I should be working. I should be revising my short story. I should be, I should be...
But I'm not. Instead, I'm thinking about process. I've been reading Crapometer lately. Crapometer is a sort of online critique group. You throw up a few pages to the start of your novel and people comment. It's anonymous, which is a relief, and fun. Most of the comments are thoughtful, analytical and helpful. What they often aren't is positive.
Not surprisingly, a few comments have been deleted by the blog owner for nastiness. Writers have many annoying traits (just ask PHF--he keeps an ongoing list), not the least of which is their heartlessness when it comes to someone else's writing. One thing writers loooove to do is to critique other work. It gives us a thrill to find mistakes--See? I'm good enough to at least find them. Of course there's always that niggling thought--See? I made that mistake, too. Fuck.
But what they aren't often doing is pointing out the good bits. I wrote a little lecture about that today on that blog. Finding the good in your own work and others' is as important as finding the fuck-ups.
A long time ago, back in first novel territory, more than one person told me: Your dialogue rings true. Compliments aside, I thought about that a lot. Dialogue is important to me as an author and as the God of the little world I've created. It's my discovery tool. If I can't figure out where they are headed, or what the hell they should do, I sit two characters down for a little chat. Pretty soon we're all on our merry way again. Sometimes the convo gets trashed, sometimes not. Sometimes I like my reader to go along on the discovery process with me. That one compliment, while it felt good, of course, led me to an important truth as a writer.
It's also taught me to trust my characters. They'll tell me what the hell is going on. Like God, I might have created this world, but like real people, the characters inhabit it and live the life. If I listen to them, I get to know them well. They'll tell me where to go (sometimes to Hell, but that's another post for another day).
When I taught, I realized I met very few kids I disliked. Very few. Sometimes one would be annoying or whatever, but really, they all had that little spark about them that kept you coming back for more. Now that I'm reading so much, on Crapometer and for ElectricSpec, and for the critique group, not to mention books and magazines and journals, I find there's very little writing I completely dislike. It's what's made being an editor so hard. I read a piece and there are little glimmers of an incredible voice, or a plot twist that's brilliant, or a character I can smell, see and feel as if she were sitting right next to me. But those glimmers shine like the first star of the night, not like one star in the the Heavens at two am.
We made an editorial decision not to comment on the subs for fear we might start a lengthy, unwanted dialogue. But savvy submitters to ElectricSpec might hit my blog link and come on over for a perusal. So I'll say this about what I ask myself as an editor: Is there more than a glimmer there? Does the brilliance of plot flounder alone amid flat lines and flatter characters, or does it ride comfortably within solid craftmanship? It all has to be there: character, description, action, change, craftmanship, plot, voice... I could go on, of course. And fuck yeah, it's subjective. But most of all: Don't bore me. Touch me.
I demand all that of myself as a writer, so why shouldn't I ask it of what I read?
Oh, and cutesy self-descriptions in your cover letter are annoying, but not a deal breaker.