Be Teachable



I’m delighted to have a story accepted for publication in moonShine Review. It’s an honor, something I’ve been working toward for a couple of years at least, maybe longer. More than once, a friend told me I should send some photographs since each issue showcased the work of just one photographer. I didn’t have the courage to ask her whether she kept suggesting photography instead of writing. Was it because she didn’t think my writing was good enough?

Whatever the reason, I buried that idea somewhere just below the surface while looking through old issues of moonShine, confident that I’d learn what the editors were looking for. I also began experimenting with fiction and tried out different attempts with my critique group.

Before working with a writing group, writing fiction was a mysterious process  I perused textbooks and “how-to” books and articles galore. I read Stephen King’s On Writing, Neil Gaimond’s advice, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Then Annie Dillard blew me away with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and I went back to nonfiction. How could I get past such beautiful phrases as “I am a fugitive and a vagabond, a sojourner seeking signs. This is our life, these re our lighted seasons, and then we die.”?

Still, I wanted to write fiction, and with the encouragement and advice of my critique group and a lot of effort on my own, I improved. There were challenges.

1. I couldn’t conjure up an imaginary scene, much less piece together a story-full of them. When I mentioned this to a writer friend, she said something like, “Just take something you’ve written in first person and change it to third.” Duh. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

2. I would start writing willy-nilly without an understanding of the beginning, middle, or end of the story. My critique group was a huge help. “That’s your end,” someone would say about a sentence or paragraph a few sentences before the end. I couldn’t always see it right away and would sometimes say, “But I wanted to end it this way.”

“Go ahead. I’m just telling you what I think. You don’t want someone to finish your story and be disappointed,” she might say.

Without knowing it, I was following the advice of Neil Gaiman. “Show your story to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that it is. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right.”

While our group “mostly” adheres to that philosophy, we also feel that the writer has the last say. If one person suggests something is just not right (in his or her opinion), you can listen or not. But if two or more pinpoint the same lame word, dangling participle, or weak sentence, you might want to sit up straight and pay attention. 

3. I wasn’t very descriptive or specific. Here’s s sentence taken from Where the Crawdads Sing: “Waves slammed one another, awash in their own white saliva, breaking apart on the shore with loud booms—energy searching for a beachhead.” I’m a beach lover and have spent thousands of hours on the shore, always feeling the energy in the roar and power of the ocean. But could I write like Delia Owens? No. Not now. Maybe never. But I can try to learn.

4.  Dialogue was tricky. It’s great if used correctly. Does it move a story along or merely take up space?. I’ve tried to make mine realistic without overdoing it. Enough’s enough. Every word counts. No uhs and uh-uhs or you knows. Something I often recall from taking counseling classes is to let the client, troubled person, or patient talk and to pay attention to what they’re not saying. “Please hear what I’m not saying,” advised my professors.

Writing fiction isn’t easy. It’s doable, though. Be teachable. Read a lot and write a lot and get your writer friends to critique your work. Then revise and write some more and read some more–even at times when you least feel like it.



About jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer
This entry was posted in Annie Dillard, books, books on writing, critique groups, editing, fiction, Uncategorized, writing, writing fiction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Be Teachable

  1. Congrats, Jayne!

    We miss you here in Camden!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.