When it comes to criticism from my writer’s group, I need to hear or read the same idea two, three, or four times before I can incorporate it into my work-in-progress. Months after arguing with my fellow writers, (so blind! so ignorant!) I re-read their notes and am struck by wisdom where I formerly saw idiocy.
How do you decide what to keep and what to leave behind from critiques? One sure bet is the power of all yea or nay. I can’t say it any better than Stephen Koch did in A Guide to the Craft of Fiction:
“No child could possibly be happy about her father moving out!”
The above was said to me at a writing workshop, in a discussion about my then unpublished novel (it eventually became The Murderer’s Daughters.) The ‘child’ in question lived with a selfish, sarcastic, angry mother and an oft-drunk “mooning around” father. In the questioned scene this 10-year-old protagonist voices guilty relief at finding a less troubling atmosphere after her father moved out. A workshop member, adamant in his belief that no child would ever feel relief at her father leaving the house, expressed insistence bordering on disbelief (that I would write such an emotion)! bordering on disdain (that I would be able to dredge up such an emotion)!
“My agent and editor started talking about ‘the list’ from the start, virtually ensuring that I’d consider myself a failure if I didn’t make it. At first, when they talked about it, I didn’t even know what “the list” was—didn’t know there was truly only one ‘list.’
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Ray Bradbury
The New York Times Bestseller list (AKA “the list”) is the writer’s holy grail. Despite being rife with methodology that many claim to comprehend, but none can swear to understanding; despite not being a measure of selling the most books, but of selling the most books that week at those stores, every author wants the honor.
(first published in 2011)
Originally, I tried to resist writing this—especially after my plea against categorizing authors. Plus, so many of us hide our age in this world of never-get-old, unearthing this information, even in our Googlized world, was difficult.
But when , along with the plethora of lists of writers under 40, I was faced with the declaration that, as headlined in a Guardian UK article about writers, ‘Let’s Face It, After 40 You’re Past It.”
The first time I looked for a job, Help Wanted was divided into three sections: Men, Women, and General. If memory serves me (I doubt it) men’s jobs were the professional ones, women’s were the handmaiden ones, and general included dishwashers and drivers.
Trust me, the career paths were separate and not equal.
I remembered those categories while writing this post (which I wish I wasn’t writing) when I came across the terms microinequity and micro-affirmation, first coined by Mary Rowe, who defined micro-inequities as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different.’”
Last week I taught an all day seminar at Grub Street on “Writing Tools for Beginning a Novel” where I learned how difficult it is to condense the process into six hours . . . and how exhilarating it is to step back and look at the entire process.
At day’s end it seemed as though I’d climbed a mountain where (for a day) I could look down at the forest and also take note of the trees. For those who appreciate concise road maps, my aerial view of writing a novel is below. Note the word “my.” There are as many methods and belief systems are there are writers—this one’s mine.
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice... those who have fought for their rights... their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
“I am not only a pacifist, but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.”