Sunday, February 13, 2011
Sticking My Toe in Again
Anyway, I took the plunge or at least stuck my big toe in the literary waters. Hopefully there aren't any sharks swimming about beneath the surface.
This is a critical group. I am not overly fond of the term "critical". It has a somewhat negative aura about it. When you look the word up the first definition is "expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgments." Well, we don't want to subject ourselves to that! The second definition is somewhat better, "Expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work of literature, music or art." Still a little daunting. I prefer the term analytical. I am hoping the comments are encouraging, kindly, and where there is any criticism it is of the constructive kind.
It is always very easy to find fault, to disparage, but the object is to help grow what talent comes, not to destroy careers before they are a career. We don't want any Simon Cows...oops, sorry...Simon Cowells ruining young egos in order to show off his own caustic wit. No, I always believe the object should be to lift people up to as high as they can get. You know, if you are better at something than someone else, you lift them on your shoulder and boost them up, not raise yourself up by standing on their shoulders. I believe if someone has a passion for an art and even a modicum of talent they can be improved into some success. A key here is often that word passion. Some people say they want to be an artist, but have no real passion. They may even have great natural talent, but without wanting to eat and sleep the art, they probably won't have the staying power to make it.
Now granted, some people want to be what they cannot be even if they are loaded with passion. Yet they lack something that makes success possible and it is probably best if someone takes them aside and saves them a lifetime of heartbreak. The key here, though, is takes aside, not humiliate them in front of the world. For example, if I may continue the American Idol theme, take myself. I have a passion for music. I love to sing. I am the type of guy who inside is like a character in a musical, I have a desire to breakout into song at any moment. Problem is, you don't really want to hear me do it. I have a definite tin ear, born with it I'm sure, a little trouble distinguishing sounds and no hope of staying on key.
Someone might say, "But you played instruments." Yes, I did. I played trumpet. I can play a little one-handed piano. I taught myself to play guitar. How could I play them if I have such a terrible ear? Simply because I can read music. I was fine as long as the music was in front of my nose. You see the note on the staff and you just press the right key or plunk the right string. I could get along wonderfully, unless the instrument wasn't in tune. If it was out of tune I might not even notice and if I did, well, it was nearly impossible for me to get it tuned up, especially the guitar. I was not going to have a career as a singer no matter how passionate I was or how long I practiced.
Anyway, what are my apprehensions about joining a writers group?
Most of my apprehension comes from the requirement to analyze and comment on other people's work. I tend to be very positive about what others do, which is not always helpful, but I am very uncomfortable saying something is "bad" in some way. For me it is much easier to take criticism than give it.
I am also in a different place than the others in the group. I am older, generally much older. It is not that the group is a bunch of kids, it isn't, but there is probably no one there within twenty years of me and for most of them the gap is probably thirty or more years. I am at a point where I am not one bit concerned with getting published. Oh, don't get me wrong, it'd be nice, but I am not writing toward that goal. I write what I write and I always have been a bit off skew with others in what I choose to write.
You see, one of the problems with writing (and the same can probably be applied to many other areas as well) is you can't write for the writing or for the reader or for yourself. If you wish to be published, you are writing for an editor. Thus a lot of discussion groups hover around what editors like, what editors look for, what tricks can be used to get the editors attention and what things won't even get your manuscript read by an editor.
Simple thing, send in a handwritten manuscript and it'll come right back with a form rejection. So a person may be the greatest writer since Shakespeare, but without a keyboard and printing device, no one may ever see what they wrote. I realize some handwriting is difficult to interpret, but if a manuscript arrived clearly readable, but hand lettered is it that much trouble to give it a look see?
When I first started writing everything I did was pen (sometimes pencil) on composition paper. I didn't have a typewriter. Where could I go with what I wrote?
I just don't want things to be grammar, spelling, and things that don't fit some textbook outline of how a story should be written. Grammar, misspelling, use of the wrong word, those are little technical things easily fixed. Nice to have them circled for correction, but I hope it doesn't become the main focus. As far as what a textbook says, come on, every noted great artist became so because they broke out of the textbook rules for their genre in their time.
What I am interested in is: Does the story work? Are the characters real? Do they talk like real people? Does it grab your interest? Do you understand the story? Do you understand what is really going on? Would you read it?
One last thing I have found in past groups such as this. There will be many conflicting opinions. There will be many counter ideas thrown across the table. What you look for in all of this babel is the grains of good wisdom and use that. You need to be able not to take advise as well as consider it. You can begin to get totally lost and destroy your own work if you try to take everyone to heart.
I sent in my first piece today. In about four weeks we meet again and I will see what happens. Meanwhile I am looking forward to receiving the works I must read and comment on. It is always fun to see other's approach to this little storytelling gig.