The Writers' Loop

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The Elephant in the Corner

The Elephant in the Corner: The Writer’s Fear

by Susanne Marie Poulette

Have you ever faced an audience for a speech, recital, oral report, or other presentation? Did your hands shake, did your saliva disappear, or did your heart pound so fast that your voice croaked like an adolescent canary? Performance anxiety. Stage fright. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, or just plain old fear of looking like the village twit. Maybe we’ve all been there on some level–on the spot, with all eyes trained on us. Like the time I attended my young nephew’s violin recital at his home. He played his music in the kitchen, all alone, while the family/audience listened from the living room.

After completing my first novel and revising it for at least a lifetime, I share it sparingly and with great trepidation. Friends ask how my book is coming, and when can they read it. I’m looking for a kitchen recital technique to ease the apprehension in sharing my manuscript. Obviously, there’s no parallel for a writer. Lucky violinists.

So what’s the solution? Is there a solution? Maybe a good place to start is to face these fears. Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown. All those dark shadows… Will the reader like my novel? Is my writing good enough? How does my writing compare to other works?  Yikes, scary.

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It’s been said that writing is risk-taking. Okay, it’s not like Evel Knievel jumping one of his canyons on a motorcycle, but it does take courage. For many of us, writing is opening up, exposing ourselves, laying bare a part of our own essence. How do we balance this vulnerability and continue the writing life?

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First, we don’t give in to the fears. That would be failure. We can’t hit the finish line if we never run the race.

Second, so what if the reader doesn’t like it? We can’t always please everybody, and not everyone will agree with us. Somebody out there may like it, even if it’s just your mother.

Third, good enough: we’ve opened up and we’ve written from the heart, telling the story that only we can tell. Whose voice could do better in telling our story?

Fourth, how does it compare: to be fair, let’s value the worth of our writing against our own work as it matures and deepens in quality.

I spent my career helping children to find and use their voices. Opening your voice, whether in speaking or writing is opening your heart. As I see it, sharing that voice is Yin and Yang.

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We want our work to be read, and we want feedback, preferably, flattering feedback. A Pulitzer nomination would be nice, but not rejection. When the critiques fall short of gratifying, I work to balance the dark with light, and keep my voice vibrant. I’ll share my simple plan:

  • Remember: no matter what your critics say, you’re the boss of your story.
  • Stay grounded and grow some thick skin. Don’t let rejection  distract you or keep you from writing.
  • Whether you agree or disagree with a negative critique, use the experience to  improve your work and become a better writer.
  • If it’s a positive critique, celebrate it! Your Pulitzer is waiting.

 

Posted by: Susanne Marie Poulette


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That Bittersweet Question

It can happen while sipping Chardonnay at a party. It can happen while exchanging small talk with a colleague at work. It can happen while hiking up a mountain with friends. That bittersweet question: “Oh Peg, how’s your novel coming along?”

It’s sweet because I appreciate others taking an interest in my craft. It’s bitter because I have to give the same answer as the last time, “Still in the draft phase.” I could say, “I graduated from draft five to draft six,” or “I think I finally nailed chapter one after ten attempts,” but people aren’t interested in numbers. People want me to pull out a polished story packaged between a book cover with a five-star review blurb from the New York Times. And really, shouldn’t I be there by now? After all, I published my first novel almost two years ago. What’s taking so long? Where’s the talent?

Well first of all, I had to pin down a setting. I started on a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. Although intriguing, I didn’t know enough about the culture and language to make the story authentic. So, I moved my characters to a vineyard in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, but it didn’t quite capture the mood I wanted to create. Off to a coffee farm on the Big Island of Hawaii where legends thrive and volcanoes prevail. Perfect!

 

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The primary setting for my next novel: A coffee plantation on the slope of Hualalai Volcano, Hawaii

 

Then there’s the characters. I must admit, I had to kill a few. At the risk of sounding ruthless, they weren’t working and had to go. Don’t worry. I’m a good-hearted soul and may bring them back to life in another novel some time. That is, if I ever finish novel two.

I wondered if successful authors, who are revered by critics and readers, struggle when trying to take an idea to a completed novel. Thanks to the Internet, I discovered the answer. Here’s what a few experts, who are taking up at least a couple of spots on my bookshelf, had to say:

Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl & others) – “I probably write two novels for every one I end up with—lots of deleted scenes as I try to figure out what it is I’m really interested in, what it is I’m actually writing.”

Khalid Hosseni (author of The Kite Runner & others) – “Writing is largely about rewriting, and I abhor writing the first draft. I love writing subsequent drafts because that’s when I can see the story getting closer and closer to what I intended and what my original hopes for it were.”

Alice Hoffman (author of The Dovekeepers & others) – “I rewrite the entire manuscript several times, then go through it in pieces. I always find if you read fiction out loud you know what you have to change by what you stumble over.”

And the one that may get framed and placed on the wall near my computer. From John Irving who spent seven years creating, The World According to Garp:

 

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Any writers out there?  How many times do you find yourself revising your essay, short story, novel, etc.? When do you stamp the final “The End” on the last page?

Posted by: Peggy Morehouse (Strack)