Friday, November 13, 2015

Writerly Support Goes Both Ways


Some years ago, I struck up a conversation with a young writer at a convention. (I love getting to know other writers, so this is not unusual for me.) One thing led to another, led to lunch, led to getting together on a regular basis, led to frequently chatting online. I cheered her on as she had her first professional sale, and then another, and then a cover story on a prestigious magazine. One of the gifts of such a relationship is not the support I receive from it, but the honor and joy of watching someone else come into her own as an artist, to celebrate her achievements. It's the opposite of Schaudenfreude -- it's taking immense pleasure and pride in the success of someone you have come to care about.

I've written about these lunches here: The Lady (Actual and Honorary) Writers' Lunch


I find such friendships invaluable, and even more so when they shift from "pro/newbie" to one of true peers. Although we may not be in the same place in terms of professional publication, we each bring a wealth of life experiences to the conversation. Often, critical skills develop faster than writing craft, so even a novice writer can provide invaluable feedback.Trust arises from recognition of each other's strengths.

This happened recently, when I was wrestling with the opening of a new novel. I typed "Chapter 1" and then stared at the blank screen. Everything I could come up with for a beginning sentence was -- to put it mildly, just awful. I wouldn't want to read a book that began that way. But because my friend and I were IMing and she often shares thoughts about her creative process and struggles with various aspects of storytelling in a very different style than mine, I felt safe with her. She agreed that my idea wasn't very entrancing (she was very nice about it, for she understands that beginnings are vulnerable times and that this is indeed a process, not the final copy on the editor's desk). Her support lightened the burden of "I'm totally useless and now everyone is going to find out; I'll never write another decent sentence in my life and I have no idea how to begin a novel!" which we both knew to be not true, but the sort of self-doubt that regularly assails writers of all skill levels.

Eventually I calmed down enough to remember one of my tried and true techniques for coming up with titles. I write down every one I can think of, quite quickly so that I get through all the really stupid ones first. I give myself permission to be ridiculous -- and silly -- and quirky -- and by this time, I am usually generating stuff that has some potential. I did the same thing with opening lines, and before long I realized I'd become ensnared by one of my perennial challenges: wrong point of entry. By backing up (in this case) or leaping forward, I can find the place that clicks. 

I went to bed, having written a page or so, and woke up with: "Yes, and this other thing happens and then she gets thrown into jail (on page 2 or 3) and by the time she gets bailed out, her father has been brainwashed..." Okay, this has possibilities!

Thanks, dear friend, for cheering me on through the discouraging part!

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