Who Knows What It Is They Don’t Know?

If you are a Millennial, the digital age exploded around you, collected you to its bosom and invaded your very DNA with the almost innate ability to understand. If you were born between 1980 and today, you are a digital native, born speaking the language.

Remember when you had to either write that 350 page novel in longhand and then laboriously type it out, or pay a professional to do it for you? I didn’t think so. Most of you aren’t that old.

I remember taking typing class in high school. Typing. On a typewriter. With paper. No delete key.

As far as I can tell, everyone these days is born knowing how to perform all keyboard functions, from typing to grabbing a screen shot. And using Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

I’m a digital immigrant. I have basic knowledge of the language but I’ll never become truly proficient. I know nothing about the mysterious workings of computers, software, or the Internet. I know just enough to get into trouble when it comes to my Mac, and not nearly enough to access the no doubt wonderful performance features within the machine.  I am able to read, write and reply to email, navigate–in the most basic way–around the interwebs, and (kinda sorta) use a writers tool known as Scrivener to produce fictional worlds for my readers.

The list of things I don’t know and can’t do is far longer. In fact, I’m so ignorant that I don’t even know what it is I have no knowledge of. I know, I know. That sentence makes no sense whatsoever. Like I said, I’m completely ignorant. Cut me some slack, would’ya?

I know this much: I still know how to type thanks to Mrs. McCulley in 10th grade, which was 33 years ago (do the math). I know (kinda sorta) what a hard drive is, and how to open a browser. I even set up this WordPress account so I can blog about things I know nothing about.

I also blog about things I know something about.

But not today.

Follow the Rules?

As a writer, I belong to critique groups. Most of you probably do as well. I love to receive feedback. Invariably, someone in the group points out a glaring plot hole, unrealistic dialogue, a timeline glitch or any number of other problems that appear in 1st drafts.

I love to offer feedback. I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to pointing out problems but I alway find something that makes me smile and shake my head in envy of another writer’s way with description or sensory details, with dialogue or characterization.

One group is old school and follows the standard rules. In this setting it makes sense because we have a large membership and we try to accommodate every writer at every meeting, which means that comments must be succinct and on point. No rambling off-topic diversions please. Much as I love the folks in this group, rambling, off-topic diversions are a regular occurrence. Since we are congenial to a fault, no one takes offense if we run out of time before they’ve had an opportunity to share.

The other groups I belong to are more freewheeling and loose. There are snacks and drinks. We engage in conversation with the writer, offer constructive criticism and ask questions, which leads to more conversation. In general, we play off one another until we’ve sucked up too much time and  over-shared ideas for improvement and strengthening the manuscript in question.

Both methods are workable, depending on your group composition, the amount of time you have available, the patience of individuals, and the willingness of each group member to accept and offer criticism without taking or giving offense.

We discourage control-freak behavior and gently dissuade those who want to inject personal experience into another’s fictional world, ask if the work is autobiographical, or based on something that really happened. Save those questions for after the meeting. Never forget that writing fiction involves making stuff up. Stick to pointing out places you got lost or confused, or places you felt the writer fell into ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’.  Give praise for a turn of phrase you particularly admire, or a setting that puts you body, heart, and soul into that place and time.

We all desire to improve our craft. And allowing our critique partners to see what we’ve produced should open our eyes, strengthen our writing and help us get from the Page One to The End.

Having Friends Who Understand is the Best Thing Ever

As a writer, I often find myself sitting alone in a room, trying to decide the best way to torture my characters, throw roadblocks in their path and otherwise make them miserable before they finally win through to their happily-ever-after.

The solitary art of making things up doesn’t come easily, and I’m often frustrated–or distracted–by other things. Any shiny object in my peripheral vision (I’m easily diverted) throws me off the track.

When this happens, I reach out to friends in my writing community. They are always willing to listen, offer advice, give me figurative pats on the back and generally redirect me. We share excerpts from our works-in-progress, discuss craft, conferences, editors, the state of publishing today, and our plans for the future.

In future plans, we’ve discussed a retreat to a Swedish summer cottage. Spending several days writing, drinking wine, sharing, and exploring the countryside sounds conducive to writing, doesn’t it? It does to me. I can’t wait. Of course, the planning, arranging, packing, and all the rest that goes with an overseas trip will take time–time that could be used for writing.

Did I mention I’m easily distracted?