SWF seeks same for long walks on the beach
January 25, 2010 3:29 PM   Subscribe

I am that most special of snowflakes: a good writer who is both tremendously shy and tremendously snobby. How can I balance my need for constructive feedback with my fear of being stuck with a bunch of laggards?

So I write various things copy-esque things in my day job, but I'd like to write fiction. I know I'm a good writer, and I read a lot of great examples, so I have a good sense of self-editing. But my self-editing stops me from getting anywhere, and I'd love some outside motivation to get me in shape.

The issue is that I find myself limited by both genre and talent. I know there are a lot of great writers in town, including my friends, but... I kind of want to write a romance novel. Everyone I know is all spec fic/scifi/fantasy/"serious" historical fiction (with a masculine perspective), and I'm already shy enough about not being taken seriously without the stereotypes of this genre. I'm usually very open, but I find fiction writing pretty much the most personal way of expressing myself (hopes, dreams, blah blah blah) and am not entirely comfortable doing so, so I want to feel like I'm in the same boat with others.

To top it all off, the people I've met through NaNoWriMo (at which I fail like a great failing thing) are either very much locked into their worlds, as described above, or they're bad writers. Really, really bad writers. I just know that if I put up a post on my local LJ community, the first person who would respond (someone in particular) would make me want to run out of the coffee shop.

And yes, I admit that I'm stereotyping this genre just as badly as anyone else. I don't want to be lumped in with Christian soccer moms with an unhealthy obsession for cowboys and illegitimate babies belonging to tycoons. I'm SASSY, dammit!

Basically, I want someone from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to be my personal writing dominatrix, and I'd love to help other people edit if they'd trust me to do so. Is that so hard to find?

I've seen this post, which might be cool, but I don't know how to recruit.

Please hope me.
posted by sheena is a sock puppet to Human Relations (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 

To top it all off, the people I've met through NaNoWriMo (at which I fail like a great failing thing) are either very much locked into their worlds, as described above, or they're bad writers. Really, really bad writers.


I don't know what the organization you're referring to is, but most people, even most published people, are bad writers.

Writing is hard.

Have some humility about your skills. Empathize with those who don't know that their writing isn't up to your standards.

And relax.

It's just words.
posted by dfriedman at 3:39 PM on January 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


From what I understand of NaNoWriMo, it's more of an effort to get people to write at all, not really to write well. It sounds like there are more niche communities you should look into. I know on Livejournal in particular, there are several communities (writing and otherwise), where you need to show examples and be judged by mods and other members before being let in as a member yourself. It's snobby, but guess what -- it's usually perfect for people like you and I who have this elitist air about us when it comes to writing.

Find a fic community that judges, or create one yourself if none meet your standards.
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:42 PM on January 25, 2010


I'd suggest seeing if there are 'writers in residence' at a University or library nearby. They often have set hours for reviewing fiction. Often they have a breadth of experience that you won't find in online forums.

One other thing I think you'll have to do regardless is learn to take bad advice with more grace. Consider the fact that anyone offering an opinion is taking their time for your needs, regardless of how much thought may or may not be in the response.

The writers I know who have the same 'fear of being stuck with a bunch of laggards' are also the ones who don't get very much attention in the local arts 'scene.' Combining that with being shy worsens their problem, which in some cases can be described as the need to 'get over themselves.' I know you not at all so please don't take that as a personal criticism; no idea if it applies. It's just that those traits correlate to writers in my little corner of the world who needed to take their reaction to others more lightly.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:43 PM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


A good writing group should have a mix of skill sets. Part of developing skills is learning how to read and examine the work of others, figure out what they're going for, help them to get there. Helping others do that will help you do that. It's okay to have a sucky writer or two, it won't kill the group.

Rope a couple of your good writing friends in, open up to the randomness of other people's writing, and you'll be fine. It'll be good for you to stretch yourself, and to see yourself and others on a spectrum of developing skills and learning a craft.

Plus, it'll help you ease up on yourself some (because you'll have to ease up on others.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:43 PM on January 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Basically, every November tons of people try to write a novel in a month.
posted by Lizsterr at 3:43 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're a good writer, you can start by getting your fiction published in zines, online magazines, etc. You'll find other writers at that magazine/zine who's work you admire. Write the three best ones with a proposal to start an online writing group.

"Hey, X, I liked your story Y in the March issue of Z Magazine. I wrote 'A', which appeared in the same issue. I'm always looking for someone to critique with, so ..."

You get the picture.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:43 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where are you located? Have you checked out the Romance Writers of America , both the national organization and the local group in your area, or their online groups? They're a great resource...and if you started going to local meetings you would definitely hook up with people who are into the whole "I'm writing romance and I'm not gonna make fun of you for it" vibe. It's kind of like an AA meeting -- there will be people you like! There will be people you don't like! There will be people who write worse t han you! There will be people who write better than you, and/or are published!

