Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Write to Sell or Write for Yourself?

As a writer waiting for her chance to perform at the Big Show, I come across this internal debate when I sit down to write or revise a novel: Do I want to write to sell, meaning follow the loose guidelines of certain publishers, or do I want to write the story of my heart every time and pray that a publisher loves it? How badly do I long to be published?

For example, I have two versions of one of my historical novels. The first version has a decidedly more historical tone throughout—slower paced at times, much more detailed, but still lots of action. The second version has a historical romantic suspense tone—much faster pace, more dialogue, and more action.

Here’s my dilemma: I absolutely loved the first version, but after some feedback and a little guidance I found the second version more exciting. So which one is now the story I really wanted to write? Am I selling out the first version just so I can one day hope the story will be published?

Hmm. I’m beginning to think no. The more I compare the two versions, the more I find the second version is simply a better story; therefore, it is the story I wanted to write in the first place. Does that make sense?

Has this happened to you before? At what point do you think it stops being the story you set out to write?

Do you authors ever feel this way? Or do you always write just for yourself and find sometimes you’re fortunate that what you want and what the publishing house wants are one and the same?

I’d love to read your thoughts on this…

Happy Writing,

Michele Cwiertny

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Discipline in Writing

When I first started out writing fiction, I wrote short stories that ranged from 2,000 to 5,000 words. But after six months or so of trying to fit everything I wanted the reader to know about my characters into such a small word count, I came to the conclusion that I needed to write a novel.

I wanted characters’ back stories and subplots, neither of which were feasible in short stories. And for every short story I’d read, I’d read a hundred novels, so my preference is obvious there as well.

One of my professors once said that writing a great short story requires discipline because the writer must make every word count, must make every detail and phrase have a meaning. And the shorter the story, the more discipline it takes. Some people might find that writing one is much more difficult than writing a novel.

But does that mean writing a novel takes less discipline? Sure, everything must have it’s meaning, must be connected, in a 100,000 word story, too. But does the higher word count give the writer more freedom to write a little looser than a tight short story?

When I told that same professor that I wanted to stretch my wings a bit and write a novel. He blew out his breath and nodded, then said that was a discipline in itself. Writing a novel is like training for and finishing a marathon. I took that to heart and remembered it every day over the next year or so as I wrote and learned and rewrote and revised and sweated over this different sort of discipline. And I’ve also learned that every word must still count, every paragraph must have a purpose, and every scene must force the reader to want more—only on a larger scale.

I find both types of stories an exercise in discipline, but at this point in my life, I also find that I enjoy and prefer the marathon of writing a novel.

So, what do you think is more difficult to write—a short story or a novel? And which do you prefer to write?

Happy Writing,

Michele Cwiertny

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Yea! It's a New Week...

And it has already proven to be better than last week. Woo-Hoo!

I’m ready to tackle the projects on my To Do list, such as finish my novel proposal by Friday. Whew. That’s a big one, but it can be done, right? Right.

Today, I’m going through each page and keeping in mind some comments made by my trusty critique group…and even some comments made by contest judges. Yep, contest judges. Even eeeevil contest judges. Ever get a critique from one of them?

Okay, so they’re not really evil, but have you ever had a judge type up page after page of why your entry simply didn’t work for her? And you couldn’t bring yourself to read the comments because your vision blurred and your hands shook? Then you wondered if the judge even bothered to read your entry—that was how wrong she was about it? But, no. Wait. She’d listed way too many details about your story just to prove she did indeed read it. In fact, she didn’t seem to miss even one sentence of your entry when shelling out her criticism. And what made it worse: She was published while you were...not.

You have? Hey, me too! See, you’re not alone.

It’s all right. Take a deep breath.

Now, what did you do about it? Did you take those sheets of paper and feed them directly to the shredder or did you throw them in a drawer and tell yourself you’d read them again when you’re feeling more objective?

Well, here’s how I handled it in this particular situation: As much as I was sorely tempted to head to the shredder, I opted for the drawer. Boy, am I glad I did. After a day or two of separation, I was able to read the comments as a reader and editor, not as the author. I'd found that the first time I'd read it through, my eyes had gone straight to what she hated about the story and nothing else. When I had gained a little distance from my initial reaction (anger), I discovered she’d not only pointed out the good with the bad, but had given valid reasons why certain characters and motivations just didn’t work. Dang it, she was right.

It was the harshest criticism I’d ever received, but it turned out to be some of the best because she was correct in telling me what needed to be changed in order for the story to be even stronger. And that’s what we all strive for, right?

Do I think all judges comments are correct? No, I don't happen to think so. It has taken a little practice for me to separate the constructive criticism from the plain ol' bad criticism, but I've learned to be a bit more objective when receiving both kinds.

So, now that my skin has toughened up and I've moved on to other stories, I keep in mind the comments made by that judge and others, too. As long as I keep learning to become a better writer, I’m a happy camper.

All the best,
Michele Cwiertny

Oh, and if you’d like to read a great blog article on critique groups, then be sure to check out the one written by Louise Ahern on The Writer’s Vibe (see sidebar for link). :-)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ever Have One of Those Weeks...or Months?

I'd like to introduce you to my best friend, aspirin.

Yeah, it's been one of those weeks. And I bet I'm not alone in feeling this way every once in a while.

1. My co-editor and I have been doing our best to get out the launch issue of the redesigned Orange Blossom. We met our deadline. But the printer on the other hand...not so much. Sigh.

2. When not working on that, I’ve been carving out time to get my proposal together for one of my historical novels. Of course, I want it to be perfect, and as I’m NOT perfect, that means polishing until it feels right. But that's the beauty of being a writer, right? I can revise until it works.

3. Then there’s the entry on romance that I promised to write for the OCC/RWA blog A Slice of Orange (check out the link on the sidebar for fun and heart-warming stories and essays on romance from the members of OCC). Funny how I have no problem writing a 100,000-word novel, yet when I just need about 500 words, I stare at a blank page for a loooong time.

4. I’ve also been reading through my critique group’s work for our session this weekend. Doing so is definitely not a chore or even stressful, but, you know, it takes time to do it right.

5. And I can’t forget to mention family obligations.

Don’t get me wrong, though, because I LOVE staying busy, especially when it involves writing. But with everything going on, I really can’t be surprised a headache attacked me. Nor am I surprised that I wound up catching whatever bug from hell is going around. For the past two days, I’ve been saying things like, “I got a code” or “Hi, I’b Bachele.”

So, that’s why I haven’t posted anything this week. But thanks to my best friend aspirin as well as my remembering that I need to give myself a little slack every now and then, I am feeling better.

What about you guys? Do you ever feel like you just can’t wait for the week, or even the month, to be over? How do you handle it? How about you writers who work outside the home? How do you balance work and writing without going insane? Do you own stock in an aspirin manufacturer? Drink green tea or a triple espresso?