Sunday, March 8, 2009

Writing Groups, Conferences, and Critiques

A few posts back I talked about being in a writing group. We’ve met three times now, critiquing a total of a hundred pages each time (from one or two writers) while also discussing publishing topics and trends.

This past week we all got a glimpse of Randy’s new Kindle, and agreed that while Kindles and like-minded applications are convenient and fun, they will never replace the experience of browsing for, buying, and reading a paper bound item with printed text. Also, fellow-writer Stephanie mentioned that she signed up for the Manuscript Mart at Grub Street’s upcoming Muse and the Marketplace conference. During the Manuscript Mart, established editors and agents critique twenty pages of a writer’s work. I’ve been through the Manuscript Mart experience twice now with the first twenty pages of "A Little Disappeared," so I gave Stephanie some advice (don’t meet right before lunch when the editor has low blood sugar) and told her my experiences.

Which are these: the low-blood-sugar editor wasn’t enthusiastic about my writing. She explained that my novel structure bordered on experimental and the prose of my younger narrator read a little flat. I wasn’t prepared for this critique, so I was stymied. Had I been better prepared, I might have been able to ask better questions and get more out of our meeting.

Undaunted, a couple years later I came back with the same pages, newly revised, and signed up for an agent. The agent had a tough reputation but we seemed to hit it off. She liked my writing but had questions about my choices and wanted to know how the story ended. I answered her questions to her satisfaction and came away from the meeting with her business card and firm handshake. A couple months later, after I had revised my manuscript enough to feel comfortable sending it out, I contacted the agent and asked if she would be interested in seeing the complete manuscript. She said yes. I sent it off. After a few months I sent a series of prodding emails. I eventually I got a form rejection back from her agency.

Everybody’s Manuscript Mart experiences vary. I learned that editors are interested mainly in manuscripts they can publish; while agents spread their net wider in terms of knowing which publishers they think would be right for a particular story. There’s a learning curve to the publishing biz, one I haven’t mastered yet. This year I’m attending day one of the Muse and the Marketplace. If I had a manuscript ready, I’d sign up for another agent for a Manuscript Mart critique. Maybe next year.

But so anyway. The writing group meets again in two weeks it’s my turn to bring in pages. What to bring? I haven’t been working on a novel since last October (right around the time I started this blog) so I’ve been revising some stories. I have about five or six candidates for critique, and am excited to get feedback on short-form pieces. This is what I need help with: finishing. I get an idea, I write write write. But my endings are usually crap. And when I realize I’ve written a story with another crap ending, I lose all inspiration. So, I need more eyes to help me with this writing problem. And I need to take suggestions and critiques and actually incorporate them into the stories.

I’m excited about getting back to work on a novel, either starting a new one, or revising an existing one. On the other hand, I wish I could focus on shorter pieces to place more stories in lit mags, getting my name out there more. It’s an ongoing struggle. A compromise has been to try and turn excerpts and outtakes of my novels into stand-alone stories. This too has proved difficult, as I need to come up with frameworks for these sections that don’t always comprise a smooth beginning, middle, and end.

Are you a writer? Have you had similar experiences trying to carve out pieces of longer works? Let me know what works for you. And I’ll let you know how my next group meeting goes.


Neil Everett said...

What I usually do is come up with the middle, then figure out the ending. The beginning, as well as a lot of the details, is something you can figure out later.

Dell Smith said...

It's the figure-out-later part that's tricky. It's good to take a step back from any writing to get perspective. But take too much time and you forget what you were going for. Also, I spend a lot of time figuring out endings. I'm my own toughest critic and am often never happy with my endings.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

I love writing the beginnings of a novel... and I love the endings. :) The whole middle of a 100,000 word book can truly be challenging and problematic, but I love exploring my characters and their conflicts. :)

At the end of every scene and every chapter, I take off my writers cap and put on a readers hat. I think - what would I love to read at this point? What would I want to happen?... And then I twist it to give it even more impact. ;]

Dell Smith said...

Hey Cynthia, I like your idea for ending scenes and chapters. I'll give it a shot.