Check local universities for their extension writing classes -- I took a two quarters of a romance writing class through UCLA's extension and it was very, very helpful. And if you're in LA MeMail me -- I know a great writing group with a high skill level.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:51 PM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


One more thing -- in addition to the fact that your close friends are writing in other genres, I find it more helpful to be in a class or writing group where the participants aren't my close friends. We may become friends through the process, but I find it's easier to both critique and be critiqued when it starts from a more professional, less personal, level.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:52 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way, I took a class in grad school from a very respected history professor who secretly wrote romance novels. My sense is she had a blast doing it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:58 PM on January 25, 2010


You need to join a writer's group, where people give each other feedback.

It doesn't matter if you are the best or worst writer there, as long as everyone is taking it seriously. I have gotten tons of great feedback from people who aren't good writers themselves. The two things are actually pretty different skillsets.

NaNoWriMo
Is almost by definition for amateur writers. it may spark interest in being a professional, but it's not the place to find aspiring professionals- those people are already writing every month, and they know a book takes a lot more than a month.

I find fiction writing pretty much the most personal way of expressing myself (hopes, dreams, blah blah blah) and am not entirely comfortable doing so,
You need to get over this. Not be rude, but (barring the whole "writing as therapy" thing) the whole point of writing is for others to experience what is personally important to you. I know it can be tough, and a little embarrassing, but seriously, that's what writing is. The people who never even stand a chance of succeeding are the ones who huddle over their prized work in the dark, convinced it's too precious to share with anyone until it's "done." Nothing good gets done without showing it to people for feedback along the way.

I can't tell you exactly how to find a good writer's group, but they exist. I joined mine through a Junior College screenwriting class. You can also just look on Craigslist.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:00 PM on January 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd do what drjimmy11 did and sign up for a fiction writing class at the local JC. That'll get you hooked into the local community, and from there, who knows?
posted by notyou at 5:49 PM on January 25, 2010


I have gotten tons of great feedback from people who aren't good writers themselves. The two things are actually pretty different skillsets.

Seconding this. Being able to give concrete, insightful criticism is not dependent on the critic's ability to write well. Write adequately, communicatively, yes. But you don't have to be the best prose stylist to find (and help you fix) holes in the plot, a weird transition, a character doing something that rings false, or the fact that chapter five really drags and could use some tightening up: here's how. Good writers don't necessarily know how to give a good critique, either - some of the best writers I've known will offer critique by basically rewriting what you've written. Not really helpful - they can only show, and sometimes it's telling that's needed.

Ask your writer friends who critiques their work, and what they value about it.
posted by rtha at 6:08 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


NaNoWriMo is like SongFight for writers. Some of the stuff on SongFight is crap, but when those same people sit down to make something wonderful, they often can and do. At least one of the crap writers you're talking about may very well be a much better writer than you are, when they sit down to craft something instead of just writing-to-write (which is a fundamental tenet of being a writer of any reasonable stripe.) Goodness knows 90% of what I turned into SongFight was just me exercising my muscles in the absence of something important to work on.

Also, what drjimmy11 says is very, very true: writing and critiquing are different skills, and you need not be good at one to be brilliant at the other (see Roger Ebert, et al.)

So at the end of the day, here's what you do: write, and expose your writing to other writers, before you edit your work. They will likely savage it, which will help you get less snobby as you see how even your brilliant writing, unedited, can be pretty crappy. They will also help you accurately gauge your editing skills, as presumably you'll know what you would edit if you'd done so before the critique, and their proposed edits may or may not line up with your own. Finally, remember: you can (and most people do, whether they realize it or not) write dump trucks full of garbage before you produce a vial of brilliance, and the only thing people will remember is the vial. Stop worrying so much and get those trucks of garbage moving.
posted by davejay at 6:12 PM on January 25, 2010


You could take an online class at the Gotham Writers' Workshops. Your classmates will be within your chosen genre and required to give you feedback. And there'll be a teacher giving you feedback as well. Plus assignments to motivate you!
posted by xo at 6:28 PM on January 25, 2010


Are you sure you want a peer group to provide constructive criticism? Because I know it's currently popular, but I can think of very few published authors off the top of my head who developed their works in a workshop/peer group setting. Statistically speaking, your favorite author probably toiled over their works alone, and did just fine.

If you want the free advice of some random stranger on the internet (and who wouldn't?) you ALREADY know what's wrong with your writing. You just have to be honest with yourself about it and face your own flaws head-on.

The more AskMe-guidelines-compliant answer is to seek out some creative writing classes at your local community college. That's what those classes are for, and the level of dialogue will be generally higher than what you'd find at LJ.

The other route is to seek out genre-specific conferences and workshops. The RWA can help you out here - I only know of sci-fi workshops, but I'm sure there are tons of workshops for romance writers as well.
posted by ErikaB at 6:29 PM on January 25, 2010


Seconding joining RWA and becoming part of your local chapter. Most of the romance writers whom you admire are, or once were, members. It's a friendly and liberating thing to be surrounded by intelligent, successful women who share your love of a maligned genre, and can teach you, by example, how not to be ashamed of it. Also, try discussion groups on line -- not so much SBTB or DA as yahoogroups, because those are far better at facilitating conversation between readers than the blogs are (although I do love me some blogs).

