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It’s Worth It

May 7, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

A Fork in the Road

By Kitty Bucholtz

I turned 39 last month. For the first time. If all goes well, it’ll be for the last time. I heard your 40s are when you finally have the experience and guts to stand up and say, “This is who I am. Like it or leave it.”

I’m not sure if I’m going to do that before I turn 40 though.

I got some notes back from my agent last week and I realized that while I’ve been writing professionally for ten years this year, there are still some words that I misunderstand. Like hot. When she told me the new genre I’m writing in is hot, I was all excited because it just happened that what I want to write is popular right now.

Oh, it is. But that’s not what she meant. She meant that genre has more detailed, uh, love scenes. And from what I’ve skimmed in other books in the genre, love isn’t always a prerequisite for the action.

Oh dear. So now I have to decide how far I’m willing to go. Suddenly I feel 16 again and I’m looking at my cute boyfriend. Will mom find out? What will God think? Just how far is too far? Will I have to wait until everyone whose opinion is important to me dies? (In which case, there’s still God.) And by then, will I even remember how to do it?!

But that’s not really what I’m asking myself. I’m asking myself how far I’m willing to go to be one of the popular girls. One of the thin, blonde, pretty ones with strawberry lip gloss and a bit of mascara that they put on in the girls’ restroom so their mother wouldn’t know. Do I want to do what it takes to have lots of friends (readers)? Or will I prefer to stand off to the side, a wallflower among wallflowers, holding my values to my chest like a badge of honor, secretly wishing I could do what needs to be done to publish my stories?

I’ll tell you the truth, I’m thinking about “doing it” once to see what it’s like, to see what all the hype is about. Maybe I won’t feel I’ve crossed a line. Maybe the money will be worth it. Maybe none of my more conservative friends will think any less of me. Maybe I’ll think I’m cool. But if I decide later it wasn’t worth it, it’ll be too late.

I remember what it was like to want to be more popular, to give away my virginity and later wish I had it back. I’m older and wiser now…and I still don’t know what advice to give myself. Except that there’s nothing better than being able to look yourself in the mirror and say, “I respect myself and what I do,” and “I’m doing all I can to be a successful businesswoman and I’m proud of myself.”

A few days ago, I said to my husband, “You know, now’s the time for me to quit and become a stay-at-home mom if that’s what we want.” It was both a “last chance” moment for us to decide for sure if we wanted to be parents, and – more so – an opportunity for me to quit without answering the question – how far am I willing to go to get published?

It’s a hell of a moment…this moment. It’s “a fork stuck in the road” as the Green Day song goes. Robert Frost said the road less traveled made all the difference. Does that mean he had to have a day job?

I don’t know what I’m going to say to my agent. I don’t want to be pious or popular. I want to be me. And I know that I was created with a unique ability to create. I can’t help but think therein lies the answer. Can I be creative enough to write what the market requires in a way that doesn’t compromise my integrity?

Ask me my age next spring. If I say I’m 39 (again), it means I haven’t quite found the guts yet to stand up and be myself regardless of the cost. But I promise you this: I’ll try with all my heart to work to be that person this year. A person who counts the cost and makes a decision and doesn’t wallow in excuses. A person like that could be a good friend in life, regardless of the level of their financial success.

There will be a price to be paid to become that kind of person, that kind of writer, but I say – it’s worth it.

Kitty Bucholtz writes romantic comedies because, well, she lives one! She wrote her first book in the NBC cafeteria, the second snowed in at a Reno hotel, and the third from a tiny apartment in Sydney. Even though she loves talking about, writing about, and teaching about writing, she’s pretty sure she knows at least three people who aren’t writers.

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It’s Worth It

April 9, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

Constructive Criticism Builds Bridges

By Kitty Bucholtz

At our last RWA meeting, some friends and I were discussing manuscript critiques. A good critique can help your manuscript become all you hoped for, while a bad critique can keep you cowering for months or years, afraid to let anyone see your work again.

When I was a member of the Tempe Christian Writer’s Club in Tempe, Arizona, we had two hard and fast rules for all critiquing. One, you must begin with something you genuinely like or appreciate about the work. Compliment a bit of dialogue, the originality of the setting, an interesting character. Try not to use banalities such as “I didn’t see a single spelling mistake.” The idea is to build up the writer and give him feedback on his strengths.

Two, when pointing out an area that needs work, you must give at least one or two ideas on how it could be improved. For instance, if the character feels flat and uninteresting, suggest ideas for rounding out the character – a nervous tic, a paradoxical personality trait, a stronger motivation. If you disagree with a “fact” – be it historical or otherwise – that you believe the writer got wrong, suggest that she double check it and let it go. This is not the time or place for you to “win” an argument.

