Got back last night from Bob Mayer's Warrior Writer workshop, and during the drive home mulled over what resonated with me the most.
The first day was a writing workshop where we focused on the main story idea and conflict, plus reviewed critiques of our opening pages from the other participants. Except for my critique partner (who you can't have--she's mine! All mine!), all other criticism I usually have to read and then put away for a day or two before coming back to it. Otherwise I get too stuck on the negative things pointed out, and get down on myself. You know how that goes, right? Instead of thinking, Aha! I see how I can improve this, and I'm so glad someone pointed this weakness out, we wallow in the abyss of self-pity. Instead of seeing it as constructive criticism, we hear people saying, "You suck, and somebody should take that keyboard away from you because clearly you shouldn't be using it", or "I would rather stab something sharp into my eye than have to read another word you write". Yeah. Feeling like people hate your work (or worse, you) can cripple a writer.
Bob put it perfectly, saying that writers are a different breed, and it's usually that one "aw, shit" that wipes out the ninety-nine "atta-boys" that came before it. That's why I always let the feedback marinate a while in my subconscious. I'm always better off that way. Of course the comments are just opinions, but if there's something constructive I can work with to improve my writing, I'll at least take a hard look at it. And let's face it, when NYT bestselling author points out weaknesses in your work, you'd better sit up and pay attention and then work to improve your craft/story.
After day one, I was suddenly left questioning my entire plot and main characters for the WIP I've been struggling with. The good news is that my subconscious already knew there was a problem with the story, but I couldn't put my finger on it. After mulling it over this weekend, I think I've got a few ideas up my sleeve to make it better.
I learned from Bob that most writers are introverts by nature. We kind of have to be, since we hole up in our little cocoons and type on a keyboard for hours on end, day after day. Month after month...Yikes, year after year even. That's why most of us are not very good at promotion. We're more comfortable being in the audience than on the stage. We tend to get discouraged easily, either because of negative feedback, or because of the way the business is set up. That's why so many writers give up before they get published, and why others give up before they've attained their dreams. Bottom line is, nobody can make you quit except you. And nobody's going to do the work for you. It's up to you to figure out how you want your career to be, and then keep writing until you turn out a product that publishing can't say no to.
Here are a few thoughts to ponder about your current project:
-How can you make your main story idea more special and so unique that it grabs the agent's/editor's eye right away in the query letter? You want something that can knock their socks off and set you apart from the other fifty manuscripts with a similar plot already sitting in their inbox.
-What attribute(s) can you give your main characters to make them different than any other character ever invented? Make them so interesting and riveting that no reader, agent or editor could ever forget them.
-How can you up the stakes of the conflict so that your protagonist is the only person on Earth fit to take on your antagonist?
-Do you have at least two layers of conflict in every single scene? Verbal, emotional, physical, psychological.
-You should write in the point of view you enjoy reading the most.
-Study authors and books that you love. What is the POV? What is it about the characters and story that draws you? What have those authors done that you haven't?
Finally, the biggest thing I took away from the weekend is that pretty much everything is fixable in a manuscript. It just takes the willingness to change and a lot of hard work. But above all, you only get one chance to hook an agent or editor, so make sure you only put your best work in front of them, and never ever give them an easy reason to reject you. Make it really hard for them to say no.
I challenge you to put these ideas into action. See if you can really push the envelope with your plot and characters. I'm looking forward to watching how much life it injects into my current work.
Remember, style and craft can be fixed, but in today's writing market, it's the story itself that has to be brilliant.
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