Archive for October, 2010

19
Oct
10

Workshop paralysis

Sorry for the long hiatus.  I have excuses, but that’s all they are, and after a while all excuses sound the same.

At the beginning of the month, I spent the better part of a week at Viable Paradise, a one-week writers’ workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. I’d originally attended in 2004, at VP 8, and this time I was back for my second year as staff.  It’s a fun, if intense, experience, and it’s always strange to see the workshop from the other side.  One of the best parts of being staff is meeting all these new writers, some just starting out, some with a few stories under their belt, all trying for the same goal: to write something really good.

Of course, because it’s a workshop, all of these fresh-faced shiny new writers are there to meet the same fate: a crushing, soul-wrenching critique not unlike the mighty stompy foot of a stompy guy.

Okay, so that’s a bit of an overstatement; crits vary, and reactions vary with them.  But one thing I remember well, not just from my time at VP8 but from discussions with other alumni (and Clarion alumni as well) is the feeling of paralysis after a workshop.  It doesn’t happen to everyone.  Nor should it; since all writers are different, there’s a wide range of reaction to an intensive workshop.  But there’s a certain range of responses that many people have, and for me it was one of the hardest parts of a workshop — and it didn’t even take place until I was off the island and away.

When I emerged from Viable Paradise, I had a brain that was fizzing like Diet Coke with Mentos dropped in.   (Slightly less messy, but you get the idea.)  Lots of new ideas, new skills, new resources for work and revision and chasing down that elusive great idea.  And that wasn’t even touching the work I’d had critiqued!  (For the reaction to that, see here.)  I had a whole new toolbox with which to assemble a story!

And I sat down to write and…nope.  All of a sudden, every time I started to write something out, I could see not only the stylistic flaws — which I had trained myself to overlook, knowing that I’d fix them next time through — but the plot issues, the pacing problems, the characters who swung wildly between flat and cliche.  Hell, I’d spent so much time concerned with how a story should begin that I couldn’t for the life of me begin one — every beginning seemed too slow, or too didactic, or not nearly the right place to start!  I’d spent so much time learning that for my process, the most important thing was getting that first draft down, and now I couldn’t even start that first draft.

I had a bad case of Workshop Paralysis.  And I suspect I’m not the only one to have gone through it.  There’s even a learning model that explains some of it: moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence (with conscious competence just barely and perpetually out of reach).   Now that I knew all the errors I was prone to, I could not for the life of me unsee them.  Every story I started had them, and had them to a crippling degree.

There are many ways of getting through this.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of letting the data settle in one’s head.  Sometimes there are other factors in your life affecting your creativity.  Sometimes you need to work around the problems — write something silly, or useless, or just to remind yourself what you can do.  I’ve got a notebook full of vignettes that will never go anywhere, but are the result of “lunch break and either I write something stupid or I combust…or I check the internet again, but what’s the point?” moments.

For me, some of the solution was time.  Some of it was remembering my strengths and how I wanted to use them — plot, and the intricacies of it, and thus the need to be more rigorous in how I revealed a story.  And some of it was sheer mind-trickery.  I still have trouble beginning a story, and so if I’m just trying to get that first draft on paper, often I’ll either write a few lines for the beginning and then jump ahead, or I’ll just not write the beginning until I’m well into the rest.  By then I have a better idea of where the story’s going, after all.

But that sudden task of having all these new methods of critique, that moment of realizing that your work is a lot more difficult than you’d thought…that can be paralyzing, and worse still if you turn those delicate tools for critique into blunt instruments for beating yourself up.

Writers, did you have this workshop paralysis as well?  How did you get over it?   (Did you?)

Next time: technobabble can be your friend!

 

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15
Oct
10

Hello mister tall, dark, and terrifying

(Blog X-posted)
October is moving right along which means creepy costumes and sugar highs are just around the corner. Or is that just my plan? Surely not.

Halloween is nearly here, and it’s a good time for the things that go bump in the night. Many creatures which once would have been relegated to horror stories and movies are now featured as heroes and romantic leads, but let’s forget them for a moment and talk of the terrifying.

What flavor do you prefer your horror stories/movies? Do you like an oppressive atmosphere that keeps your shoulders hitched as you wait for the worst? Do you like the monster you never quite see so he’s worsened by your imagination? Perhaps your horror preference is the gore and the gritty details. Or maybe the psychological horror tale that worms itself into the back your mind and then begins to twist. Or perhaps your horror tastes lean toward the destruction of all hope in the face of insurmountable and unstoppable odds? (Zombie Apocalypse anyone?)

From the ghost story to the slasher film, horror is a genre with many faces and many elements. Which work for you? Do you laugh off a scary tale, or do you sleep with the lights on after a good horror flick?  It’s the month for spooky stories and frightening monsters, so please share your favorite horror movies and books! (We could all use a good scare, right?)

01
Oct
10

Contest winners!!

I think any writer will agree that there is no better feeling in the world than people wanting to read your book. I got way more entries than I was expecting! I am so humbled and happy at all the excitement going on about Eli and his crew. Thank you all SO MUCH for entering. I wish I had books for all of you! T__T!

Sadly, though, there could be only 20 winners. The magic number picker ate all the entries, and these are the people it coughed up:

  1. Tegan
  2. Susan
  3. Greg
  4. Ashley
  5. Laurel
  6. Jennifer
  7. Jason Bull
  8. Atsiko
  9. Karen Senoo
  10. Minamostaza
  11. Amanda Jones
  12. Melissa (Books and Things)
  13. Maggie Lloyd
  14. April X
  15. Judy Adler
  16. Deb Salisbury
  17. Emmad
  18. Arkib
  19. Elizabeth Briggs
  20. ab

I will be sending emails to all the winners asking for mailing addresses today. If your name is on the list and you don’t get an email by tomorrow morning, please contact me and we’ll get things straightened out. For everyone who didn’t get books, I am so bummed I couldn’t give you all copies. I still greatly value your input and reviews, and I sincerely hope you’ll still give The Spirit Thief a try. Thank you again for participating!

Eli officially launches today! Catch him wherever new books are sold.

– Rachel

ETA: I’ve sent emails to everyone except Jason Bull, Karen Senoo, Amanda Jones, Maggie Lloyd, Judy Adler, Deb Salisbury, Emmad, and Arkib. Guys, I could not find your emails, so now it’s up to you! Send me a message and I’ll get your book off! Thanks!