Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On the road to publication

The writers' critique group I attend in Lancaster's Thayer Memorial Library is less than a year old, and has six to eight members, fluctuating with the snowbird season! It's not the only writing group--the library offers about four, with additional one-shot writing sessions--but it's the first critique group.
Hollis Shore, a friend and fellow novelist, runs the group, with help from Paula Castner, a mother who put away her writing to raise three children, and has now found time to resume her work.
With the exception of Hollis--who meets regularly with a long-term group, we are all new to critique groups. Though I've attended workshops at Boston's Grub Street writers center, and reviewed my work with several agents, I had not previously had access to a critique group. (Well, O.K., I tried one before in a nearby town, but it was clearly not the one for me, and I didn't return. There is some kismet and personality fit to be considered in choosing a critique group.)
Today, we discussed how well it's been working out. In short, one has to build a group from the groundwork its writers are contributing. We have three people writing adult fiction, two to three writers of children's fiction, and a wry, entertaining fellow who is at work on his memoir. We discussed whether we were contributing enough, critiquing in a way that would help each other, making a serious enough commitment to the group, meeting too frequently or not enough.
Writers' lives are as busy as anyone else's. We're raising kids, minding grandkids, working other jobs besides fiction (it's important to consider writing a job and respect the time and energy it requires), volunteering, paying bills and participating in so many other creative endeavors. Many of us garden, for instance. Some are musicians or fine artists. Antiques freaks. Soccer moms. Housework--maybe not so much. Creativity is a year-round siren call.
But none of us take writing for a hobby. It's many things, but not that.
Additionally, we all belong to separate writing groups, where positive feedback and writing prompt exercises are performed. We write for 20 minutes, then read and critique at these sessions.
The critique group is geared primarily to writers with ongoing projects.
It's not the place for those madcap, quick-and-crazy short stories or the emotional venting we sometimes do when life overwhelms writing. (The two pair together quite well). Instead, we have books or short story collections under way, and are hoping to publish them one day.
But publication is an elusive goal, made easier for some by the trend toward self-publication, made harder for those who still want to pursue the traditional agent/publisher route.
It is very tempting to self-publish, and in some cases it's even the appropriate venue for one's work. But it's not the way to as well distributed or well known as Michael Connelly or Jodi Picoult. Self-publishing is a sure thing, if one has the money, but it requires a great deal of effort for smallish results. Sure, there are exceptions; they are few in number.
The same is true for e-book self-publishing. One has to be stubborn, prolific and smart about it.
I have wanted to see my writing in a book I could hold in my hands for far too long to settle for an e-book. There is something about traditional publishing that validates one's own judgement of one's writing. "This is great!" it says. "Read it!"
But to reach that point of success, our writing group members must pay their dues, crafting chapter after chapter of fiction that keeps to the right point of view throughout, has absolutely no errors or gaping holes, and contains that magical formula for mass appeal that unique stories can offer.
To borrow from (and paraphrase) poor Sally Field, the actress who paid the price of mockery for honestly expressing emotion at receiving an Oscar in 1985: We really, really want you to like us.
I know authors who spawn books prolifically, never hitting the bell with the hammer. It's a long road. We don't all have the talent or the fortitude to stick with it. But that--and really good luck--will get you there. Most of luck and success are due to hard work, no matter what one does. And writing means sitting down and doing it.
So the heck with the dishes.
I'm writing.