“Asking a writer what he thinks about criticism is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.” John Osborne

Yep. At the urging of my mentor, I joined a critique group. The group consisted of about seven students she thought showed promise. We met once a week, taking turns as hostess, and tried to gently critique each other’s work (note: there is no such thing as gentle criticism.) Despite some nit-picking members (yes, I was one of them,) this turned out to be a valuable experience and taught me how to see my work through a reader’s eyes. We were not allowed to read our own work to the group, but had to suffer through another student slaughtering our fine words. Once I got past the nose-out-of-joint period, I realized that I was hearing my work as a reader.

I mention the group because it led to me another discovery about ‘working’ my own creativity. I noticed that while writing a story, I would wake up in the middle of the night with visions of the next chapter, up to and including lines of dialogue. When this first started happening, I was sure I’d remember all those precious jewels the next morning. Didn’t happen. Usually I even forgot that I woke up during the night. I told my husband, Larry, about this problem and he came up with a fix. Since he knew I was too lazy to get out of bed, go to my desk, and write my thoughts down, he bought me a tape recorder and put it on the headboard.

I thought this was a swell idea as I already knew that hearing my story, even if I was doing the reading, was a good way to get a feel for what worked and what didn’t.  Larry, thoughtful as always, picked a recorder with a voice-activated feature. This meant that I didn’t even have to reach up and turn the thing on. All I had to do was spout my pearls of wisdom into the night and they would magically be there for revising the following morning. I went to sleep that night eager for sunrise so I could hear my clever musings.

The next morning I woke up disappointed. I was quite sure I had never awakened during the night. Disappointment quickly disappeared when I checked the tape and discovered that I’d apparently rattled on for close to an hour. Was my urge to tell my story so strong that I didn’t even have to awake up for the process? Hah! The only thing I learned as I replayed the tape was (1) Larry has a little hitch in his throat when he snores, (2) some woman (it couldn’t have been me) snored right along with him as if part of band, and (3) my darling cocker spaniel, Sushi, (usually such a lady) snored louder than the both of us put together.

That story is legend in our family, and I told it partly for fun, but also to point out a creativity tip. All writers and those who would like to write are different. What stimulates my creativity may not work out for Nora Roberts. For me, it’s a warm bath with rock music pounding away in my ears, followed quickly by a session with a tape recorder—with the voice activation feature turned off.

In this business writers are generally categorized in two ways; you’re either a Plotter or a Pantser. Loosely that means you either write a detailed outline from chapter one to the end (Plotter), or you envision perhaps as little as one scene, and start writing or flying by the seat of your pants (ergo, Pantser.) I’m a Pantser.

When a publisher wants a synopsis, which is basically a full plot, and they always want one, I panic. If Larry walks in the door to the sound of my sobs and then sees me ironing, he knows without even asking that I’m deep in synopsis avoidance. He knows this because ironing is my second favorite thing. The first is applying make-up while strapped to the blade of a high-speed ceiling fan. Despite this, I do write the required synopsis, but it is always full of lies and things that never happen in the book. I don’t want to know what happens in a book I read before I get to the end, and I feel the same way about writing one. But that’s just me.

Speaking of just me, I see that in addition to support from friends and family, I also promised last month to talk about the writer’s conference and a little trip to North Dakota. I swear I don’t think of this column as a synopsis, but it appears that I may have lied. I promise to get to the conference and (possibly) the trip next month. Then again…

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