Archive for ‘Thoughts on Writing’

January 19th, 2012

Guest Post: In Praise of Writers’ Groups by Charlie Heathcote

by Madeleine Rex

Imagine yourself sitting in a room with six large tables wedged together, surrounded by chairs. You’re huddled up, your face hidden by as much as your collar as humanly possible without dying from asphyxiation. Your sleeves are pulled down over your hands and you’re twiddling your thumbs through the fabric. Your legs are crossed because you don’t want to take up too much room.

On the table in front of you, you’ve crafted yourself a small square, upon which sits your notebook, a plastic wallet of the first few chapters of that novel, and an assortment of pens and pencils because you don’t want to seem ill-prepared. Your eyes dart back and forth across and around the table as you take in the other folk around you, all with their piles. You can tell who the more writerly writers are because they take up as much room as they possibly can, with their words written in a large font on thick paper that you can’t help but be in awe of.

Yes, you’re at a writers’ group; one of the places writers go to realise that they’re not the only writers in the world. And that first meeting is always the worst. At least, it was for me. I suppose I better give some backstory here. I’m Charlie and I’m a writer, or, to be more specific, I write urban fantasy set in my home town; a boring, non-descript place that I actually quite like. However, as this was the first writer’s group I was attending, I worried that there wouldn’t be that many fantasy writers.

There is a big stigma against fantasy writers, and I thought that the other writers there would be writing mainstream fiction with big ideas and a narratorial voice that bounced off the page like soup off a spoon. (Does soup bounce? … It does now.)

I’ve always wanted to attend a writers’ group. Ever since I found out they existed I’ve wanted to share my experiences with other writers and not feel so much of a failure. I suppose I filled the gap a bit by going to university to study Creative Writing, but there’s a different feel to a writers’ group.

Some writers’ groups are for writers who have been writing for years, others are for those who just want to see what it’s like, and others have a kind of catharsis for the writer. All right, so you could say that they all fulfill this purpose: They don’t throw people out for being illiterate – they’re prepared to hear what anyone has to say as long as it’s not offensive. Writers’ groups are there for writers to talk about writing.

Writers’ groups are for poets, prosers, script-writers and lyricists. We even accept non-fiction writers. There’s so much you can learn from one another. One of the questions we’re often asked about our writing is, ‘Is it true?’ And lately, I’ve begun to wonder whether it means ‘is the work autobiographical’ or ‘is it true to the writer’. As writers, we all share our own truths, we have recurring themes and motifs because things run around in our head. Look at the Harry Potter Series, it constantly deals with the idea of deceptive appearances.

You may think I’ve gone off on a tangent, but I do have a point. Writers’ groups help us discover what our truth is. I’ve never looked at my work the way other writers see my work. I’ve never noticed my truths, but the group realises my strengths and weaknesses and helps me to progress as a writer.

We discuss our writing habits, and how we go about the writing process. We realise that we’re not alone as writers, and I think that as writers this is one of the best things we need.

So this is something of a short post, but it’s all I have. Writers’ groups will help you as a writer, and they’ll also give you a enough time to read your work.

Until next time, that is all.

Thanks to Charlie Heathcote, my friend from Various Altitudes. Charlie is a great and enthusiastic writer. You can find him on his blog and Twitter.

If you’re interested in volunteering for a guest post, click the page “Help Needed.” Thank you!

September 19th, 2011

Anticipating Anything?

by Madeleine Rex


Castle is my healthy obsession. It makes me so happy that I’ve occasionally cried for joy while giggling and clapping my hands. And I like to think that I benefit from it, too (see My 2D and Paper & Ink Families).

But that’s not the point. Well, there’s not really much of a point for this post (blame hours of homework for every lame attempt of mine at blogging), but I want to ask: Is there anything you’re eagerly anticipating? School? A book (whether it’s one you’re waiting for or your own)? A movie? A friend’s visit?

Anticipation is so exciting, isn’t it? Sometimes, it’s so great it’s better than the actual event/occasion itself. Ideally, while we’re reading, the anticipation pays off. The term “page turner” is applied only to books that make the reader feel such a potent feeling of anticipation that they’re almost tearing pages out of the book in their haste to turn them. As a writer, it’s crucial that we can induce anticipation in a reader, no matter what the genre. Can none of us say that we hugely anticipated events in Looking for Alaska just as we did those in The Hunger Games?

