Teach Me, Please

Struggling with the whole “not good enough” mental demons as of late. Sometimes I feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds as a writer. Other times I feel like I’m just not getting it and skirting around drafting a story correctly, like I’m creating an outline of the right approach while hopeless stuck in the muck of bad writing. Like, I see the right way to write a story, but every attempt just doesn’t quite peg where the story truly lies. I’ve doodled a visual that hopefully helps you understand how I feel, how frustratingly close I seem to be but can’t get it right.

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Boo hoo, poor me aside, I know I’m getting better. I’m learning to write character-driven stories, instead of ones where the characters get jerked around by the plot. I know I’m good at character creation. Sometimes I create too many and have to nix a few before the final draft, but I think that goes for any fiction writer. I know I’ve gotten better at letting characters decide what they want to do, instead of doing what I need them to do for the sake of plot. One of the most magical parts of writing is letting your characters take control of the plot. You just never know where they’ll take your story. They often come up with better ideas than you, even though these people exist only in your head. Yep, another “chicken or egg” scenario.

I know I’m good at world-building. Sure, I bounce between giving too much or too little, the good ole info dumps or readers going “huh?”, but as I keep writing/practicing, I get better at it. I draft to get all the ideas down on paper, knowing some parts need hefty work, but I leave those areas to test readers before I start revising. I just need to get the entire gosh darn story on paper before I worry about flawless grammar and such (pfft, my grammar goes in and out from time to time). In the end, I believe I create worlds readers will enjoy escaping to, no matter how scarred and imperfect they are. There’s a beauty to these blemishes.

I also know I’m good at description and writing action scenes. Yes, I get wordy. Yes, I tell instead of show. But this is all practice, practice, practice. You can always see the action, see the scene. I just need to tighten the writing and learn to always show and never tell. That right there is probably the hardest thing to do.

So, with all that said, what do I need to work on? Oh, all the aforementioned and more. I’m 28. I’ve been reading since I was 16 and writing since age 18, and even then I went years without doing much writing. I self-defeat easily. But at the same time I feel this dire need, this desperation, this hunger to get better at writing. I feel so far behind anyone my age who’s been reading and writing all their lives. I’ve worked so hard to try and catch up. So hard. Yet I feel left in the dust, gasping for breath with an arm stretched towards the obscure figures in the dust cloud. I don’t know how to stop running, the words “wait for me!” lodged in my throat. All I need is one person to turn around and see my sorry ass. Just one that possesses enough compassion to see the potential I see in myself, take my hand, and give me a chance.

I’ve reached out to so many people for help, advice, guidance, and constructive critique, gotten an array of feedback, and then said people go in and out my life like seasons. Right now I have two very helpful people that I’d have lost my sanity right now if they weren’t there. Seriously, I’d be locked up in a room with padded walls. I’m so passionate about my writing that it can’t be adequately expressed in words; only action. I’m sure that sounds cheesy, but it drives the point home, I think.

I honest to goodness wish I could do my MFA over. I feel like if I repeated those two years several times, I’d make amazing progress as a writer. I learned so much during that time that I realized just how much I have to learn. I don’t feel like my skills are respectably good, compared to other dedicated writers. Yes, I’m a much better writer than the average person since I put forth the effort to set myself above average, like a professional athlete, but the real competition trounces me. I just want to be good enough. I just want a chance.

In the name of this passion, I recently approached two people for feedback on my writing. The first one was from some stranger on goodreads.com who stumbled upon Shield of the Gods. I’ve gotten nothing but 4 and 5-star reviews on amazon.com, but I’ve gotten ratings from 1-5 on goodreads.com. Said stranger gave me a 1-star and said the following:

“It was interesting in the beginning but got extremely boring really really fast. I dropped reading around 60% after discovering myself skipping more lines than what i was reading.”

Well that’s quite the sucker punch, especially when I have contrasting reviews like this one:

“I started this book around 9:30 last night and finished it at 3:30 am. I simply could NOT put it down. S.M. Welles really knows how to draw in a reader and keep him/her hanging on for the ride!”

So the other day I sent this message to the unsatisfied reader: “I was wondering if you would have a minute or two to help me become a better writer. My book definitely tanked in your eyes. I know I have to work on wordiness and over-description. I was wondering what else you’d like to see in a revision that would make Shield of the Gods a book that stays as good as it started. Hope you don’t mind me approaching you.”

To which I received: “I’m really surprised and pleased by your contact, I love people that try to improve themselves. At the moment I’m at work, but I’ll go back tonight or tomorrow and try to explain to you what got me lost and blocked me from getting “into” the book…”

So yay. I believe either one of two things will happen: 1) I’ll rapidly discover that this person isn’t my audience, or 2) There’s truth in this person’s complaints and I’ll be submitting a revision to my ePublisher and get the book updated. Shield of the Gods has been updated twice for typos and grammatical errors. I have no problem editing for content, so long as what this person feels needs to be fixed meshes with the story I’m trying to write. It’s so easy for me to take every bit of feedback as gospel, but I’m learning to keep all of it in perspective and analyze who’s saying what, and possibly why. Sometimes I get useless feedback. All us writers do.

