I got back to MTL tonight, but I’m so tired from going out last night and getting home late that I was only able to slog through eleven pages (87 down, 413 to go). Of the eleven (not quite half of old chapter 10/new chapter 3), I cut four pages entirely without adding replacement text. I’m worried that after all this cutting, I might have a very tight, well-written short story instead of a novel, but I know I have at least as much to add in the middle and end.
About six months ago, I attended my first ever writers’ critique group meeting. I found a relatively new group through Meetup.com, signed up, and posted the chapter I slogged through on Sunday and Monday for comment at the meeting. I had no idea what to expect, but I went into it with a fairly open mind. I was a little concerned by the one guy who posted a forty-page memoir excerpt (we had a ten-page limit) that was all one paragraph, but based on the other samples posted his was an anomoly.
Putting aside the run-on memoir guy (who didn’t bother to read anyone else’s work in advance of the meeting), most of the other writing was pretty good, and certainly the general level of quality was about where I was or better. The people in the group seemed perfectly nice, and respectful of each other’s feelings. Still, I haven’t been back, and I haven’t really been able to put my finger on why.
As I’ve said before, I’m looking for new-to-me podcasts about writing and other subjects to expand my listening. I recently saw a mention on someone else’s blog to two podcasts for writers that I hadn’t heard of before (I’m really sorry if it’s your blog — I lost track of the post and can’t find it through google — please claim credit in the comments and link to your original post). One hasn’t put out a new episode in a couple of years; I’m listening to the back episodes now and will post about it when I’m done.
The other is Writing Excuses, in which hosts Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells, and other semi-regulars talk to each other and other writers about different topics of interests to writers. Each episode is only about 15 minutes long (“Because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart!”), and they aren’t limited to science fiction or fantasy topics. Writing Excuses is in its second season, all of which is available on iTunes or on the blog at the link above (CDs of the first season are available for sale). Occasional problems with sound quality aside, Writing Excuses is an interesting, informative, and often funny podcast. The hosts are younger writers (well, younger than me, anyway) at different stages of their careers (some are just beginning to earn a living by their writing, while Sanderson is very well known and just took over the Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series).
In episode 5 of season 2, the Writing Excuses team discussed critique groups. Several of the hosts talked about how important their writing groups had been to their development as authors, but one mentioned that one thing that can drive him crazy is a writing group where the participants don’t just tell you what did or didn’t work for them, but offer you suggestions on how to fix your story.
Bam! That was exactly what was wrong with the group I tried last spring. The leader of the group and a couple of the other attendees didn’t just want to tell me what they thought was weak, but they also had very firm ideas about how I could make it better. And I hated their ideas.
One member of the group gave me a couple of useful notes during the meeting, then handed me a markup of my chapter at the end. I took it home, but I was so discouraged from the meeting that I never looked at it. The only reason I didn’t throw it away was that Mrs. Unfocused did read his comments, and said that they made sense to her.
This evening, before I got started hacking away at old chapter 10/new chapter 3, I went back and reviewed his comments on old chapter 9/new chapter 2 and compared it to my own edits from earlier this week. As it turns out, I had come up with about half of the same edits on my own. But the guy also noted that one two page, explanatory section read like an office memo and bored the crap out of him (he said it more nicely than that), and I had left it in the revised version of the chapter almost completely untouched. I reread it, then reread what Holly says about this point in the One-Pass Revision Process (link is in the sidebar, under “On Writing”): “If the scene just tells the reader about your world or its history, or lacks characters, conflict, and change, put a note in your spiral-bound notebook telling yourself which important points of worldbuilding you’re cutting, and draw a big X through the entire scene.” So I cut it. By itself, that one suggestion was worth the hour-plus I spent at that group meeting. I don’t know that I’d go back — I really don’t want suggestions on how to “fix” it, but I very much appreciated the comments on what the readers did or didn’t like.
Forgive the typos — need sleep. Just one more thing:
Saltwatch 2008-09: Days after Dec. 1 without seeing a City of Chicago salt truck: 11. Have you seen a salt truck? Should we put pictures of the salt trucks on the sides of milk cartons?