Thursday, June 02, 2011

Erin Kellison on Writing and Support

Erin Kellison
Shadow Touch
Publisher: Kensington Zebra
Pub Date: June 1, 2011
Agent: Jessica Faust


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Fight to Write, and a Little Ruthlessness Doesn’t Hurt Either

Last December, the Martian Death Flu hit my family. Everyone was very sick for over two weeks during the holidays. The house should have been quarantined. And I was on a deadline, which meant unless I was with one of my kids, I had to be at my computer. It was insane.

Every author knows the secret to writing books. It’s not closely guarded, probably because it is so dang hard to do sometimes—okay, often. Ready? Here it is: Sit down and work until you have some word count, aka Butt in the Chair. The craft and story will come over time, but not if you don’t do the first step. Sit and stay and write.

Sounds easy. It’s actually the most difficult aspect of writing. Nothing will go as planned. My teenage babysitter (in)famously canceled on me one day (of many) “because she had a long weekend.” That still makes me laugh. Of course, the most insidious of time-wasters is the Internet. Add to that the doubts every writer combats as they face their manuscript, and suddenly it’s imperative to do laundry. Or organize the work area. Or read the paper. Anything but add words to a story.

The solution? An indomitable support system. Some writers can find that within their families, but just as many can’t. I’m very lucky in that respect. My husband is my rock. But also, without a doubt, it’s my critique partners that keep me going. As I write this blog today, Jessica has a post on Handling Critiques. The thoughts there and within the comments are dead-on about knowing your story and taking only what works for you. The post also got me thinking about what a powerhouse a good critique partner or group can be. Since critique partners are like-minded people, they understand the struggle to make progress. And they demand that you do your best work.

Of course, the chemistry and professionalism between critique partners must be there. Good critiques are constructive—highlighting what works as much as what doesn’t. My group’s goal is to preserve each writer’s voice and story, while making the text as strong and vibrant as possible. We’ve got our Circle of Truth, which we depend on for clear, uncluttered perspectives on our progress. (No pats on the head, please. This is my passion.) But also, we’ve got accountability. We must bring pages—although, I have on occasion brought only a paragraph. If life goes completely upside down for one of us, we don’t push, but otherwise . . . show me the word count. That support helps overcome so many obstacles.

Those of you with great critique partners know what I mean. For those who don’t, there are so many writers out there who want to be in a great critique group. Seek them out. It makes all the difference in the world.

I’ll finish with an extreme example of this support system in action. Last summer I had an appendectomy. One of my ruthless critique partners (love her) was on a deadline and pleaded (demanded) that I look over some of her stuff. I don’t know how savvy I was while on oxycodone, but I understood the passion for writing behind the request and did my best. And you better believe that when the Martian Death Flu hit my house, I had pages waiting for her when she got back from her vacation, for very quick turnaround, I might add. As always, she came through for me.

12 comments:

Laura M. Campbell said...

I just adopted a new technique, writing meditation, to help me push all the attractive time wasters out of mind. Twenty minutes affords me time to sit, breathe, listen to my Asian Serenity cd, and think through my current writing project. This way, when I open my eyes, I can immediately jump into writing without spending several pages writing crap before I get into my groove.

When my butt starts to numb, I get up and dance around or grab something to eat. A break in the monotony of sitting for hours keeps me on track.

Thanks for sharing your story!

Sandy said...

Too funny. I jump on my laptop, cup of tea beside me all fired up to do some more writing. I'll just check facebook first...nothing interesting, so I go to google reader and find THIS :P

Okay, now I'll really do some writing.

Charlotte Featherstone said...

What a great post! And you are spot on that writers can find ANYTHING to do besides put words on a screen! Heck, I've even found myself doing housework, and not much brings me to that! lol!

I have a fantastic critique partner, we've been together since we were both starting out. She is invaluable to me, and while we don't send the quanity of material to each other that we used to, we do still send.

One thing that is very important to remember when choosing a new critque partner is to know the person's strengths and weaknessess. Hopefully his or hers strengths are your weaknesses and vice versa. It adds balance and effectiveness to your relationship. In the beginning it might become a love fest, or as my cp and I like to say, 'blowing wind up your skirt', but it's important that you feel open enough with one another to constructively criticize. Otherwise, the whole purpose of critiquing is moot!

Once you found the right fit with someone, you'll question why you didn't search out a partner earlier!
Great post!

Erin Kellison said...

I need Asian Serenity cd. Need one now.

Stephsco said...

Charlotte: with your critique partner, do you share work throughout the process or do you polish up your work before sharing? I have 2 people in particular who keep asking me about my WIP but I'm not satisfied enough yet to share it. I was thinking they might be able to help me sort through my story's issues though, if I let one of them read it now.

Leslie said...

You are an inspiration and as always, spot on. Thank you.

Snarky Mommy said...

I have found an extremely motivating factor to be paying a babysitter while I go write at Starbucks for a few hours. I find the thought of doling out $12 an hour so I can peruse Facebook to be quite distasteful, so it makes me sit my butt down and do it. Also, a little break from the kids is never a bad thing!

talespinfiction said...

I have to LOL at your babysitter's rationale. Once I had one cancel because she, "Just needed to get away with her boyfriend for awhile." And another didn't call after being a no-show. I called, emailed and after 2 weeks nearly called her school when she emailed to say "life just got in the way."

Sigh.

Maybe there's a novel in there somewhere?

Sharla Lovelace said...

I laughed at it being imperative to do laundry. That is me. LOL.

Loved your post, and love your cover!

Michael Seese said...

My own twist on the Butt In The Chair method is this: I have a pact with myself that every day I have to do at least two things to help my career.

- I can write.
- I can read blogs such as this and comment.
- I can do research (such as an agent search) on the Writer's Market.
- I can write someone and see if he or she would like to review (and ideally promote) one of my already published books.

With three young 'uns at home it's hard, since most days MY time doesn't start until around 10:00. But most days, I still manage to do it.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with you - my partner is supportive and so are my children but my biggest supporters are and my greatest help comes from writer friends and colleagues. From critiques of work to a heads up on a writing opportunity or informative writers' ezine, my writing friends are tops!

Barbara Watson said...

Ahhhh. This is wonderful. As one new to the writing realm, many have told me, "Just spit out your story." And it's the best advice I've heard. Second best: "Writing well comes in revisions." Thank you for this great post.