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Chapter 12: Critiquing – sleek & meek

348 years ago my identity was firmly set as WRITER. I was Writer Girl. An unorganised cluttered life overflowing with notebooks, literature and mopey hair. The full cliche.

That was a looooooooooooonnnnngggggg time ago.

So launching back into Writer Girl mode as the older, wiser, less give-a-shitter-out-of-the-loop Writer Woman – has been a tad overwhelming. Writing is by far the easy part (except for fricken commas). Creative. Exhilarating. Solo.

It’s publically identifying as a writer that is a bit tricky.

Among the many humbling and grounding moments along this journey of remembering I am a writer, is being reminded that I am essentially a new writer with developing skills at a basic level. Probably best to stay in my lane until I sort it all out.

Fair enough.

I have been seeking like-minded writers to fast-track where I left off on my writing journey a billion years ago and it’s been an interesting re-initiation.

My goal at this point is to create, learn, grow. But, as with most things I throw myself into – I’m a tad naive on others interpretation of things – and critique seems to be the core focus of many groups.

Problem – me no likey critiquey.

Recently in my pursuit of re-acquainting myself with fellow creatives I’ve been having flash backs to young adulthood of taking on course after course, attending festivals and creative writing classes and the more things I attend lately, the more I keep coming back to the same feelings I had all those years ago.

There is a bit of bullshit to sort through.

Writers are funny creatures, especially when herded together in the wild. Some are happy to hang with like-minded souls, some keep to themselves, some need to know your credentials, some are super eager to share theirs and some are just plain old weird. For some – age and experience are paramount to a well rounded skill set and others can not help but take a preaching role. Some just go with the flow and some enjoy the social aspect of it with no plans of ever publishing a word. 

And that’s all cool.

But, from my recent observations (essentially as a “newcomer”) – there are still some things that don’t really align to this current era of progression. I wish I didn’t notice them – but I do and suddenly I’m back at Edith Cowan circa 2000-and-something with a relief lecturer taking an instant dislike to me because she could smell the Supré, suburbia and lack of malleable youth for her manipulation.

There are occasionally some vibes I sense that make me want to scream – why?? followed by balloon deflatage sounds – blpblpblopppppppphphphppppp…pp…ptf…

Yes, it’s probably all in my head – but deflating all the same.

There is definitely a beautiful, open, evolving and encouraging writing community – globally and locally that really do want to nurture and nudge you forward and applaud all your wins, no matter how small, no matter who you are.

But there is also some grey area of what an author of the now should be (or at least appear to be) and it’s super intimidating to a middle-aged nobody whose brain functions like a bowl of mashed potato most of the time. The “stuff” you should be doing if you want a career in writing – is achievable – but hella triggery. It suggests in order to succeed you’ll need the two things I poorly lack – time and funds. Read local, read your genre, immerse yourself so deep into this world until you walk as one of them.

Virtually impossible when you’re time-poor, skill-poor, mentally poor and poor-poor.

Of course I am generalising and drawing heavily from a few past negatives and this is very much – wuss-talk. My experiences in the last six months have mostly been amazing and the resources on offer in these spaces are truly inspiring. I’ve met some beautiful people.

And as the post title suggests – I struggle with critiquing and it being an expectation when joining some groups. I’m just not a fan because I’m really no good at it and I can’t think of anything more squirm inducing than to tell someone what my brain is really thinking (if it’s thinking at all) even if I sugar coat it.

I get the benefits for both parties and valuable source of growth – but all I want to say is “I really loved it” and wrap the writer up in a fluffy cloud of encouragement. Because just to get here to even listen to you had me walking out on screaming kids, a pending divorce, a vengeful pug, a backpack full of aging dreams and more guilt-fueled angst that should have re-routed me to an asylum. I just presume everyone else is experiencing the same.

Why can’t I just stroke stories accordingly and nourish pdf’s with unicorn sparkles.

Apparently not everyone is grappling the same exit experience and grabbing a big wad of cotton balls and lovingly pasting them all over the author – is not what writers want.

Mollycoddling is useless and you can see the deflation – they’re hungry to know what people think. They want the validation. They want the discussion and dissection, because after obsessing over whatever it is they’ve written, the writer wants feedback. They need it. They crave it. They may feel entitled to it. Some are even a bit – I’ve done my job – now do yours.

I’m just really, really useless at this – especially via the ear. I’ve never been a good verbal comprehenderer. Words only seem to get converted to thoughts if I’ve read them and even those are suspect. Hello re-reading the same sentence 593, 000 times until it computes.

