be able to point out where things don’t flow, or if the plot stops dead, or if a character says something unbelievable.
I sent a query letter and the first page of my novel to Miss Snark, for her Labor Day Weekend Crapometer (i.e. she’s critiquing people’s queries and openings on her site), but she ended up with tons of entries and only selected a random sampling to be snarked on in public. I won’t be in the random sampling. Boo. I don’t think my query was half-bad, particularly in comparison to a lot of the queries she’s posted so far. Yikes. Her snark heartens me.
After a very relaxing weekend, I had a minor freakout last night about the fact that I hadn’t published anything yet, I couldn’t focus on any of my various unfinished works, I couldn’t settle down at my desk long enough to write more than a few sentences… and, ugh, the laundry list of my mildly pathological writing-related behaviors goes on. I finally wrote an outline of the rest of the story I was working on and went to bed, waking this morning with a clearer head of some things I can do to finally finish and share some of my work.
1. I looked up some creative writing classes at Emory University this evening. Their “Evening at Emory” program is highly regarded and the classes are very reasonably priced. There are a couple of creative writing classes that start up in October. I have no plans for anything in October except a Decemberists concert. I have no excuse not to sign up.
2. I told Adam that I wanted him to give me a deadline for when I would have one of my short stories finished, revised, and printed out so that he could read it. I have been working on two particular stories long enough—they just need to get to a halfway finished state so that I can determine how they need to be changed. Adam kept trying to tell me that my deadline was “tomorrow” (ha!), but I finally talked him into next Tuesday. I have a lot of work to do between now and then to get my little story ready for someone else to read. But at least I have an outline and uhh… a couple semi-coherent paragraphs.
However, I do feel more of an urge now than perhaps I ever have to get some of my fictional characters “out there.” They’ll suffocate if they stay in my head much longer. I think the breaking point was several weeks ago, when I made a mix CD that featured all the songs I’ve associated with my characters and their storylines over the years. I realized that my history with some of the songs goes back to 1992. I’ll be driving to work listening to these songs and remembering when I first incorporated them into my stories. I was several years away from getting a driver’s license back then. I was in middle school and was struggling with stringy hair and algebra. And now, here I am, four years out of college, married, supervising a huge project and several employees… and still fighting with myself to write a story about my much-loved (by me) characters that I want to present to the world.
My novel featuring said characters is in an okay state. I did, actually, read several chapters of it out loud to Adam earlier ths summer. A huge step for me. I can’t remember the last time I had read my fiction out loud to someone other than myself. I worry, though, because it’s a satirical, absurdist novel about characters who, to this point, I have always written about in literal situations. Something doesn’t feel quite right about the book, and I don’t know if merely changing the characters’ names and identifying details will solve whatever the problem is. I’ve sort of stalled out on it because I don’t want to invest a lot of time into a project I don’t completely believe in.
Otherwise, I’m working on two short stories that I like a whole lot, but I can’t imagine sharing them with anyone else in the state that they’re in. After a revision or two, I’ll see if I feel like showing them to anyone.