Come now, all ye critics

Criticism can be a creative’s worst nightmare. Even if you’re aren’t of the creative mindset, you can still relate at some level. There’s a specific kind of hurt reserved for the one who hears his work is garbage; or crap; or downright putrid. That hurts. That hurts right in the “feels”. Yet, criticism is a part of the deal. The unwritten contract every artist / writer / author enters into. Be it knowingly or unknowingly.

I’ve been writing for a while now and I can honestly say that the “early days” of getting critiques were the hardest for me. Before that time, and when I was still under the protective hood of public school, I got patted on the back quite often for my penmanship. “You write well”; “You have great voice”; “You ought to consider doing this for a living someday” – yeah, I heard it all. And believed it too. And why not? It’s great getting noticed for something you enjoy doing. That’s a wonderful feeling. So, when I made the decision to pursue that passion, I found myself struck by a fascinating revelation: not everyone is going to like what you do (shocking news, isn’t it?).

Well, for an aspiring scribe, it can be a major jolt. Ego and all.Critics_Prep

Much later, I was listening in on a writer’s podcast and heard how a lot of writers are only interested in being discovered. They aren’t necessarily interested in getting better. They just want someone to tell them how good they are. Show’em some love. Make’em feel good. And after hearing this, I couldn’t agree more. Because that’s the place I was coming from. By now, I realize there are plenty of talented writers out there. I know this to be a fact. But, are they willing to do the work to get better? That’s the real question. And part of that “getting better” process is learning how to take criticism.

This trade off, this price to be paid if you ever intend to get paid, can make or break the deal. And what’s more, not everyone’s creative pace is the same. Last year, I bumped into a woman at a writer’s convention who told me she’d spent 11 years finishing her first book. Eleven years. I couldn’t even imagine. By comparison, it took me a year and a half to finally release The Road to Mars and that felt like an eternity! Yet, in hearing her story, it made see another grim truth: spending too much time in creating can keep you from ever finishing what you started. Which, in turn, can make a person dread the day a fair critique comes along. The payoff may never come. And that’s a pretty damn scary thing to think about.

But, I know myself. And I know that I’d rather get a fair critique than an empty pat on the back. That’s the greatest service any writer can get. Well, aside from a few purchases. That’s always cool too.

 

 

Sickness and the Writer

Be it physical, emotional, or spiritual, there are many forms of sickness. When one is sick, the body signals its duress like a foghorn in a library. Other people sense it too. “Hey, you look like death” is a good indicator, I’d say. But ultimately, something of the body needs attention; something is amiss. Whatever makes you function – for achieving maximum output – has dropped to a lower level of efficiency. That’s what being ‘sick’ is comprised of. Here’s my most recent example:

I have a cold.

Boo hoo, right? I don’t want to come off as complaining; it’s just a fact. Catching a cold is a part of life. If you don’t experience this delight of nature, then I say ‘bravo’ to you. As for me? I’ve experienced colds in great consistency throughout my entire life. I’ve been tested for allergies – nothing. I’ve taken Vitamin C tablets regularly – no change. I work out on a regular basis – nada. I’ve even drank enough herbal tea to reenact the Boston Tea Party and yet – the cold still comes to pass. It’s inevitable. Happening just when things are progressing forward too. The cold bug strikes and I’m left in disarray, scrambling to recover what energy and fervor I’d lost. But as maddening as it can be, I find solace in one thing: I can still write.

Writing may be one of the few vocations where a flu, a cold, or strep throat do little to halt the creative process. At least from my perspective. I may be hacking up phlegm in a toilet, but at least my mind is still working. And so long as that’s intact; so long as that’s feeling sharp, I can put my thoughts to the keyboard and continue on the adventure. I’ll sneeze. I’ll cough. I’ll blow my nose. But when I’m done, I’ll put my fingers back on the keyboard and start typing again. With minimal resistance other than a severe runny nose. Easily remedied with a few tissues.

