It’s been about ten months since Commando Grace won Write Club 2015, but apparently, sometime last summer, I sat and jotted down a few observations from the contest. Then, I got up, went on with life, and forgot to finish and post my thoughts.
Procrastination? Perhaps a little.
At any rate, I polished and updated my thoughts and decided to share them anyway. Maybe some kindred procrastinating spirit will put this post in their TBR pile and finally get around to reading it just in time for Write Club 2017.
Without further delay…
1. First and foremost, DL Hammons and his wife are pretty spectacular! I cannot fathom all the work they put into this contest, and I’m grateful for their arduous work throughout the many weeks of Write Club.
2. There are some great writers out there. I enjoyed reading the various entries, and was disappointed more than once to have to choose between two excellent pieces.
3. You have to bring your best. Because of #2 (and because I border on perfectionist at times), there can be no half-hearted entries. Great writers make great observations, and the Write Club voters were sure to point out any issue a piece might have.
4. Sometimes critique is a matter of personal taste. It was interesting to see how each piece (not just my own) went down. Almost invariably, some people loved a piece, while others… not so much. The takeaway is an important lesson for all writers: This is a subjective business. What resonates with one person may very well make another shudder in disgust. Similarly, style choices that delight one reader may make another want to throw a book across the room. You will never please everyone.
5. But sometimes critique is invaluable. I’m sincerely thankful to the voters who pointed out a major flaw in one of my pieces. It was a scene in a bookstore in which two sets of teenage girls face off. One of my girls said some things that were, frankly and without defense, out of character. That scene has been rewritten in such a way that Molly does not succumb to the mean girl posturing going on around her, but rather leads Grace away with dignity and gentleness, in keeping with Molly’s nature. The rewrite made the story so much better, and I’ll always be grateful to the voter who pointed out my mistake.
6. You have to know the difference between #4 and #5. A writer must neither take every word of criticism as truth nor dismiss every word as personal taste or simply “not getting” the story. We have to evaluate each comment soberly to determine where each piece of feedback falls on the spectrum of Junk to Gold. And then figure out just what to do with everything in between.
7. 500 words are entirely different from a novel. In a contest like Write Club, you have 500 words to capture your readers’ attention and get them wanting more. You need a solid plot, round characters, realistic dialogue, and a whole lot of emotion to pull readers in and make them want to stay. You simply do not have the space for unnecessary details or for things that might require further explanation. A scene from your novel probably won’t cut it – unless you cut it first. For reference, scenes I used in Write Club 2015 went from a sparse, snappy 500 words for the contest to a fuller, more detailed 700-1,000 for the manuscript.
8. Write Club can get the creative juices flowing. When I submitted my first entry, I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going. I had a vague notion of how I might weave together several ideas I’d been playing with, but nothing was certain. Mostly it was a challenge to see how many weird things I could connect in one 500 word piece. As the contest progressed, the story became clearer and clearer and the characters more deeply ingrained in my heart. By the time it was over, I had a general outline of four books. Four books with their own individual storylines, as well as an overarching theme to tie all four together into one cohesive whole, if only I can make it work.
9. Write Club inspires confidence. As mentioned above, I didn’t know going in how Commando Grace would fare. I’d never written contemporary YA, never really read much of it, for that matter. The feedback was spectacular, giving me confidence to continue with the story. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for Grace, and especially to those who connected with her and with her struggles. That’s why we write, really, for that moment when a reader says, “That’s me!”
10. Write Club people are swell. Seriously, it’s a great little community. The support they show one another, especially in the final days of the contest as writers reveal their identities, is heart-warming. I’m hoping to attend DFW Conference next year and look forward to meeting other Write Clubbers face-to-face.
On that note, I close. I have a manuscript to polish, thanks to Write Club 2015…