Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writing Fiction - It's Hard

My writing group has met faithfully once or twice a month for two years, ever since we were all rejected for the same fiction writing workshop and decided instead to get together ourselves. From that rejection, we ended up with a group that long outlasted the 3-month workshop, and we were lucky enough to develop great relationships with each other.

It can be hard to find a group that’s as copacetic as ours. It can also be hard to take criticism from people you don’t even know. But it’s quite rewarding to have them all agree that a particular piece of yours is good stuff, and better than the last piece you wrote. Reading a piece by another group member that is that much better than his or her last one also brings a sense of accomplishment. I like to think we’re rooting for each other.

Since the group’s inception, some of us have applied for workshops similar to the one that first brought us together. Some have been accepted, some rejected and some have opted not to bother applying at all. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I keep applying. I just received my third workshop rejection last week. My first reaction was that I was never going to write fiction again. I was starting to think that it would be easier to become a rock star than a novelist. Upon reflection, I gave myself some slack, remembering that only 10 out of 40 applicants were accepted, which means that 75 percent of us got the heave-ho.

I am a journalist by trade. I quickly found out that fiction writing is a completely different animal, and much harder to grasp than I first expected. While I can write a good solid news article with my eyes closed, I’ve been writing fiction consistently for two years now and still don’t feel I have the hang of it. Granted, I’ve been into journalism since grade school, which was much more than two years ago, and I have formal training in news writing. I just feel that, having the basics of writing pretty much down, that I should be able to wrap my head around fiction writing without too much difficulty. Not so.

The experts say that you should write what you know. That works, to a point, but I find myself getting too close to the characters, or becoming the characters themselves. Before I know it, the words “I” and “myself” start creeping into the piece, and I’m trying to cram exactly what I know happened into a story that doesn’t play out well on paper. So I’ve decided to try bucking the system by making up every single thing I write, fiction-wise, and hoping that maybe therein lies a better path for me.


Jessica said...

Hooray for bucking the system. Great news when it comes from a writer. Can't wait to see what you come up with.

Just Jane said...

It'll have to be soon. I'm next up to submit a piece to my writing group.

Sarah Collins Honenberger said...

Thanks for saying this. Beginning writers need to understand that writing, like anything, requires lots of practice to do it well. It's the writers who don't care and think any sentence from them is perfect as it issues are the ones who drive me crazy. I've been working on this second career for 16 years and it's hard work. Kind of like staying married to the same guy, easy when you're young and new, harder when everything isn't the way you wanted it to be, and you're ten years older, pudgier, with a child or two waking you up at 5 a.m. Workshops are not the only criteria. But they do let you see where you are in the process (and in the crowd)> Sometimes you don't want to be writing like the rest of the gang. Learn from the accomplished writers who've been well-ppublished and take their jobs seriously. Read voraciously if you want to write well, the prize winners and the classics especially.

Bartleby T. Scrivener said...

I agree that writing for newspapers (or the web) can restrict one's ability to write fiction. But I think a lot of the lessons that go into good writing carry over. Also agree that trying to get away from autobiography and "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" is the best thing you can do, although literary writers probably will end up making up stories that say a lot about their own lives and experiences and issues. I am amazed how many wannabe-published-writers are into total fantasy, literally -- sci fi, survivalism, vampires, thrillers, mysteries, romance and erotica. I'm learning a few tidbits about them as I follow the discussion threads on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award website. The judging process is currently underway. Rejection, BTW, is so much a part of this game. Learning to take criticism, to rewrite, to keep at it when you believe in the concept of what you're writing (even if others say the execution needs work) is a huge part of this little pastime of ours. Anyway, thanks for the thoughts and good luck Jane.

maf said...

Keep on working. You've always been a fabulous writer. Even back when we did whatever was humanly possible to NOT read Don Quixote!! Love, maf

lucia said...

keep plugging along! I love reading what you're doing. Recently a couple of friends and I have started a writing group. I'm feeling completely at sea. Of course it might help if I could just sit & FOCUS!