Could You be Addicted to Feedback?

criticism
criticism

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What are the signs?

I have this mentor/friend who thinks I have a problem. She’s traditionally published over a dozen novels and teaches a wildly successful fiction workshop in a major city.

Twice, she has told me to just finish my current draft without getting more feedback.

What kind of feedback am I talking about? Not just your garden variety writing or critique group comments that take place in a workshop setting. (But I partake in that, too!)

After my second full draft, I realized my beginning needed work. I rewrote the first forty pages then got an assessment from a professional editor.

I rewrote those pages again incorporating the changes suggested by the editor (also a well-known novelist).

Next, I took part in a story workshop with an award-winning playwright and realized I hadn’t quite nailed my “what’s this about.”

Most authors, whether they’re screenwriters or novelists, eventually have to distill their project to the infamous log-line.

So, I spent some time on that. Then rewrote my outline making sure I was faithful to the gist of my story.

Then I rewrote the first few chapters to more faithfully follow the outline, and—yep, you guessed it—submitted those for feedback.

All of the feedback I received was spot-on and useful.

So, what makes me think I might need a 12-step program for writers seeking feedback?

Last week, the first mentor I mentioned above asked how my project was going. I was all positive: “Great, still working on it. Incorporating feedback on a new beginning, etc.”

And she asked: “Haven’t you already done that?”

Yes. Three times.

She was confused. She told me to knock it off. That it was just procrastination masquerading as “improving my craft.” She told me to just finish the draft using everything I know how to do. On my own. Like, without a guide. Alone. Solo.

start-and-finish

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I know, pushy, right? So, I said I ok. I committed. No more feedback.

Then I texted her and asked if going cold turkey included getting comments from my writing group.

Her exact response: “OMG. Yes, that counts.”

I’ve had limited time to work on my draft over the last two weeks. I have a post-op son at home that requires twice-daily “wound-care.” And, yes, that’s as disgusting as it sounds.

A dear relative is in the ICU.

I have a day job. I have laundry and meals to prepare and groceries to procure.

(Einstein ought to have tackled that job. The most inefficient system in the modern age: take item off shelf, put item in cart, take item out of cart, place item on conveyor, place item into bag, place bag into cart, take bag out of cart, place bag into car, take bag out of car, take bag into house, take item out of bag, place item onto shelf. Seriously—473 steps for groceries. Aaaaaaggggghhhhhh!)

I’m supposed to find time to exfoliate and floss and meditate and correspond with family. And when do I squeeze in watching VEEP or Silicon Valley on TV?

On my lunch hour today, I sat in my car and read my first two chapters out loud. I listened for the cadence of my sentences. I made notes about two pages of dialogue with almost no exposition or setting. I made notes on two page of exposition and setting with no action or dialogue.

Such is the life of a writer on her first book. I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who has attempted this while also having to figure out how to pick a ripe, juicy cantaloupe from the produce section.

Sometimes knowing you’re not alone helps. Sometimes it doesn’t.

To further suck time from editing my novel, I signed up months ago for an online workshop. Our current module is “Unhooking from Praise and Criticism.”

This dovetails with my feedback obsession for my work in progress.

One of the common pitfalls of first-time novelists is starting over, never getting to the end of the first draft.

But I avoided that trap! I outwitted my newbie-ness and made sure I got to The End on that first draft. And on the second.

The remaining drafts? You guessed it. I keep going back and working on the beginning. Sometimes, this is important if you still don’t know what your story is. And, yes, there’s no right way and blah, blah, blah.

But by sending out the first twenty pages, or the first five chapters or  just this one section for editorial assessments and feedback, I’m avoiding the inevitable.

I have to finish the f$#king draft I’m working on. Not the next one. This one.

Epiphany-ish, no?

And I know how to make it better. I don’t know if anyone will want to publish it, but I do know how to make it better.

There should be a drive-thru service where workers (trained editors of course) scan your latest output of words and hand you a printout that declares Congratulations, these four pages are working. Carry on!

Feedback

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I just don’t know if I’m doing it right. Four nights ago, I was sure it sucked. I decided to just race through the draft maniacally so I could put it in a trunk under my bed and get on with the next, better book.

Several months ago, I was trying to decide if I should send a current draft out for feedback and I asked my wise mentor person if she thought it was a good idea.

She replied, “Have you already done everything to it that you know how to do?”

The answer was an easy No.

What a question! What’s she hinting at?

You guessed it—she suspected my feedback addiction back then. But I had to be ready to quit.