So in the midst of feeling miserable, that’s something to rejoice in, is it not? Yes, I would argue so. *cough*

 

Tweaks, Changes…Bleh…

I don’t know of anybody – and I mean, anybody – who enjoys editing and rewriting his own work. Cannibalizing what you’ve toiled over is a self-defeating concept. Like all the work was for naught. Now, additions and upgrades are another matter. For example, if I built a house, I wouldn’t mind putting in a porch; adding a deck; or trading in a nasty old couch for a new one. Those are all necessary improvements. Changes put forth in order to make things better. But when it comes to editing, rewriting, or just plain starting over – I hate it. It’s a loathsome process; one that never takes as long as I’d like, nor does it translate with the same results as my first draft. Still, it must be done. And still, I must go on with the understanding that it’s simply a part of the process.

Case in point, my local writer’s group put the screws to my latest work just this past weekend. They’ve been helping me by reading through the first draft of a novel I’ve been hashing out. A novel I’ve been creating for almost 9 months (yes, 9 stinking months), but it all came to a head last week when several parties involved said, “You need to go back and edit a lot of this.” And grudgingly, I agreed with them.

Ugh.

Imagine painting a five-story building – by yourself – and when you’re finished, you realize you used the wrong color. That’s the type of feeling I got. And what’s worse, I agreed with them. I knew that it needed some tweaks. I knew that it needed some changes. I knew that it needed a new coat of paint, so to speak. But my first reaction was this: ain’t no way I’m doing that again

I’ve always been good at getting my first draft done “well”. Like a good chef, I don’t need to grill four or five burgers until I get the proper patty. One shot and I’m done. But taking on a project such as this has made me understand – or rather, come to grips with – my own shortcomings as a writer. The first draft is never perfect. And if it is, you may be kidding yourself. There’s always some blind spot the writer is missing. So lucky for me, I have another set of eyes to poke and prod at what I’m doing. That way, before it gets to final print, I’ll know I’ve put the story through its proper paces.

But until that time, it’s back to the rewrites and revisions. Doing so with as much joy as I can muster. Which may be even harder than the rewrite itself….

 

 

So…what’s next?

I’ve been fired up since I finished Spirit Run. Not because I’m really angry or because I’m disappointed with the story – no, not at all. I’m fired up for a plethora of other reasons. I’m experiencing some new activity in this writing gig and it’s a tad overwhelming. How so? And what does that look like? Well, thanks for asking….

There’s a realization I’m having and it’s about as good as it is bad. Over the past year, I’ve been amazingly fortunate to be a member of a local writer’s group – one that shares, critiques, and encourages one another’s work. That has been remarkably life-giving. For example, remember when you found yourself surrounded by people who spoke the same “language” as you? You could share, in a group, the same kinds of thoughts and aspirations that this other group of people had? That’s a great feeling.

So…that was good – wait, amazing.

But that was only the first step into a much larger universe. Once you get to a place where others share a similar vision, you will eventually find yourself limited by your own resources. In other words, the affirmation you needed has worn off and the need for more third-party support becomes increasingly relevant. You need a team of other highly skilled, highly proficient individuals who can further maximize the bigger vision. I wrote about having skill sets I wish I had a couple weeks ago. Well, that post is having extreme truth in my life. And it’s happening now.

As such, I’ve been trying to accumulate a team of the following individuals:
– Editors
– Illustrators
– Social Media Experts
– My fiance’ (which has already been established as part of the team but incredibly crucial all the same)

I’m still doing the agent search thing, but I’m not sitting on my butt, waiting around either. I’ve decided to take a little more initiative and put some feelers out to even more media realms. And the responses have been very good. The more knowledge I can assimilate, the better. And knowledge is what I need if I’m going to be anywhere near effective in this fast-paced, fast-moving environment. How do you create good techniques for editing and not create bad ones? What is proper pricing for digital imaging? What’s not proper? And so on and so forth. It will be an ongoing process, I’m sure; one that will not happen overnight. A reality that my generation has a hard time believing is true. And unfortunately, I have a hard time reminding myself of daily.

So…here’s to the next “I don’t know” turning into “I understand now.” Here’s hoping I can get there sooner than later.

