Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson

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On Giving and Receiving Feedback

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I read manuscripts for people, I always offer feedback. I also always hesitate before doing so, because I never know how it’s going to be accepted (or whether it’ll be accepted).

From me, feedback on writing isn’t a declaration or proclamation. Sometimes, it’s the start of a dialog. This is a really good thing—the feedback I give as a reader is just one person’s response to to the words. It should help the writer understand how their story is being seen, at least by one reader. This is a little fraught with peril, because as writers we know exactly what we’re trying to get across. To hear that it didn’t work, or that it only worked in part, can sting. A lot. But I decided a long time ago that as much as it hurts to find out that I didn’t get my point across, or didn’t do it well, or left a completely different impression from the one I intended, or that someone didn’t understand my character or plot point or whatever, the critique will always make me a better writer.

I’m much more accepting of concrit now than I used to be. I still look on my characters and stories as my babies, and to me they are perfect. But I’ve also learned to look on my writing as a skill, and all skills have room for improvement. I’m not perfect by any means. I don’t write a perfect first draft that leaves readers reeling in wonder and excitement. That comes in the revision phase, if it comes at all, and for that, I need reader feedback.

So when I send out feedback to people (especially those I don’t know well), I always hold my breath a little and hope they’ll take the feedback in the spirit it was intended. Not as criticism but as suggestion, ways I think their work can be improved. It’s all just suggestion! It’s all subjective! What I like, another reader might not. What I can’t stand, another reader might love. We can’t please everyone, but we can at least learn to please ourselves with our writing.

I’ve been sending out lots of feedback lately. I love when I get impassioned responses to it on a point-by-point basis, especially when the author disagrees. Why? Because if the author feels strongly enough to debate my concrit, it means I have them thinking about their approach to the story, character, or scene. That’s the kind of thing that for me as a writer, I think about for days and days until I either decide the feedback-giver was absolutely right or absolutely wrong. More often than not, I realize they were right, and then my brain can start solving the puzzle of how to fix that piece.

Yesterday I got a response from someone who (I’m paraphrasing) said they were thankful because the feedback I gave not only fit with what other people had been telling them, but that it made something click and they figured out how best to revise. That made me so happy. Because so often when I send feedback I have my fingers crossed and hope the author will understand where I’m coming from, and so often I never hear a peep. Did they get it? Do they hate me now? Was I at least a little bit helpful?

Hearing back like that made me smile. So for everyone who’s ever bothered to read my work and send feedback, a giant thank you. And for everyone who’s read my feedback and had even a tiny “aha” moment, another giant thank you for taking my thoughts into consideration. No writer could possibly be where they are without their readers and critique partners.

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Making the words sing

After my last post where I waxed poetic about some of the things I’d learned about writing, I went ahead and finished the novel I’ve been working on.

If you’re into stats…

– Started on February 13, 2017
– Daily word count goal was officially 2000 (but I like to push that)
– Finished the last scene on April 8, 2017
– I wrote measurable words 32 out of those 54 days (you can check my math, I think that’s 54 days)
– Ended up with my goal of 85,000 words, give or take a few depending on what tool I used to count them
– That makes an average of 2,656 words per day
– Highest one-day word count was 4,550
– Lowest one-day word count was 920

This is what it looks like for those like me who think graphs are awesome (not including the days I didn’t write):

But NOW!
I read the book all the way through on my tablet, made my notes, and now my favorite part: turning into something smooth, seductive, sweet, sexy, and satisfying. I already know what I need to do to turn this thing into the book I envisioned (although the characters always surprise me along the way).

And I ask myself: is this the sequel, or is my Pitch Wars book the prequel? I think this one’s even better, because I had all that experience during Pitch Wars and am now aware of some of my crutches and tendencies. That makes for a cleaner first draft, although it’s nowhere near ready to be shared.

But I know what I need to do, and I can’t wait to get started. A lot of people dread revision, but I love it to pieces. It’s where I can take the words and make them shine. And flow. And sing.

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Ahead to the Past

Last November I did my best to work through my NaNoWriMo novel. By the end of November I was just this side of disgusted with it, put it away, and decided not to take the February pledge to finish it. That was a first for me; I’ve always pushed ahead to finish my NaNo books before even when I felt they were only so-so.

Last night I pulled up the pages on Scrivener, chose a random chapter, and started reading. Guess what? I thought it was pretty damn good after all. The problem with the novel isn’t the story itself, it’s the story-within-a-story framing that doesn’t seem to work. I can take the inside story and write that by itself, and I do believe it will be a nifty little murder mystery. Once that’s done I can go back and revisit the framing and see if it needs the modern-day layer or if the 1940s story is better off on its own.

I started the novel from a single concept: a long-dead actress is destined to rest uneasily, unless she can convince a seemingly unrelated group of people to put their heads together to solve her murder. Some pieces of the modern-day story are lovely, but I might be able to weave those in without the extra complication of three sets of year 2000 characters converging.

I like ghost stories. Actually I love them, and love writing ghosts. Now that I’m warming up to revising this one, though, I might leave the ghost angle out (for the most part, I can’t make any promises about doing it for good because ghosts are too much fun to write). I can always save that part for another day.

To work! Signing off now, with much love to one and all.