Friday, December 19, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: Rainy Day Dogs

First, a confession: the title is misleading. Every German Shepherd Dog we’ve owned has not cared at all about rain, even Oka, who thought water on the ground was poisonous. Puddles, lakes, the ocean – not going there. But water from the sky seemed to be unworthy of notice. It is, however, noticed by the resident monkeys, who have devised utterly senseless rules regarding what must be done before entering the house.

First, the rubdown. There is no need for this from the dog’s perspective. German Shepherd Dogs have double coats: an outer coat of long hairs that form a water-repellant layer, and an inner coat of soft, fluffy fur. (When bathing the dog, it takes forever to wet the inner coat and even longer to rinse it and even longer to dry it. Fortunately, GSDs “blow their coats” – explosively shed the under layer – twice a year, so there’s no need to bathe them often.) So the dog’s skin is dry and warm while the outer coat gets covered with drops of water. Tajji sees no reason why she must be massaged with a towel, but she enjoys it anyway. Then comes the belly and inner sides of her legs, also fine. Then lower legs and paws.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Midwifing a Story: Beta Readers and Critiquers

A “story midwife” is someone whose insightful feedback helps the writer to make the story more fully what it is intended to be. A while ago, I wrote about Trusted Readers, the unsung heroes of this process. Sometimes they receive thanks in the Acknowledgements page of a novel, but rarely for a short story. Now let’s talk about more visible helpers: beta readers and critiquers.

Most of the time, there is little functional difference between beta readers and critiquers. Both read a story in draft form and respond with comments and analysis. Unlike a Trusted Reader, a beta reader or critiquer is usually either a writer or someone knowledgeable about the internal workings of fiction, like a professional editor. So the feedback may go more along the lines of technical criticism and less a generalized “this didn’t work for me.” A  beta reader acts like a Trusted Reader-with-expertise, whereas a critiquer focuses on pinpointing weaknesses and often suggesting solutions, many times in a workshop or other group setting. For this blog post, however, I’ll use the terms interchangeably.

Critiques often take place in a structured setting, such as a workshop. My first experiences with exchanging critiques were done through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, a by-mail-with-newsletter forum run by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury (back in the 1970-90s or a little beond, if I remember correctly). I’ve also attended ongoing face-to-face workshops, as well as weekend groups at conventions. All have involved both giving and receiving critiques. Like many writers, I have cultivated a small group of “go-to” beta readers. Although it’s often not stated explicitly, the understanding is that over the course of time, each of us will critique a story from the other. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Career Chat: Writing Progress Goals

One of the most common questions I get asked is how I schedule my writing time. Non-writers often think we either write only when the muse strikes (and then, accompanied by quantities of alcohol, swathed in tobacco or other botanical smoke, and living in the most depressing garret imaginable, surrounded by the wreckage of countless relationships) – or we get up at 7, sit down at the computer/typewriter at 9, take a one-hour lunch break at noon, and work steadily  until 5. I am quite sure there are writers who do follow those schedules, but I’m not one of them.

 Some writers need long stretches of time to dig deep into their stories. I’m not one of them, either. I’m a slow-and-steady plodder. There’s nothing right or wrong about either way; each writer discovers what’s right for them. So the following comes from my own experience.

If I’m going to write a novel and a couple of short stories every year (or two novels in 18 months), I need to write consistently, especially when I’m in the early drafting stages. All bets are off when I’m writing proposals, rewriting, or revising to editorial order. Most of the time, I find daily goals helpful, so long as they are achievable. I don’t find it at all supportive to post my progress in terms of words of pages. One writer of my acquaintance used to post not only words written but anti-words; words the writer had deleted. I like that the writer acknowledged that not all progress can be measured by the total number of words.

A better goal for me is to write well.