Thoughts on “Spirit Run” – part 9

I hope it’s no secret by now that Spirit Run is a story dedicated to the unseen. A place that’s invisible and open to interpretation dependent on the individual. Where he is in life, where he’s going, and where he’s been. And we all get to experience the “invisible” in different ways. For instance, I was reading a Twitter post this morning via National Geographic that said something like this (and I’ll paraphrase): “Science allows us to see what cannot be seen otherwise.”

I would agree with this statement. Science certainly does permit access to a realm that cannot be witnessed by the naked eye. Who knew that every single thing is made up of tiny particles called ‘atoms’? And how else might we learn what lies on the surface of the moon and beyond? The human ability to create, dissect, and analyze the most minute and far places of the universe is really astounding if you think about it. No other creature in the known world can do that – only us.

*pause for effect*

I was fortunate to hear a speech this weekend that covered topics related to human science and discovery. The speaker talked on what the world must have been like when we discovered how the Earth was not the center of the universe. It was our planet that was moving, not the sun. People’s brains must have been turned inside out. And when our atom smashers discovered protons, neutrons, and electrons – well, you get the picture. Scientific ventures continue to unlock more of our universe, but in the 21st century, we know that the Earth rotates the sun and we are made up of atoms. This is common knowledge. These may not seem as exciting to the seasoned scientist, but they are scientific fact all the same. And as we move forward, only the new and the undiscovered will pique our interests as adventurers. That much is also true. In other words, we are delighted for what we know, but we are driven even more to find out what we have yet to understand.

This story is teaching me a lot about this human reality. As much as I want to have a handle on everything I encounter, I am reminded how I cannot get all the answers at once. What’s unseen is intriguing enough though, so I do what I can to unveil those yet-to-be-revealed parts of my life. But first, I must simply be open to the idea of not knowing. In that way, I can find what it is I am looking for. Philosophical? Sure, it absolutely is, but it’s also a truth, I feel. Spirit Run‘s latest section, 9, delves deeper into this concept. My characters might have thought they were guarding a male spirit, a “Son”, but in reality, it was a “Daughter” the whole time. Their willingness to see through the journey made that revelation possible though; a revelation that’s amazing to them. I feel like science and faith find themselves in the same boat on that one. Sometimes our pursuits of one thing lead to the discovery of another. And it happens when we least expect it.

And I’ll be honest, I like having a good surprise in my story too.

“Spirit Run” – part 8

Halfway home on this story. I did a little bit of editing on this section, but not too much. I figure that if I keep chopping up what I started with, I’ll wind up with something that wasn’t the original vision. Hey, it can happen. The story itself has remained unchanged, but there are definitely still areas for improvement.

Enjoy.

