Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finish Your Novel with Group Dating

I recently joined an online group of published women writers. They share tips, offer support and also get together for in-person group writing dates. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to join in. Writing groups can certainly be helpful and I’ve participated in many, but after having spent the past two years in an MFA program I’ve been feeling thoroughly workshopped out. It’s been kind of nice to once again be alone with my writing and not having to deal with critiques and suggestions, however well meaning.

I found out, though, that these meetings are not feedback sessions or workshops. Writers simply get together at a coffeehouse or cafe and write. They might take a break to chat a bit, but no one is required to even talk about what she’s working on unless she wants to.

So I decided to try. I usually do my writing from a home office, which I am lucky to have. But along with experiencing occasional feelings of isolation, there are way too many distractions at home, not to mention the sometimes ho-hum familiarity of my surroundings that can hamper creativity. I find that meeting at different places—having somewhere to go—has sparked my writing life. Sitting and working quietly with fellow writers has also improved my productivity. Knowing that Phyllis is revising her poetry, Mary plotting her mystery, and Susanne and Cyndi are hard at work on their novels inspires me to hunker down and get moving with my own novel-in-progress. I feel that if they can do it, so can I, and I get more writing done now in two hours at these group writing dates then I sometimes do in a whole morning fiddling around at home.

So if you’re having trouble buckling down to write, you may want to try going out on a date—a group writing date.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Simon Cowell as Acquisitions Editor

One of my pleasures is watching American Idol. Notice I didn’t say guilty pleasures— I refuse to suffer guilt over any of my pleasures. At any rate, I’ve been watching the show since the very first season, and have rarely missed an episode. I don’t consider AI a reality show; it’s simply a singing contest, right out of Star Search or even the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. And one of the reasons I enjoy it is because I have participated in a number of singing competitions (albeit Japanese ones). Japan has always been a land of musical contests—my first trip to Tokyo was the result of winning a prize in a songwriting contest sponsored by a Japanese record label, where I was able to sing my song in the final competition (I ended up with the Best Spirit ranking, not the Grand Prix. Alas, I did not become Japanese Idol). Knowing first hand the pressure of performing under such circumstances allows me to relive this vicariously while watching Idol. I’m amazed at the poise of some of the very young contestants. It’s also exciting to see fresh new talent (I generally skip over the train wrecks, which don’t interest me).

But watching AI over these recent weeks as the show has been going through the motions of accumulating its Top 12 for the season (which turned out to be a Top 13), I realized another reason why I like it so much; it proves time and time again how subjective the music industry is and in turn also mirrors the experience writers have with the publishing industry. It’s very much like trying to get an agent for a book or a publishing deal—often there is no rhyme or reason as to why some books get chosen and others are left in the dust. Why, oh, why, viewers moaned, did Jasmine get picked over Jesse when the latter has such a better voice? Jasmine, as new-judge Kara DioGuardi likes to say, “has the whole package”— young, cute, and commercial (she was voted off by the public, however). Jesse was older, quirky, and probably wouldn’t be a big seller. Megan is quirky too, but she made the Top 13 because she’s blonde and beautiful. Bloggers are asking, have the judges been too easy on Scott because he’s blind? Maybe so, but what a hook: a curly-haired guy with an angelic face who doesn’t appear to be vision impaired.

Perhaps I find comfort in Simon Cowell's harshness since I've weathered so many rejections. For all the hype and glitz of AI, a lot of it mirrors real life, whether it be that not all dreams come true or that sometimes those that do don't turn out as planned, or the old adage, be careful what you wish for. As an AI contestant or anyone trying to make it the arts you have to be flexible enough to roll with the punches and possess the right doses of realism, optimism, and pessimism and develop a very thick skin.