Monday, October 7, 2013

Growing and stretching

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Last weekend, I went to my annual writing retreat with my fellow Sisters in Crime. It was my third retreat and, as always, great fun. Our weekend instructor was Tim Esaias, and he provided not only tons of useful information, but made me laugh so hard Saturday night that my sides hurt. And he let me help with an impromptu self-defense demo Sunday morning, which is always fun.

As I always do, I returned home full of energy and holed myself up in the den to work on the story I'd submitted for critique (that was fairly well-received). And after the weekend, all sorts of things started jumping off the page. I thought I'd gotten rid of them. But suddenly, I wondered why people weren't falling over all of the eyeballs rolling around, and why someone hadn't reported a hurricane with all the sighs blowing through the rooms.

It was eye-opening - and awesome.

Later, as I was still bouncing around about this, I was talking over imagery with my husband, who has read all of my stories. I was looking for the metaphor for the series. And he just said, "Duh, it's the dog, dummy." But isn't that too obvious? "It doesn't have to be rocket science, dear. I'm your target audience. It's fine."

And much later, when I reported completion of the revisions, my husband said, "It's really exciting to watch. You've moved from gifted amateur to a real professional."

The comment caught me off guard. There are days when I really don't feel like a professional. After all, while I've garnered a few publication credits, I still have a day job. I still don't get to get up and spend all day playing with my make-believe friends. I'm still so far away from where I someday want to be.

But when I go back and look at what I wrote three years, a year, or even six months ago, I can see the difference. My first Laurel Highlands story, An Idyllic Place for Murder, was published this month at Mysterical-e. I had to professionally edited, and I know the editor liked it, so it's a good story - and readers have told me they like it. But while I re-read, I found lots of places where, if I was writing the same story today, I'd change things, craft a sentence differently, go for a different visual.

And, in that sense, I guess I am further down the road, a professional. An amateur just writes. A professional studies the craft. She enjoys her publication, but never stops learning, looking for yet another tool for the box. I spent part of the weekend reading Structuring Your Novel, and light bulbs went off as I finally had words and techniques for the things I always sort of "felt" rather than "knew."

Even reading the book is a change. Three years ago, when I wrote my first novel, the word "structure" was a foreign concept. Structure? I don't need no stinking structure. I'm going to wing it! And man, does it show.

So on a rainy Monday morning, I am making a conscious decision. I will not lament where I am not, I will celebrate how far I have come, all while I acknowledge that there is much more to learn.

And maybe that's the sign of a true professional.

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