Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Writer's Life

Well, life is getting better again. The book has untangled itself and is trotting obediently down the road to the revelation of the murderer. Mostly. Still some kinks. But that’s all right, I think I have it by the tail now. But my warning of last week stands: don’t try this at home.

Christmas is all but upon us. I am so grateful our family decided to give just token gifts this year. It has become a nice custom to give to one another’s favorite charities and we’ve made it formal this year. Give to charities in one another’s names, and buy a five dollar gift to hand around. I would not have thought anything fun or clever was available for that small an amount, but there is. Two of my in-laws are getting one of those toy weapons that fires foam disks and I’m giving those last as the living room will become a battleground as soon as they are opened. But I also found a very pretty knit hat with a bill for the sister in law who loves to walk, and a tiny statue of a rat for the other SiL who collects them.

A newer tradition I've gotten into: Compline. My church, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mark in Minneapolis, offers a Compline service Sunday nights in Lent and Advent. Compline is the "bedtime" set of prayers that dates from medieval times in abbeys: Matins and Lauds, Prime, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. It's a very short service, about twenty minutes. Our church does it in extremely dim light, with everyone holding a taper. The prayers are very old: "Keep watch, O Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep." And our music director selects a very old hymn he sings with two other voices a capella. This past Sunday it was a fifteenth century hymn about Adam lying boung four thousand winters and yet was content, for "ne had the apple taken been, then had our lady abeen Heavene queen. Blessed be the time that apple taken was."

My writers group meets here tonight. For those of you determined to ignore my advice and try your hand at creative writing (is there any other kind?), join or form a writers group. I’ve been very lucky with my writers groups – I’ve been in just two. I have heard of groups that only praise each other’s work, and those that form cliques, and those that only disparage. The purpose of a writers group is to get each member published. Praise is important, and should be handed out by the bucket, but criticism is handed out with the goal in mind of adjusting a piece of writing so an editor will want to pay money for it. My writing has improved enormously since I joined my current group – and I was already published when I was invited to join. Writing is a lonely profession, and editors, deluged with submissions, look for reasons to reject our offerings. It breaks a writer’s heart to pour his or her soul out onto paper only to have someone say, “No, thanks.” Sometimes without even the “thanks.” So getting someone involved in the process who will say, “You know, this is a great idea. All it needs is a more likable partner for your sleuth.” Or, “I need to know more about the feelings of Joe as he finds out what Mary’s been doing.” Very, very helpful.

Excuse any typos in this, I'm writing it on the fly.

Merry Christmas!


Joanna Campbell Slan said...


I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and I sometimes miss the "old" prayers, especially the way we'd "sing" the psalms. I still have many of them memorized, but I must chant them!

Glad your book is "behaving." (I'm going to wear out my " ", aren't?)

Camille Minichino said...

Besides our usual charities, our family adopts a family for Christmas, through a hospital or shelter. We have everything bought by Thanksgiving, and then wrap together while the turkey is cooking.

On Christmas day we do a swap of a small present.

And what a nice present to self, Monica, to have an untangled plot! I have to reach that point in a couple of weeks; right now, I have tangles galore!

Kathryn Lilley said...

Excellent advice about the writing critique group. I belong to two groups, and really rely on their feedback.