Monday, February 21, 2011

How Much Advice?

In general, seeking more experienced counsel, especially when you are a newcomer to any arena, is a productive thing to do. When you've become the most knowledgeable person within your circle of influence, then that means its time to widen your circle, right?

While I have not yet exhausted the wisdom of my peers (I have a great critique group among whom I consider myself the least skilled) I do have an opportunity coming up to get a big batch of advice on The Sword of the Patron, and I'll admit, I'm biting my nails on this one.

In April, I'll be headed to David Farland's Novel Rewriting workshop. For those who don't know David Farland, the man is the real deal when it comes to writers who know how to take a passion and make a tidy living (at least I assume so from the information he sends out in his newsletter  David Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants. If you're a writer and you don't subscribe to this newsletter, I highly recommend you get on his list. The subscribe button is on the right of the linked page.) Anyway, digressions aside, David Farland has mentored more writers than whose names I care to drop here. He's taught or worked with Stephenie Meyers, Brandon Sanderson, and a host of others.

Now, say what you will about any of these authors' works, love, hate, or otherwise, but the fact of the matter is: they sell books. Lots of books. And I believe Mr. Farland's contributions to their early careers may have something to do with that. So, my darling husband has graciously given me quite the birthday gift in buying me the opportunity to go sit at Mr. Farland's feet for a solid week and do nothing but focus on my novel. I'll get a comprehensive edit of the first 50 pages and read a through of the first 150, and my hope is that I'll come out of that week with a manuscript that can't help but catch some editor's eye.

Of course, there's also the chance that Mr. Farland will say, "You know, you really ought to stick to drawing." I have to be prepared for that. That's really the crux of my message for this post today. In the life of a creative person, lots of advice crops up, either solicited or unsolicited, good or bad. The real trick is figuring out which advice to take...when to be teachable, and when to stop being teachable, to paraphrase Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press.

I like to think that whatever advice I get from Mr. Farland should be well worth listening to, though when I mentioned to a friend I was going on this excursion, he got a very concerned look on his face. "Don't let anyone compromise your message," he told me.

And that's the real trick, isn't it? Figuring out how to take the advice of people who are better/more experienced than you and then apply it to YOUR work. Your story. Without trying to make it their story. In a book I read some time ago about worship ministries called The Heart of the Artist, the author warned about taking somebody else's ministry and trying to mimic it in your own. I think that idea also applies to advice I get on writing. In the end, it has to be my book in my voice. I can't try to write like someone else and have it come out anything but forced or pale. (I'm not that good.)

My prayer for this journey I have ahead is that I will have the wisdom of Solomon when it comes to sifting through the piles of advice I will get from David Farland as well as the other eleven authors who will be taking this class with me. I have all kinds of preconceived notions about what they will tell me. What I need to manage to do is to hoard all their advice into some little storage bin in my mind so I can sort it with  discernment, so what I end up with is a book that is mine, and a book that is better. Not a book that is everybody's and hence more like an oil painting where I've gone back into wet paint too much and ended up with brownish gray mush. (Done that. I'm a horrible painter.)

I'm looking forward to the adventure. But in the meantime, I'll keep gleaning all the great things I can from the folks in my immediate sphere of influence. There's always something new to learn, whether from the new reader, or the industry professional, and I pray I never lose sight of that.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Following the Rules

I have always been ridiculously bound by rules. I'm that person who would rather die than take the department store shopping cart out of the store and into the hallways of the rest of the mall. After all, the cart says right on it: Do not remove from store. So you don't. It's that simple. Instead, you slog through the mall with thirty-five pounds of shopping bags while trying to keep a hold of the hand of a preschooler and bellowing like a drill sergeant at the two older boys who are chasing each other in circles, threatening to barrel into every senior citizen within a hundred yards. That wouldn't break any printed rules.

So what does this have to do with writing? The more I write, and the more I seek feedback on my writing, the more I come into contact with the current "rules" that govern fiction. They usually start with some kind of stomach-punching qualifier like, "If you want this thing to have a chance at publication, you need to..."

I admit, I am very easily steered by such ultimatums. After all, I do want to see my manuscripts make it to traditional print. That's the goal. So it's in my best interest to listen to the rules that say you need to kill adjectives and adverbs. The edicts that declare a certain number of words too many for a first novel. The wagging fingers that kick into motion if you start blathering about backstory. But to what degree?

 I try to keep in mind an adage coined by Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, who says, "Be teachable. Then stop being teachable." The trick is this: using that time where I'm teachable to get good enough at this writing thing that I can start making my own rules for the sake of my story. How do you get to the place where your readers will say, "Sure, it doesn't adhere to compulsory rule #28, but man, it's so good, it doesn't need to." More importantly, how do you reach that point in the eyes of an acquisitions editor?

The kicker in all of this is that I get the sense that the things that get published aren't the stories that follow the rules, but the ones that know how and when to break them to serve the narrative. I hope I can get to that point. Otherwise, I'll have spent a lot of time on formulaic words that don't break out enough to get noticed.

 It's going to be tough for me. But I begin to see where friends of mine have always been right that I can be lawful to a fault.

So what about you? What rules of writing (or reading) do you think you break well? Are there some rules of the day that you think ought be followed with Victorian British Nanny strictness? And are there those you think ought be run out of town? Feedback welcome.

My Valentine's Day gift to you will be up and running on Monday night, Lord willing. The Windrider continues on February 14th.