Monday, August 18, 2014

Showing Your Sketch

This past week my school provided training about project based learning (PBL) from the Buck Institute of Education (BIE). I'm happy to say that the training was not a waste of time. I came away with some great plans for the year but, even more importantly, I gained tools to help the students recognize that the crazy stuff I do in class is part of a learning process. I always considered my teaching style to be one where I tricked students into learning. Unfortunately I'm so good at it that the students think we're not doing anything until they get that "OH!" moment at the end. Lesson learned: I'm good at projects, I'm bad at linking objectives to the content in a way the kids understand.

During these workshops we participated in an exercise called "Show Your Sketch." You get a ridiculously low amount of time to draw a sketch of a person across the room... then you show it to them. The perfectionists didn't just cringe, they cursed. How can you be expected to share work that is sooooo rough? Doing so makes you very vulnerable to criticism. It's not fair for my artistic skill to be judged after so little time. The purpose of this exercise was not to show how bad we were at art, but to open ourselves up to critique early in the creative process, to be vulnerable, and to be all in it together. My colleagues and I all had that, "a-ha!" moment and were able to apply this early/often critique need to the project designs during the remainder of the workshop.

Writers are not foreign to the concept of perfectionism, insecurity, and critiques. We are constantly revising and praying for a better quality product. Critiques are gifts, even when they make us doubt ourselves. Without them we exist in a bubble. Thank God for being able to show your sketch early and often BEFORE putting it out there to be judged by the writing industry.

As much as I like to think that I'm secure in my skills and strong enough to take criticism and turn it into a better book, I'm freaking out a little right now. For whatever reason, I'm comfortable sending my manuscripts to complete strangers, but when I got a  request from a writer friend, I got all nervous. It might be easier if I was showing a sketch, or the first chapters of a book in progress: sending a completed, revised, revised again and then one more time, manuscript to a friend (who asked for it, which is a blessing in itself), someone I've known for years, makes me doubt the quality of my product. The vulnerability involved here is tremendous and it shouldn't be. I can't place why -- I only know that I'm trying to write right now, and keep wondering if she's reading, what she thinks, etc... and can't get it out of my head.

On that note, I'll put my contemporary aside and get back to planning my projects for this year. I may be teaching middle school art (which was the plan) or 7th and 8th grade English (which meets a need), so I'm prepping for both.

How do you feel about showing your sketch? Any advice for taking criticism?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Stupid Alphas

At the Romance Writers of America conference in San Antonio this summer I attended a workshop titled Deconstructing the Alpha. To be honest, I only attended because Eloisa James was one of the moderators and I have a fangirl crush that leads me to believe everything she touches will be golden (justifiably so).

I have struggled with the alpha male ever since I cracked open my first romance novel. He frequently frustrates me. Usually arrogant and domineering, it doesn't make his personality any more palatable to see that he's right in most instances. As a reader I think one of the factors that makes a book re-read-worthy is that you fall in love with the guy a little. I have a hard time falling for the alpha .

That said, alpha sex is hot (disclaimer: the modern alpha male is no longer the date rapist from the '70s -- I can't even read those plots without gagging. It's one of the only things that will make put down a book unfinished). In the workshop, the authors and editors hosting discussed why the modern woman responds to the alpha. In a world where women are expected to be super mom and super executive and super hot, it's a great fantasy to have that cave man who will carry throw you over his shoulder and be counted on to provide for his woman's every need. Sophisticate that a few notches and you have Gabriel Cross. The uber powerful, ruthless, unattainable, implacable, hard bodied demigod who has a soft spot for that one woman. The alpha is a fantasy in regard to appeal and resources, but also in that the woman tames him (breaks him like a wild mustang, painfully, without a horse whisperer) and, ultimately, she has the power because she has his heart (or other parts as the case may be).

I write about this today because I'm trying to write an alpha. I think my fatal flaw is in including his point of view. Already, I've made him too vulnerable. I went for someone who strategizes and assumes the role needed to win in a Machiavellian vein rather than a straight up confident/arrogant master of the universe. Strategists weigh probability, consider outcomes -- and this is taking me out of alpha territory. Would an alpha care about the outcome? Not really, because he KNOWS he's right. My pseudo alpha might be too human.

This my fifth book and my first attempt at alpha. I chose this course on the advice of a friend. I'm trying to hybrid the sexy hard edges of Sylvia Day with the quirky fun of Kristan Higgins and I think I have to step back and regroup. It may be like trying to cross a tea cup poodle with a Saint Bernard--what could possibly go wrong?

That I'm writing this book at all is a departure for me. Call me a whore in that I'm writing what I think will sell (versus my other books which I wrote because I wanted to tell the story). I'm not prostituting my talent completely though, because I really am invested in this story (now). It's actually the best pre-plotted story I've created so far (pantser!), but I'm worried it's not staying the course (which makes it more organic, a good thing) and who knows how it will end?

Sigh.

Point of this blog post: Do you like alphas? How do you define an alpha? Do you think seeing the alpha's gooey center is a turn off or downplays his power?
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