Friday, August 22, 2014

A Writing Community

The Writers' Loft

In the mid-50s, French director Fran├žois Truffaut wrote an essay that became the foundation for the auteur theory of filmmaking.  As defined by the Wikipedia:
"In film criticism, auteur theory holds that a director's film reflects the director's personal creative vision, as if they were the primary "auteur" (the French word for "author"). In spite of—and sometimes even because of—the production of the film as part of an industrial process, the auteur's creative voice is distinct enough to shine through studio interference and the collective process."
Even as a film studies major I felt there were problems with this theory.  Sure films by specific, strong directors had a certain feel to them (Hitchcock, Hawkes, Ford, etc.) but no filmmaker was in charge of the entire process.  From the screenwriter, the producer, the casting director, the cinematographer, lighting director, and the editor, film is a truly collaborative medium.

In those days I thought that the only art form where the auteur theory would apply to storytelling was writing.

I have, of course, come to believe that even that thinking is wrong as well.  While The Book is still, stubbornly, my vision and my creation, it has been a work that has been dependent upon the input and contributions of others to grow and thrive.  For me, writing has become something of a community process.

An important part of my community is The Writers' Loft, a physical and online place for writers to meet, exchange ideas, and write.  I've met several people online through The Writers' Loft who have helped me with The Book and whom I hope I have returned the favor with crits on their works.

Members of The Writers' Loft are invited to join by writer and Writers' Loft founder, Heather Kelly.  This has helped to keep the membership focused on serious, supportive writers who are looking to hone their craft and help others do the same.

When I first heard Heather was putting together this idea I wondered how the heck she had the time and resources to make such a thing happen.  Between a husband, two kids, her work as Volunteer Coordinator for NESCBWI, and her own writing, developing and opening a spot for writers to work and meet sounded, well, more than a bit crazy.

And yet she did it.

The Writers' Loft now has over 100 members and hosts regular discussion groups for writers as well as workshops and classes for writers in the physical location in Shelborn, MA.  That's quite an accomplishment for just over a year's worth of work.

Wondering how she did it all?  Heather has posted a blog entry about this part of her writer's journey over at the Writers' Rumpus blog.

Well done, Heather.  Well done, indeed.

-- Tom

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tahereh Mafi on Making Mistakes & Believing In Yourself

Spring Pollen Reflection
Spring 2014
Outside Raleighwood
The editors over at Adventures in YA Publishing have published a piece by author Tahereh Mafi, author of "Shatter Me"*.  Mafi's piece is on Making Mistakesand the necessity of believing in yourself.  In essence, she writes wise words for struggling writers.  (Which, I think, means all writers.)

My favorite part from her piece is this:

"my journey toward publication has barely started and i’ve already done everything wrong. i wrote my manuscripts wrong. i edited wrong. i queried wrong. i waited wrong. i made every possible mistake but i was committed to never giving up. i discovered that mistakes are okay when you learn from them, and bad manuscripts are just fine if you learn to laugh at them later. i knew that if the first book didn’t work i would write a second one. and if the second one didn’t work i would write a third. nothing was a waste of time. not the fourth book, not the fifth or the sixth. not the time i addressed a male agent by a woman’s name, not the times i thought “editing” meant “looking for typos”, and certainly not the hours i spent hunched over my computer with imaginary friends and places painting my world into something i never knew i could see. 
i discovered: 
  • my first novel taught me how to write.
  • my second novel taught me how to edit.
  • my third novel taught me how to write elegantly.
  • my fourth novel taught me how to write commercially.
  • my fifth novel taught me how to combine all four.
  • my sixth novel taught me how to write a book."

I'm still hoping one day I'll be able to laugh at all of my mistakes.

And feel like I've learned how to write a book.

-- Tom

* Tahereh is also married to Ransom Riggs, author of "Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children"(the book I gave away for this year's World Book Night) and its sequel, "Hollow City".

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Writer? I am a thief and an artist."

Frosted TARDIS
Outside Raleighwood, 2014

Maggie Stiefvater gave the keynote address at the recent SCBWI meeting.  Luckily, for those of us not in attendance, she posted an excerpt of that talk to her blog yesterday.

