Writer

Writing in Multiple Points of View

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Christine Kohler

I was recently interviewed by YA author Christine Kohler for a post  on her blog, “Read like a Writer” on the subject of writing in multiple points of view.

Christine and I both have debut novels coming out next year, each written in multiple POVs. Christine’s novel, NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, will be published by Merit Press/Adams Media (F+W Media) Sept.-Oct. 2014.

Here’s a link to the interview: Multiple Point of Views.

In the post, Christine examines several novels, from middle grade to adult (including my novel), that are told from multiple character perspectives. She discusses the hows and whys of choosing and writing multiple POVs. The post is packed with information, and is a must-read  for anyone writing or thinking of writing a multiple POV novel. Check it out.

Thank you, Christine, for asking me to participate!

 

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What Workshopping Is Not

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Yesterday I shared my observations on what makes for a worthwhile workshop. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Having been through a handful of…let’s say…less than helpful critique sessions, here are some tips on what not to do during your workshop, whether you’re the critiquer or the critiqued.

What Workshopping Is NOT

Workshopping is not…

1. A time for being defensive

I emphasized in my first post that the key to a successful workshop is listening. Workshops, when run well, provide time for you to respond to the notes given on your work. Workshopping isn’t, however, a time for getting defensive, e.g., “Well, you just don’t understand what I’m trying to do in this piece”. Will everyone love what you’ve written? No. Will everyone be kind in their critiques? No. Sometimes people are rude and brash and their comments bruise your ego. But taking a defensive stance in response to critique will prevent you from learning and growing as a writer. It’s difficult to see a bigger, better, more vibrant vision for your work if you’ve built a wall around yourself.

There is always room for taking time to ask for clarification on comments, as well as a time to answer questions or clear up misconceptions about your piece. Being defensive, though, shows your lack of good sportsmanship, and will make your chances of getting another objective from the same group unlikely.

2. A time for retaliation

As unbelievably childish as it is, it happens: you provided feedback on a person’s chapter, and now that it’s your chapter on the docket, that person uses the opportunity to flay you. To tell you just how horrible a writer you are because you had the audacity to point out the weak areas in his manuscript. Workshopping should never be a time for retaliation. Critiques should never be a personal matter. It’s not about the author or the critiquer’s relationship with the author. Workshops should always be about the work. If you find yourself critiquing out of spite, do yourself and the author a favor and step back. If you can’t offer an objective critique, don’t waste everyone’s time. Do everyone a favor, and don’t ruin what could be a productive, growing workshop with your need for retaliation.

3. A time for showing off

I once attended a roundtable critique session with a very well-known editor. We each had ten minutes to hear her thoughts on a chapter we’d submitted, as well as the thoughts of the other writers at the table. A really cool opportunity, don’t you think? Well, one woman at our table could not keep her mouth shut. When it came time for her to share her comments, she used the majority of each person’s ten minutes talking about…herself. It was so, so disappointing.

Let me be clear: workshopping isn’t about you. It’s about the work. It’s not a time to show off. It’s not a time to sing your own praises or talk up the book you just posted on Amazon. Give honest, objective feedback and then stop talking so others can have a turn as well.

Writers are not just people who sit down and write.  They hazard themselves.  Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake.  ~E.L. Doctorow

One thing I think we can all agree on is that writing can be a difficult journey. It takes a lot of courage to put words to paper. It takes even more courage to show that paper to others, especially strangers. The least we can do is respect each other and the writing process enough to not get in the way — either our own or others. The best workshops are led with ground rules in place. Whether or not the workshop has guidelines and a leader keeping people in check, if you follow the guidelines I’ve posted here and yesterday, you should have a worthwhile experience.

If you have other guidelines or observations you’d like to share, please comment below. I’d love to hear them!

What Workshopping Is

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I’ve participated in a number of workshops (a.k.a., critiques) over the years. Many have been great. Some have been not so great. I’ve come to some conclusions about what makes for a worthwhile workshop and what doesn’t.

I’ve decided to do a two-part post, sharing what I’ve learned in hopes of helping those who are just starting out on their writing journeys, and maybe some who need a refresher.

Part 1: What Workshopping Is

Workshopping is…

1. A time for listening

The most successful workshops I’ve experienced have always been those where the ground rule is set that the author of the piece being workshopped must remain quiet during the critique. This allows those giving comments and notes to do so without interruption or rebuttal. However, this is a difficult thing to do, listening to people talk about your work. The very best thing you can do as a writer is to listen and take notes. Write down questions and points you want to clarify. Save those until after everyone is done with their comments.

