Cheerleaders

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That’s right, I’m talking about cheerleaders.  Not the ones who wear short skirts and build human pyramids, but the ones who sometimes keep us going. 

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  I’ve always understood this on a level, but it wasn’t until I began my current project that I truly internalized it.  Humor has always been a defense mechanism for me.  Snark and sarcasm come naturally.  Holding it back is hard.  Emotion is harder.  But the novel I’m working on right now is deep and dark, psychological and suspenseful, and it deals with some extremely difficult issues.  Devastating, even.  This means several things:

1)      I have to GO THERE.  You can not write a dark novel without getting into the mindset.  Just as profilers need to get into the heads of the killers they’re tracking, you have to be the person or people you’re writing.  You can’t just walk a mile in their shoes, you have to live the narrative in their heads and hearts.

2)      There’s no safety suit.  You can’t shield yourself and still tap the well of emotion that you need to plumb.

3)      You need cheerleaders.

To be honest, #3 is true for whatever kind of artistic endeavor you undertake.  Art is often speculative in the sense of being done “on spec”—live without a net…or contract.  No one can tell you its worth before they actually see the finished product, or at least a really significant portion thereof.  In other words, when you’re starting out a new novel or proposal, you have to pour blood, sweat and tears into it, then polish it to a high gloss before anyone ever sees it and says to you, “Yes!”  Right?  Wrong.  Oh, you do want to get it into the best shape of its life before the publishing pro sees it, but sometimes you need some perspective.  You need someone to assure you that all the time spent away from your family and endlessly revising that opening scene to the point where you feel you’re making no progress at all will be worth it in the end.  You need your cheerleaders.  At least I do, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. 

Now, I’m not talking about yes men and women, who will tell you that something is wonderful even if it isn’t.  I’m talking about people you trust to tell it like it is, because those will be the people whose opinions mean the most.  They might be critique partners or a group, if they can be as enthusiastic as they are brutal.  They might be readers (as opposed to critiquers, though they’re, of course, readers too), or even family members, though I’d be careful about that.  The important thing is that art, whether visual, textual or experiential, is not just about the artist, but the interaction of the audience with the piece.  Sometimes, you just need to know if you’re striking the right chord.  That, to me, is priceless.

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19 comments to Cheerleaders

  • I want to give a personal shout out here to Faith Hunter, Amy Christine Parker, Beth Dunne, Deborah Blake, Martha Ramirez, Sarah Troiano, Heather Leonard and everyone else who’s been a reader or supporter for me. I really can’t tell you how much it means. Not without getting blubbery.

  • Julia

    Lucienne, thanks for this post. I find cheerleaders essential in artistic endeavors, whether it’s my fiction or my academic writing. In my own process, I’ve found it helpful to distinguish between cheerleaders and critiquers. There’s a long period of time when my works in progress aren’t yet ready for critique or beta-reading, and what I actually want and need are “yes-folks” who can be counted on to offer encouragement and enthusiasm, whose support helps me carry on through dry spells in the initial process. Some of my cheerleaders also serve as my best critiquers, later in the process, when I’m actually looking for feedback.

    I’m curious about when and how you rally your cheerleaders — and whether the “cheering” and the critiquing stay seperate or intertwine? Meanwhile, best wishes for your work in progress, which sounds intense and like something I’ll enjoy reading once it’s out!

  • sagablessed

    Lucienne: I wish I had more time to post an appropriate response to this, but suffice it to say this is well timed. I have found my circle of friends to be my best cheerleaders. When I get down they refuse to let me travel that path too far. They also help me to stop worrying about things not in my control.

    I am glad to know I am not the only one who thinks that being in the head of a character is needed. I thought I was a bit nutzoid for doing so. Yet it is my support system that keeps me grounded…and my puppy.

    P.S. Blubbery can be a good thing from time to time. :^D

  • Julia, I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one! For me, the timing differs from project to project. If I’m on book 2 or 3 of a series, I’m generally not as insecure as I am on the first book or a stand-alone. It’s really when I’m starting something totally new and the voice and set-up are still congealing that I’ll often need that perspective. Usually, about the first thirty pages come pouring out, almost like stream-of-consciousness. They’ll need revision, of course, lots of it. But initially they’re easy. The insecurity generally hits after that, when I’m not channeling the story so much any more and I have to really think and plan. It helps then to have someone tell me “yes, this seems natural and right.” The shout outs I gave in my comment are for two types of cheerleaders: those who say nice things about my finished works, making me feel like I’ve accomplished something as a writer, and those who’ve read my works-in-progress and given me the strength to go on. The latter type do offer comments, but they know I need the support and focus as much or more on what I got right.