No matter what the genre, no matter what the story, that thrilling sense of anticipation is crucial. And then comes doing good on your promise. Being disappointed after anticipating something for weeks/100 pages is like reaching the peak of a roller coaster and then realizing it levels out from there instead of giving you that gut-tingling surge to the ground. Create anticipation, allow the reader to cash in on it, and you’re on your way to being a rip-roaring success.

How do you make a reader feel anticipation? Have you ever been let down after anticipating a major event for a long time? What are you looking forward to now?

June 27th, 2011

There’s So Much More than Meets the Eye

by Madeleine Rex

DISCLAIMER: This post is not intended to dampen the morale around here. I simply want to address a few issues and clarify things for those who might be confused. I hope that the ultimate message here is a positive one, and I certainly mean the closing paragraphs to be uplifting.

There was a lot of buzz concerning the Slate article written by Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix, the authors of The Magnolia League. It’s an article concerning the “realities” (note the quotation marks) of YA and writing YA. The article outraged many YA writers, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely impervious myself.

Once everybody had made their way through it (eyes rolling intermittently), my twitter feed was clogged with upset tweets. Regrettably, I added to the negativity, but a few fellow writers calmed those of us who had lost our cool. I decided to take a some time to let the article’s contents settle in my brain before confronting this blog post.

The article is supposedly the inside-scoop on YA and oftentimes discusses the contrast between YA and literary fiction. Typically, I’d think: Yay! People will hear the truth about the YA and why it appeals to so many. Fantastic, right? Unfortunately, though the writers of the article talk about the benefits and draw of YA, they do so rather condescendingly, depicting YA as a sort of “cop-out” genre for writers who want to work and make money fast (authors who essentially want instant gratification) and readers who want beach reads with little depth or truth-telling.

While I’m sure this is the case for some YA writers and readers, it’s undoubtedly the truth for readers and writers of any genre. In other words: It’s not the genre, it’s the people in question. However, can it really be said that YA is as frilly and superficial as they seem to think it is? Is there no truth-telling or emotional depth? Of course there is! There’s loads of it! Particularly if you look in the right places. Consider John Green’s books, or Melina Marchetta’s. There are brutally honest portrayals of characters’ rough teenage years out there that have captivated audiences of every age. And despite the popularity of dystopian and fantastical books in YA, there are many talented authors that manage to infuse those books with realistic characters who have the same complicated emotions and problems teenagers like myself are forced to confront in our everyday lives. As writers of young adult, most of us strive to be as truthful as possible in an effort to connect with the real teenagers who are our target audience. Any additional frill and frufru is simply included to make the story and plot as much of a fun and adventurous jaunt as possible.

Also, it cannot be said that YA authors don’t spend hours critiquing their own work to make it as impeccable as possible. The claim that YA authors only write 2 or 3 drafts is an absurd generalization. Stephenie Meyer might have written Twilight in one fell swoop, but I think we’ve all come to realize that Twilight is not the only, nor the best, example of young adult fiction. YA is a vast and expanding genre that encompasses myriad topics. There are subgenres galore, and every reader has his or her own preferences.

Of course, I’m taking a risk by writing this post at all – and I might be insane to post it – but I believe something needs to be said beyond 140 character spurts of frustration. I don’t want to make a fuss, but I want to clarify for those who might have read the article that are not young adult fiction writers. Never believe in stark generalizations, but even more to the point: Don’t sell YA short, and don’t for a minute believe it is substandard. Why is it that Young Adult is thought to be petty simply because it incorporates some plotlines that aren’t profoundly serious? YA, like every genre – from middle grade to literary fiction – is simply targeted toward a specific audience and therefore strives to incorporate aspects into the story that are regular problems in a teen’s life.

I love young adult, not because I don’t want to invest my time or take my plotlines seriously, but because I love the audience, the genre’s potential, and simply love writing it. That is why YA is awesome. (And I’m sure it is way better than prom.)

P.S. If you haven’t read it already, head over to my “Dear Writers, Respect YA” post from awhile back.