Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Westside Writers Schmooze Returns!


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Ah, Schmoozers – how we’ve missed you!  But fret not – the Westside Writers Schmooze resumes in just a few short weeks. 

Since summer’s really, really fun, we never got around to recapping the June Schmooze on revision (okay, we are sorry), so we thought we’d take this opportunity to, briefly, do that (briefly?’ll believe that when you see it, right?) and provide a sneak peek at the very exciting upcoming Schmooze year, which runs from September 2012 through June 2013.

After the usual announcements, intros, and some tales from the Critiquenic which had happened a few weeks earlier, Charlie kicked off the revision discussion with a moving metaphor.  And by “moving” we don’t mean emotion-eliciting (which, let’s face it, is not exactly Charlie’s bailiwick) we mean literally moving, like as in “change of address.”

You see, Charlie and his family had recently moved, and it got him to thinking about how moving and revision are the same (it’s a good thing Mr. Self-Involved didn’t recently have a stomach flu or the opening metaphor would have been very unpleasant indeed). 

Here’s a little of what he said:

      Why is moving so painful?  Cause you’re taking apart a life you’ve built for yourself over the years.  It wasn’t perfect; in fact there were many things you found obnoxious: the overstuffed garage, the lack of things on the wall you really like, maybe even the setup of the house itself.  But still, it was your home and, as such, it served you fairly well.  And now you’re ripping it apart, ripping its guts out, going through all the crap, and deciding… ENDLESS DECIDING… what crap you need and what crap is crap and what crap is crap but with enough emotional heft that you want to keep it with you and lug it to the new place and try to find somewhere to fit it in. 
      It’s the same with your book.  You take something that kind of holds together, you pull it into its separate parts, and then you appraise the parts.  And, like moving, once you’ve ripped everything apart and it’s lying in pieces all around you, it’s overwhelming.  How could there possibly be so many interlocking pieces to your life/book?  And now that they’re not interlocking, what, exactly, was the point of saving that walking matzo ball that’s been gathering dust on your desk for 20 years?
      After you get rid of the obvious garbage, you‘re left with daunting questions:  what do you do with the rest?  How do you decide what to keep and, if you do keep it, where you’ll put it in the new place?  Will the new place even work with your old junk?  It’s so scary that, if you hadn’t already signed the lease, you might well not move at all.  But you did, so you gotta.
      And this is where the metaphor is valuable:  once you decide your project needs work, sign the lease on the new draft.  Don’t listen to folks telling you it’s good enough if you know in your heart that it isn’t.  Sign the lease so that you know that by the end of the month you have to move your shit out of the old draft and start placing it in the new version.  You’ll be glad you did.

This launched us into a discussion of why rewrites are so scary.  Why are we so often faced with such angst? 

This novel is terrible. I can never fix this. If I try to do anything like X suggested, I will fail; maybe she can do it, but I can't. Was all my effort wasted? Will I freeze up and be unable to write anything else, ever?

The answer to why we have so much angst is something like – because we’re human, and worse creative humans.  We’re going to have our doubts, our anxieties, but we must push through the angst and get on with the business of improving our work and making it the absolute best it can be.

So just how do we do that?  How do we internalize feedback, determine what’s valuable, and apply it to our work in ways that feel organic and germane to the stories we’re trying to tell?  We dunno.  Thankfully, you Schmoozers were full of incredible suggestions:

  • Look at your emotional beats.  Are they all the same?
  • Work backwards, scene by scene, thinking in terms of cause and effect: does each scene propel the story into the one that follows?
  • Think like illustrators, who often start with gesture lines, and build from there; don’t get bogged down in the details.  (Charlie loves this one!)
  • Don’t attempt to write “the perfect draft” – they always stink.
  • You don’t need to cover everything in one rewrite.  Try tackling one set of problems (i.e. character development, plotting issues, etc.) to start.

Longtime Schmoozer and Cricket contributor Joseph Taylor wasn’t able to attend, but was kind enough to contribute (via an e-mail to Karol) some valuable words of warning about taking advice too literally.  Here's an excerpt:

A helpful critique is one in which the person offering it understands what it is the writer is trying to do, points out the good points as well as the bad, and offers suggestions for improvement where possible. 

Seeking sound feedback is not a luxury for the writer; it’s a necessity.  Still, securing feedback does not absolve the writer of revising his or her own work.  The writer who simply does what someone else suggests and doesn’t find places to improve her own work isn’t doing her job.  The writer is Reviser-in-Chief.