I also wonder – how can anyone truly be present to the piece while frantically writing down questions and thoughts and still have the clarity to take in the work in its entirety? Are you Sheldon? Words will be missed, sentences, subtleties that can only be picked up if you are reading it yourself. It’s like reading a book at a train station as opposed to reading it alone in bed. No matter how good it is, your other senses are going to be distracted. It’s a big ask of any brain. Mine is just shit-all useless with that level of multi-task.

There was a strong sense of urgency for me to get a hold on critiquing which I immediately clammed up at the pressure to conform and perform. Regardless of my feelings on it – I’m finding I don’t have the time to master this skill – and it is a skill – nor do I actually want to.

I probably don’t want to know what you think about this sliver of an example of my work anyway – at least not until it’s super polished, or draft 2 or 3, or the critique is ongoing – which is a huge investment I wouldn’t expect of anyone, save an editor or the dream – a publisher. It’s a bit like asking a painter to have their work looked over when it’s half done.

All I’d like to know is –

Is it clunky?
Does it sound shit?
Should I pack it all in?
Do you think I’m insane?
Feel free to red pen my appalling grammar, punctuation etc 

Truly, I understand the benefits of having work critiqued – especially when the focus is to elevate and assist and I am grateful to ANYONE who can spare the time to give me a slither of feedback. But, until I gain confidence in my own writing – I question how I can properly critique someone else’s work and whether I want to use that time honing a skill that takes me away from writing.

UPDATE

I did find the most wonderful writers group filled with beautiful, supportive souls who appreciate my limitations, challenge me with encouragement and helpful advice. They are very elevate-y and forward and honest. They are my friends, my circle, my  writing tribe.

Some of the best advice I was given from a member (a mentor) was –

“Don’t take critiques and/or advice as gospel. At the end of the day they’re other peoples thoughts, opinions and perceptions of your story. They can most definitely be very wrong and damaging. Listen to your gut and do what you think honours your work and if that means ignoring it all, so be it. Don’t worry about offending anyone – only you truly know your story.”

That’s not to say I don’t take on board every little thing that is said about my work, I absolutely appreciate every critique and bit of advice given – none of which is EVER ego based. A group not focused on others backgrounds was definitely helpful.

AND I am a far more confident critiquer – because of this welcoming, not remotely intimidating group of women – who understand, respect and appreciate each others skills, abilities, where each one is at on their journey, their limitations and individual styles. It’s liberating and the perfect environment to hone skills and learn new ones – even previously loathsome ones – like critique, which I’ve embraced. 

To anyone out there alone on their writing journey who may be seeking a little human writing contact, keep looking. You are not bound to remain in any group, but there is likely to be one with like-minded people.

Everyone has a tribe. If not – start your own.

I still have no idea where to put commas though. Tormenting little fCkers.

Onward

Chapter 11: Dear Jennifer Lawrence

I despise the word “fitness”. It awakens in me an adolescent dragon I’d rather leave to slumber in the sub-cockles of my past.

Equally obnoxious trigger words like – “active wear” and “burpees” give me the voms (who felt compelled to name a torturous maneuver after re-fluxing babies anyway?) and images of taut, healthful looking aliens lifting crazy shit or contorting themselves into poses requiring earth defying feats of strength?

No thank you.

Not for me-me.

Nothing against the amazing people that are into all that cargo ship rope lifting – it’s the thought of me partaking in it… just so we’re clear. It’s all peace here active people. Read on…

This detestment has not derived from being an excuse-making hater of physical exertion, rather from a lifetime of training for sports I was woefully ill equipped to achieve in.

News flash – just because you are tall – does not mean you are going to be good at basketball.

When you’re tall you’ve got further to fall and when you’ve been falling/tripping/stumbling for the majority of your life – it’s just sensible to remove yourself from situations that promote said acts.

Like cross fit, or cycling, or running, or weights, or cardio, or absolutely anything involving competition because it is an unkind reminder that you are the poster girl for failure and injury is imminent. Why risk a boobie-trapped pathway lined with an un-ended amount of disastrous scenarios – when you attract that shit like an unco magnet. I’ve accepted this trait. Why test fate?

Years of running laps around ovals and courts and drill after drill both indoors and out in the wretchedest of elements. Battered and bruised from falling onto wooden floor boards, hard ass concrete, grass (which no matter how easy footballers make it look – when you go down it still friggen hurts) and my all time favourite flesh tearer – bitumen. It really should be illegal for anyone – let alone children – to play sport on gravel. For the uncoordinated it’s a bloodbath waiting to happen.