So person number two I reached out to this week: an accomplished writer in paranormal romance. While I got useful feedback, I didn’t quite get the feedback I was looking for. To Ocean’s End contains a bit of romance content in it. I never intended to write that but two of my characters insisted on it. I’ve read three paranormal romance books–well technically one since I skimmed through the other two after reaching a breaking point in bad writing–and I didn’t find them overly useful. Two characters randomly fall in love or are even forced to by the author for the stupidest of reasons, and my brain just starts hurting. So yes, I developed a headache or two while trying to research how to write romance. I did learn a couple useful things but overall, I still needed more guidance, so I reached out to someone from my MFA who writes romance and she forwarded me to someone who writes paranormal romance. I have mixed feelings about the feedback I got (on her reading just the first few chapters):

1)  Either remove the 1st person and make it 3rd person or make the hero female. No one writes romance from the hero’s POV in 1st person.
2)  BUILD YOUR WORLD! You’ve got an interesting concept. Expand it. Use it. There’s an enormous amount of imagination that’s not reaching the page.
3)  SHOW DON’T TELL! Too much narrative, too much introspection. Find a balance.
4) Secondary characters- right now they’re name’s on the page. they’re all cardboard. And you’re introducing too many of them all at once so its confusing. Introduce them slowly and WITH A PURPOSE.
5) Your opening scene has to be IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ACTION. A suggestion would be to start as your hero hears the sound of the grappling hooks hit the gunwale of the ship.
6) Don’t TELL me how the quasi’s came about. SHOW me. Have them become part of the opening scene with the gun. Let them speak (either verbally or telepathically).
7) Your language fluctuates from ‘pirate’ to ‘you’. Watch your dialogue.
NOW TO THE GOOD STUFF!
The fight scenes are really good.
The concept is good. I’m hoping there’s more to these quasi’s than we see in the beginning.
Your world can be phenomenal with some planning and some rewriting. Get what’s in your head down on the page!
LAST BUT NOT LEAST….
BRAVO! You’ve written a 456 page book. Do you realize that only 8% of all writers who start a book finish them?
Throw your arm over your shoulder and pat yourself on the back.
Most of all, Good Luck with this and keep writing!!
Um… well I feel like some child that just got handed a cookie and told to go play, even though I wasn’t asking for a cookie. It was probably wrong of me to assume I’d be handled like a student, instead of businesslike.
Now, this author’s feedback is good in a very general sense. Numbers 1 and 4 (and sort of 7) were the most useful, numbers 2 and 5 left me scratching my head,  number 3 is a stock thing to say, and 6 I threw away. I had to go back and ask for some specifics, which I got an attached documents with comments throughout the first two chapters and the first paragraph of chapter 3 which were immensely helpful, minus her somehow missing the clarification that Dyne is a male character in the very first page, which she got hung up on for quite a bit.
This author did some work for me, and for that I’m thankful, yet still no closer to resolving my concerns I wanted help with: writing romance. I don’t read romance, fiction or paranormal. I’m just not into it. I’m reading one more romance novel that’s pure fiction, no fantastical components present *sniff*, and now I’m finally seeing what I need to emulate. Will I keep reading romance after this book? No. I like my dragons. And no, don’t give me a romance novel with dragons in it =.=
So, in conclusion for this particular post, I think I’m going to pull a George R. R. Martin and categorize the book under speculative fiction/post-apocalypse fantasy, and if the readers don’t want hot and heavy, then can just skim those parts. In the meantime I will research and practice the use of romantic language so an avid romance reader won’t get mad at me. And I will keep reaching out for people willing to mentor me.
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About Angela Macala-Guajardo

Author, teacher, soon-to-be full time writer for two companies. Also a lover life in the Arizona desert, puppy butt wiggles, and kitties purring away on my shoulder.
This entry was posted in fantasy, happiness, life's journey, Uncategorized, writing, writing tips and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Teach Me, Please

  1. Paul Davis says:

    After reading what I did of your book, I agree with the friend you reached out with mostly. I loved your concept. I definitely didn’t see the romance going. I thought the intro was decent, but we currently have a lot of readers who demand more than that, which I think is ridiculous.

    Cool that you went out of your comfort zone for romance. It can be difficult. I wrote some romance (some trashy romance), but usually I try to keep the love story a side thing without getting deeply into it.

    I know I’m not published, but I have studied and taught writing. I do have some publishing in the works. Would love to give whatever help I can if you want. I’m not looking to mentor, just give peer feedback.

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