Sunday, March 30, 2014

Exposing Yourself

(...and other tips for new writers)

Some time ago I took a few paragraphs of my novel and posted it to a couple writers' groups and my personal wall on Facebook. It was the first time I had let "the public" read anything I had written (the short story I had published last year was only seen by my wife and my editors). The feedback was wonderful and supportive from everyone and the critique that came in from the writers was helpful. It was a gut wrenching experience.

Those were just a few paragraphs though. I had written an entire novel (and fired the cupcake cannon), but there was still SO MUCH work to do. So much work! At this stage the whole thing was a disjointed passive voice character smorgasbord blarg of word vomit. In the 25 Steps to Becoming a Traditionally Published Author I had only completed Step 6. If you read that article (which I highly recommend everyone does even if they are not writers) you will see that the next step on the list involves "major surgery".

I'm not a surgeon. Hell, I only took one biology class my whole life and it was a first year university course I took in my fourth year for the easy credit. In a similar parallel, I'm not a writer. Well, I am a writer, but I have limited formal training in the craft. The task in front of me I've never done before. I haven't even seen anyone do it on TV. This was going to take a lot of reading / learning / crying and a little bit of help.



So, I read a few books; novels written by people I knew. I paid attention to how the dialog sounded in my head and to the cadence of the prose. I went back to my notes, the ones I jotted down after I put those few paragraphs out there. Then, I sat down and took a chapter from my novel and gave it a little more shine. I cut a bunch of stuff that didn't move the story forward, tweaked a few things to "show" instead of "tell", and I firmed up the dialog. To keep a promise I made to my wife I plunked the chapter on Evernote and sent her the link.

Step 8 in the 25 Steps article (which I still highly recommend you read) is to give your book to someone you trust. Well, I trust my wife, but there's 240 more pages of surgery left before it's ready. I knew if I didn't get some more feedback soon the rest of it wouldn't be worth reading. So, I took a deep breath and pasted the link into one of my Facebook writer groups.

New Writer Tip #1: Find a supportive writers' group and actively participate.

I posted my thousand words to the group with a request for people to give me their thoughts. Pressing "enter" was the easy part. Settling my stomach down afterwards was significantly harder. It didn't take long for the critique to start flowing. My eyes instinctively jumped to words I wanted to see. Much to my dismay "amazing" and "award winning" weren't anywhere to be found. It was still early but I was getting the feeling that the Giller Prize would have to wait.

What I did get were many excellent suggestions about how to turn certain phrases differently to achieve this or that, helpful comments about wanting to know more about my main character, tough but fair critiques about certain parts, and a dash of ego boosting praise about my dialog. All in all what I got out of this exercise far exceeded my expectations.

Was it worth it? Yes.

Will I do it again? Absolutely.

With every chapter? Absolutely not. 

My goal is to get better at this so I can write a readable novel without having to crowd source the major edits and rewrites that I should be doing on my own. It's going to take a lot of work, and because I am really lazy it's going to take a lot of time. The good news I won't be going at it totally alone all the time. I'll have a little from some friends who don't mind seeing my work in a naked state.

New Writer Tip #2: When exposing yourself keep an eye out for stiff prose.

~ Andrew

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