Writing together, part 4

Julia Writes: Connie is writing a book and I am writing a book.  (Not the same book. ) For the first time ever, we are writing at the same speed, more or less, while attempting different types of fiction. Connie has had a book in her head for a long while and never put it down on paper. I wrote a murder mystery about 20 years ago and am using it as the background story to another tale, both set in the same place in Europe (in a city I once lived in).

The other day she tried to tell me not to fret, this is not a race, and that she will always be there to read my chapters when they are ready. I must have panicked a little since I have a new class starting in mid October and my time to write will be more limited. As I explained to her, I am panicking not because I will stop, but because once she is through, her energy will change. Right now she is just trying to get it down on virtual paper, and it feels to me like she is on the crest of a wave.

I am hugely benefiting from her energy as she is, mine. We meet approximately once a week.  We each bring two or more copies of the chapter that we intend to read. When it is my turn, for instance, we both hold a copy of my chapter while I  read it. When it is the other person’s turn, same thing. We  comment on what we like and what “bumps.”  And that, in a nutshell, is the way a writer’s group works. The literary adrenalin is fabulous. We both feel it afterwards and go back to writing our next chapters. energized and inspired.

Connie writes: Julia is SO right about everything she mentions above. Writers do feed off each other’s energy—when they have good working relationships with other writers, that is. Julia and I continue to marvel at how wonderful it is that we found each other. In theory, you wouldn’t expect it would be that difficult to find another writer, or even two or three, who are at the same skill level (or better) than you are. With so many folks writing books, how hard could it be to connect? Well, I can tell you from experience, it’s incredibly hard. Critique groups—and here I’m talking the old fashioned, face-to-face, group where writers sit together at a table and read their work aloud while the others follow along on a printed copy as Julia explains above—are an important asset . . . but only if the writers in that group are as good or better than you are. If you mix talent levels, then the normal result is the top one or two writers wind up teaching a writing class (for free) to those less experienced. That’s okay on occasion, but if it becomes the norm, than those top writers are getting very little—if any—positive energy from the group, and in fact are more likely to feel drained of their writing energy altogether. Julia and I don’t write the same type of books, but we write at the same level. That’s why we get so much out of sharing our work with each other.

As you see from the date of this post, we aren’t being as vigilant about checking in weekly as we’d planned. But alas, that’s actually a good thing, at least for us, as it means we are pouring our time and energy into writing books that we believe are going to sell the old-fashioned way: via the agent to publisher route. Personally, I don’t expect to get there by writing a novel in thirty days, but to those writers who are participating in that monthly contest, I wish you all the best of luck. Now I’m going to enjoy the rest of my Sunday, which will mainly entitle thinking about what I’m going to write tomorrow.

Our writing update, part 3


First up, I’d like to report (happily) that I did finish that difficult scene I mentioned in my last update. An emotional read aloud to a couple of friends signaled it comes across as I hoped it would. So, I give myself an A for that. As for total progress on the novel, I have to say the past two weeks, which we’re combining because of the holiday, were on the slow side for me. I still got about 15 new pages written, but that’s substantially less than I turned out during the first two weeks. Still, progress is progress. I have learned over the years that it’s a waste of time to force myself to write for the sake of meeting some everyday proposed word or page goal because that type of writing just winds up getting cut in future drafts. Also, it can ruin whatever type of flow I have going. So, in some cases, less is definitely more.

On a somewhat related topic, as I approach my mid-50s, I am finding I simply don’t have the energy and drive to write for seven or eight hours per day anymore. Gardening and household chores take a lot longer than they used to. And when I am writing, my arthritis forces me to get up at least every hour and move around. If I didn’t do this, I would become permanently chair bound. And while that might be all right insofar as my writing progress goes, it wouldn’t do much for my home life. My point is, if you are currently in your 30s or 40s and in good health, be sure to make the most of every single day you have to write.  Time truly does wait for no one.

Julia writes:

Interesting to see from what you’ve written, Connie, that things went a bit slower for you this week. Same here! I felt blocked by an important scene that I simply could not figure out how to begin. Then I realized, after our read last Thursday, that I should just write through it, which I did by recording a conversation. Your comment, “I can fill in sensory details later” resonated with me.

To everyone: I am trying to take the book I wrote twenty years ago and use it as the backdrop story to a new one set in the same place, a boarding school.  I noted in reading a great article on writing and publishing in the most current issue of Vanity Fair that every time an author does a revision of an old story, the story changes because the author has changed.  Therefore, we cannot hope to ever “see” a book  we have written as perfect because we, as the originators, have changed and would rephrase or edit out and in various scenes every time we sit down to edit.

The main thing I get, from being with really professional people (Connie and Lesley) during reads, is that a writer should not be too hard on him or herself.  We have to just keep writing or we will be blocked forever!