Thursday, October 30, 2014

It doesn't have to be good...

This semester, I've taught two classes for our Community Education program, one on Dynamic Characters and the other on Dialogue. I've been fortunate to have several students who have signed up for all of my classes (six over three semesters). Whenever I ask myself why I'm throwing more obligations into my already overfilled schedule, I remember the rush I get from having people tell me they've learned something. I would classify my courses as craft classes, so we spend a lot of time looking at the fundamentals and rules of writing. Most of my students are beginners -- some of them haven't written anything yet -- and I can see them looking more and more panicked as I start talking about beats, speaker attribution, dialogue tags, and rhythm in dialogue. Whenever I see that look, I remind them that most of what I am telling them is for the SECOND draft, not the first. Robert Ray, author of The Weekend Novelist calls it the "discovery draft," which I think is a great way of thinking of it. I have a saying that I put in all my presentations (and it hangs over my writing desk too) and that is: It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be written. I also tell my students that if they want to be successful, they need to think of themselves not as writers, but as re-writers because the skill lies in how well you fix what you've written.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Want to help out a writer friend? Give 'em four stars!

One thing that astounds me about Goodreads is the number of five-star reviews that so many books have. I don't know about you but I can count on my fingers (and maybe my toes) the books I would give five stars to. A book has to have a profound effect on me to give it five stars. I would give Arthur Golden five stars for truly making me believe he was a 15-year-old Japanese peasant-turned-geisha. Or JK Rowling for getting people (not just kids) reading again. CS Lewis, for creating a world that I wanted to find. Jane Austen, for her pioneering and playful view of women and their roles in society.

So when I see a new YA or MG book that has tons of five-star reviews, the first thing that pops into my head is how many friends that author must have. Maybe that isn't fair, but I find it hard to believe that the book could be so very perfect that everybody would give it five stars. As writers, we know how hard it is to craft a good book, let alone a perfect one. Five-star reviews seem too good to be true.

As I scroll through the five-star reviews and then come to a two-star review, which do you think I read? That's right. The two-star. Because I think it might be more honest. When I'm looking for a book, I don't want to read "It's perfect" twenty times. I want an honest opinion of its strengths and weaknesses.

I think it is wonderful that we rally around the newly-published and support them by giving reviews. But just as a "It's great" beta report isn't all that helpful, an "It's perfect!" review isn't helpful either.

So if you have a friend, a critique partner, or a favorite author who has a book coming out, think hard about your review and how it is perceived by those looking at the reviews. Your honest four-star review could go much further in selling that book than the shiny five-star one.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Learning something new

I have a new job.

Okay, not so new. I've had it a month, but it has taken me a month to feel it under my skin.

It's been a long time (four years) since I've worked in a full-time, 9-to-5, shower-and-put-on-real-clothes type of job and I don't mind admitting that it has been an adjustment. For my husband (who, for the record, has always been super-supportive of my writing/freelancing/Etsying gig), because I think he finally realizes how much housework and grocery shopping I actually did during the day despite the fact that I was sitting in the same position when he left and when he came home. For my kids, because we're expecting them to do more for themselves. And for me, because I now have a supervisor to answer to (so no more of that "I don't feel like working so I think I'll clean the bathroom" kind of mentality).

But I'll take it. Because I have one of the coolest jobs out there. I am the new Coordinator of Community Education for our school district. You know those continuing ed catalogs that come through the door a couple times a year? Yeah, I make those now. My job is actually sitting around and thinking "What cool things do people want to learn?"

Today I put together a grant proposal so we can update a campus kitchen to offer kids cooking classes. Yesterday, my Google searches involved looking for instructors in baby massage, reflexology, woodworking, and genealogy. Tomorrow, I will be teaching myself InDesign to prepare our Annual Report celebrating how many people learned something because of us.

Honestly, this time last year I had no idea I would end up here. I'd hoped I would have an agent (I'm still working on that) and that I would still be writing (and I'm still working on that, too). But sometimes life offers us an opportunity to learn. To do something new. Or to help someone else learn and do something new.

And I'll take it.

By the way, if you are in San Antonio and want to help people learn something new, get in touch. I just might know someone who is looking for you!