Friday, May 19, 2017

0 On the Value of Studying Writing with Coaches by Martina Boone

For our craft of writing post today, we're revisiting some excellent insight from Martina Boone that she posted in February 2014 after completing all edits for her first book, Compulsion. Her words are still true for all of us trying to learn how to write alone. Maybe she can inspire you to tap into all the valuable resources available to learn from a mentor.

Accepting that You Can't Ever Get Your Story Perfect by Martina Boone


COMPULSION is on its way to be printed up for ARCs, and I have a little time to reflect on what I wish I could still have done better. I've probably driven my editor crazy tinkering with the opening. But unlike the talented authors who nail it with a killer sentence, the perfect opening has proven to be elusive.

So what do we, as writers, do when perfection is out of reach?

At some point, we have to trust. Trust in ourselves. Trust in our characters. Trust in our agents and our editors. In our critique partners and beta readers.

I've heard so many friends beat themselves up because they feel like failures, or they feel like they aren't "getting there" fast enough. They see some of these brilliant young writers publishing at 22, or 25, and they begin to doubt their own talent. But those young writers, many of whom started out by writing fan fiction, have something going for them. Something critical. Many of them have been writing since they were eleven or twelve. Every day.

They've also had feedback. Hours and hours of passionate, attentive feedback that helped them discover through trial and error what works and what doesn't.

Feedback, honest-to-gosh thoughtful, expert feedback from a lot of simultaneous perspectives, is beyond price when you want to understand what you are putting on the page. And that's something that the Internet, with its access to fan fiction sites, online workshops, and critique partner match-ups is able to offer.

As writers, we are the orphan stepchildren of the arts. Too often, we work in a vacuum, slogging through weeks, months, years of butt-in-chair, making the same mistakes hour after hour because we don't know any better. Violinists, ballerinas, skaters, painters . . . they all spend thousands of hours with teachers and coaches helping them learn to examine every facet and nuance of their work. Fiction writers? If we're lucky we get a handful of classes in school. Most of us have very few hours of guided exploration, or structured learning. We write, and we read. And mistakenly, we often believe that simply reading for enjoyment is sufficient to count as study.

It isn't.

You're heard about the 10,000 Hour Rule? The one that suggests you need to practice for 10,000 hours before you become proficient? It's one of the justification writers often use to explain the need for "butt in chair." Maria Popova at Brain Pickings had a brilliant post last month about Debunking the 10,000 Hour Rule that touched on the science behind the issues. In a nutshell, what the science really shows is that you need to spend those 10,000 hours in mindful application of lessons set forth by master teachers.

Can we do that ourselves by studying the work of other writers? Some of us likely can. I can't. I need help. That's why I set up the First Five Pages Workshop a couple of years ago with Lisa Gail Green, hoping that by giving other aspiring writers the kind of early input on their pages that I wished I had would give them a jump start on their careers. We've been lucky--beyond lucky--with the great authors who have pitched in to provide mentorship, and we've had a lot of success with the workshop. (In fact, our April mentor is Lori Goldstein, a First Five alum who got a fabulous deal for the book she revised through the workshop.) But I'll tell you a secret, I'm still envious of the participants every month, because they are getting the kind of feedback that I wish I could have. Yes, I have an agent and an editor and a lovely team of pros who now have my back--but helping me learn is not their job. It's my job to keep learning, to keep trying to understand why things work--or why they don't.

COMPULSION is now out of my hands. It's gone. It's done. And I don't have 10,000 hours of guided instruction behind me to give me the confidence that I've done it right. (Although I did get my first blurb the other day, and I love it. WOO HOO!) All I can do is hope COMPULSION will continue to be well-received, and go back to work on Book Two with renewed determination to keep getting better.

If you read these Inspired Opening Posts here on Adventures regularly, you probably came today hoping, as I do every Monday, that the guest of the day will divulge the one Secret that will make all the difference. Instead, I will give you the best advice I can offer.

The secret to writing the perfect opening, the perfect anything, is exploration with feedback. Take advantage of things like the First Five Pages Workshop and the agent-judged Pitch Plus First Page Contest that we put on. Take advantage of every opportunity to "learn up," by which I mean learning from writers who are further up the learning curve than you are. Participate in opportunities like Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness over at Brenda Drake's blog and the Secret Agent contests at Miss Snark's First Victim. Take craft-dedicated workshops from editors and agents like those over at Free-Expressions and Ventana Sierra. Give yourself the gift of learning, the gift of confidence in your craft. The writing never gets easier. All we can do is hope we will get more comfortable with the idea that we're likely never going to offer up something perfect.

As for me? I'm going to keep learning too. And I'm going to make a concerted effort to do more experimentation. Maybe I'll even write some fan fiction. It sounds like learning AND fun.

Now all I need is an extra few hours in the day.

What about you? Have you ever written fan fiction? Have you taken any great workshops or classes? Where do you go for feedback?

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