So, I’m taking it one day at a time. Not sharing pages with anyone. Just working away. In my writing room. At my writing desk. In my car. In the coffee shop.

Alone.

In one of my favorite books about the experience of writing a book (Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s fabulous. How’s that for book-y geekdom?), many pitfalls and stages are explained. Writing a book is a journey.

It’s possible I’m making it harder than it has to be. It’s possible I’m doing it all wrong. It’s possible that I’ll relapse. But for now. I’m just writing. And most days, I don’t want to stop.

 

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Could You be Addicted to Feedback?

  1. Tracey Curzon-Manners on June 7, 2016 at 3:39 am said:

    Suzanne! Your words come alive and I relate to every single sentence… and I agree with your mentor. Trust yourself and silence the inner critic. I understand the need to feedback, I’ve even been tempted myself but deep down I also know what I really want is approval and only I can give me that.

    Leave the feedback to your readers – they’re going to love you as much as I loved reading this.

  2. Tracey Curzon-Manners on June 7, 2016 at 3:40 am said:

    ‘ the need to seek feedback’ Tch

Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

Aha moment Do the work

Hard hat

You have questions.

And the internet is a rabbit hole of answers.

When is the best time to write? How do you tackle revision? Should you write in the morning? Do you need a Mac or is Windows still ok? Word or Scrivener? Music or no music? What kind of music?

Suggestions are everywhere.

Truman Capote only wrote lying down. Philip Roth writes standing up. Writing in long hand boosts creativity. Your desk should face the window. Your desk should never face the window.

How do you know you’re doing it right?

On a snowy night in late March, I  sat with two other writers in an Irish pub discussing our works-in-progress (all first novels, two Women’s fiction, one hard Sci-Fi).

We all needed answers.

I had a new chapter to workshop. The Sci-Fi guy, a proud new dad and entrepreneurial mogul, was making progress but wanted to write more consistently. The other WF writer, an MBA and busy VP Marketing executive by day, had just finished her rough first draft and was “stymied” by revisions.

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We tossed around suggestions over appetizers and a vodka tonic (don’t judge—the drive in from the suburbs was horrendous).

Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” method which I saw him describe in a TV interview, struck a chord with Sci-Fi guy. I’d brought along four books on revision to help MBA tackle her second draft. Sci-Fi guy produced a three-foot long stapled printout from Scrivener illustrating how he kept track of character arcs and timelines, because I’d lost count of the draft I was on.

This was good stuff. Stuff we could act on.

Aha moment Do the work

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Still, we pondered. Were we doing it right? Maybe we should try that new book or class! Then Sci-Fi guy said something that we strained to hear over the music and revelry of the pub:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

My eyes locked on MBA’s, and together we turned to Sci-Fi guy, not sure we’d heard him correctly.

The look on his face was what I imagine Ben Franklin looked like when his uncredited minions helped him discover electricity. It was a literal “Aha” moment.

I resumed my book recommendations, pointing out a chapter MBA might like on setting. Sci-Fi guy grinned at us (I’d say maniacally but, you know, adverb) for a few seconds. Then he interrupted, louder this time:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

No problem hearing him this time.

MBA: “Wow, this meeting just took a turn.”

Jack Nicholson The Shining

We all laughed, until he said it again.

Sci-Fi guy: “I’m serious. We need to just do the f$#king work.”

Maybe a rowdy Irish pub wasn’t the best place for a critique group, now that we thought about it.

Fast forward two weeks to a snowy April night (that’s right, snow in April . . .my kind of town, Chicago is…), MBA and I sat in the same pub and shared an order of fries.  She provided specific, generous insight that helped me interpret feedback I’d received from a professional editor

Then MBA said she had a question for me.

MBA: “What notebooks do you use? Like, how many different ones and how do you organize them?”

I laughed out loud, repeated Sci-Fi guy’s memorable suggestion and then said, “No, seriously. I have like one for the novel, and another for interviews. . .”

So what’s the point? The point is you have questions. You need advice. You need to learn craft. And you will find endless answers. That’s what fantastic blogs like Writers Helping Writers and Womens Fiction Writers and Bang2Write and are for.

The point is no matter how far you are into your essay, or memoir, or novel, you may always feel you’re doing it wrong.

The point is no matter how many books you read, or how many lists you study, or how many podcasts you listen to, no one way works for every writer.

In an interview on Writers on Writing, Author Sari Wilson put it this way:

“The process has its own intelligence. Committing to the process through all the different obstacles that are presented has its own logic and its own power, and it will take you through the process. There will be an end.”

