Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Monday Morning — Ouch!

I am doing my best to be good when it comes to the blog this morning. Good in that I am blogging. Good in that I am trying to keep it short because I have a ton of work to get through today. Good in that my friends Sarah A. Hoyt and Dave Freer have done much better jobs than I can in discussing the attacks on Kate Paulk and the fans who have decided they wanted a voice in the Hugo Awards. Good in that I already know what my Mad Genius Club post will be tomorrow.

So what am I going to blog about? That’s a good question because, at the moment, my brain is filled with edits for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). Then there is Dagger of Elanna, the follow-up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). The plot is solidifying in my mind — which is a good thing. Not so good is it wants to be written NOW! It doesn’t care that I need to finish Honor nor does it care that I still need to write a somewhat coherent blog post.

So I am going to pull inspiration from my critique group.

One of our members is a great guy. He is new to the craft and is trying hard. In the time he has been with us, I’ve seen him improve by leaps and bounds. But, as with every writer who takes their craft seriously, he knows he still needs to improve in some areas. He doesn’t let it get him down, at least not for long, and he asks questions, takes notes and thinks about what we tell him.

The thing is, I worry that he doesn’t get that he has real potential. He has a story. There has never been any doubt about that. He isn’t one of those who come into a group with what is nothing more than fan fic without any of the serial numbers filed off. He gets, on an intuitive level, story structure. He simply has to learn the “rules” of writing and understand that a lot of his so-called issues can be handled by a good copy editor and proof reader.

Yesterday, we had a small group and only one item to critique. That gave us a lot of time to be able to just talk and brainstorm. More importantly, it gave me a chance to crawl into this gentleman’s brain and try to figure out why he is writing what he is. I’ve felt from the beginning that he is trying to write in a genre he isn’t all that familiar with. I’m convinced of it after our conversation yesterday. His reasons are valid and I even understand them. But they all come down to one basic thing: he isn’t confident enough in his abilities as a storyteller to write in the genre he really enjoys reading.

He isn’t confident enough that he can come up with a plot that fits the action suspense mode he likes.

And I so identify with what he is feeling. I sat on both the Honor and Duty (2 Book Series) as well as Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) because I was afraid I didn’t have the ability as a writer to carry them off. Hell, let’s be honest, I didn’t let anyone see my writing for a very long time because I didn’t have any confidence in my ability as a storyteller. So I fully understand where my critique partner is coming from.

If it weren’t for Sarah Hoyt (and later Kate Paulk whom she brought in as backup), I would probably still be writing and shoving my work under the bed. Now I need to remember how it felt when they started pulling me into the light of day, so to speak. I hope I can be as good a friend and mentor for this gentleman in my group as Kate and Sarah have been to me. I hope I can find the right words and examples to give him to keep him interested and motivated. He has the foundation already, something a lot of folks who want to write don’t start with. The rest is stuff he can learn or hire someone to deal with after the story is written.

I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying that, as writers, we need to believe in ourselves. We need to trust our guts and give ourselves permission to write crap because that crap will act as fertilizer for better work.

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4 Comments

  1. This happened a lot in my Colorado Springs critique group, which I miss terribly. I’ve come to understand that what new writers need far more than praise is encouragement. Writing well is hard work; it takes time; it takes introspection and a species of objectivity that is rarely inborn and must be developed. The walls must be broken through as they’re encountered, which, when working alone, is a truly miserable business.

    We do indeed need to believe in ourselves. The best way to do that is to be told by those who have been through the mill already that they believe in us. When I was wavering about going indie last summer, Sarah all but grabbed me by the lapels and threw me through that wall. Other big names and not-so-big names have helped me down the years, and I try to help the newcomers when I can. In no other field have I ever found the Gray Eminences as willing to to help those who will likely become competitors as their skills emerge. The least we can do, eminences or not, is to repay that favor as often and as hard as we can.

    • Jeff, you are so right. BTW, Sarah and her pointy boots are why I not only stopped tossing all my work under the bed but why I went indie and why there is still one traditional publisher I would jump at the chance to work with. She is also why I try to “pay it forward”. She didn’t have to take the time she has to help me along the way, something she still does. All she asked in return was that I do the same for someone. Well, that and no more bonfires to burn my work (Sigh. I really hated agreeing to that one. I like bonfires.)

  2. I applaud you for keeping up with trying to help this guy. I just started a writing club at my college a few months ago, and it’s hard to try to reassure and teach other writers to become better when I’m not sure I’m any good myself.

    • First, kudos to you for starting the club. I know that feeling of wondering if I’m any good. Here’s something I’ve learned over the years, most writers — if not all — ask themselves that very question from time to time and it doesn’t matter how many books or stories they have published.

      Second, remember that the group is supposed to help you just as you help them. It can be through critiques, through the sharing of information about the industry or just moral and emotional support. I have learned over the years that a lot of the reason I enjoy crit groups is because it is a chance for me to simply sit down with other writers and talk — it can be about specific work or it can simply be about how we find time to write when “real life” keeps intruding to how we deal with family or friends who don’t “get” writing, etc.

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