So, after exhausting all of these non-options, the choices to improve ones healthful well-being, were slim. This was my issue after the birth of my daughter when I was forced to “shape up” after I had been employed as an instructor for a children’s dance/fitness class. Oh the irony.

It was also around this time that I watched Silver Lining Play Back and while it lived up to its hailing hype, the takeaways I took from it were life changing.

Jennifer Lawrence’s line –

“I’m not that great of a dancer, but who cares – it’s therapy and it’s fun”

was the hook I finally needed. It seriously changed my life and the way I viewed myself within it.

It’s awesome to reflect on poignant moments when a magical switch lights up your brain pushing you to take up challenges that once seemed beyond your capabilities. And seeings as the majority of my life choices have been fairly shit, it’s gratifying to look back and appreciate the ones that actually panned out semi-successfully.

I know she was acting a part, but it was so believable and hearing those scripted words come out of her black haired, five foot nine familiar frame – was what I needed at that moment in life. It enabled me to ponder my own love of dance and to summon the courage to google local dance studios and enrol in a class.

The first night of my first ever adult dance class there was a storm from hell going down. I could barely drive the car. I made my way through it to arrive at a backyard studio, plastered in Bollywood paraphernalia and a bubbly instructor who was deliciously intoxicating.

I was immediately addicted and it was one of the most wonderful and exhilarating nights of my life.

What started as a random hobby became my passion and opened up a world I had denied myself since childhood. A world of self-belief and a shit tonne of bling.

I often wonder had that movie not resonated with me in that moment, or had I missed it – would I have still gone down that path with the same gusto? Probably. But I’d like to thank Jen anyway and when I write my So You Are… A Dancer! I’ll be sure to credit her.

Dancing helped me dust off dreams from the archives – including writing – and it is my go-to for writers block as well as that dreaded word – fitness.

So, sincerely…

Thanx heaps Jennifer Lawrence for the greatest gift of all – dance… and Katniss. Sorry. Too legendary not to mention.

x

Chapter 10: Dear Stephenie Meyer

We should give Stephenie Meyer a break

In light of the 10 year anniversary of the first Twilight movie, I think this is a good time to re-visit my own quiet little moment on the series – both books & films.

I think poor ole Stephenie Meyer has been copping the raw prawn for too long and that includes her own self-bashing she was probably compelled to do less she look like a diva.

Here’s my riveting account why I think we should re-adjust the poo-pooing of her writing.

Many years ago I gave birth to my son and discovered the Fleet Foxes. It was a big year. The trials of late night breastfeeding soon had me sniffing around for something to sink my literary teeth into and to stop me from falling asleep atop of my suckling infant.

My husband being an EXTREMELY light sleeper and my son a grunting little spring piggy at feed time, was not an ideal combination. The tv in our room was like the sun and mobile phones were no where near as capable as they are today, so I needed another option.

I went on the hunt for a good book I could read usually around 2:30 in the morning that didn’t require a degree in English.

My friends recommended Twilight…

“Can’t write worth a damn”

… well if Stephen King says so.

I must admit, a few years ago when taking one of my first photos for social media of piles of books stacked in our new laundry – I removed the infamous black books from the frame. I honestly don’t know why. I had carried them around like the bible when I first got them. Someone offered to lend me their copy which I declined. I wanted my own.30421802_810507125799552_913214165_n.jpgThese Stories that once had pride of place have, up until very recently sat on the floor level cube of our old Ikea bookshelf – until I dusted them off today.28942134_795472030636395_2043275195_o.jpgThe final movie had a big sway over my thoughts toward the series. The craft of the first film was a shadow of the last – which seemed the poster girl of money murdering art.

At our writers group the topic of Twilight came up very briefly and it was both in the yay and the nay. Nay regarding the “appalling writing if you can even call it that” and yay that the author went on to make a bucket load of money and reaped much success with “little skills”.

From the direction the conversation briefly took there must have been a previous session where the books were discussed and by the sounds of it ripped apart. Which, no matter how much success she has had – this seems to be Stephenie Meyers fate forever more – to be the punch line and punching bag of writers who make it big on supposedly talentless, souless formulas and ‘weak-minded’ target markets like “tweens & moms“.

By the time I started to read the series the first movie had begun. I am always late to mainstream hysteria – it makes me nervous and as I was experiencing my own pregnancy excitement, the whole Twilight thing was a bit of a nothing for me.

It wasn’t until I went to visit my dear friends with my freshly baked bub that I learned the true power of these books and of the beginnings of the “Twi-moms” thing.

My “Twi-Mum” mates happen to be VERY strong, resilient women who do not suffer fools. They have a bullshit-less approach to life and whenever we are together I get a headache from all the laughter we share. I love them both so much and wish they were more a part of my crazy life.