In other words, the doing of “it,” whatever “it” is, teaches you how to do “it.” You have to DO. You have to mess up.

All the “Habits of Great Writers” lists and viral posts in the world can’t change that.

Sometimes you’re just scared and stalling. How can you tell the difference? How do you get from stalling to writing?

Just Do The F$#king Work

Here’s the best of what’s worked for me:

Set a goal. Any goal.

What should yours be? Who cares? Time spent, words added up. It doesn’t matter. My first one was 500 words a day/5 days a week (flexibility was key).

Refer to a few trusted guides (don’t overload).

Go for tried and true, review recommendations. In the end, the voice that speaks to you matters. I like Wired for Story, Immediate Fiction, and Stein on Writing.

Stay in touch with your project as often as possible.

Don’t fall prey to the drift. I like Seinfeld’s approach. When I had the flu, it all went to pot. Touching it every day makes it easier to get back in. Staying in touch can mean reading a paragraph, or rewriting a whole chapter. You decide.

Practice. Reading about how others do it isn’t enough.

Find a suggestion that resonates? Put down the damn book and go try it. Then and there. Share what worked and what didn’t with your peers.

If you believe you don’t have time to write, keep a time/activity log.

I claimed to want a writing life as I munched on popcorn watching The Voice for the third time in a week. That’s not writing, that’s lying. Make your intentions match your actions.

Make contacts with writers you admire who will call you on your BS.

Go out on a limb. Take a class. Go to a conference. Be brave. Be bold. Have business cards or a pen and notepaper (you’re a writer, after all). Get contact information. Email people. Invite them for coffee. Bam!

Eventually, as Sci-Fi guy knew, we all just have to do the f$#king work. And that’s the only answer you need.

Are you ever guilty of avoiding the work? How do you get back to it? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

 

 

 

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Resting on a Laurel or What to do After Your Submission is Accepted

Sara's quote
Motivational Quote for Avoiding Writer's Block After Publishing Sara Connell Author

How to Avoid Writer’s Block After Publishing

What do you do when you have a success with your writing? Do you quickly move on to the next action step or do you sit and enjoy it? There’s something to be said for stopping to smell the roses – but not if you fall asleep wallowing in them. You’ll get pricked and bleed. It will be ugly. Trust me.

Last week, I got some exciting news that a story I submitted for a popular anthology was accepted. A PR firm contacted me and soon I had all kinds of attention-getting diversions!

I know my own shortcomings and confessed to a mentor that as I was posting the good news on Facebook, a part of me knew I’d waste endless hours basking in the “likes” and “shares” and “comments” surrounding my success. When would I write?

A certain amount of fear joined the excitement; fear that my biggest publishing success so far would be my last.

We made a plan to stay in action. Here’s a few things you can do if you find yourself with a “win” that threatens to deter you from a bigger goal.

3 Steps to Keep Your Success from Becoming Writer’s Block

1. Set aside a certain amount of time to pat yourself on the back via social media or other means.

2. Decide on a next step before you click “post.”

3. Next steps can include any of the following:

  • Deadline for new submission
  • Revision time on a work-in-progress (WIP)
  • Chapter read in a book on craft.

4. Use affirmations to remind yourself “That is not all the music that is in you.”

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To All the Doubters, Disbelievers, and Fraidy-Cats: An Open Letter

cinderella getting dressed

Dear Undecided:

I can tell you you’re a writer, and your bff, mother, or creative writing teacher can tell you you’re a writer. But that doesn’t count for anything. That uncertainty about whether or not writing is the thing or your thing, whether or not you’re really “called” to do it, “driven” to do it, etc., is all the inner gremlin.  It just is. It’s the voice of doubt and fear masquerading as a logical, practical mind-friend helping you not to waste time.

For example: If writing were your thing, you’d wake up with fully formed stories in your brain and bluebirds would remove your nightdress and usher you into your writing sweater. The friendly cat would rub your ankles and nudge you to your gold-plated writing chair where with ink and parchment or blood and rice paper, you would let flow all the fully formed, writerly thoughts that would bring instant fame and gratification.

cinderella getting dressed

Or, if you really had a passion, surely you wouldn’t hem and haw or see and saw or procrastinate or start and stop or leave things unfinished.  Surely, if writing were what you were called to do, you wouldn’t go months and days and weeks and hours without writing and you wouldn’t feel like you had to push yourself or make yourself do it. If you loved it, you would be doing it.

