Sunday, February 6, 2011

No Writer is an Island

Yes, I'm paraphrasing John Donne, who said that no man is an island.  And neither is a writer, despite the fact that we do what we do mostly as a solo activity, and that we inhabit worlds that we bring into existence from our own minds.  Even so, every one of us needs help to take what we do and make it ready for the world to view, because no matter how good you think you are, you need someone else's eyes, another point of view, to take what's good and make it even better, because face it - none of us is perfect, are we?

I can remember in my younger days having total konniption fits if anyone dared to even think of touching my words, because don't you know, they're sacrosanct, they're written in stone, they're untouchable - they're....

Ah, the arrogance of youth.  Utter bullshit.  When I first started sending out my work for submission, and received back rejections, well, they were wrong, naturally.  They were fools who couldn't see that my writing was wonderful.  Of course, I was the one that was wrong.  I even went so far as to give up writing for some ten years, before I dared to take pen in hand once more (not literally, we did have typewriters, I'm not quite that old).

I wrote my first novel, Dark Love, presented it around, and again - rejection.  So I set it aside and began to write other things, short stories and poems, and I took a creative writing course.  I started to gain some acceptance.  I found myself published in small magazines that no longer exist, long gone - and for no monetary recompense, simply to gain exposure.

Times have changed.  Although I was slow to embrace epublishing, after I wrote my second novel, To The Max, and was rejected in the conventional quarters, I was convinced to give it ago.  I was working as staff at the first Bishie Con here in St. Louis in 2009 and it was suggested that I submit my work to Dreamspinner Press.  I did and the rest is history.

When I write, I send my WIPs to my friends to read.  They read what I sent and tell me they like it, which is good, but it's hard to expect subjective criticism from one's friends, unless they write too.  By sheer accident, I met someone who invited me to join a critique group, and that has been a very invaluable chance meeting indeed.  Everyone needs someone to read their work - to critique, to beta, to look at it with fresh eyes and point out things that are easier seen by someone else.  I beta for a few people, and I have a few betas myself. I've learned not to take criticism personally, and to be willing to accept it.

That's the hardest part, I think, setting aside one's ego and admitting that one's writing isn't perfect.  Learning to overcome some bad habits.  Everyone has them, you know you do.  For me, I tend to be wordy, although I do consider that my style - up to a point.  Even I find that I need to chop some of those paragraph long sentences down to manageable length.  With some people, it's spelling.  I'm lucky in that I'm an excellent speller.  But I did discover some of my grammar habits were horrible - I made nasty looking ellipses and misused the hyphen abysmally.  It's all good - I'm learning.

Where do you find such people as betas and critique groups, you ask?  Writer friends are a good start.  Face it, writers tend to accumulate writer friends, so that is a great source of obtaining a beta.  Maybe talk to those writers whom you feel comfortable with hearing about your mistakes from, or who you would be willing to beta for - it is a two way street, after all.  Most publishers have groups online for their authors - that is a good place to make queries, so who needs what, who is willing to do what.  Also, there are general author groups, such as ones on Yahoo, where you can actually meet authors outside of your own publisher, and form mutually satisfying beta arrangements, or even look for critique groups in need of new people.  I am blessed with a most excellent critique group.  Margaret and Cate have proven invaluable to me, and I can even laugh at some of the comments that they make.  After all, you should never take yourself too seriously.  My betas are wonderful too.  Just don't forget about reciprocity - never expect more than  you are willing to give.

You know the saying that it takes a village?  That's what it's like with writing.  No one does it completely alone, not for publication, anyway.  It's an ongoing process.  And the more you get done before you submit your precious baby to the publisher, the better your chances of acceptance, and the less editing the publisher will have to do, which is always a plus.

No writer is an island.  I love my critique group, I love my betas - I could not do what I do without them.  I even love my daughter when she makes fun of things I write, and calls one of my characters a douchecanoe - and then she turns around and tells me I did a good job on something, and I just melt. Find yourself betas - talk to your fellow authors.  Look for a good critique group.  And most of all, be willing to give in return.

Do any of you have experiences with beta and/or critique groups that you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them!

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