On the Benefits of an Honest Critique

•June 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As a writer, probably one of my least favourite things to do is share my work with others and ask for a critique. Not because I’m worried they’re going to tear it apart, but because I’m afraid they’ll just say “I think it’s great!” and hand it back.

A critique like that is exactly 0% helpful. I don’t want my ego stroked. I want to know what doesn’t work so I can make it better. Whether it’s something I know needs work but I can’t figure out how to fix it, or feedback that takes me entirely by surprise, a good critique can only be helpful, if you listen to it.

This article from the Huffington Post sums up how I feel about the subject nicely. It’s worth a read by anyone who strives to improve themselves, whether at work, at a creative pursuit or even aspects of their personality.

I’m not saying critique doesn’t hurt. My dad is a particularly thorough critic of my writing and some of the stuff he says makes my cheeks burn when I read it. Instinctively, my reaction is always along the lines of “well you’re just wrong.” And I vow to ignore it.

A few days later I read his critique again. And even if I don’t take every word to heart – there’s no rule that says you can’t stick with your original thought or plot device or whatever – I still consider his reaction and why he might feel that way. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can listen to everyone’s complaints and assess them. All feedback is useful in some way, as long as it’s constructive. I often end up coming around to the critiquer’s point of view and make some changes.

I kind of love critiques. Like in a sadistic, “hit me ’til it hurts” sort of way. I mean ultimately, even if it makes me squirm, my goal is to be a better writer, right? I used to hate it in school when I’d get a paper back all marked up with red ink and I didn’t have the opportunity to re-write based on the feedback to improve it. It was just done. With the long editing process and multiple drafts involved in writing a novel, I finally get to do that. You’re damn right I’m going to listen to someone who has an opinion if they’re willing to take the time to offer it to me.

The Art of Words

•May 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As a person who finds herself inspired by words, I surround myself with wordy things. Books by the hundreds, typewriters of all shapes and sizes, even a writing-inspired tattoo (and another to come soon).

And then there’s artwork. My favourite pieces I own (apart from this painting by Brandon Bird which is the first thing you see when you walk into my house) all have to do with books and writing. There’s the large-scale print of a couple embracing under a tree that’s actually made using the entire text of Wuthering Heights, and the vintage typewriter ads, including this one which is pretty much exactly what I look like when I get on a real tear.

This is what I hung in my dreamy little writer’s shed tonight:

Tragedy #388 by Benjamin Dewey

Tragedy #388 by Benjamin Dewey

It makes me chuckle every time I see it. The poor wolfman! No one will ever read his comedic space opera.

I love the Tragedy series, btw. We have a bunch of them and I’ve gifted several more, but this one has been stored away until my retreat was complete. You can see them all, and buy your own prints, from the Tragedy Series Tumblr, which I strongly encourage you to do.

Why Wait Until New Year’s?

•May 28, 2014 • 2 Comments

I’m going to throw down some mid-year resolutions. And I’m going to put them on post-it notes and stick them all over my desk so I have to stare at them all the time.

In no particular order:

  • Finish my query letter
  • Send out ten query letters for each of June, July, August and September
  • Finish the first draft of The Unknowing
  • Re-read Writing 21st Century Fiction and post-it note the shit out of the tips I feel best apply to me
  • Write up an outline for the new book idea I have stewing

I think that’s a pretty solid start. I encourage everyone to join me in making a few resolutions as well!

Mutiny!

•May 23, 2014 • 2 Comments

I’ve often heard other writers say their characters are in control of the story and they’re just along for the ride, that every day writing is an exercise in finding out what they’re going to do next. That is so not me. Even when I was technically a pantser with no outline on paper, I still knew the complete storyline in my head and spent a great deal of time every day plotting out what the next day’s writing would look like.

So imagine my surprise when I realized this week that I, too, don’t seem to have much say in what some of my characters are doing. Two of them keep making out. In my head, I’m all, “okay, here comes a suspenseful and dangerous bit,” and then my fingers hit the keyboard and they proceed to try and take each other’s pants off. I’m at my wit’s end over it. I need things to happen, and those things don’t include kissing. I mean sometimes they do, but only when I say so, dammit!

