Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Identifying Garbage: The First Step Towards Awesome.

Hey there! Kristal here. I’m very excited to be speaking to you all. It took me a while to figure out what I exactly wanted to say in my intro post. So, after much consideration and deliberation, I decided to go with garbage.

Now, I’m not talking about the stinky-kitchen-leftover type of garbage. Nope. I’m talking about the stinky load of tripe that one spews to Microsoft Word. Yes, I am talking about writing like garbage.

Now, just to make myself clear, I'm not telling you to write like garbage. What I’m getting at is to admit that you write like garbage, probably quite often. (Cause we all have our own versions and moments of suck.) If you don’t see the trash in your words, then you can never see the vision to improve.

Let me start with a face painting analogy, cause… Well, I just really wanted to stick face painting in my post somehow. In case you haven’t read my bio, I’m a professional face painter. I LOVE my job. And I could spend a whole post telling you why I love what I do. Instead, I’m going to use face painting to illustrate how identifying garbage is the first step to achieving awesome. Here is the first butterfly I ever painted.

At the time, I thought it was awesome. I was proud. Thought my butterfly kicked some major butt. But then I researched and opened my eyes to what professional face painters could do. Well…. I realized that I sucked. Now instead of wallowing in my suck, I grasped the knowledge of others, learned what they did, found out what paints and brushes they used. I practiced…A LOT, and my butterflies got better.

But I didn’t stop there. I kept practicing and studying those that were better than me, because I knew I was still far from being awesome. But even so, I improved. And the more I practiced, the better painter I became.

And now I do what I love for a business, and I am still improving. Here is my most recent butterfly.

And here is a progression of then until now.

I can still see flaws in my lines and techniques. Identifying my garbage helps take me one step closer to awesome. And, just so you know, it took me years to get to where I am now. My progress wasn't overnight.

Now let me bring this all back to writing.

When I first sat down and wrote, I poured out 12 pages of complete and utter muck. At the time, I thought I was the most gifted writer E-VAR! God had blessed me with this natural gift and I was going to blow everyone away with my shear awesomeness. But then I took a step back and read different books on writing.

I read Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass.
I read Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
I read How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
I read Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
I read several other books that I can no longer remember.
I read forums.
I read blogs
I took notes.

And only after I’d finished them all, did I turn back to my book. My eyes were opened to the utter and complete garbage that I wrote. And at that moment, my first baby step towards awesome took place.

Now, you might think that your book is perfect, that your writing is top par, that there is no possible way you could improve. I've done that before, and I’m afraid to tell you, my friend, it isn't true. If you really think this way, your book probably sucks. I've noticed, over the years, that the worst writers are usually the ones that think they have no flaws.

What you need is to read, to research, to open your eyes and accept criticism. To really look at your work apart from yourself and try to figure out what you can do better. Sure, you can feel good about what you’ve achieved, but don’t let pride get in the way to your journey towards awesome. No one, not even the bestselling author, is perfect. Everyone has room to improve.

So how can we take this first step? Finding a good critique group helps tons. If not a group, a really honest critique partner, one that isn't your mom or your sister, one that isn't going to just tell you how wonderful you are.There are a few groups online that you can start with as well.

  • Query Tracker Forum has a section where you can post pages. (I met Katrina on there.)
  • Absolute Write also has a place you can get feedback.
  • And so does Critique Circle. (I met Angie on there). On critique circle you are required to submit critiques to get them. Giving feedback to other writers can be just as beneficial as getting comments.
  • Get plugged into a critique group by interacting and meeting others online or locally.

Operation Awesome is a time commitment, yes. I also have to sacrifice some of my writing time to critique their work. But it is worth it. But like I said, giving critiques helps me learn just as much as getting them, especially when one is fortunate to get a group as good as OA.


  1. Great post and beautiful butterflies. Love the analogy.

    I'm constantly studying books on writing (and re-reading them) and studying novels. The exercise helps me grow as a writer, but honest feedback definitely can't be beat. ;)

  2. I love this analogy and the butterfly pictures!

    I often look back at my work (especially stuff I write late at night) and realize the pages I thought were perfect then are seriously flawed. Garbage. It's comforting to know that editing can fix just about anything. :-)

  3. I agree that the right critique group is essential--we have 6 in our YA group now, and meet twice a month. Being able to see each other's works in sections and then as a whole has been tremendously helpful for all of us.

  4. Garbage is my middle name when it comes to first (and second) (and maybe even third) drafts. But the important thing is that I know they're garbage--something every writer needs to acknowledge in order to improve.

    Loved this analogy, Kristal!

  5. Your face painting is amazing! I love how you could tie that into your writing experiences. I'm definitely checking out those links. I'm thinking I need to take a look at what needs to make a trip to the dumpster in my own book :)

  6. Love the butterflies! And the progression. I think life, in general, is like this. We're naturally inclined to evolve. (That sounded a lot smarter than I though it would)...

  7. hi miss kristal! wow those butterflies sure are cool. for me im just starting out writing and i been learning soooo much on my writer friends blogs. i got a book that helping me be a better writer and i got lots of good advice from lots of real neat people. i got on this blog cause im thinking its gonna be a really big help just like that butter fly to get from a beginner to a real good writer.
    ...smiles from lenny

  8. Kristal- I LOVE butterflies and dragonflies and hummingbirds -- the trifecta of beauty. Beautiful work, really.

  9. Lovely post! I love butterflies too--what a talent to paint on someone's face.

    Being open to feedback and crits really DOES help you improve your writing--and it's a CONSTANT process. ;)

  10. Great post, Kristal. You know I love those butterflies. :)

    You're right too. Sometimes we all write trash, but we need to keep at it in order to get it to shine :)

  11. Hi, I clicked over from Michelle Gregory's blog and what a great post! Thank you for reminding me not to love my writing 'too' much. The longer I'm at it the more I know that what you say is true.

    How awesome to be a professional face painter. I want your job. :)

    ~that rebel, Olivia


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