The Cold Hard Truth

In a recent post, I wrote about critiquing others’ works and getting feedback on my own work. In the last few days, I’ve been talking online with fellow querying writers, writers whose works I critiqued years ago, writers in my critique group, and writers whose work I continue to critique.

And all of this has really brought one cold hard truth to light.

I…am not a sugar-coater.

Like, for real.

I am not an easy-to-please reader. It’s not that I don’t want to love the things I’m reading. Truly, I want to.

But I also want to help make those things better, whether they’re novels, novellas, single chapters, poetry, or short stories. And if something I can say, a random thought in my head, can influence how a writer views their story’s structure, a character’s motivation, or the relatability of character arcs, then wouldn’t I be remiss not to share that thought?

And so, I have made many a writer friend cry.

But it’s not all bad.

I’m also the first to cheer on my friends and tell them when they’re on the right track. And I’m quick to remind them that my opinions aren’t “industry standard” and ultimately…THEY MEAN NOTHING!

Yes, that’s right. I just said it. My thoughts mean nothing. (Don’t tell my husband.)

Just yesterday, I had to say these very words to one of my newer critique partners who was exposed to my straight-shooting critique methods for the first time and left our session discouraged. Which means…I’ve failed as a critique partner. My goal is always to lift others up, not to cut them down.

Sometimes, just sometimes, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. I’d do well to remember it.

I promise I try to be sweet while dosing my brand of medicine. It just doesn’t always work out the way I plan and not everyone gets my kind of humor. Future critique partners beware.

On a side note, a fellow writer I beta-read for four years ago is an agented author and the manuscript I critiqued is headed to print shortly, available later this year. He reached out today to ask how I wanted my name printed in the acknowledgments section. And if that’s not the highest praise ever, I don’t know what is.

The Benefits of Friendship

I head one of the local SCBWI critique groups in my county for Young Adult and Middle Grade authors and, friends, I must confess I feel a little guilty. Sometimes, this group seems like the L. Ryan Storms writing self-improvement hour. I get SO. MUCH. from my dear friends and our talks about what elements make a piece work or why a certain chapter maybe doesn’t work.

Is it difficult? It can be. It was definitely more difficult in the beginning when I realized I’d never shared my work in person before. (Also, I’m an introvert. Did I ever mention that? Once or twice maybe?) But as time went on, my nervousness disappeared and I began to look forward to the feedback offered to me by these kindred spirits who shared my love of stories and all things story-related.

Our group is fairly easygoing when it comes to the rules, but the general idea is:

Share your work if you have something to share. Give useful, critical feedback on others’ work (no breaking spirits allowed). And brainstorm together when it comes to what we like about a piece, who the audience is, where we think the storyline should go, or how the author can make it better.

I have been so very lucky to know such talented, thoughtful individuals who are willing to read a chapter of my work each month and tell me all the things I need to hear. The good things. The not-so-good things. Because without them, I’d be lost when it comes to catching my crutch words and phrases, my overused actions, my annoying, sarcastic main character (who is a bit of a bitch, tbh), her tendency to overreact from time to time, and the annoying boy love interest who, honestly, isn’t mad enough at the world around him when he should be.

I digress. Without my dear SCBWI group, I’d be lost. I interact with at least a few “lost” writers on Twitter every week, those who aren’t sure if their material works, who feel like they’re embarking on this crazy journey alone, who cry and threaten to never write again, who fear they’ll never be as good as, as talented as, as successful as… (insert famous author name here).

My biggest advice to them is:

Find your people.

There’s so much more to explore in the craft when you do it together. There’s so much more to learn, to unravel, to dissect and put back together when you have a posse. Find your posse. Find your people. When you do, the possibilities open wide.

But Storms, how do I find my people?

Good question. For me, the answer was partially on Twitter, where I interacted with strangers who became friends over the course of both time and multiple in-person meetups and conferences. And the answer was also to join a professional organization like SCBWI to interact with others who were writing in the same age categories. I attended a meet-up or two, met a few members, volunteered to start my own critique group because none of the times/days of the other groups worked for me, and met even more amazing writers at all stages of the game.

Some were traditionally published, some independently published, some agented, some querying, some just beginning to test the waters by admitting publicly (gasp!) that they write. And therein lies the beauty of the writing community. I’ve never met a community so open – so willing – to help others along the way.

The answer is not necessarily to join SCBWI. (Though I would argue that this move is infinitely beneficial in ways too numerous to count. If you write for children or young adults, join SCBWI. Do it.) There are dozens of other professional writing organizations out there. The key is to find what works for you and jump in, whether you think you’re ready or not.

Keep learning, keep growing, keep reaching out to writers you know and writers you don’t. Read works by published authors. Beta-read manuscripts for unpublished authors. Offer valuable feedback, and get feedback on your work. Writing is a lonely craft, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely life. Friends are everywhere. Just hit that ‘Follow’ button.*

Look at all those amazing writers (and readers)!

*Okay, for real, only follow writers you want to interact with. Don’t follow creepers. Don’t follow horrible people. Don’t follow people who look like they will DM you ‘hi pretty lady.’ Don’t follow bots. Don’t follow everyone for the sake of numbers. Find your people. Now go!

12 Books—Month 8

Hooray, we’ve reached one of my favorites in my Twitter friend book reviews. This month, I read Jean Grant’s Will Rise From Ashes. If her name looks familiar, it’s because I’ve mentioned Jean before on my blog. Several times, actually, as Jean is a critique partner and beta-reader extraordinaire. In fact, I mentioned Will Rise From Ashes when I featured an interview with her several months ago.

Now I get to tell you all about how much I loved it! Will Rise From Ashes is a women’s fiction, near apocalyptic, mother’s journey and romance that will take you on a ride. (And not just because A.J., the main character, is traveling thousands of miles to find her missing son.) I’m talking emotional rollercoaster.