Moving on.

“Know Your Market”

…they say.

These ladies were the last people on the planet I would expect to be fangirling over a friggen book. It was a shock that they even read books, which both of them admitted they didn’t and this was one of the first things they had read – unforced – since high school, that they couldn’t put down.

Stephenie Meyer, a mum herself, wrote to escape and probably relive her own youthful self into a romantic world in all its imagined glory. That’s what writers do, right?

And lets face it, as your partner rolls over and goes into a snoring slumber – that’s what millions of women do too. Design fantasy worlds of their own delicious creation where we are younger, hotter, tauter and Jake Gyllenhaul is all up for some of that. And it appears many of us were yearning for some old-worldly, genteel fashioned chivalry from a bronzed quaffed pasty vein chomper.

That’s what hooked non-readers like my friend. Meyer basically recreated a grungy 90s teenager who appealed to a shit tonne of women still young enough to relate fondly. Bella reflected their former selves, or a similar version. Everyone was irritated and felt out of place in the 90s and if you weren’t you were aware of the greyness of being a gen x/gen y teen.

Whether intentional, or heavily influenced by her Mormon faith is irrelevant. Her tale of aloof love reeled in every walk of life from the educated, to atheists, to the breastfeeding Mum’s who didn’t want to wake up their grumpy-ass husbands in the middle of the night.

For my friend – cemented in suburbia, choring out all the mundane domestic bullshit of her day – this was an awakening. Suddenly words were written on the page in such a way that she was no longer scraping dry cornflakes off the back of a chair – she was falling in love in the crisp forests of Forks with the rarest creature of all – a hot male with manners.

Not only did it feel like it was happening to her, she started behaving like she was Bella Swan, swooning over Edward and fluttering on about their love. My girlfriend couldn’t have given a rats arse about the feminist aspects (or lack of), or Edwards apparent controlling behaviour, or the supposed weak elements of Bella’s character. The flawed, clutzy and needing-to-be-rescued-by-someone-who-treated-her-with-graceful-delight was the shit she found appealing.

She would probably smack a soppy vampire out if she came across him. But a polite, attentive, sweet, tender caring human is so far removed from her reality, she relished in what made others cringe. She felt lighter and every time on re-entering the books, the monotony of her life floated away.

No wonder millions of women succumbed.

Hind site makes every second Joe Blogger an expert (she says expertly blogging about it), however if a positive came from the phenomenal success of Twilight – it was that ordinary women picked up a book, actually read it and experienced the magic of escaping.

Who gives a shit if it wasn’t a literary masterpiece. I didn’t mind her writing, she writes how she talks and it was relatable. I’ll admit I too fell a little under the Twilight spell and it definitely lifted my breastfeeding game.

If I am truly honest, the light and sweet stories soothed my undiagnosed PTS and I adored what she created. I cared and loved her characters and still do. It was therapeutic escapism. Isn’t that what a good book is all about? Escaping?

She was also one of the main reasons I slowly took up writing again. Not in a – if she found success then I can definitely do it too – way. Clearly. No. It was that she was a normal woman who had a dream – an actual real one, flipped it and had success.

And that’s what I think is misinterpreted. She wrote a story with a voice that spoke to the average person who remembered that delicious, youthy feeling of loving, lusting and obsessing over someone.

My only gripe is a common one – the over use of unequivocally and irrevocably. Good bloody grief. But who the hell am I to judge – I haven’t even written a book let alone had it poorly edited.

A good writer is a magician. A good writer will transport you to a place you want to return to. A good writer will have you thinking of their world and its inhabitants for weeks, months, years after.

Stephenie Meyer had a crack, spoke to the masses and reaped the rewards. An ordinary Mum who was once an ordinary teenager, had a story to share that came from a place not driven by monetary gain, nor literary notoriety.

Perhaps later on her mindset shifted and who wouldn’t take advantage of a formula that not only pleases so many – but sells a shit tonne of books and gets you movie deals.

The rise of the AI author is upon us and no doubt they will be looking at formulas and algorithms of authors like Meyer who, no matter what anyone may think of her writing style, had a global literary impact.

If anything she should be applauded for giving so many the opportunity to enjoy the sheer pleasure of reading. Women and girls who may have never found such joy in the written word, had Meyer not penned her stories.

This will be a series I’ll encourage my daughter to read when she shows an interest in books… or boys… or girls… or vampires… or really shockingly bad CGI enhanced werewolves and hybrid infants.

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Welcome back to the coffee table Stephenie

 

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