Monday, August 30, 2010

So Call Me Crazy

As I am sure we have all noticed there are an abundance of competition reality shows out there. Have you ever watched your favorite - American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Top Chef, whatever - and thought about how hard it would be to have someone critique your effort like that? I mean, sometimes those judges can be harsh, right?

So call me crazy.

I actually love having my writing critiqued. I love looking at my work through other people's eyes. I especially appreciate it when I know someone is being 100% honest with me, whether they love or hate what I've done. Maybe it's because I started out singing and acting at a fairly young age and got used to 'getting notes' early on.

I remember sitting on the edge of the stage at the end of rehearsal and having the stage manger or assistant director hand me that little piece of paper with the list of what I needed to do better. It was definitely harder to hear the criticism when I was a teenager, but I got used to it. It didn't take long to understand that it wasn't personal, really. All the director was trying to do was have the best show possible. She/he was doing the whole cast and crew a favor by helping me to see what I obviously couldn't see from my perpsective. After all, I wanted the show to be good, too.

Anyway, the volume of critiques I've gotten through high school, college and into adult life has left me with a very thick skin and a very eager heart when it comes to hearing what others think of my work. I am happy to be grown up enough to know how to filter those opinions so I can use what I feel rings true and toss the rest.

Keeping that in mind you can understand how THRILLED I am to have recently registered to attend my first writer's conference. Aside from all the other cool stuff happening there I signed up for a one on one critique by one of the panel members of the first 15 pages of my manuscript and to have my *query letter discussed by the whole panel in front of all the conference attendees. I am stoked! This panel consists in part of a very successful young adult author, an agent who is near the top of my 'want to query' list, and the editor from Random House/Delacorte who handled the last two Harry Potter books for American distribution. Woo hoo! Even if they rip it to shreds it will be great, because then I'll know what I need to do to get better. If I was more computer literate I would even add a widget on my blog to count down the days until the conference.

So, go ahead. Call me crazy. Are you crazy, too? Or is it just me?

*A query letter is a dreaded monster of ancient date. Through the ages it has been known to cause normally sane, even reserved writers to end up on the brink of madness. How, you ask? By forcing them to distill their precious 50,000 - 80,000 (or even higher) word work of art into a one page summary which needs to include word count, genre, author credits/qualifications/contact information, a lovely paragraph of personalization to the agent/editor receiving it, and a synopsis of the book - all in about 300 words. Oh yes, and let's not forget that it's best if it reflects the mood and writing style of the actual novel. And of course, it must be absolutely perfect when it comes to grammar and typing. I dare you to ask any writer how many times they have rewritten their query. Personally, it has been so many times I don't even know the answer to that question.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Aren't people great?

You know those moments in life that may not seem like much at the time, but end up sticking with us? They stand out in our memories as if they have a perpetual spotlight shining on them, setting them apart from so many other experiences that just fade away as time passes.

I had an experience in junior high that caused me to make a conscious decision to be an independant person. I remember the exact conversation, every person involved and even some of the precise words that were spoken. I didn't realize at the time the impact that decision would have on the rest of my life.

Now, let me state that I think independence is a great quality. It's important to know we are capable people who can accomplish things on our own. However, as we all know, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

At the times in my life when the being dependent/being independent balance was out of whack I have always erred on the side of being too independent. I can look back now and see times when I ought to have asked for help, but didn't - times when I should have let people into my life, but did it on my own - times when I could have offered some one help, but didn't notice at the time since it didn't occur to me that they might not prefer to handle it by themselves.

And when it comes to asking for help? Oh, heaven forbid I might be a burden to anyone. But I'm working on this, have been for years.

Anyway, I stepped outside my comfort zone yesterday. You should be proud of me.

I am close to finishing what I hope is my final edit on my manuscript before I send it out and try to snag an agent. Having never done this before I really want someone who knows what they are doing to look at it and let me know if they think it's ready for submission. Problem is I have no connections in the publishing world, so who can I ask?

Well, earlier this summer I won a 50 page critique from Jennifer Griffith, a published author. We exchanged a small handful of emails and she gave me some great feedback. That's a connection, right? Not much of one, but a connection.

So I sucked up all my fear of being a nuisance and asking too much of someone I barely know and emailed her to see if she might have time to help me out. Guess what? Not only was she willing to help me, a complete stranger, but she actually said she was hoping I might ask her to do this since she liked what she read earlier and wanted to know how the story ends!

When am I going to stop being surprised by how happy people are to help each other? This is just the most recent experience in a long line of experiences that keep proving this to me. Many of these lessons recently have come from ANWA, the writer's group I belong to, because I've had so many writing needs lately, but they are not the only ones who continue to teach me that people are as willing to help me as I am to help them.

Surprising, I know.

Aren't people great?

Thanks everyone.