This reminds me. At RWA last summer, I actually saw a giant poster for some new MFA in *popular/genre writing* at a university whose name I did not recognize. My mouth watered. How much fun would that be? So, you might want to google around for those, although I think MFAs are a waste of time unless your aim is teaching.

The issue is that I find myself limited by both genre and talent.

If you see a particular genre's conventions as limitations rather than a set of conditions that challenge you to think ever more creatively and produce ever more elegant and unexpected variations, I strongly suggest you don't write in that genre. If you meet with success, end up published, and start chafing against that whole happy-ever-after requirement, your career in the genre will come to a screeching halt.

On the bright side, romance is one of the genres with the fewest limitations, in my view. For subgenres of romance, you've got your contemporary, historical, SF, fantasy, paranormal, steampunk, erotic, etc. The only requirement that cuts across all these subgenres is that the lovers end up happy for now, or happy ever after (happy-ever-after is generally the ironclad rule only in historicals, for obvious reasons -- it wasn't easy to live in sin back in 18th century England). Certainly if you look at the current crop of books, you might think that this dizzying variety of possibilities is producing very similar outcomes, but that's because, as with any genre, many writers chase after the trend. Check out Judy Cuevas books from the 1990s, or Kinsale's The Shadow and the Star, and you'll see something else entirely.

I'm already shy enough about not being taken seriously without the stereotypes of this genre.

Two suggestions, here.

Give your friends who like SF/fantasy some quality UF/paranormal romance. Meljean Brook's latest is thick and dense and her worldbuilding is very impressive. It has gotten positive reviews from -- gasp -- SF blogs that generally don't touch romance.

Secondly, acknowledge to yourself how curious the pernicious reputation might be. Why is it that romance gets picked on so much more than any other genre? Others (like mysteries) enjoy no such stigma, although they are no less routine (there's always a terrible criminal who gets foiled at the end; is this somehow less limiting than a "happy ending"?). Channel your inner feminist. If you read romance, you know that feminism and the romance genre are the last thing from incompatible. Remind yourself of Dorothy Parker's musings on the esteemed work of the lit-fic boy wonders of her day:

"They come clean with the news that war is a horrible thing, that injustice still exists in many parts of the globe even to this day, that the very rich are apt to sit appreciably prettier than the very poor. Even the tenderer matters are not smeared over with romance for them. They have taken a calm look at this marriage thing and they are there to report that it is not always a lifelong trip to Niagara Falls. You will be barely able to stagger when the evening is over. In fact, once you have heard the boys settling things it will be no surprise to you if any day now one of them works it all out that there is nothing to this Santa Claus idea."

I'm usually very open, but I find fiction writing pretty much the most personal way of expressing myself (hopes, dreams, blah blah blah) and am not entirely comfortable doing so, so I want to feel like I'm in the same boat with others.

Yeah, if your goal is publication, you'll have to learn to roll with the punches. Even the best writer can use some criticism. But this is something to worry about after finding your crit partner. Good luck!
posted by artemisia at 7:08 PM on January 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


As a professional writer who's written everything from software manuals to comedies in my life, I'll offer another perspective:

Don't listen to anybody.

In my experience, the vast majority of people--including if not especially writing group members and university professors--can't offer useful criticism. In this, to thine own self be true, and then find an editor who you trust, who comes highly recommended and whose other work you admire.
posted by dbarefoot at 10:40 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you sure you want a peer group to provide constructive criticism? Because I know it's currently popular, but I can think of very few published authors off the top of my head who developed their works in a workshop/peer group setting. Statistically speaking, your favorite author probably toiled over their works alone, and did just fine.

Probably not alone though - I'd say most published authors get feedback and constructive criticism from an editor or several editors.
posted by kaarne at 12:25 AM on January 26, 2010


I rather agree with dbarefoot. I was in a writer's group briefly, with some very accomplished writers and some unknown ones, and I hated every second of it. (Some of the unknown ones are more known now, and the opposite, which is interesting.) Overall? It's not a process that works for me. Because that critique has to do with plot and structure and "interest," and I don't need that assistance. I need the assistance of paragraphs and sentences—that's what an actual, working editor provides. (Um, ideally. Not always!)

What *did* work for me was writing online. You want critique? That's where it is. Every day. Like it or not. And also the raw work of putting sentences up one after the next, which is the practice.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:21 AM on January 26, 2010


Yeah, you want RWA. If you're in the Chicago area, let me know and I'll invite you to my chapter. Chapters, in my experience, can be hit or miss, but mine now is totally awesome and full of people at all levels of experience.

artemsia, the MFA program you're thinking of is at Seton Hill. It's a low-residency MFA specializing in genre fiction.

And OP, by the way: don't count out the people who write cowboy/secret baby/etc books. Just because someone isn't in the same genre niche as you are doesn't meant that they don't know about writing. Some of my best feedback has come from people who write category books.
posted by sugarfish at 10:15 AM on January 26, 2010


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