Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another Stinky Galley

I've commented in previous posts about some of the books I'm assigned to review. Some are interesting reads, while others are, shall we say, not.

An interesting read results when an author considers their reader. This translates into straight-forward sentences (with no unecessary words dangling like useless branches waiting to trip up the narrative) and unique content that sparks universal interest (not how cute your daughter looks during her ballet recital).

The unpublished galley I just finished reading had neither of these characteristics, and included all sorts of "daughter" references (come to find out said daughter is grown and well into her 20s). The horrible irony is this: The author is a children's writing instructor, and her book is filled with all kinds of rookie mistakes. Too many words. No sentence variety. No overall structure. And she, high on her pedestal, proposes to tell parents how to help their children become better writers.

How this got past the slush pile and into the hands of an editor (who must have been sleeping instead of making corrections) I'll never know. The only thing I can figure is that she spearheads a lot of well-known literacy organizations and she lives in New York (location, location, location).

So this begs the question: Do connections and location trump writing ability? The Twilight novels point to yes. So how can good writers transcend these barriers, and get their writing recognized in the way it deserves?

I wish I had the answers to these questions. If I find them, I'll be sure to share in subsequent posts. In the meantime, I'll keep sloshing my way through the stinky swamp of galleys.

-The Writer Librarian

Friday, June 24, 2011

Useful Blogs Updated

I've updated the "Useful Blogs" section to include blogs from literary agencies. I also included a really great one that features up and coming YA titles.

I'm in the throes of moving, but will send more updates once we're settled in the new place.


-The Writer Librarian

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wise Words from Sandra Cisneros

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Sandra Cisneros read at a local library. Never had I seen a writer captivate her audience so easily. She told us about her days at Catholic school (with the "happy housewives of God") and how she was taught to be a "dutiful daughter." She read a beautifully woven short story called "Eleven" that conveyed the thoughts and feelings so many of us experience but are afraid to talk about. She also told us how she wanted to write a book where girls could see themselves (what I hope to accomplish with my first novel). And, she gave some very valuable writing advice:

1. Take your ego out of it

In other words, be humble about your writing. Don't write to impress others. Write because you love it. Write because you're compelled to create something beautiful.

2. Be courageous and fearless in your writing

I really needed to hear this one. Too often I'd censored myself in my short stories (and on this blog) because I feared reprimand from those who read my material. Ms. Cisneros likened writing to an empty bedroom where you can say anything you want--which I found oddly satisfying. Censoring myself wasn't all that fun, really.

3. Tell the truth without hurting anyone

Write about anyone you want--just change them enough so that those you are slicing apart with your pen don't recognize themselves. Change hair color, gender, or anything else you see fit.

Ms. Cisneros might have seemed gentle at the podium, but when I spoke to her afterwards I saw the tigress underneath. I told her how much I admired her and identified with her writing, and she firmly told me to write what I knew, to seek out my own voice. After I left that evening, I felt a new sense of bravery and determination. I hope to thank her someday for the wisdom she passed along, to convey how much she helped me as a writer.

-The Writer Librarian

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stop Blowing Smoke up my Skirt!

I took a creative nonfiction writing class recently, where I learned a lot about format (including what a nut graf is), and how to make my descriptions more relatable. The class was taught by someone who had worked for a very popular magazine (I won't say which) for over 30 years, so I figured if there was anyone who could give proper criticism on my writing, he'd be it. The unpleasant surprise came when it turned out he'd been criticizing people for 30 years--and was tired of it. He gave us these wonderfully intricate short stories to read, and we were more critical of those than we were of our own writing.

On the flip side, criticism isn't useful unless it's constructive. Anyone who says, "I don't like this because it doesn't have enough sex in it" or "This isn't how I would have written this" isn't giving feedback that's useful. I'd rather hear "This description doesn't work because of..." or "This line of dialogue isn't relatable because..." or "If you eliminated this word, this sentence would read better..." etc. Without constructive feedback, writers run the risk of getting an inflated perception of the quality and relatability of their material.

I have a few friends who have done professional editing for people--people who paid for feedback. What I kept hearing was "This person didn't like my feedback and we stopped being friends" and "She gave me her manuscript because she didn't understand why it wasn't published. I told her my thoughts and she never spoke to me again."

How will we grow as writers if we aren't willing to accept criticism? Where is the lesson if we pick apart published writers (like we did in my class) and don't take a good look at our own?

So I say this: Stop blowing smoke up my skirt! Please be honest if you don't like something about my writing. Please tell me what does and doesn't resonate with you as a reader.

I ended up approaching this instructor to ask how my writing could improve. After a few weeks of deliberation he told me to use more sentence variety. I am thankful for his feedback and have been taking a closer look at my sentences ever since.

-The Writer Librarian