Which leads to another great critique group idea. My screenwriting group has a rule that the author must not speak during the critique. Everyone talks as if he/she isn’t even there. The author makes notes on what everyone said, then at the end asks questions for verification purposes only. This is to prevent the age-old “defensiveness” problem. When you, the writer, listen to everyone discuss your work, you are taking an active role in figuring out what the readers “got” and what they didn’t. If they didn’t “get it” from reading your work, your explanations are meaningless – so keep them to yourself. Use your energy to figure out how to rewrite your piece so that the reader “gets it” in the next draft.

Consider using some or all of these rules in your critique group. And if you’ve found other critique group ideas that work, post them in the comments section to share with everyone. If you haven’t found a critique group yet, ask around. Perhaps you know someone who has room for one more, or you could start a new group.

It can be scary, no matter who you are or what stage in your career, to share your work with others and invite feedback. These rules can help keep a positive tone in the group, but remember you are responsible for both how you speak to others and how you choose to hear what others say to you. Choose to be the critique partner known for her encouraging words!

Putting yourself out there – as a writer and as a human being – can be tough. Sometimes it seems like a much better idea to stay home, alone but safe from the stone throwing. But when I think back on the friendships I’ve made and the amazing progress I’ve seen in my work, I say – it’s worth it!

NOTE: For OCC RWA members, please post a note on The Morning Juice if your critique group is open to new members, or if you’re looking for a critique partner or group. Be sure to note your location, proposed meeting times/days/frequency, whether it’s in person or online, and any other important information such as genre or if your group is for plotting only, etc. Remember – your group can arrive early at our monthly meeting and meet in the back! Take advantage!

Kitty Bucholtz writes romantic comedies because, well, she lives one! She wrote her first book in the NBC cafeteria, the second snowed in at a Reno hotel, and the third from a tiny apartment in Sydney. Even though she loves talking about, writing about, and teaching about writing, she’s pretty sure she knows at least three people who aren’t writers.

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It’s Worth It

March 8, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

It’s Worth It

By Kitty Bucholtz

Last month, my credit card bills were higher than I expected them to be. I didn’t buy a slinky new dress or a couple of pounds of Godiva truffles. (And if I had bought the one, I probably couldn’t have bought the other!) No, I had to pay over $100 in late fees and finance charges. I was so caught up in working on my book that I totally forgot to pay the credit cards until the day after they were due.

I’m a full-time writer, and as such, I have a tendency to forget a lot of things. If I’m writing, I forget to stop for a bathroom break until it’s nearly too late. If I’m walking down the beach, I forget to turn onto my street because I’m thinking about how that tattooed guy doing the one-handed pushups could fit into my book. If I didn’t set an alarm, I’d forget to pick up my husband from work – if I’m off in Book Land.

But I say it’s worth it. Writers get to spend their time thinking about solutions to impossible situations. They get to wonder “how” and “why” and “why not” – and if they wonder aloud, people forgive them because “you know how writers are.”

I downloaded a lecture I found on the Internet by Dr. Valerio Massimo Manfredi called “Storytelling and History Writing” given at The Australian National University on September 4, 2006. He tells the audience that early storytellers had a function, “to diffuse and transmit models of behavior that were essential for the survival of those communities.” I believe this is true today.

As often as you hear the sad and tragic tale of what is going wrong in the world today, you hear someone bemoaning the fact that something must be done. Writers can be part of the solution! We can give people hope. We can remind them that anyone can be a hero. We can urge them to act, to push themselves, to work together to make the world a better place. Perhaps a teenager will befriend “the new kid” because she’s emulating the cool teenager in a book she just read. Maybe a woman will find love where she wasn’t looking because she stepped out of her comfort zone – just like the heroine in a favorite book. Maybe a writer will help combat illiteracy with an idea that just may increase their book sales as well.

I no longer feel embarrassed that I write novels. As a storyteller, I have an essential function in the community. I may spend a lot of time alone. I may forget to pay a bill or two. But I might be able to make the world a better place.

And I say that’s worth it!

Kitty Bucholtz writes romantic comedies because, well, she lives one! She wrote her first book in the NBC cafeteria, the second snowed in at a Reno hotel, and the third from a tiny apartment in Sydney. Even though she loves talking about, writing about, and teaching about writing, she’s pretty sure she knows at least three people who aren’t writers.

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