WillRisefromAshes_w12851_ib

Before I had kids, stories like this would have been entertaining. Now? Now they’re terrifying. As a mother, there is nothing more horrifying than the feeling of helplessness where your kids are concerned, and Grant captures it perfectly.

Our main character A.J. has already faced emotional loss with the accidental death of her husband a year prior. Now, with help from her brother, she vows to take her two children to Yellowstone National Park–a vacation they were supposed to take as a family before her husband died. There’s a catch, though. It’s not an easy trip. A.J.’s older son Will is on the autism spectrum, which makes hectic airport environments challenging. When Will has a meltdown in the airport due to a delay caused by an overbooked flight, A.J.’s brother insists that she and Will take the last two seats, that he and her younger son Finn will catch the next flight.

The only problem? The super volcano beneath Yellowstone erupts, causing devastation and havoc while A.J. and Will are safely on their way home. When A.J. learns what happened, she’s determined to get to Finn at any cost, even though all flights are grounded. She loads Will into the car and the two begin a cross-country journey from Maine to Colorado (where her brother and Finn were supposed to catch a connecting flight). If they are still alive, that’s where they’ll be.

As if the tension weren’t enough, Grant throws in a hero by the name of Reid, and a sizzling sweet romance to last the ages. It’s a fantastic read that has everything one could want in a book. I keep hoping the right person will read this and make it into a movie… (Hollywood, you hear me? I’m talking to you!)

Fresh Paint

Egads, has it really been over three weeks since my last blog post? How does time slip away so quickly? (Also, who actually says egads?)

Oh, let me count the ways…

  1. We had more hospital time recently. After his initial surgery, my husband ended up with an infection which necessitated a drain. “Drains are great fun,” said no one ever! It’s been an issue on and off for seven weeks. Read that again. He’s had a drain in his body for seven weeks. Seven. (And we were told at the beginning that it would be two weeks and gone.) Complications made it necessary to change drains repeatedly and we’ve been back and forth to Philadelphia six times since mid-July to keep tabs on the progress. Supposedly, we’re looking at having the drain removed next week, but I’m still waiting for someone to rip the rug out from beneath our feet once again. It seems to be par for the course.
  2. Remember my post about PitchWars—the contest that’s kind of like The Voice for writers? I didn’t get in. This is no surprise to me as there were nearly 3,000 writers vying for mentee positions and only 150 mentors. (I’ll let you do the math on that one.) While disappointing because PitchWars would have been a great opportunity to get extra eyes on my manuscript, not getting chosen as a mentee hasn’t deterred me in the least. I’ll keep querying this manuscript (as I have for the last couple of years) while I revise my most recently finished manuscript and work on my newest WIP. It’s all part of the job.
  3. Critique Partners. While I didn’t get into PitchWars to get mentor eyes on my manuscript, I did manage to hook up with hundreds of other amazing writers. I now have not one, not two, but three new possible critique partners. (That’s a lot of reading!) Right now, we’re in that crazy “first date” stage. We’ve exchanged first chapters and are determining our compatibility as critique partners. In a CP, it’s really important to find someone who recognizes the flaws in your writing, but who also recognizes the potential. You want someone who will cheer you on while also letting you know why a particular paragraph isn’t working or a character isn’t reacting the way it seems they logically should. Furthermore, it’s a must to have a critique partner who actually enjoys your writing and doesn’t feel it’s a chore to read your work. But perhaps most importantly, you want someone who is encouraging in every way. The last thing a writer needs is someone who will pull them down and stomp on their heart. (Really. Writers do enough of that to themselves.)
  4. School. School has been so quickly approaching that it’s taken everything I’ve got not to fight against it. I’m going to refer to the last three months as The Summer That Never Was. Because that’s how it feels. Between the rollercoaster of medical visits the past four months, all of our summer plans went out the window. (2018 had better make it up to us!) And so this last month I’ve been busy preparing for the kids to go back to school. School supply and clothing shopping completed, my kids were ready and excited for their first week back. So far, so good. (We’re three days in and no one has complained yet, but give it time. I’m betting they will by next Tuesday.)

Anyway, my point with all of this ramble? Life gets in the way. The unexpected (which really should be expected at this point) has kept me from doing the things I thought I would be doing throughout this summer.

IMG_1801And that brings me to a new point (and, consequently, the title of this post). Fresh paint. I first saw this sign when my husband was just out of his initial surgery and was being moved from the Surgical ICU wing to a regular hospital room. Six weeks later, when we came back for an emergency visit and ended up admitted because of an abscess, guess what sign was still there? Two weeks after that, when we came back because the drain had stopped working, he was in extreme pain from the abscess, and had a fever once again, it was still hanging. Three days later, and then another two weeks later still, it was there. I’d bet money that when we visit next week, that sign will still be in the same place on the same door at the end of the same hall we’ve been seeing all summer long.

Fresh paint. I’m fairly certain that the new coat of ‘fresh’ paint dried long ago. (I wonder how long the sign was up before our first visit.) The last time I saw that sign, I laughed. Somehow, in some obscure way, that sign is a metaphor for my life at this moment. That sign is the universe speaking directly to me.

There are times when it’s necessary to take on new challenges under new circumstances. And after you’ve done so, you’ll need to refrain from ‘touching’ no matter how much you want to. You’ll have to ride it out until that paint is dry. But just as importantly, you need to know when the paint is dry and learn to take control again. Otherwise, you could spend your whole life waiting for someone to tell you when it’s okay to start ‘touching’ again.

Or something like that.

Next week. Next week we go back to the hospital again. And dammit, that paint had better be dry because it’s time to start moving forward.