Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


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Hey, there’s some sap on your back.

Okay, let’s get sappy for a moment. It’s Olympic season—let’s put a little sap into all that muscle. For two weeks most people around me are glued to whatever device they have access to, holding their breaths, and hoping their favorites take gold. Stories are being told of how these Olympians do it—how they defeat the limits of the body to perform in this unreached way. And to me these stories are the most important take-away. They tell us what it takes to succeed, to overcome.

olympic rings 2012 (8)

When I was a kid I was an avid skier. In my mid-teens I discovered ballet, and threw myself into it, giving up just about every other physical activity. After a couple of years I joined a troupe and did what we here call sports-etudes, which meant the major part of my day was spent in the studio and I was exempt from most school classes. I danced for 8-10 hours a day. I’d be in the studio when no one else was, I’d be in my dorm practicing, I would even practice in my dreams. As my studies came to an end and opportunities began opening up, my knees gave out. All that skiing, they said, followed by intense dance training. I was given a choice: give up dancing, or undergo a surgery that may leave me worse, possible with difficulties even walking. I gave up dancing.

That was my choice. I didn’t have it in me to take the risk. To these Olympians a choice like that would be a no-brainer: they’d choose surgery. If there was any chance they could continue doing what they like best they’d take it, risks be damned. Insane, some of us would think.

Now, too many years later to name, I’m a writer. I’ve been working on the same novel for too many years to name as well. I’m coming to an end of this novel, a true end. What I’ve learnt in all this process of countless years of writing is that I need the insane. I need the OCD. I need the brutality of perfectionism. I need to push and push, and loose hair and teeth. I need to cry in the dark. And more than that I need the will to keep at it.

The thing all these Olympians have in common is a belief in self. They know they can do it. They don’t care how long it will take, how much practice it will require, how much they have to give up. They can do it. A when they fall, when they injure themselves repeatedly, it’s fine, because they will heal and they will continue until they get there.

And they have one more thing. They have support. They don’t do it alone. They have family, friends, coaches, teams, who believe it them. And eventually they have a country backing them up.

At my kids’ elementary school, they’ve been going nuts with Sochi. Watching the events on Smartboards in classes. All their schoolwork has been Olympic geared for the last two months. They’ve done many written and oral projects. And the phys-ed department posted a YouTube video supporting the Canadian team.

After I watched it with my kids I told them to re-watch it, and imagine that all this was done for them—that they had all this support behind them. That they could do whatever they wanted in life, if only they have the right attitude.

I tell you the same thing: watch the video and imagine that all this is to support you and what you want to do. At the end of the video, all that screaming is to cheer you on. All the banners have your name on it. And when you’re done watching, then go, and do it, whatever it is. Because you can.


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Am I doing something wrong?

Last night I had a temper tantrum.

I realized it was going to be summer vacation in three weeks! I was supposed to be just about done my WIP at this point! The summer was going to be for beta readers and then a final round of adjustments. The thing is, you see, I’m nowhere close. I mean I’m so far from the final product that I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever make it to the end.

“I must be doing something wrong!” I yelled. “How can I be working on the same novel for so long and still be editing the beginning?”

The problem is I keep having new story, and when you have new story you have to go back to the beginning and write in this new story. 

The result is that I’m still editing Part 1. Then of course I have Parts 2 & 3 to tackle, right?

I’m often frustrated lately, I feel stuck. I’m not blocked, I’m working every moment I have, but I keep re-working things until they will be to my liking and I’m at the point where I feel this will never happen. I’m scared that the new story situation will never end, and although I fundamentally know this is not true, it still feels like it. In addition, like most of us, I feel that I just don’t have the necessary hours of work time to bring this WIP to its completion.

I ask you, are you resigned to the fact that writing a novel requires time?

I tell you that I’m not. I still fight it, giving myself unrealistic deadlines, thinking that there must be a way to do things more efficiently. And every so often I do wonder, Am I doing something wrong?

 


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Partials, alphas, and betas, oh my!

One of the things I’ve been hashing out with a of the members of my critique group is the different kinds of feedback, and the value of each.

What sparked this discussion is the fact that both of us spend a lot of time editing parts of our wips that will end up being cut, or re-written entirely.

It occured to me one of the ways to reduce this time was to have an alpha reader (someone who reads your manuscript as it is after a first draft). It was pointed out to me that not many people have the time (or the inclination, if we’re being honest) to alpha read.

I’m also not certain if having a manuscript alpha read is the best idea. It seems to me that this type of feedback can lead the manuscript in another direction: one belonging to someone other than the original author. But, then again, maybe not. Yet, more importantly to have someone alpha read for me, would be giving away precious time. Time that I would spend with my characters and in my world, getting to know them even better. I don’t think it would be worth the trade off.

I’ve had partials read, and for me personally those help point out weaknesses that I’m too close to see. Good feedback will ask me questions that enable me to dig deeper into my world. And I’ve been lucky – I have gotten excellent feedback.

Betas are crucial for me. Without them my second to last draft would be missing some of that shine. They help point out the lags, and any relationship misconceptions or plot strains. This type of feedback is invaluable, and if I had to pick only one type of feedback to receive it would be this one.

I’m convinced (most of the time) that all this editing – much of it what I perceive as superfluous – is absolutely necessary for me to get my ms to its end stage. There’s just no milky chocolate path, or yellow brick road, that enables me to bypass it. And if I consider it, I’m not sure I’d want to bypass it, after all part of what I love about writing is being immersed in my work. It’s just nice to find the tools that help along the way.

What about you, have you given or received partial, alpha, or beta feedback? And  what have you gotten from the different types of feedback?

 

 


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The artist and the mule.

Climbing out of a black hole after a sickness…..it can be a difficult thing to do….still coughing like a champion smoker..on antibiotics round number 2….wondering what kind of character I’d make in a book. I don’t recall using common illness in fiction. It’s so dull.

Two nights ago, a series I love, Writer’s Confession aired. I’ve blogged about this series before – if you ever have the opportunity to catch some it, do. It gives such a great connection, listening to succesful authors discuss the insanity of the craft. The parts of it that we question, and wonder if this is right – Should I feel this way? From what I’ve noticed writers love to talk about the craft, but they don’t like to talk about how this craft makes them feel.

I happened to catch a discussion about discipline. I was surprised by their answers.

Most said they were not disciplined at all. One author said she was obsessed. This obsession kept her coming back to her book, not discipline. Another said she was addicted to writing. She too claimed no discipline at all. Another voiced his opinion that it’s his innate perfectionism that keeps him going.

I have to admit, I’ve thought this myself. All of the above in truth. Yet……there are moments when the obsession dies, or the addiction abates, or I no longer care about perfection. At those moments, it is discipline that kicks in, that brings me back to my laptop and makes me work.

I could not help but wonder if creative people loathe categorizing their ‘creations’ with work. That by admitting writing is work diminishes the romance of it, the ethereal aspect of it. For me, writing when I don’t want to is work, hard, gut-wrenching work. Teeth pulling work. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Thankfully, those painful moments are few in between, but they exist, and without discipline, well I just wouldn’t write.

What about you – are you a disciplined writer?

Are you an artist or a mule? I’m definitely both.

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