That excerpt starts as follows:

I used to think that my ideal job was to write. To make up stories. To lie for a living. Now that I’m in it, though, now that I’m comfortable in my novelist skin, it doesn’t feel that way at all. I observe for a living. I steal for a living. I stylize for a living. I find things in the real world, I take them for my own, and then I hammer them into a story-shaped thing. Writer? I am a thief and an artist.

Interested in reading the rest?  I thought you'd be.

-- Tom

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Writing Truths from Rebecca Dickson

Windshield Frost
Outside Raleighwood 2014

Author and writing coach Rebecca T Dickson has a great list of Truths entitled "Crap someone should have told you writers by now"over at her web site.

You should go read it.  Seriously -- go read it.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Will Your Verse Be?

Robin Williams from Dead Poet's Society

I have no words to express my grief and sense of loss at Robin Williams' death.  To have such a force of life taken from us by depression is painful.

Lucinda Williams: "This Sweet Old World"

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

John Green on Writing (on The Colbert Report)

Green: Well, books take years and years to write. It's like a really long game of Marco Polo where you're in your basement saying, "Marco, Marco, Marco, Marco" and it's not for like four years that someone's like, "Oh, Polo!"

Colbert: And you do it with your eyes closed.

Yep.  That pretty much sums up my experience.  How about you?

-- Tom

Monday, March 10, 2014

It Takes a Community to Raise a Revision

Downtown Raleighwood
Writing is largely solitary work.  It's you, your imagination, and the method of recording words of your choice.  Add in some willpower, some discipline, and perhaps a few incentives/bribes (caffeine, chocolate, Doctor Who episodes) and eventually something resembling a story will start to form.

At its heart, writing is an act of communication.  At some point a writer has to turn his/her work over to someone else to read.  Otherwise, they will never learn if they have been successful in conveying their ideas onto paper/into pixels.

My initial drafts tend to get sent out to a very small number trusted of beta readers.  I need to know if the story works, if the characters work, if the funny bits are really funny, and/or where the holes are that I've missed.  With the latest draft (a major revision that my agent requested) I widened my circle of beta readers to include several people who had never read the manuscript before.  I not only wanted some fresh perspectives, but I wanted to gauge new reactions against older reactions.

What might work for one person might not work for another; what one person doesn't like isn't seen as anything troubling by another (even after specifically asking them about the point).

Through all of this community involvement the author needs to hold comments up to his/her own standards of what holds true for him/her with the story and characters.  The balancing act, though, is between rejecting a comment because 'that's not what that character would do' and needing to better explain the character's motivations so the reader understands what the character might or might not do.

Each one of my beta readers offered me an insight into the story that I didn't have before.  I made changes based on their comments that I know made my story much better, much stronger.

Getting the comments needed to carry out a good revision can be a community event.  Putting them to proper use, however, is still an individual act.

-- Tom

My thanks to all of my friends at The Writer's Loft, MA who helped with this revision!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Word for the Year (2014): WRITE

Crow Doorway
Downtown Raleighwood
February 2014

I've been choosing a Word for the Year since 2006.  It's an alternative to making New Years Resolutions, something which I never found to be very effective.  I got the idea from Christine Kane, a former singer-songwriter turned Life\Entrepreneur Coach and have liked how the process of choosing a word makes me reassess where I am in life and where I want to be.

Last year I chose the word LIGHT.  The idea was to find a word that balanced giving positive energy while still being true to my somewhat cynical side.  It was a lofty, esoteric word that was well-meaning but lacking in any direct Call to Action.

This year I've chosen the word WRITE.  It comes with the clear intention of changing my lack-of-writing ways, to stop feeling sorry for myself and my never-good-enough book, and to just get the work done.

In December I set a series of goals for myself:  (a) have the latest revision completed by Feb 1st and (b) sent out to my Trusted Beta Readers so comments could be back to me by mid-February.  (c)Further revisions to be completed and the polished manuscript sent back to my agent by the first week of March.

The first part of that meant both revisions and new writing.  (Three new chapters, as it turned out)  I took time off from werk to complete the manuscript and finished work on it before the end of January.