  • Sagablessed, I’m so glad you have a good support group. They’re worth…well, maybe not more than words, because I can hardly imagine that, but….

  • […] Well, today I’m over at Magical Words, talking about literary cheerleaders and what they mean to me. […]

  • This is something I’m still working on with my own writing. I always encourage people to find beta readers, but I have been reluctant in the past to “burden” people with the task of reading my manuscripts. I’m getting better about this (just ask Faith…) but it has taken me a while. Thanks for a helpful post, Lucienne.

  • Thanks for the shout out, Lucienne! Reading it just about made ME blubbery:) My motto: If the project ain’t hard then you’re not growing. I think by far this is my favorite of yours! Being a cheerleader for it has been easy for me!

  • David, you’ve hit it exactly! That’s what makes it so hard, the feeling of “burdening” someone with the reading. I think that as authors we all have to accept that it’s okay to nurture ourselves. We so often nurture our work to the =exclusion= of ourselves.

  • I like this post, Lucienne. I think writers sometimes forget that it’s okay to ask for a pat on the back–or several. We spend a fair amount of time during each project feeling unsure, hemming and hawing, procrastinating, afraid that this time the writing really and truly is crap, that we forget other writers feel the same way and know just what to do or say to lift us out. I’m a member of an online critique group which is global in membership. Great for a lot of things: bouncing general ideas around, specific crits, getting research questions answered, goofing around. My local writers’ group is all that and more, because we meet “live”. The coffee shop setting helps, too 🙂 These people, especially, know how to offer *constructive criticism*. I’m generally not a people person but I love being in this group. They manage to make me feel positive about my writing even when we haven’t critiqued it. Nuff said!

  • You are welcome, Lucienne. And you too, David. I find it a lot easier to be the cheerleader than the tough critiquer. Writing is is part of the soul, even when it is totally commercial. Feeding that soul is hardhardhard.

  • deborahblake

    You are very welcome 🙂 Reading your work is always a pleasure, even in its earlier, slightly rougher forms. And I definitely need the cheerleading too. My critique partner and a couple of writer pals (Candace Havens and Heather Long) saved my bacon with MY last WIP, which was much more dark and grim than I usually write, and kicked my *ss. In fact, my CP saves me daily, with cheering and the occasional well-placed boot. I don’t know what I would do without my cheerleaders…but it would probably involve a lot more drinking.

  • Cheerleaders are the best. They’re helpful and encouaging, and supportive when I receive painful feedback and rejections. Like Deborah said, I don’t know what I’d do without them. Probably something very, very stupid.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Wonderful reminder Lucienne and something I very much need to work on. I’ve shown very little of my writing to others so far (currently need a big clean-up edit pass my WIP before passing it along for a beta read). However, sometimes just remembering the little positive comments I *have* picked up along the way can be bolstering: showing a chapter to a friend of mine and having her say it was the best thing I’d ever written (I whined that it took so *long* to write, and her response was “So”, reminding me that bucking up and doing things right is an important part of the process), my husband reading the first couple paragraphs of my WIP and itching to re-do my grammar but *still* really wanting to read more, and finally, my own delight in reading over something I’d completely hacked apart and re-written only to find that the result was *so* much better than the original. These things tell me that if I really do work at it, I really can produce something great. It is possible.

  • BTW, because it’s Random Acts of Kindness to Writers week, I want to thank the posters at Magical Words for being so honest, constructive, interactive, and just downright *helpful*.

  • Razziecat

    Hmmm….my current WIP somewhat resembles a huge bunch of helium balloons in a high wind, and I feel like I’ve only got one hand to hang onto all of them. Maybe some beta readers would help, because I haven’t made much progress since NaNo. Partly it’s because I’ve spotted several large holes that need filling, and partly it’s because I have to kill a favorite character. It would definitely help to have someone saying Go for it! You can do it! I do belong to an online writers group, I guess it’s time to submit again and get some feedback.

  • OakandAsh

    Truer words Hepseba…
    I’ve only begun to stick my head out of my shell thiiis much and the constructive criticism, mixed with kind,well placed words of praise from a couple of generous souls here on MW/Betas, has already helped point me in a better direction. Not to mention giving me a pick-me-up on days when I doubt *everything* I’m trying to do.

  • OakandAsh, oh yes, we all have those moments. Sadly, it doesn’t stop even after you’re multi-published or critically acclaimed.