Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The butterfly effect

A dear friend reached a writing pinnacle last night, a near-perfect choreography of dialogue, action, description and voice. Her characters all but leapt from the page, my affection for each growing with every beautifully-crafted word. Sentences flowed with melodic ease - and despite my best efforts, I could find little to critique.

It's the kind of professional writing I'd expect to see from a well-seasoned (and published) author.

But Donna isn't published. In fact, the pages she provided for last night's critique session are, essentially, the first draft of her first real attempt at writing a novel.

Did your stomach just do a jealous roll?

Let me put it into perspective.

Turn the clock back six months. I met Donna, a bubbling, blonde beauty, at my second ever critique group meeting. She presented us a single chapter - with terrible formatting, a myriad of typos, a complex vision of an un-orthodoxed story and only basic understanding of how to write a book. But underneath the surface we all saw the raw talent - and Donna's true potential.

Like most writers, her confidence started out shaky. Even her critiques were delivered with the tell-tale vibration of insecurity. She would be the first to admit that pointing out another writer's flaws (even the minor ones) Stressed. Her. Out. Our group was new - and the safety and comfort a solid critique circle requires for success had yet to be established.

But Donna wants this.

To say we've been hard on her is a slight understatement. After each meeting, she went home with a new craft rule, a variation of a plot twist, a new formatting requirement - and, I'm sure, a burning desire to flip each of us the bird. Especially me.

If she did curse me, however, she did so under her breath. Every week she brought back pages that incorporated the new rule - better action words, a deeper sense of point of view, neat dialogue tags, appropriate metaphors. In the last six months I've witnessed jealousy-inducing coffee-shop epiphanies, brilliant problem solving, and an improvement of writing quality that is nothing short of staggering.

When each of us quit writing or submitting to the group for personal reasons, Donna never missed a beat, demonstrating the kind of belly-fire I've only heard about in the past. When life turns upside down. Keep writing. When you don't feel like it. Keep writing. When your muse is being uncooperative, kick him in the butt, even if he IS wearing Spandex and rocking out to old 80s hair band songs. And keep writing.

While the rest of us skewed the weekly submission deadline to facilitate a myriad of excuses (Husband is taking me____, Stepdaughter needs help with _____, My muse is being a ________), Donna submitted every Friday before 3 p.m. - because that was the original deadline.

I've watched Donna field harsh criticism and deflect defeat, look self-doubt in the eye and slam the door shut on insecurity.

And I've witnessed a transformation of writing so beautiful I can only compare it to the spellbinding emergence of a butterfly from its comfortable cocoon. In these past weeks, Donna has not stepped from her comfort zone, but leapt (with a smile) - and the result is mind boggling.

Donna's book is mere chapters away from completion. I am so honoured that she has trusted me to be a part of this process (from start to finish) and there will be no greater joy than watching her share her transformation with the world.

I'm so proud of you, Donna.


The Book In My Bag Today: Altar of Eden, James Rollins


  1. What Dawn DOESN'T say is that this process wouldn't have been possible without her. Yeah, I guess I do have belly-fire, and yeah, I want it. I always have. Dawn saw a raw talent and let me grow. Dawn is the kind of critique partner that critisizes without ego or a need to feel bigger.
    Last night, I gave her my very first novel, written 20 years ago. It was never published, but I could never understand why. I knew something was wrong, but all I ever heard was how great it was. With my first work since then, I am confident this time I WILL be published, just as I am confident it wouldn't happen without her guidance. Dawn, you are the best critique partner anyone could ever ask for. Love you, and look forward to working with you for years to come.

    LYaWBPufY too <3<3

  2. Stop! Both of you...your making me all misty eyed!!!

    Damn Dawn that was an amazing blog entry. Very heart felt and loving!

    Congratz Donna!!! I can't wait to read your book! :)

  3. Thanks Zombiemom (aka, BF) - truthfully, Donna deserves the accolades, despite her being all humble above. She's come a long way and while I (and others) helped guide, her will is powerful and inspiring.

    And yes, Donna's book has demons. Very cool, very creepy demons. You're going to love it!

  4. I think Zombiemom will LOVE Jim-thing. I'm just back to say my novel is called Thoeba, and my muse is Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden. Why Bruce? Because while being the lead singer of the best band in the entire world, all 5'6 of him is also an author, a world-ranked fencer, and a commercial jet pilot of Icelantic Air. I've seen him in documentaries about tank collecting and train travel and fitness. Nothing stops Bruce.

  5. Clearly, your muse standards are far less shallow than mine (wink, wink) - though, Bruce doesn't look half bad. LOL

  6. Cool and Creepy Demons??! I am sold!!! :)