My Writing Journey: An Update

Here’s an update on my writing journey, a sort of status report.

The scenery has been varied, and I’ve done a lot of miles. What I have to show for it is much better writing skills than before and a few polished projects that must be getting closer to publishable!

After seven years (not full time), that’s all?

No, that’s not all.

It’s a drive, a hike, a walk–it’s a process. It’s good.

I’ve edited and re-edited my works so, so many times. Hundreds is not an exaggeration. That may sound imbecilic to someone who hasn’t been in my shoes, but for me, it’s just part of the process. In fact, as a person who wrote extensively for my job (including publication of about 140 papers and two edited books), the writing and self-editing process I followed may be the most efficient means of learning–up to a point.

At first, I searched for a critique group. But I didn’t find them–or at least, I didn’t find any that I felt were appropriate for me and that had room. While writing alone and looking for critique groups, thought, I discovered podcasts–on the craft of writing and the business of writing. I heard book reviews, author interviews, and then stories–first person, on the stage, and also great fiction read aloud. 

But I was still writing alone. Friends and family would give me polite audiences and occasional comments, but I needed to meet others like me. I attended a large writing conference–and was lost. I was alone. I felt no one else in the whole venue worked in my genre (literary fiction), and I was shocked at how many people wrote about vampires, romance, and fantasy worlds.

After that conference, I think I turned a corner. I decided to become increasingly engaged with the local chapter of a writing group–and it also helped that I semi-retired from my position as a professor of forestry and natural resources. I participated in a write-in in which we wrote, quietly, in 45-minute blocks, and got to sneak off to talk to “real authors” for 12 minutes once. By luck, I got to talk to two real authors, together, for 24 minutes. I explained my isolation, my novel “Nettle Soup,” that I’d been editing in circles for a few years, and my trying to use social media, including blogging, without being able to see a payoff. By the end of the 24 minutes, I’d decided to try a different conference, decrease the frequency of my blog posts, and hire an editor. Yay!

The second conference was wonderful.

Blogging less has given me more time for the writing I more want to do, but I still get to try reaching out to people and using different voices and styles. 

And the editor? A blast of fresh air. There are whole skills out there I wasn’t aware of. She gave me much insight into what the strengths were, and also clarity on where I could improve. On “Nettle Soup,” she showed me all sorts of structure issues–about how to better frame the main story, how to head off a reader’s preconceptions (which could work against the story), how getting closer into the minds of the multiple-viewpoints characters can give the narrative more strength, and how much brighter the plot can be if I show the action rather than show the characters reacting to events. I wouldn’t have realized I needed to make those changes in another decade on my own.

And back to critique groups, I finally found them–just not where I was looking. What I found was non-credit classes offered by Parks and Rec, the Senior Center, and the community college. The leaders have been phenomenal, and the classmates, too. I had no idea!

View from the window where I write at the cabin.

And yet the journey meanders. The critique groups were so good, so useful, especially at first. But now that I’ve been in one or another of them for a year, I’m doing some hard work trying to figure out how to best use them. I love being in the room with these fellow writers. I love being part of that generous, helpful culture. But how much time should I spend at it? And which parts of my writing can the group help me with? The groups seem most helpful with clarity and micro-slips in sequencing, but not so helpful with a piece’s overall structure (especially a large piece), which is where I need more help. On the one hand, the critique groups boost my self-confidence in my writing with their positive comments about what’s going well. On the other hand, the fact the members find so many problems to comment on makes me think I’m not a self-sufficient writer yet. I don’t know where the critique journey will go next, but it has already led me to writer who works in another genre. The two of us have been meeting occasionally for several months. Our discussions have already helped each of us immensely.

That was the long update. Here’s the short one. I’m submitting several stories and a poem to various literary journals in the hopes of getting them published. I’m working on a few other stories and essays. But my main effort is going into revising “Nettle Soup.” I’m working on spreadsheets and Word docs to better clarify the journeys the main characters are taking, and I’m changing the pace and plots so these characters can have more synchronous and more obvious crises and resolutions. I’ve done enough of that that I’m now crawling through Chapter 2.

There’s a lot of writing in front of me, and a lot behind. The scenery is nice. I have air. And I enjoy the journey.

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