That is all self-doubt, commonly known as the inner critic. By now, your mid-40’s, or your mid-20’s or late 70’s, you know you have a way with words. You’ve impressed enough customers, friends, relatives, etc., by your ability to craft a well-turned phrase or disarm someone with wit. Not knowing if it’s your thing is really just fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that you won’t be good enough. Fear that you’re not far enough along.

Meow

 You have much to say. You have a unique way of saying it. All of your characters will be you at least a little, at least at the beginning. You are protecting your squishy milk-chocolate center with a hard candy coating of “I’m not sure I should be writing.” But you have something to say or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Or, you’ve already written many things but not submitted. Or submitted but haven’t been published. Or published but not by a “real” publisher. Is this you? Moving the measuring stick as soon as you reach it? Or maybe not finishing things. Filing them away in the drawer or on a bad day, in the trash.

It isn’t perfect. It can stand a good edit. It is emotional, evocative, descriptive, intriguing, surprising. Don’t be a chicken. It’s time to do some writing every day or five days a week or one weekend every month or whatever works in your life.

#BAWKBAWK

Most “real” writers aren’t all called to write. They make themselves write. If I’ve read anything consistent in all the different methods of world-famous writers that is it. They force themselves to go to the desk, cafe, kitchen table, etc. No bluebirds drop a quill in their itchy palms then dart out of the way of their brilliance. They commit to skipping The Good Wife until they hit the 750 word mark. They cancel lunch with their friends and keep the bottle of wine chilled until they end that chapter.

OK – I realize now I’m ranting….but I had to call you out on the “not sure” thing. You say it comes and goes. Hmmm – is it possible that it comes when you’re actually writing and goes when you’re actually not? If so, you’re not alone.

 

epiph·a·ny noun -i-ˈpi-fə-nē-

I found that I had all this longing surrounding writing. I wanted to know that I had talent or that I could write or that it was just a pipe dream. So I started keeping a mental accounting of when I felt least fraudulent or most like a writer….and I had an epiphany.

I felt most like a writer not when I saw my name in a magazine, not when my uber-talented sister told me I was brilliant and not when I got a laugh sharing a piece in a workshop.  I felt most like a writer during the act of writing. If I was sitting at my laptop typing or with a notebook and a pen and words were coming out of my fingers – I felt like a writer.

SECRET TO WRITING

Now it’s much less dangerous and we’re less vulnerable when we’re thinking about writing or talking about writing or any of the activities that aren’t really writing. To quote Amy Poehler “The talking about the thing isn’t the thing.The doing of the thing is the thing.”

Don’t wonder or wait for any kind of confirmation that it is your passion. Just do it passionately and you will have your answer. From the outside looking in, I know you haven’t been able to live without it for very long. If that’s not the definition of a calling I don’t know what is.

Thanks for listening. Now go write something. Start here…send me a note.

 

 

3 Thoughts on “To All the Doubters, Disbelievers, and Fraidy-Cats: An Open Letter

  1. Pingback: If You’re Doing This, Knock it Off! | Suzanne M. Brazil

  2. Suzanne – You continue to impress me with your words! I’d say this idea could be applied to a lot more than just writing! Keep up the good work.

If You’re Looking for an Excuse Not to Write…You’ll Find One

IMAG3748

IMAG3748It’s the holidays and things are spiraling out of control! The living room is decorated, the rest of the house is not. I have about half my shopping done and nothing wrapped.

But, I’m still writing! I have several posts in the works including the editor’s recommendations on my novel, great writing advice from author and writing coach Mary Carter, updates on projects in the works and other musings. I’m also trying to figure out how to run a giveaway.

Guess what? If you haven’t checked out my audio interview with Chicago-based writer, Dana Norris, you’re missing some great stuff. She was just nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize! She’s the real deal. (If you’re new to writing and don’t know a Pushcart from a shopping cart, have no fear…it’s all about the journey. Click on the link and then act impressed whenever you read about a nominee. It’s a big deal!)

                        Pushcart                             shopping cart

If you really want to write, you have to squeeze in the time. Easier said than done but I’m walking the walk. Worked a full day, grocery shopped on the way home, cooked dinner, ate dinner, updated my husband’s resume while watching a little TV, edited a blog post, got in bed by 9:30, then woke up at 4:30 this morning to turn in a guest post and update my website. If you’re looking for an excuse not to write, you’ll find one.

I’m gathering a list of all the websites, classes, books and people that have inspired my writing journey. Check the “Writer’s Resources” section for updates. Hopefully, they’ll inspire you, too!

Now off to the day job.

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