Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2014: The Year of the Thick Skin

Happy New Year to you all!

I do love this. A fresh page in the new diary. A lovely stretch of unspoiled snow. A brand new year ahead, full of optimistic wonder.

Do you have a spare axe handy? There's a pedestal needing cut down.

The diary will soon go through the painful transition between neat writing and the kind of scrawling even a doctor would struggle to translate. The snow will be tarnished with clumpy footprints and angel wings, before it melts. And although I've made plenty of goals for the year, I know fine well I'll forget half of them come February.

When I was nine years old, I was given a flute. I learned the basics very quickly, and had an affinity for it, but my flute teacher despaired. 'You're looking too far ahead, Catherine, stay in the bar you're in.'

I daresay not much has changed. So I hereby drag myself back for a moment to look at some of the defining moments of my writerly life from 2013:
  • I joined the Johnstone Writers Group, discovered my writing was shite, and was given (and continue to receive) great feedback.
  • I enrolled in a writing class at Glasgow University, found out my writing was still shite, and was given more feedback. A lot of it.
  • I submitted a short story to the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award (in which I was shortlisted last year), with my newfound wisdom and finesse, and received a generic rejection email.
None of that sounds particularly positive, does it? But it is. All of it is entirely necessary for me.

The writing class only finished last month, and on my last day I sat in a room full of people and listened to them slaughter the opening chapter of my novel for the best part of an hour. Don't get me wrong, they were entirely correct, and I scribbled away, thanking them profusely, but I was shattered. I drove home in a daze, wondering how I could still get it so utterly wrong after all this time; after all those hours in the library; after all the lunch breaks and morning pages? I showed up and put the work in, sake! So how could I still be so off the mark? 

I don't mind admitting this now, but when I got home from that class I threw my papers down, buried my face in Colin's neck and sobbed. I was a crushed wee petal.

I'm so glad it happened.

I have a copy of that critique, with all its glaring issues, and I use it when editing my work. I've been using it to polish the short stories that are lining up, waiting to be submitted to some of my favourite online literary journals.

All the feedback I've been given this year has shaped my writing in some way or another, but it's time to shut the door for a while. I can see the light, my flaws are exposed, and now I need to work on them. The novel needs a bit of an overhaul, and some of the scenes need rethinking. But I know the story is good. I know the ideas are good and I need to remember that.

You can show up at the writing table 24 x 7, but it's pointless if you don't have confidence in your own ability.

This time last year, I wrote about having to curb my impatience when it came to my writing accomplishments. I was obsessed with publication. But it has to be said, publication (for my novel, at least) is not my priority at the moment. I do want it, of course, but there are more pressing issues at hand. If publication is the Heaven, then writing well is the pearly gate I'm trying to unlock.

This quote by Ira Glass sums up everything for me. Everything!

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

And so I wish you all a productive and confidence-filled 2014. I'd love to know: how has your writing been shaped? Would anyone like to share their critiquing horror stories?

Take care
Catherine x

P.S. Look what someone got for Xmas!



Anne Mackle said...

Catherine,I think you are so hard on yourself. To have your work critiqued like that in a classroom is not very nice but you came through it,had a wee cry and dusted yourself down,now it's time to start again,remember everyone likes different things from a story you may just be telling it to the wrong people. Look at the best sellers of today,do you love all their books? Don't get me started on Fifty Shades, how that ever passed an editor I'll never know. So onwards and upwards, believe in yourself and your writing and Im looking forward to reviewing your first novel. Have a great 2014 x

Amanda Saint said...

Hello Catherine. Great post and I'm sure your writing isn't shite! I had a moment last year when I decided to abandon the novel I'm working on - it's not good enough, it doesn't say anything, it's not who I am as a writer. All of that! Then I calmed down. Spoke to an editor who reviewed things with me and I'm carrying on. But I know that the earlier chapters I wrote need throwing out and starting again. But on a brighter note I did get 2 short stories published in 2013 :-)

Vikki said...

This is a great, honest post. I've been wtiting since I can remember (probably from the age of 7) but it wasn't until my 20s when I started to get really serious, and let my work be read by others in writers groups, that I started to really develop it. What I would say is that you soon learn to recognise the useful criticism, and ignore the unhelpful criticism, and then you learn to trust your own instincts about what is working and what isn't. Also giving work a bit of distance is essential too, beore unleashing it on the world, as then it hurts a bit less when someone pulls it apart:) I've still got loads to learn, but I find the more I write (and read) the more I seem to 'get' it and want to keep going. Good luck with your writing! Sounds like big success is just around the corner...

Michelle Wallace said...

Hey Catherine, I'm popping in to wish you a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2014!
And I also had a piece accepted by Pure Slush two months after you... I'm off to check out your story!
Take care.
Writer In Transit

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