As important as getting feedback is, suggestions for improvement are not always on target.  While those who critique usually have good intentions, they can be hasty, not fully grasp a point of reference, or try to remake a piece the way they would do it.  It’s the writer’s job to smoke these out, and set aside such comments when necessary.  I would go so far as to say that if the writer is not rejecting some feedback, she is not engaged enough in her own revision process.

The best providers of feedback are like the best editors; they help you improve your work—sometimes noticeably so—yet they always manage to allow you to retain ownership of it.  That’s as it should be.  Those who give feedback do not have ownership of your piece; you do.

The great Ray Bradbury once offered a withering assessment of those who suggested he redo some of his work.  It can be found here:

Hence, Karol’s tip from Don Roos that she always seems to come back to:

  • Only take feedback from people who love and “get” your work.  They’re the ones who are best suited to help you improve your story.

Karol also loves these great (previously shared at a Schmooze) tips from an interview with YA writer Allen Zadoff and his publisher, Elizabeth Law, on dealing with feedback (or, as former screenwriter Zadoff calls them, “notes”). 
Allen at the Schmooze, December 2011
Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“…the ego is always hurt when first receiving notes. I think it’s natural because the author really only wants to hear one thing: “It’s genius. Don’t change a word.”

But that’s not the real world, and it’s not what makes you a better author. The most important thing I’ve learned is that the hurt reaction is just the first impulse. I don’t have to do anything about it. I let it pass like a summer storm.

Once it’s blown itself out, I move to the more interesting place of sorting out the feedback. They generally fall into four categories.

·       1. Notes I agree with.
·       2. Notes I disagree with.
·       3. Notes I intuitively feel are wrong, but I’m not sure.
·       4. Notes I intuitively feel are right, but I’m not sure.
·       As I think about it, there is a fifth category: Notes I don’t understand and I need more clarification.”

And there were LOTS of tips from other online articles and interviews as well.  Here are some links to explore:

Eventually, it was time to wrap up and say our goodbyes for the summer hiatus (though many of us knew we’d be seeing each other at the National Conference in August). 

We, your humble co-coordinators, would be remiss not to mention that we felt a great deal of love coming back at us at this Schmooze – and throughout our first full year of duty.  You’ve made our job easy and fun with your participation and general awesomeness – so we thank you!  With your continued assistance, we’re set to have another year of amazing Schmoozes.

The details are now posted on the SCBWI So-Cal Calendar (, but here are a few highlights:

  • Two (2!) Guest Speaker nights.
  • Two critiques nights – but a little later this year, since the LA County Writer’s Days are much earlier.  Both critique nights will be in time for the National Conference manuscript consultation deadline.
  • A couple nights where we take on ethics issues – sex, violence, hate speech and more.  These Schmoozes will explore the idea of how far is too far?  If we are completely authentic in our depictions of kids, teens and the sometimes shady people around them, are we somehow endorsing bad behavior?
  • Explorations of niche markets, reality-busting stories and books we just plain LOVE.

We’ll also be co-sponsoring a screening of Library Of The Early Mind with the Santa Monica Public Library.  More info on the film, described as “an exploration of the art and impact of children’s literature on our kids, our culture, and ourselves” can be found here

The screening’s set for Saturday, December 1st at 2 PM at the SMPL Main Branch (we may plan an informal Kid Lit Happy Hour event afterward as well) so SAVE THE DATE!

But, first things first.  The Schmooze resumes Wednesday, September 12th with a Conference Recap/Query How-To night, where you’ll be able to relive all the glory of the conference – or live vicariously though those lucky stiffs who got to attend – and get your questions about writing great query letters answered.  We’ll even spend some time critiquing Schmoozers’ own query letters, so it’s an evening you definitely DON’T want to miss!

We really can’t wait to see everyone again!

Until then, keep passing the open windows,
Charlie & Karol

As an added treat, here are a few Schmoozetastic photos from the conference! 

(Check out many more on Rita's blog:

Charlie & Rita hanging at the Hippie Hop.
Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012

Jeff enjoyed the Hippie Hop, too!
Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012

Rita, Lee and Sara at the Hippie Hop.
Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012

Wait, who let these zombie into the Hippie Hop?!
Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012

Karol, Rita, Mara and Jen enjoying the Crystal Kite Luncheon
Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012

The Schmooze's own Sara Wilson Etienne at her breakout session!
Photo credit: Rita Crayon Huang, Copyright ©2012