Sunday, June 17, 2012

TMT Summer Writing Group - Week Three

Welcome to another weekly check-in here at Teach Mentor Texts! I hope everyone is still loving the experience of Teachers Write! I know I am learning so much while still getting writing done. Kate has done a spectacular job of keeping us busy! 

When we decided to start this whole thing, I asked Gae if she would answer some questions for me about writing.  It's so interesting how when we delve into something, it spurs so many questions. Until we really try and do something, we don't really know what questions to ask. And then suddenly we have countless questions, right? 

If you haven't been to Gae's blog to participate in Friday Feedback yet, I highly recommend it. I love her honesty and unending positive support of writers and writing. Thank you, Gae!
TMT: On a blog post about Friday Feedback, you talked about how there is a misconception that writers really know what they are doing, that most of the time, you just do it but it's not always easy or perfect when it comes out. I love that. What helped you gain confidence in your writing when you were starting out?

Gae Polisner: Gosh…what a great question. Have I gained confidence??!? I only half jest.

I guess I have gained, some, and, honestly, the easiest, truest answer is that it came from achieving any bits of “objective” success in the business -- getting respected agents to take on my work, getting a publishing deal with fsg and now with Algonquin, and earlier on, making it to the Top Semifinals with my first women’s fiction manuscript in the first ever Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest [from 5,000 entrants down to 100. Got axed when they cut from 100 to 10]). Certainly, those things help you to believe your writing meets a certain objective and universal criteria. And the only way to have those successes is to risk putting your writing out there in the world for all to see.
But, before that, now (weathering rejections, still, always in this business)? I was always told I was a good writer – in elementary school, in high school, in college. Even when I stopped writing creatively, my legal writing was always coveted in the firms I worked for. So, I think I always had some basic confidence that I could write. That I could string words together in an evocative, sometimes painterly, and even unique way. Where I lacked confidence was in my story telling.

When I decided to try to write a novel about 13 years ago now, I didn’t actually show anyone what I was doing until I had the story arc significantly done. When I started to show people, they praised the writing, but also the telling. They confirmed that I created characters they cared about and plot lines that made them want to know what would happen next. As I started to show stranger-readers (first through that Amazon contest) those bits of encouragement and confirmation I received were HUGE to me. I think that’s why I love it when I can honestly give it back. Of course, it’s harder when I can’t… but writing is SO subjective. This is something we HAVE to hold on to. Just because something doesn’t work or resonate with me, doesn’t mean it isn’t good – or doesn’t have value. I’ve loved works others have hated, and vice versa. This helps me when someone doesn’t love my work, too.
Did I even answer your question?

TMT: Yes! I mean, basically, just do it and share with others and then go from there! What made you start Friday Feedback and want to help encourage new writers?

Gae Polisner: Initially, I think maybe Friday Feedback was purely a selfish endeavor. I tend to post small snippets of my works in progress on my personal (private) facebook page because I find it helps me to really “see” my words objectively – as someone else might – if I send them out in the world. Also, honestly, it still really motivates me if a person or two says, “oh, man, I really love this, because…” and gives me the incentive to keep going. When I put my words out in public, I do really get to see them differently. Those of us who write know, that especially if you’ve been working on something for a while, you don’t really read your own words anymore. Things can be staring you in the face – repeated words, something that doesn’t flow – but you’re not seeing it.
Anyway, as I was mulling the idea, I thought it would be nice to invite others, not only to give that incentive to me, but to get the same benefit, have a safe place to post their words for others to “see” and comment on, but in a specifically limited way – What do you like about this, and what isn’t working, if it isn’t. Always, the positive first. That is the concept behind Friday Feedback.

TMT: I love the cheerleading part of Friday Freedback. What does writing a first draft look like for you? Do you follow the NaNoWriMo theory of just getting all of your ideas down? Do you plan and follow an outline? Do you edit as you go?

Gae Polisner: What’s an outline? But, oh, how I wish…

I usually write frantically and excitedly from a spark of an idea (a scene, and image, a “what if” kind of wondering about some little bit of something I read in an article or heard on the news). I start with a character and a feeling and things come to me, come to me, come to me, and I type, and I type and I type until, BAM! I hit a wall and realize I have NO idea what I’m writing about. At that point, I either abandon the idea, or must really start to think about what the story is that I’m writing. While I still don’t outline, I’ll jot things down… where I want to go, what my middle is, and if I dare, what I think the end may be. But often I don’t know and I’m waiting for the characters to tell me. I envy people who do it the other way. Have the story outlined in detail from the get-go.

As for NaNoWriMo, I’ve never officially participated* though I do think one concept about NaNo is exactly right – because it forces you to plow forward with the story without making the writing pretty during the first draft. That’s nearly impossible for me to do, but I think in the beginning of a story, for most of us, it’s essential if we truly want to make good progress. I wholeheartedly believe that time spent prettying the beginning of a story before you know (and have written) the middle and the end is most often a total waste of time, because nine times out of ten, that beginning will change as your story develops. Thus, prettying the beginning IN THE BEGINNING, is nothing more than a stall tactic – one I engage in all too often, but still fight the good fight not to.

*I wrote the first draft of The Pull of Gravity NaNoWriMo style, but was too impatient to wait for November, so I NaNo’ed alone in October.

Again, huge thanks to Gae and Kate for supporting everyone through Teachers Write this summer. It's only been two weeks and already it has been a tremendous success. I know I have learned so much about the writing side of books.

 My rules for the TMT Summer Writing Group:
1. We respect each other and the type of writing we do.
2. We only criticize each other constructively.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.
4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.
**I reserve every right to put the smackdown
on anyone who messes with our positive energy.**

Today, in the comments section:
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the not-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week of writing!

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