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11 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Reach the End

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By Kathy Crowley

If you’ve just finished a draft of a novel or other work-in-progress, this isn’t the moment to dive into revisions. It’s the moment to stick the whole thing in a drawer (see my post here on the Real Science of drawers) and go do something totally different — mud wrestling, mountain climbing, naked poetry slams, etc.

Before you put it in the drawer, though, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself. Don’t spend a lot of time on the answers – just make a few notes… and then put it all away.

Three Questions on the big picture.

1. If you had to chose three words to describe the things you care about most in this novel, what would they be?

2. What are the central conflicts in your story?

3. What are the other ways in which the central conflicts in your story might have been resolved? Are your resolutions more likely/believable/honest/compelling than other possible outcomes?

Three Questions on characters:

 4. Do you know where your characters are coming from – meaning, do you have a solid feel for their backstories and what they do in their off-screen time? Most importantly, do you understand their motivations and does the plot arise organically from these motivations?

 5. What do you know about your characters now that you didn’t know when you began? Given this information, does the early part of your story still make sense?

 6. Are the things that intrigue you about your characters coming across in your writing?

 Two Questions on plot logistics:

 7. List the central plot points in your story then spend a minute thinking about each of them.  Are they forced or do they feel driven by the characters and the storyline?

8. Are you leaving enough unconnected dots to maintain suspense and engage your reader?

Two Questions on feedback:

9. If you’ve received feedback from trusted readers, are they coming away from the story with what you want readers to get? (See #1 and#2 above.)

10. Do you find yourself resisting an aspect of the feedback that just isn’t what you want to hear… but rings a tiny bell of truth somewhere in your head?

One Question to rule them all:

11. Do you have a back-up (or maybe two?) of your current version, correctly dated and identified so that there’s no confusion should you need it?

The major purpose of this exercise is to get a few ideas germinating while you’re off scuba diving, or at your Buddhist retreat or just showing up at work.  A leg up on the revisions.

Okay, ready? Now close the drawer.

 

 

 

 

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All Work and No Pay Makes Jack a Dull Writer: on Literary Citizenship and Its Limits

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By Becky Tuch

In recent years, many people have been talking about Literary Citizenship. “Are you a good literary citizen?” Roxane Gay has asked on the AWP blog. In a 2011 interview with Jonathan Lethem, David Kipen describes the author as a “model literary citizen.” On her blog, Charlotte Morganti writes, “Creative writing and the literary world would be in a fix without…literary citizens.” Here on Beyond the Margins Bethanne Patrick recently posted “Being a Good Literary Citizen: a Manifesto.” And at Ball State University, Cathy Day has taught a workshop entirely devoted to Literary Citizenship, yielding numerous blog posts and articles on the subject.

Specific advice differs from one person to another, but most agree that good Literary Citizenship entails buying from local bookstores, attending readings, subscribing to literary magazines, interviewing writers, reviewing books, reading a friend’s manuscript, blurbing books, and so on.

I agree with the value in all of these activities. Yes, by all means, if you want to build a literary career, you’ve got to form professional networks in your field. You’ve also got to support the small presses, bookstores, literary magazines and libraries in which you hope to see your own work showcased. This is so obvious that it’s surprising it has to be mentioned at all. But it does have to be mentioned, and those who write the blogs and manifestoes of advice are good to do so.

What I think is missing from this narrative about Literary Citizenship, however, is an origin story. Why do writers need to do these things? In what context are these activities so necessary?

To understand the rise of the Literary Citizen, perhaps first we need to look at the meltdown of our economy. … Continue Reading

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