here is what you might want to know about me as I lead you through a summer of writing:
I have no idea how I've written well over ten manuscripts, sold half of them, had four already come out in traditionally published form.
I mean, yes, sure, fine: I know I did certain things, dug down, persevered, sat "ass in chair" for endless hours, hitting keys, and so on. But the stories themselves? Still after all this time, I have NO idea how those come.
Here's the hard cold truth:
I am not a person who has stories spilling out of my pores.
The world interests me -- moves me infinitely -- but it's the small moments I get caught up in, sort of free-floating curiosities -- beginnings, perhaps, but not more. Sparks of ideas, clearly without middles or ends.
A father walks out.
A boy too young to swim dives into a pool.
A tower comes down changing everything.
Someone draws a mark across someone else's artwork.
There is a moment of breaking.
A moment of healing.
Possibly, a moment of falling in love.
That's it, people. That's all I have when I enter into my stories. That is what I dive in with.
And, so, each time I find myself having finished one and back at a beginning, I doubt my ability, not to write the story once it arrives, but to have the story -- any story-- come in the first place.
And when it does, and I reach a middle and, finally, a shining end, I'm never quite sure how I got there.
So, HOW do I do it? Well. I can tell you how I don't. I don't sit at a blank screen willing shit to come. For me, that would never make it happen.
For me, for story to come, I take myself away from the computer and I swim.
And while I am swimming, I start asking myself questions:
What triggered this moment? And why does this moment matter to me? What does it say about life? About the world around us? About being human?
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
And more questions: What do I have to add to that? What do I have to explore or impart?
What do *I* have to say?
Here's how some of the above moments might expand outward in that way to hint at story:
A father walks out.
A boy has to step up. Stop burying his head in the sand and learn how to be an adult.
To stop running away and come home.
How do we do this alone?
Maybe we don't. We find a friend.
I have something to say about friendship.
A boy too young to swim dives into a pool.
A girl is frozen, can't help him.
What has happened to make her afraid?
She has failed somewhere. Failed mightily. And now she has no self worth.
What will help her feel brave again?
Ans what do I have to say about this? Something about forgiveness:
Forgiving others and ourselves. . .
That someone is a boy who wants to be an artist. He knows this is wrong,
He's hurting and desperate for connection.
He's got good reason: he needs help. Too much hurt and pain have piled on.
What do I have to say about this?
There are ways to seek help. There are good, skilled people who want to help us. And we also have the ability to help ourselves.
So, if you are about to embark on your Teachers Write/Friday Feedback summer, and have no story idea in mind, start looking for moments, asking questions, and walk away from the screen and jump into the proverbial or literal water and swim.
And if you already have that story started? Ask those same questions. Ask the louder and harder, over and over again. And keep answering them. Ask them through first and second drafts, and endless drafts of revisions.
AND now, without further ado, Friday Feedback Summer 2018 and THE RULES (they are there for a reason. Please read AND follow them!)
FRIDAY FEEDBACK SUMMER 2018.
How does it work? Easy peasy:
Every week, I -- or one of my awesome guest authors -- will share a tiny bit of writing wisdom followed by an excerpt of our own ROUGH, UNPUBLISHED writing for your feedback. In return, we offer you the same opportunity: to share a brief excerpt in the comments for feedback from us -- AND from other campers!).
See? Simple and exciting. There are just a few RULES:
1. The Feedback should be specific and always be given in this order:
Please note the order of those. Here at Friday Feedback, our first goal is to be encouraging. We appreciate the gems in one another's writing before we offer up constructive criticism.
2. The excerpts should not exceed three (3) paragraphs, if long, five (5) paragraphs if mostly dialogue or otherwise short. This rule holds even if I, or my guest authors, post a longer excerpt.
There may be 30 - 50 excerpts up here on a busy week for me and/or my guest authors to read. If you put up more than the requested length, we do not promise to read beyond the stated limits. You may post excerpts through Saturday and I will check in, but I do not require my guest authors to read past close of business Friday.
