Sunday, March 29, 2009

Being brave

This week at my writing critique group, it will be my turn to read. I'll bring copies for everyone in the group and they'll read silently while I read about 10 pages of my manuscript aloud. A few minutes are given for the critiquers to compose their thoughts. Then, in a sort of roundtable discussion, they offer constructive criticism on everything from punctuation to character development, from awkward phrases to slips in point of view.
My critique group is kind in delivering their ideas and criticisms to me, so it (usually) doesn't feel like a massacre by hungry wolves. But even gentle criticism can be hard to take, and I am learning to be brave. I try to listen to criticisms and think about them, let them roll around in my mind for a while and see whether or not they have merit. I don't make every change someone suggests; that would be writing a book by committee and that is not my intent. But my fellow readers and writers have shared with me wonderful ways to strengthen my work by pointing out inconsistencies and awkwardness that I was too close to see. I have learned to trust the path of struggling through critiques as much as I trust my own path of struggling through writing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What's it about?

This weekend, we visited some friends who knew nothing about my efforts to write a book. When I talked about it, they asked what everyone asks: "What's it about?" This time when I answered the question, I actually knew. I was able to tell them, and if I say so myself, it sounded pretty interesting. How cool is that?
It's taking me a long time to get the story out of my head and onto paper, and much of what I've written had to be tossed aside. (I have a entire folder in My Documents called Orphans and Early Versions). I've spent hours writing some threads of the story and then spent less than a minute deciding to cut that thread. But I must be doing something right since I now can articulate what my story is about.
The direction in which I'm taking the story is more focused. Through writing and rewriting, through outlines, index cards, and sticky notes, I have been able to tease the story away from the fluff. It's taking shape, and I'm learning so much in the process.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

When will my research end?

The farther (further?) I get into writing this book, the more questions I have. At this point, I'm wondering why on earth I chose historical fiction. It would be so much simpler if I could just make up everything instead of having some of it grounded in facts about the era and the setting.
Right now, I'm writing a segment in which Sophie is in the polio rehab ward, and the research I've done about polio rehab of that era has paid off. But now I find I need to research the culture of their medical practice, like was their medicine socialized, were there insurances with caps, etc. Those details will impact how long Sophie can stay in rehab and what kind of services poorer members of the society would have access to. If the story is going to be authentic, I have to get that right.
I think I could research that era and the details of the story for the rest of my life and never finish writing the book. In order to finish, I have to know when to say when. I guess it's not yet.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring, finally

As I write this, the snow is mostly melted, the sun is shining, and it's 50 degrees at 10 am. Spring, finally.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like full-blown spring with budding leaves and daffodils. Not yet. But somehow, I can see the subtle changes that tell me my favorite season is not far away. A few patches of yellow-green are struggling amidst the brown grass. Roadside brambles have taken on a pale pastel hue, not quite green, but no longer the color of toast. It's time to push aside the layer of dead leaves and uncover the new life ready to grow. Time for new ideas and a fresh outlook.
In preparation for reading for my critique group next week, I am uncovering 10 pages that I wrote a month or two ago. I need to look at it anew and brush off the dead layer off. Hopefully, that will allow it to grow into the story it is supposed to be.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Living history, I guess

I had one of those "Omigosh" moments this morning. A girl in my Sunday school class, about 13 years old, told me her homework for Music class included writing a historical look at the Beatles. Who knew I'd live to see the day that the music which has been the soundtrack to my life would be the subject of a history lesson?
Some of the Beatles' music has clearly not stood the test of time. It was pop music, good for a little while, but only revisited when a radio station plays top hits from a single year. On the other hand, some of their music has morphed into classic status, destined to be sung and recorded by another generation of musicians and vocalists.
Any artist (including a writer like me) could only hope for such a legacy. I pray that thirty plus years after I finish my book, someone picks it up and finds it to be a timeless classic with a unique voice.