WRITE.  That's my word for the year.  What's yours?

-- Tom

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wearing Cement Shoes in the Deep End of the Revision Pool

Heilig Furniture
Raleighwood, 2013
Back in March of 2013 I signed with an agent, the marvelous Caryn Wiseman.  (Hi, Caryn!)  A few weeks later she sent me her Editorial Letter with her Likes and Possible Problem Areas and Dislikes and a week or so later we had a good discussion about her letter.

Now, by Good Discussion, I truly mean it was a danged Good Discussion.  We each had our points that we were willing to fight for and points we were willing to give on.  It was the best, most honest, and most respectful conversation I'd ever had with an agent concerning the future of The Book.  I laughed, I grimaced, and I knew this was an agent I could happily work with.

I left the conversation with a list of changes to be made.  Some were blindingly obvious in their necessity (another agent/author had signed with Hyperion with a book that, from the 1,000 foot view, sounded annoyingly similar to mine -- differentiating changes were, therefore, were clearly needed).  Others were changes that, I begrudgingly acknowledged as being Good for the Story.

Now, you might think that having just signed with an amazingly great agent at a fan-freakin-tastic agency, that I would get right on those revisions and crank them out.  And, I did.  To a point.  Right up until that section where Caryn suggested that I write another chapter.  I'd let my main character off too easy at the end of a particularly difficult chapter.  I didn't trust him enough, she said.  I was going too easy on him.  I needed to make the problem even worse to give him a chance to show the reader -- and himself -- what he is made of.

All of which is completely true.  I had no problem with her insights and understood that the additional chapters would make my main character even more compelling and bring the readers closer to him and, by extension, further into the story.

The only teensy, minute problem, the only tiny bump in the path: my Bad Attitude.

The more I thought having to write Another ^&*@#% Chapter, the more I stuck out my internal lower lip and pouted.  I whined.  I slammed a few doors.  I threw a pile of already-published books onto the floor.  All my childish ego started to focus on was that, once again, I was being thrown into The Deep End of the Revision Pool.

Eventually I was, mentally, on my back, kicking and screaming and punching at the air with my fists having an all-out tantrum.

As well, mentally (then verbally) I began referring to The Book as "The ^%*$#_!(@ Book That Will Never Be Good Enough."  That made my unwavering view of the ceiling seem more justified, more in line with the Great Injustices of the World.

By late October I finally began sketching out the extra chapters -- not chapter, but chapterS.  I knew from early on it was going to have to be at least two chapters, and by the end of the scrawled pre-Draft Zero additional-chapter-two wasn't even close to wrapping up the extra problems I had created for my hero.

By December I had come up with a deadline for myself: Rev 4.7 be completed by the end of January and out to ├četa Readers; comments back by mid-February; Rev 4.8 out to Caryn by the first week of March.

I've taken today off from werk to write Additional Chapter Three.  I'm happy to report it's done and ready to be read as part of the greater book and slashed and revised with my bloody red pens.

It's time to Get Serious about all of this again.

-- Tom

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kate DiCamillo: National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Kate DiCamillo signing a book for a fan after her
swearing in ceremony at the Library of Congress.
I'm a big fan of Kate DiCamillo's writing.  She's one of those authors who are able to write engaging, books, each of which tells a story quite different from the others.  And yet, each story is vivid, and deeply felt, with prose so elegant that it becomes poetic at times.

Her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, was a 2001 Newbery Honor book and The Tale of Despereaux was the Newbery Winner for 2004.

Last week the Library of Congress held a ceremony in which DiCamillo was named the fourth National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.  Created by the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council, and Every Child a Reader,

"The position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people."
Meaning, for the next two years DiCamillo will be going around the country promoting books and reading for kids.  What an amazing gig, right?

The Library of Congress Blog has a great entry with quotes from the ceremony, both from her introduction as well as DiCamillo's speech.  Her official Facebook page has a lengthy list of reader questions that DiCamillo has responded to.  I found both to be well worth the read, both as a fan of DiCamillo's writing and as a writer.  I hope you might, too.

-- Tom