3. We ask you to remember this: there is only so much we can realistically glean from a brief excerpt out of context. Friday Feedback is intended to be instructional and inspiring, but please know our feedback out of context of a full work must always be taken as merely that. Your job here is to take in the information as you will. Keep what you like. Toss what you don't. In the end, you are the boss of your own writing.
4. You may be the recipient of one of my patented "Superspeed Flash Edits."
Okay, fine, they're not patented, whatever. Sometimes, if your excerpt lends itself to me doing one of these, I will do so: namely, zip through your piece editing for passive voice (where not intended) unneeded words, wrong punctuation, repetition, etc.
I will NOT edit your own unique voice or substantive writing. This is an exercise intended to demonstrate how revision/clean up/intentional writing can truly make our voices pop and shine. And this is almost always SECOND DRAFT STUFF -- the stuff of REVISION -- and is merely intended to make you aware of potential tics and such that take away from your own beautiful worl.
If you do NOT want to be the recipient of a Superspeed Flash Edit for any reason, please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll remember not to edit you. :)
5. I know many of you work summers and may not find time to post your excerpt until late Friday evening. I do not ask any of my guest authors to return Saturday, but some of them are willing. I will often return Saturday morning to give stragglers feedback. Please don't post beyond that. Please note that Friday Feedback takes a lot of work -- often a whole day's work, offered to you for free as a source of inspiration and encouragement. If you participate here, please either order my newest title, IN SIGHT OF STARS, and the newest title of my guest authors, or if you are unable to purchase a copy, please reach out to your local library and ask them to order it in! And if you are an audiobook lover, I HIGHLY recommend Michael Crouch's stellar narration of IN SIGHT OF STARS.
And, now, since I always go first, I just happened to have written a potential new beginning to my next novel (for those who have known me a while, you have seen this title floating out here for a long while now....), JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME.
I'm doing a major revision under the guidance of my fab editor, Vicki Lame, and playing with some voice and technical stuff in the story, so I'm anxious to hear what works for you, what doesn't, and whether you are compelled to keep reading?
The day is hot. We are running through a sprinkler in my backyard, dodging in and out of the water that fans over us, shrieking gleefully as cold droplets rain down on our tanned shoulders, our stomachs, our legs.
You push me closer as the arc of water returns, and I fall onto the grass, laughing, managing to take you down with me. The sod under us is new and soft, and the freshly mown blades stick to our limbs, our bodies, our faces.
We don’t care; we have no one to impress but ourselves. We are giddy with summer, with each other. We are still on the cusp of everything.
After, you turn off the hose, and we lie on faded chaise lounges we have dragged to the middle of my yard. Our chests heave with rapid, satisfied breaths in our barely-filled-out bikini tops.
You reach out and take my hand.
“You are perfect, JL, you know it?” you say. “I have never had a friend as perfect as you.”
“No I’m not, don’t be stupid,” I snap back, wanting to untangle my fingers, detach for a moment, but you only squeeze harder.
“Well, I think you are. I wish I were more like you, pretty and free, and not afraid of anything. Like your mother. Plus, I can tell you anything, all sorts of secrets and they’re safe with you – with us.”
You think it’s a compliment when you say this, to tell me that I am like my mother. To think I am unfettered in that way. Yet even as you say it, something else lurks at the edges of your words. You have judged me, decided who I am. And, at some point, I will prove you wrong and fail you. Something scares me deeply about this truth.
“I am not,” I say, my face reddening in protest, but you don’t look to see, and even if you did, you couldn’t tell my blush from the spreading color of heat from the sun.
“Are too,” you insist. “I wish I could be more like you.”
So maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe you’re not judging me at all.
I squeeze your fingers back, wanting to agree with you instead, to get back to the lightness, and hold onto whatever spell has you so enamored with me.
Or maybe I’m weak and don’t have the heart to call out the lie, or tell you how afraid of everything I really am.