A workshop is a great opportunity to hear how your work is being received. It’s a proving ground where you can see if what you thought you wrote is actually what came across. Better to go through the process during workshop than read it in reviews. But you have to be willing to listen.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~ Winston Churchill

2. A time for learning

A workshop is a time to hear how your work is being received. If you’re open to the suggestions made, you’re going to learn how to make your piece stronger. That will either come through taking on the suggestions given during the workshop, or by sticking with what you’ve written and your vision for your work. Sometimes the comments readers give are way off. Whether you follow the critiques or your gut, workshopping a piece  teaches you how to be a better writer.

Some people will never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.  ~Alexander Pope

3. A time for growing

It can be very difficult to listen to people critique your work. Some comments bruise your ego. Trust me, I know. One of the hardest but best lessons I learned (and continue to learn) from workshopping is to keep my ego in check. It is serious hard work at times. Comments — especially coming from certain people — can be so hurtful. The truth is everyone has an ego that rears its ugly head from time to time. Learning to take critique — to be teachable — will grow you in unbelievable ways. Not just into a better writer, but into a better human.

“One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

Check back tomorrow for Part 2: What Workshopping Is Not.

Smart Chicks Give Great Advice

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A couple of weeks ago I saw the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour when it came through Scottsdale, AZ. That night, the lineup was Melissa Marr, Alyson Noel, Kelley Armstrong, Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan & Kimberly Derting.

The auditorium was packed with about 300 fans, mostly teens, which was awesome.

And let it be known: Sarah Rees Breenan is hilarious.

The Chicks did some audience-interaction games, gave away prizes and goodies and answered questions. One member of the audience asked for writing advice, as he was finishing his first novel.

So I took notes. Cuz that’s what I do.

Here’s some of the advice given by Holly Black, Melissa Marr and Alyson Noel.

Holly’s Writing Tips:

  • Read a lot, and read outside of your genre
  • Write a lot and keep revising
  • Have a critique partner who is also a writer

It took Holly five years to write her first book.

Melissa’s advice:

  • Don’t give up
  • Read other novels and see what works and doesn’t work for you
  • Determine how to apply what you learn from other novel to your work
  • Be as harsh on yourself as possible
  • Remember it’s all subjective
  • You will be discouraged; don’t give up

Alyson’s advice:

  • Be patient with yourself
  • Realize most people don’t have the determination to finish
  • Work hard
  • Allow yourself to just get the story down
  • Don’t expect perfection on the first draft

Excellent advice from some of today’s top YA authors. Hope you found it helpful and encouraging!

Confronting Those Negative Voices

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If you’re like me (and every other creative I know), you have a negative voice in your head that whispers ugliness to you every time you sit down to do your creative work.

I call mine the You Suck Monster. He sits on my shoulder. Sometimes I have the wherewithal to flick him away. Sometimes, like a fool, I listen to his lies.

Anne Lamott talks about these voices in Bird by Bird. She writes that a friend suggested she put the voices into a jar, like mice, and tighten the lid. Then she can’t hear them while she’s working.

A good idea.

But what about when they’re so loud you can hear them through the glass?

Not long ago I came across an exercise for confronting and quieting these voices. I can’t remember now where I read about it, but after a difficult writing session, I decided to give it a try. The original context for this exercise wasn’t writing, but I’m pretty sure it would work for any goal you’re hoping to achieve.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Open a blank document or turn to a fresh page in your notebook.
  2. Write down what you want to accomplish.
  3. Write the first negative response you hear.
  4. Write down what you want to accomplish again.
  5. Write down the next negative response you hear.
  6. Write down what you want to accomplish.
  7. Write down the negative response.

And so on. Repeat this until the YouSuck Monster runs out of negative things to say.

Here’s an example of how this might look:

  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You don’t know how to write a novel.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You aren’t a strong enough writer.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • It won’t be as good as others’ novels.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • But you suck.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You’ll be rejected.
  • I am going to write a novel.

Etc.

The first time I did this, my YouSuck Monster sent me negative responses for a page and a half before he ran out of things to say. By that page-and-a-half mark, the things he said started to make me laugh. I found myself starting to think, So what? That’s all you’ve got? The things the YouSuck Monster said were ridiculous.

If you have an annoying negative voice in your head whispering negativity to you, try this exercise. It might just help shut up the voice and let you get back to your creativity.