I’ve been spending some time and energy getting ready for Viable Paradise. I picked up a number of books by and recommended by the instructors. So far I’ve been very impressed: Steven Gould’s Jumper was fantastic, and Doyle and Macdonald’s Land of Mist and Snow is a fine piece of fiction, too. Scalzi’s recent short story at Tor was also well worth a read. There are a few more books by all the instructors that I’d like to read, but there’s plenty of time.
What I can’t quite figure out is what to do with my own fiction. See, the VP alumni I’ve talked to like to use scary words to describe the workshop, words like “life-changing”, “epiphany”, or (worst of all) “October”. It is reasonable to make the assumption that in a few months time I will be a better writer than I am today, with a better understanding of the industry and the markets. But what does that mean to the handful of short stories I’ve been shopping around and the novel I’ve started?
Does it make sense to practice writing but otherwise wait until I have a better idea of what I’m doing? If this were a programming class and I were talking about releasing software, the answer would definitely be ‘yes, wait’. But it’s not. There is no question in my mind that I’ll be able to make these pieces even better after the workshop — there is the question of whether I can in the meantime make them good enough to publish.
I think that the answer is going to be to focus on the novel, on producing a first draft of that before October. That way I’ll go into VP with that experience under my belt, and be in a good position to ask questions, to know exactly what my problems are for the longer form.
Either way, I’ve decided not to work on my submission piece any more. I read it through last week and was faintly embarrassed: It’s still a good read, but I noticed a couple plot holes, some stilted dialogue, even a few typos. But then I realized that it’s going to be much easier to take criticism on that, something that I have my own criticisms about but am still reasonably happy with. Some of those critiques might align with my thoughts, some people will think very differently, but either way it’ll be so much easier to not take it personally. That was one of the reasons I liked the Critters online workshop: there was always at least a month between finishing the work and having it critiqued, in which to gain some distance.
Is anyone else wrestling with questions like this? Any alumni have advice on getting the most out of the experience?
One thought on “Getting Ready For VP”
I see that this page is getting some hits now that people are applying for VP XVI. First of all: Go go go!
Second: I turned out to be glad that I hadn’t edited or even read my story after submitting it. It gave me the mental space to look at my story and say, “Yeah, gosh, I did some things badly there.” I also was not constantly thinking/saying, “Don’t dwell on that, I’ve already fixed that.” I have been, as a critiquer, in the position of reading someone’s story, thinking it over, and giving feedback and then being told, “Oh yeah, I already fixed that.” It’s annoying. Finally, it meant that I had an easier time seeing the story through someone else’s eyes, which was useful in figuring out whether the criticism I got was helpful or not.
So, prospective VPer: Submit the best story you can, and then don’t touch it again! Treat it like poison ivy until you hear back one way or the other. Write something else in the meantime.