Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Notes Are Attached

By Laura Spinella

In the past six months, every so often, Karin Gillespie—the founder of this very blog—has said to me, “Laura, you have toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe.” Now, it’s worth noting that Karin and I have never physically met. We live a thousand miles apart. Yet, I have come to count on her honesty, a willingness to point out my missteps before I plunge willy-nilly into a situation that, with a bit of care, I might otherwise avoid. While I’m sure Karin would also rush to my aid to warn of liquor on my breath or spinach in my teeth, what I’m really referring to here is the laborious, ego-encrusted task of writing.    
 Let me back the truck up so you can better follow my point. Our new GBC topic is about critiquing. Depending on your source, it can be a writer’s best friend or the equivalent of taking a Dremel 4000 to your teeth. Who you choose to partner with can be as important as what you decide to write. And like any writer, I don’t relish the thought, but I do embrace the fact that I’ve never learned a damn thing from a five-star review or someone gushing the words “I loved your book!” Great for the ego, the muse will ask for a raise, but the writer in you will not improve one iota. With that understood, though never really discussed, Karin and I waded into the ocean of critique--you know how those first steps go. You wonder if there will be something firm underfoot or will saltwater rush up your nose as you tumble off into the weightless abyss. Well, only time and few chapters would tell... 
       I’ll admit that I liked Karin before we began to peck at one another’s work. She writes some of the best blogs this site has ever seen and her easy-going nature transcends the written word. For the most part, I require easy-going people—probably because I am not one of them. On the whole, we all get along at the Club, but have you ever wondered how the sub-friendships might divide? If we were all at a cocktail party, in what smaller circle would you find yourself? I bet you know the answer—it’s part of what makes this blog work so well and, I think, only human nature. So in deference to full disclosure, Karin and I had exchanged emails prior to our new writing relationship. To be honest, it was more like I’d bitch to her about some writing/publishing thing that had me perplexed, upset, or looking for the correct next step. (In fairness, several GBC writer pals have also been generous with their time and advice, and I would be remiss not to acknowledge that here) But last spring, at the tail end of an email, I offhandedly said to Karin, “Hey, if you ever want to trade chapters, give me shout.”      
I really didn’t expect a reply.
Let’s remember, Karin comes with an MFA and creative writing teaching credentials while I come with an unfiltered mouth and blunt reactions. But, perhaps, Karin was the type who responded to unfettered feedback. Who was I to judge? Besides, the greedy girl in me was tickled at the prospect of someone with real writing chops reading my WIP. We even had a serendipitous starting point. Karin and I were in the draft stages of new novels. It’s not my place to discuss her work, but I don’t think she’d mind if I tell you that it’s a captivating coming of age story, laced with a page-turning touch of romance. Karin’s transplanted gift for Southern gab and ritual gives the Minnesota-born author an uncommon take on a way of life that lesser authors would need to be raised on in order to write so succinctly and true. In turn, I handed over, chapter by chapter, the draft of my new novel, which is less about coming of age and more about coming to grips with an unexpected life. And when I say draft, I was literally eight chapters in when we signed on for our experiment in literary bartering.
Here are the highlights of what I learned : 
1. When sharing with a savvy author, the motivation to polish your work rises to an unprecedented level—even in a draft stage. 
2. Shrewder word choices and the desire to fine tune mediocre sentence structure is also wildly enhanced. 
3. I cut mercilessly passages and pretty needless phrases I might otherwise have let slide for months. 
4. I thought harder about why my characters did the things they did.  I made them answer to me before they were questioned by Karin. 
5. And when we got to a plot point that instinct said was a wrong turn, Karin echoed the same sentiment. I went back to the drawing board, doubtless that a surgical rewrite was the only remedy. 
In the end, I concluded that the experiment was a success. With the assistance of velvet-gloved but precise margin notes, I completed my new manuscript. From there I turned it over to my agent with a confidence that doesn’t come naturally to me. Is it perfect?  Don’t be absurd.  Is there room for improvement?  Without a doubt.  Still, I hit Send with the advantage of a trusted outsider’s point of view.
Of course, the question remains: “What, exactly, did Karin get out of the deal?” Story-wise, she’ll have to answer—though, if nothing else, I bet she hasn’t experienced such an amiable penpal courtship since the 8th grade. It’s only been a few weeks, but at a lonely writer’s desk I already miss our back and forth banter—somebody who, for a time, was as invested in Aubrey and her ghosts as I was in Amy and her prolific journey. With the right writer on board, there’s way more than a better story to be gained from a sharp eye and friendly advice.       
And now, a P.S. in the name of shameless publicity:


Karin didn’t critique PERFECT TIMING, but she did offer a lovely blurb for my November 5th release! Pop over to my website where you can read all the book blurbs (including sweet words from other GBC members) and the first chapter! Lauraspinella.net   

19 comments:

  1. Sounds like you and Karin have a terrific thing going, and the new book looks great!

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    1. Thanks, Lauren. It was a great way to write a book, that's for sure!

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  2. Lucky you, Laura! And Karin! I'm just beginning such a thing here and hoping for the same lovely interplay.

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    1. Lucky me is right! I hope you have a similar experience, Sheila! I highly recommend!

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  3. I want to sit with you two at the cocktail party! Great post, Laura!!

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  4. Can't wait to read Perfect Timing, Laura! What a gorgeous cover :)

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    1. Hi Mina! I know you and your blog are on the list for a review copy! Coming your way soon!

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  5. Every writer needs a Karin! Great post, Laura!

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    1. Hey Maria, Every writer does need a Karin...

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  6. Laura,

    This is the sweetest post; it got me a little teary-eyed. I have to hurry up and write another book so we can begin again. Best six months of my writing life. XO

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  7. Fabulous post, Laura!
    I love point 4: "I thought harder about why my characters did the things they did. I made them answer to me before they were questioned by Karin."
    Lucky you to have found each other!
    I'm looking forward to November 5. :-)

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    1. Thanks, Orly! I bet many of us at the GBC have or could have this same experience, but I do feel lucky "showing Karin mine!" ;-)

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  8. My critique group is called Write Club. Obviously, I can't talk about it. ;-)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, love your critique group name!

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  9. Fabulous post. I'm hanging onto to my writing group by my fingernails (down to two of us).

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    1. If your fingernails give way, you just give Karin or me a shout! We'll come running!

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