“Yes,” said Armin. “I can feel the ground pulling me downward. It’s faint but yes… I can feel it.”
“So what of our friend?” asked Harda. Balphin and Armin flapped their wings, looking down upon the devastation.
“I am uncertain on that question,” said Balphin. “Armin? What do you say?”
“He’s in there somewhere,” said Armin. “Don’t forget that.”
“It’s hard to believe so,” said Balphin. “When you look at what’s left.”
“Yes,” said Harda. “It’s difficult to imagine how hard he has strayed.”
The Trio floated above the chaos, flapping their wings to stay adrift. The cloud swirled slowly but did not move.
“It reminds me of the stars,” said Armin. “Strange as that may sound. Every last one of them in perfect order.”
“I agree,” said Balphin. “An astute observation.”
“And the wall…,” said Harda. “It’s gone forever, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Armin. Balphin and Harda could feel Armin’s heart break with every word. “It’s impossible to rebuild the wall from here on out. Even the Dark will have access now.”
Harda and Balphin nodded in agreement. It was true – the Shadows had nothing to stand in their way. There were no barriers to keep them at bay. No immense shield to cover them; only a swirling mass of darkness was left in the wake of Newborn’s acceptance of the Dark. The Trio was discouraged, but they did not leave. Instead, they waited. They waited for the ball of light, the golden orb, or the Newborn to return. Hopeful that it would reappear – regardless of the form it took – sooner than later.
“It’s so quiet now…,” said Harda. Ever the compassionate one, Harda’s emotions were amplified in this new space.
“It will remain so until he returns,” said Balphin, reassuring the group.
“Yes. I suppose you’re right.”
The Angels circled, maintaining a healthy distance from the apocalyptic scene below. The plane below the Newborn, once perceivable to them all, was concealed by the thick veil of smoke. The Trio surveyed all other vantages points. Clouds of thick smog covered the landscape. If life had been here, there were no signs of it anymore. But Harda, with eyes wide and scanning the ground, caught glimpse of something among the haze.
“Did you see that just now?!” he said. “Did you see it?”
“Where?” asked Armin.
A tiny flicker of light burst in the center of the darkness.
“Right there! You must have seen that!”
“I see nothing!” answered Balphin, straining his eyes to see.
“It was there, I tell you!” cried Harda.
Light glowed dimly, pulsating at the epicenter.
“Yes!” exclaimed Armin. “I see it now!”
“As do I!” shouted Balphin.
“Quick!” cried Armin. “Let’s get down there. Help it!”
The Trio traveled down into the Darkness. The swell of fog was enormous; larger and denser than what the Angels had anticipated. The distance between the Angels and the flicker of light felt miles away – increasing in depth as they dived down. Pillars of smoke rose up as they flew towards their target. Each Angel made certain to dodge and avoid every encounter as best he could.
“Careful, lads,” said Armin. “Don’t let anything get a good hold of you now.”
A sharp stack of smog jutted up from below, barely missing one of Balphin’s wings. The Angel dodged the attack and rolled to his side. Harda, who was close by, pulled from his quiver and shot at the dark cloud. His arrow of light ripped through the smog, a line of light left in its wake.
“Much thanks,” shouted Balphin. Harda nodded back.
“Don’t forget,” said Harda. “You have that sword for a reason.”
Balphin did not forget. He pulled the sword from its sheath and cut the next line of clouds that stood in his path.
“Obliged again, brother,” said Balphin. Apart from Harda and Balphin, Armin was avoiding every whip of the Darkness. His shield defended him while his spear cut through the smoke with ease.
“Almost there, I’d say!” shouted Armin. He was further ahead than the others, staring down the tiny twinkle of light off in the distance.
“Don’t get distracted,” said Balphin, cutting another hefty chunk of fog away. “Just get there.” The dark cloud tensed up as if it were alive. Then it made one final charge, a wave of gray mist rising up on the plane, 100 times higher than the Angels.
“Well then,” said Armin. His eyes followed the wave to the top of its crest. “We must be really close.”
The blanket of Darkness held for but a moment; then started to crash down towards Armin and the others. A face, appeared at the base of the wave – flashing in and out as it rolled towards the Trio. It had no eyes, only a gaping mouth and dark centers where its eyes should have been. A voice shook the horizon as Armin braced himself.
“Very well,” said Armin, sizing up his attacker. He tightened his grip on his spear and raised his shield. “You clearly have forgotten who you’re dealing with here.”
“Ready when you are, brother,” said Harda, eagerly charging with Balphin towards Armin.
“Always.”
The Trio then separated; Balphin flying towards the base of the wave, Harda aimed at the middle, and Armin soaring above. Harda unleased a flurry of arrows upon the center of the Darkness. Bright light ripped through, doing more than poking holes – the arrows punctured the wave with craters that were big enough for a hundred Angels to pass through. At the base, Balphin took his sword and sliced across the bottom. A golden tear burned through, severing the wave in half. And Armin, flying higher than the wave itself, stared down at the cloud, which had diminished in size. The black curtain withered like a dying flower, crying out as if it were in pain. The face inside had shrunk, falling in on itself.
“Enough, beast!” shouted Armin. “We’re taking him back!”
Armin raised his spear and dove head on towards the face of darkness. With one forceful strike, he tore through the center, burning the dark curtain in half. A vicious cry echoed across the plane. And the Shadow retreated into the black below. The Darkness subdued, the Trio could see their orb again; it was resting quietly in the distance, blinking softly as though beckoning the protectors back to itself.

