Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Taking Risks - Lessons from my crit partner

Last week was big for my critique partner.


Not only did she marry her troll (her word, not mine) after 14 years, she also completed the first draft of her paranormal-ish romantic suspense, Thoeba.

I've blogged about Donna before. But right now I'm missing her while she's on her honeymoon in Prince Edward Island and I'm home, trudging through revisions. (Again)

If she were here, she'd say that I've taught her a lot in the almost year we've been critique partners, but I'm only now beginning to fully understand everything she's taught me.

Like about taking risks.

I had the honor of being Donna's official photographer at her wedding and I took my job seriously, snapping almost a thousand pictures of the beautiful bride and her new hubby. There's some awesome, traditional shots I'm proud of. But the photographs that make me smile the most are in the non-typical series - like the one on the left.

I wish I could claim this as my own idea, but truthfully, Donna's troll requested a bodice-ripper / Fabio-ish picture - something one might find on the cover of Donna's books. Donna hates having her picture snapped, but when I look back at this picture, I grin every time. She took a risk. A relatively safe one, mind you, since she could delete the photo if she hated it.

But she wasn't afraid to try something new -- a philosophy she carries into her writing.

Donna's mind is like a sponge. She sucks up every piece of writing advice anyone is willing to give her, and she applies that new knowledge the next time she sits at her gorgeous solid wood desk (*envious*). But don't think that means she simply does as told. Donna has an incredibly firm grasp on what her story is about, who her characters are, and the kind of writer she wants to be. She isn't afraid to stand her ground.

And she isn't afraid to take risks.

I've had the pleasure and honor of studying writing craft with some amazing authors. I've memorized Steve Berry's 8 Rules of Craft, studied Gary Braver's 10 Ingredients for Writing a Thriller, and recited (repeatedly) James Rollins' list for creating sympathetic characters. I've given myself permission to write crap, and given numerous faces to my muse for inspiration. Technically, I'm covered.

But this draft isn't about the technical craft. It can't be. If this book is to stand out in a vast sea of really great novels, the writing must be much more than technically sound.

It has to take risks. As a writer, I must take risks.

Just one of the very important lessons I've learned from Donna.

What risks have you taken in your writing? Or in life? And how have they shaped you as a writer or person? Did some not work out? 

The Book In My Bag Today: The Summoning, Kelley Armstrong


  1. great post!
    and how fun to have that picture of donna and her husband to truly illustrate your point!

    i agree that risks are important when you are writing. it's what makes our voices unique and our plots stand apart from each other.

    the biggest risk i take it hitting the delete button - not being afraid to erase pages and pages of hard work in order to get my story where it needs to go.
    getting rid of the words we type is difficult, and for me sometimes feels a bit wasteful, but i find it can be the perfect solution to a stagnant plot.

  2. Thanks Mi. I truly understand what you mean about "deleting" for the sake of the manuscript, especially when you know how much blood, sweat and tears it took to actually add those words to the page in the first place. It's taken me many stops and starts to learn that "tight" is better in the end. I have much confidence you'll get there - and I CAN say that since I've read some of your work. xo

  3. Hmm risks...Writing a story in reverse, deleted said story, writing it from scratch, WRITING AT ALL!!! They generally never work out until I've accepted the risk comes with a consequence which may be erasing an entire idea.

    LOVE the pic btw:)

  4. What a great way to give props to your critique partner! Sounds like she's a pleasure to 'read' and hang out with! You're one lucky duck! That pic is epic! lol.

  5. Candy - I love that you recognize your risks don't work unless you accept the consequences that may not be what you want. So important and something for me to keep in mind. Thank you.

    CQG - Thank you! And yes, I AM a lucky duck. Took me a long time to find her.

  6. What a great post - and something I need to learn to do without trepidation, especially in my writing!

  7. Taking risks is essential, especially emotional risks in writing your characters.

    I took the risk of bruising my funny bone in my latest blog post about the 7 great things about being a writer. I've tagged you and your blog ... check it out.

  8. Thanks Jaydee. I think it's something some people prefer to ease into rather than just taking the plunge.

    Jan - you're dead on about emotional risk. Thanks for the tag. Checking it out.

  9. I took a risk a few years ago when I switched genres. I had no idea what I was doing or if it would pay off when I was so used to the other way I wrote. But I felt passionate about it and wanted it to work out.

    Funny pic, by the way.

  10. My risk was sending out query letters admitting that my chick lit novel was 150,000 words. It did not go over well and I am now cutting bits and pieces of my novel so I can get it to at least 90,000 words. It is not easy.

    And I'm jealous your friend is at Prince Edward Island. I've always wanted to go since Anne of Green Gables was filmed there.

  11. Madela - that is a big risk! Congratulations!

    WW - it's so hard to cut isn't it? A friend of mine is in the same boat - he wrote a brilliant book, but it's far too long for this marketplace. Good luck!

    I loved Anne of Green Gables :-)

  12. Great post (and picture!) It's fabulous that you have a critique partner who compliments you--that you are teaching each other.

    I guess I don't think about rules at all in a first draft--I just sort of fly, so maybe I'm naturally a risk taker of sorts--though I do know there are PLACES I need to rein in (add structure) but also places I need to get a little wilder (increase tension)--so maybe it isn't that I need to take more risks, but that I need to shake up the kinds of risks I take...

    Or something (probably I just need to THINK about the whole process more)

  13. WT - I WISH I could forget the rules when I write a first draft. I know it's advised to "just get it down" but my head won't let loose. I'm working on it...YAY for your risk taking :-)

  14. Oh my goodness!!

    Dawn, you are going to make my ego grow to MONSTEROUS proportions!! Missed you too BTW. And I'm proud to say that while my troll and I DO hate having our photos taken, Dawn did a wicked cool job. (I felt pretty, not fat. Nice, eh?) And so far, this one is our favorite too.

    As for taking risks...For me, just getting involved with a critique group was a tremendous risk for me. Dawn could tell you how white and shaky I was, but truth be told, I hate being afraid to try things. I never want to look back at my life and say, "Maybe I should have done that when I had the chance...."
    So yeah, I jumped in with both feet, and never looked back as I learned to swim. I've mentioned before how integral Dawn is to my work, but I think I can sum it up in two words.
    Absolute. Trust.
    Dawn, I missed you too! can't wait to see you.
    ....And I brought you treats :D

    BTW- To anyone who wants to know? The Avonlea village is expensive, $19 per adult, I felt it was worth it. They had costumes, a candy shop, and live shows.

  15. Ok first: The pic is awesome, Congrats to you girl, you can definetly make a kick ass photo! And also to Donna, cause the idea is awesome!
    If I did it, I´d be on the place of her husband and my husband would be on my feet. Because I am that much of a feminist lol

    My biggest risk was definetly marrying my husband after knowing him for 10 months, and leaving my work for that. AND changing my countries too. I´d be glad if I had moved to an english speaking country, but no, my man HAD to be german *sigh* But so far, no regrets!

  16. Ah Donna, you're so humble. One of the many reasons I adore you. Glad to have you home.

    Thanks Clara! Your story about your husband is SO romantic. You did take a big risk there and it looks like it paid off. Thanks for making me smile - that's a wonderful Friday morning story.