The last couple books I’ve read have been rather smutty. Maybe that’s the cause. Whatever it is, I need to get things back on track, and I fear my delete button is going to be putting in a lot of work this weekend. Or maybe I’ll just run with it and see how things pan out, because you never know. Maybe sometimes the characters do know best.

“Nothing I like doing more than spanking rocks with my baby.”

•May 17, 2014 • 4 Comments

And so began construction of my little office, with the shoveling and pounding of two yards of gravel.

"Yeah baby, spank those rocks. Spank 'em good."

“Yeah baby, spank those rocks. Spank ‘em good.”

August 2013. The back story: For the past two years if I wanted to work from home I had little in the way of options: the couch, my bed or the kitchen table. None of those are spaces that are conducive to focus and concentration. We live in a 1,000-square-foot house, so space is at a premium. My old office got turned into a bedroom when Kid 2 was born, and my husband’s office is eligible for an episode of Hoarders.

We looked at converting our spare bedroom in the basement, but we do have company from time to time, and frankly, that room is grim. Dark, cold and devoid of sunlight. Then I went a bit crazy and started thinking about building an addition on the house, but spending $100k is a little outside our budget. Then I thought, why not insulate the space above the garage? But as it turned out, building a habitable space up in the rafters would require raising the roof by several feet.

So obviously the only logical solution is an outbuilding.

I don’t want to call it a shed, but it’s a shed. A cozy, furnished, heated and powered shed, but a shed nonetheless. We bought a prefab kit that looked like it would suit the job. The reviews online said two people could put it together in about eight hours. Neither of us are particularly handy people, so we figured a weekend of hard work could get it done.

This is what we accomplished the first day.

This is what we accomplished the first day.

I’m not sure even Mike Holmes (sorry, Americans and overseas readers – I don’t know who the US equivalent would be. Pick the star of your favourite home reno show) could put this together in eight hours. Maybe day two would see more progress?

End of Day 2. I have a floor and one corner.

End of Day 2. I have a floor and one corner.

Screw this noise. We are working until we drop. Long past sundown, into the wee hours of the morning, we had something that was starting to look like a small shed.

And then I dropped.

And then I dropped.

So my husband and I are lying there on the floor, looking up at the stars, when the same thought crosses our minds:

"I wonder how high those power lines are?"

“I wonder how high those power lines are?”

It’s funny because we genuinely have no idea and will find out when we attempt to put the roof on.

Monday saw us both back at work so we only had a couple hours in the evening. We put part of the roof together and installed the skylights. Skylights! We had to stop when I started wearing one of the gable pieces like a hat and the husband told me I should wear it to bed because it made me look like a sexy roofing nun.

Tuesday I tried to assemble a door (yes a door) by myself and it brought me to tears.

Wednesday. Installed two doors and a gable all by myself. Used pieces of furniture in place of helping hands to hold things steady. Broke my middle finger hitting it with a hammer. Total drag. I use that one a lot.

Saturday. We call in reinforcements. In other words, my father-in-law. It’s together… sort of. The doors don’t close. We have to re-level it and shim it and possibly sacrifice a small animal to the ancient ones.

Some weeks later, after multiple calls to the manufacturer, the doors close tolerably. Only it’s the end of fall. There’s frost on the ground in the morning. Winter is around the corner. Winter in Canada. No point in working on it now…

Spring 2014. We have had a hellish winter. I’ve been writing in coffee shops and my bedroom and airport departure gates and everywhere but my little shed. So I’m like, let’s get this shit done. We start cleaning out the winter debris and moving furniture in as time permits.

Today: the husband takes Kid 1 and Kid 2 camping for the weekend and I am free to move things into my shed uninterrupted. I’ve been collecting various things for the past year, and they finally have a home.

A wordsmithette's home.

A wordsmithette’s home.

My desk.

My desk.

A few typewriter friends... from left to right: Ivy, Casper the Haunted Typewriter and The First.

A few typewriter friends… from left to right: Ivy, Casper the Haunted Typewriter and The First.

Awesome, right? It still needs to be wired for electricity – currently I’m making do with an extension cord – and I have a couple more pictures to frame and hang, but for all intents and purposes, it’s finished.

I love it. It’s my own place. Everyone knows the famous quote from Virginia Woolf: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” This is my room of my own. I will do great things here. 

(with inspiration from My Cool Shed.)

 
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