Editing … or Thoughts on “Spirit Run” – part 6

Stories are best understood when they are read straight through. No interruptions. In a perfect world, that’d be the way to do it. Even if the book is 1,000 pages, it would do a person good to start reading and then finish what he is reading in the same sitting. Or at the very least, within a short time frame. But hey, I’m sure that doesn’t happen very often. I, for one, can’t sit and read for more than 15 minutes. If I’m thoroughly engaged, then yeah, I’ll stretch that time limit. It’s not ADD, it’s just a lack of interest. Or lack of patience. Or I’ll remember that I have other things to do like, run an errand or something. But if the story is good enough or if my mind is clear, I’ll stall a while. I’ll wait until I get to a good stopping point. There’s always that point in the story where I, the reader, can take a break.

I find my editing process to be like that more often than not. I’ll look for those breathing points, taking 15 minutes to reread certain sections rather than read all the way through. This is ideal if all I’m doing is reading, but I’m not. I’m changing things too. And that’s a slippery slope if you’re going over your work with a fine-toothed comb.

It’s better to do a thorough read of your work when you’re editing. This is of utmost importance. Selecting pieces and parts of a story as you go along can be harmful. Just as much as a reader doesn’t start in the middle of a new book, neither should a writer when editing his work. The times when I’ve returned to my work and just “picked a random spot” have been the most frustrating for me as a writer. I find myself being disillusioned by the part I’m revising, angry that the tone or feel just isn’t living up to my expectations.

That doesn’t sound right.
That doesn’t feel right.
That doesn’t fit with that.

This can be dangerous for a writer. Unless you’re catching the emotions and thoughts from prior sections, you may feel like your work – as a stand alone – is missing something. But don’t freak out. It is missing something. What it’s missing is the rest of the story. The feelings, the added conflict – everything that makes up the entirety of what you’ve crafted. If you need another analogy, think of it this way: architects and builders don’t build the roof before the foundation. They begin with the foundation, aka the beginning, and work from there. The same should be the case with revising and editing. Once you’ve done a few reads, you’ll find that your brain will recognize those sections where you could do something different. Or you could say something better. It’ll never be altogether perfect, but you can certainly get to a relative state of peace so long as you make the effort to understand as much about your work as possible. Then, you can give it over to another set of eyes if you wish.

This is something I’ve been working on as I go through this story. Where, when, and how to do effective editing. I feel like reading through my entire work can be overkill but it’s also necessary. Otherwise, I may run the risk of changing too much out of context. A delicate balance, but once again, a necessary evil. And it’s definitely an evil to any person who can be as impatient as I can be.

Thoughts on “Spirit Run” – part 5

I’ve been excited to write this story for a while. I should probably mention that. But the build up to this part has been leaving me dry. Yes, there was a run-in earlier with a potentially dangerous opponent but it didn’t turn out to be a major bump in the road, if you will. However this part introduces a much more imposing enemy. How exciting, right? There’s some crazy screaming off in the distance, the barrier that the Trio made is getting rocked, and every other angel in the field of lights knows that something is up. Basically, there’s a ton of chaos happening. And I like it.

You need this kind of tension. Some foreboding angst to keep things interesting. May sound sadistic – and it could be, to a point – but every story has a good conflict. It’s a necessity for crafting any story. If it’s all rainbows and butterflies, then you are probably doing something wrong. Hence, there’s an ominous figure – a shadow – slowly creeping into the fray. What it wants and what it’s doing is still a mystery, but that’s a good thing. Any reader should know that’s it not good, whatever it is. And ironic as it sounds, that’s a positive for creating conflict in the story, a conflict that needs resolution.

There’s plenty more to do before the end, but I’m enjoying the road to see what’s next.

Till next time.

Special, Bonus, Extra Features…for writers

Some years ago, our VHS tapes were traded in for DVDs. Do you remember this? Home entertainment changed – No more recording shows on a clunky recorder. No more rewinding or fast forwarding to that funny “whizz whizz” noise. And no more home movies being taped via that huge shoulder-mounted tape recorder that your family owned. Movies and television shows were making the jump to Digital Video Disc. Picture quality was better, sound was smoother – VHS tapes were soon to be obsolete.

