Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Julia says ... Part II

I’d like to say Happy Holidays to everyone: not because I’m being politically correct but because I didn’t manage to get online to make it a timely Christmas wish to you all. I appear to have missed Christmas. I phoned home, blinked and it was gone.

I’ve now caught up with all my favourite blogs, but left very few messages – normal service will be resumed in the New Year.

Julia read the last of my manuscript (gulp). It was horrible to hand over something that I know was so rough and flawed (I’d stalled so often) but it was essential as she has pinpointed exactly why I keep stalling.

A couple of points:
  • I’ve made Bangkok my main character … when it has to be in the background and the characters in the foreground.
  • I still haven’t made decisions about plot … this is so pathetic because I’ve known this all along, but hoped the subconscious writing fairy would come and put it right. She won’t. The bitch hasn’t shown up, so now I’ve got to do it.
  • It was too episodic – I wrote it in episodes because I had no idea where or how to decide where the plot was going.
  • I need to think about containing it in time. Again, I knew I was confused about this. Months and months ago I’d printed out a grid to fill in a time plot, but guess what? With no decisions about plot, I couldn’t do it!

I felt a bit wobbly after all this, despite the fact that I knew lots of it. After our meeting, I went somewhat shakily on a trip to a mangrove forest. Lovely M kept asking me if I was okay. Yes I told him, yes, fine. I was wearing my sunglasses and staring out of the minibus window.

Of course, I didn’t think of any of the good things she said (there weren’t any in my mind at that time). I wondered about giving up – no wonder I found it so hard – I was crap and didn’t know what I was doing. I’d spent a year trying to write a book, and I still needed to start back at the beginning. I don’t know what I’m doing still …

I went off in a boat along the mangrove waterways. I’d wangled my way into the last boat with co-Skyros folk, but not those I’d become friends with, so I didn’t need to chat. I had a little think, and fought off some tears. I didn’t have any moment of clarity or anything but after the trip, I bought a diet coke and the group pottered about before getting back on our minibus. I sat back down in my seat in the rear by the window, and I suddenly felt okay again. I felt fairly cheerful; reasonably optimistic and ready to give it another go.

So the good things were: good, very naturalistic dialogue; lots of interesting BACKgrounds; fascinating subject matter because I’ve done something interesting; I can write; she likes my style; I write clearly without trying to be over clever.

And, bless the lovely Julia… she says I can email her my rewritten chapter one!!!


Leigh said...

I've never had such a critique of my work and I can only imagine how you felt during the mangrove trip. I have huge admiration for you. I admire your strength for taking the criticism on board and, for dealing with it so well and so quickly.

And, she said you can write!
What better compliment is there?

SpiralSkies said...

Crumbs, you've done brilliantly to take the positives from Julia Bell - it's sometimes so much easier to focus on the negatives and crumple up with woe.

Like Leigh says though, you can write! Julia Bell says so!! That's pretty bloomin awesome, isn't it?

It may seem slow but you're heading in the right direction and that's what counts.

Happy Holidays to you too Old Girl


Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I've had critiques like that from professional writer/teachers and have felt much the same. If it's any comfort, taking them on the chin has ultimately improved my writing, as I'm sure it will for yours. Jen is right, you did really well to hear AND remember the compliments as well as the constructive criticism. They are both like gold dust - you can use them, now, to create something beautiful.

JJ said...

Thank you guys for your reassurance. It IS hard but asking is often the most difficult. Hearing the response of someone with the benefit of more experience is sobering. But when I finally came away with determination to try again - to start pretty much back at the beginning I realised some kind of inner strengh - I do really want to do this. It is hard, I do need to learn and practice but it's quite simple really, I want to do it and I'm prepared to put in the time to keep trying.


Lucy Diamond said...

Oh JJ, I'm glad you are remembering the positives as well as taking on board the criticism. I find it hard to deal with criticism - I just want to cry or run away with my fingers in my ears!
I really hope this is just what you need to crank up the novel in Round 2.
Good luck.

Pacha said...

Now this is a critique by Julia Bell. It is sort of her job to root out problem area (she must have a sort of radar fixed to her head anyway). She isn't going to go on and on about the good things. Although I think the fact that Julia Bell says you can write and that she likes your style says it all.

Also, she wouldn't have bothered pointing out the problems if she didn't think it was worth it.

I think this is so exciting. Good luck with the re-write. My bet is that once you have the plot issues sorted you'll write it soooooo quickly.

p.s my tutor on my Masters course made me write out summaries to each of my chapters to sort out my problem with plot (I NEVER know what is going to happen and place is my main character...I don't think I changed that. I also swapped from first person present tense to third person past tense...). So difficult.

KeVin K. said...

Glad you're keeping at it. I don't take criticism well, so I don't let anyone but the editor to whom I'm pitching see any of my work. (Until it's published, of course, then I urge everyone to buy a copy.) I, too, take in the negative and tend not to notice there was something positive in the mix -- good job remembering what she said about your strengths. And one of your strengths is terrific: A naturally clear writing style. Academic writing tends to make one's prose dense and passive (I know, I had to overcome that); that you have found your voice in your first novel is fantastic. Keep writing.