Sigh, I think I just had some serious nostalgia….

Well, sweet nostalgia aside, the arrival of DVDs brought another big thing with them: the “bonus disc”. For the science fiction geek, it was the holy grail of movie fandom. The Lord of the Rings was one of the first to cash in on this concept. Not only was there the “regular” DVD, you could also get the DVD with “special features disc”. Three hours of extra footage that included interviews, how the hobbit’s feet were made, and original cut scenes. It was all there. But wait! That’s not all. Some time later, the “Special Extended Edition” disc was released and the Tolkien universe rejoiced. Now you had the movie, the bonus features, and hours more of scenes that extended the experience. Wow, right? The DVD was more than just an upgraded conduit for home entertainment, it was a money-making missile aimed straight at the hearts and imaginations of anyone who wished to be closer to the cinematic experience.

But I won’t rain on the parade. Bonus discs can and do offer some interesting insight to any fan who is willing to pay a little extra. Imagine having the opportunity to find out just what someone was thinking when they filmed that pivotal death scene? Or why the director decided to nix that particular musical score for the climax? The bonus disc allowed for this to happen. Granted, not every question could be answered but the window had been opened.

As a writer, there is no special features disc when it comes to writing books and sharing story. You may get a bonus disc, which we may call a “sequel”, but that’s about it. I found this to be a unique insight; one that a friend of mine brought to light recently. Whenever I share a story with people I know, they give me immediate feedback. Then they may ask me questions. Why did you do this? What were you thinking about there? To which, I can reply and answer. But if you’re writing something for people beyond your social circle, there’s no Q and A time. This may appear to be an obvious concept, but let me extrapolate that further.

You see, stories are interpreted differently from person to person. The visuals created in their head are theirs and theirs alone. But a writer may have a different vision. Or will provide details meant to create that vision. As such, some readers often miss the intimate details of a writer’s vision. Writing is an intimate experience for the writer, but it’s not always as intimate for the reader. Writers provide, readers receive but a reader may miss the point of what the writer is trying to convey altogether. Yes, it does happen. And when that happens, there’s no bonus disc for the reader to dive into and find out what the deal was. It’s up to interpretation – no added interviews, no backstage with the film crew, and certainly no added scene to fill in the gaps. There’s great mystery and excitement in that because let’s face it, you can’t please everyone. But there is little opportunity for interaction if there are still lingering questions or a desire to seek more information.

Well, no worries because now we have blogs. It’s a writer’s very own “special, bonus, extra features” hub for sharing any additional thoughts and comments. Space is available for feedback (should you choose to accept it) and along with that, virtually anyone can pick the brain of the person they enjoy reading. That’s a cool concept, but overwhelming too. It’s something I’ve enjoyed though and I continue to look forward with each new post I make. The same can be said for anyone else’s work I follow or comment on. And what’s more, it’s free. No extra money needed to comment, post, and everything else. Way to go, social media. Nicely done.

Till the next bonus features post then.

One more point on “Spirit Run” – part 4

Forgive the double post today, but I didn’t want to neglect the “Newborn” that comes to life in this section. It’s the first appearance of the spirit taking form; “growing up”, if you will. Having survived the onslaught of the Rogue, the orb matures into a new body – something that resembles a human. And it’s about time, I figure. It’s a promising sign to the Trio that things are progressing well. The Rogue was the first character to cause any strife in this story so there’s a real moment of relief in this section. And due to that relief, the orb can finally take on a new shape.

I really enjoyed this, specifically the image of the others angels harmonizing with one another. Everything plays off of one another with perfect precision – choirs singing, melodies chanting, wings interlocking, etc. It’s some familiar imagery with a little of my own interpretation thrown in there for good measure. As I said before though, I’m not a fan of how I edited this part. That’ll have to change.

The next part should reveal more of the next big conflict. It can’t be all smooth sailing for this group, right? Yes, there are worse things than a Rogue spirit trying to suck the life out of you. Really, there are. As fun (or eerie) as that sounds.

Till next time.