Friday, February 13, 2009

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread...

I love my Instant Messaging (IM). Until 3 years ago, I had no idea how useful a tool it could be for a writer. Until 3 years ago, I had no idea how to use it. I was introduced to IM through work so that I could relay phone messages to the appropriate staff member, well, instantly. For the record, I am of an older generation. (I can remember riding my bike with no hands for the sheer thrill of it, not because I was busy texting my friend about the hot boy in our class as my friend riding beside me texted me back.) So, I needed a few days to catch on to the technology. After that, I was hooked.

The first time my critique partner sent me her work to look over, I sent it back via e-mail with my comments embedded in the document. Then she e-mailed me and asked for clarification. Then I e-mailed her back – well you get the picture. Then I sent her the opening scene of Lady Bells to critique. We did the e-mail thing again. The next piece of critiquing, I suggested we use IM.

Brilliant! I had e-mailed my comments/suggestions/concerns so that she had time to look them over and then we stepped into our own live chat room. We discussed the comments I had made. We talked about things she could do to make it better. Then the discussion took off. Brainstorming ideas flew back and forth in real time. Questions could be answered immediately or answers clarified with a simple sentence. Usually that sparked other ideas or concerns and we could discuss them, converse as if we were sitting across the table from one another. I loved it.

Now, since neither of us is ‘down with that’, we panicked when our conversation neared completion. How the h*ll are we gonna remember all of this good stuff? We simply cut and pasted the whole thing into a word document. Since that first conversation, we have learned how to save our chats properly. So we’re ‘chillin’!

The first official meeting of the Prairie Chicks took place on IM. We hashed out what we expected from this adventure, discussed the format we wanted to use, came to an agreement over the content, and divided up the days. What started out as a "let’s get together" ended up taking 2 hours and involved much more than business. I had a blast. When guest bloggers were suggested, we signed back into our IM and came to a consensus on that topic. E-mail is fine for a quick what-if scenario or heads-up message, but nothing beats IM for connectivity – and seeing as there are 5 of us living in 5 different places on the Prairies, it’s pretty sweet.

Back to writing. Earlier this week I had a wonderful conversation with one of the Chicks about her WIP. Now, before you think that critiquing through IM is all one sided, I’m going to confess that I got as much out of that discussion as she did. Everything we talked about – the opening of a book, the connection between the hero and heroine, the conflict (both internal and external) – related to my writing too. As we chatted back and forth, I made notes on a piece of paper about my WIP. Was I creating conflict early enough to hook the reader? When my hero and heroine met for the first time did sparks fly? And the biggest thing I took away from that conversation – the excitement of creation. Her excitement fueled mine.

Tonight, another conversation with my critique partner – another round of brainstorming, suggesting, questioning, and cheering (because there is much to cheer about the story she’s working on). And then a heart felt discussion on the perils of writing. My muse had taken a hit (or 15) and she inadvertently (purposefully) typed the word "demoralized". If I had simply e-mailed my CP, then she had e-mailed back, our critique session would be confined by those parameters. But because we were on IM we could share what it really means to be a writer. And sometimes it stinks (No worries, Dr. Freud soothed my ego).

Yep, I love my IM! What about you, People of Blogland, what technology is important to you as a writer? Do you IM? Do you IM with a critique partner?

*A note for Hayley – notice I didn’t blog about covers? Everyone reading this needs to go over to Eventide Unmasked (link in the sidebar) and check out Hayley’s post on cover art (Part 1). It’s a fabulous essay – and the comments are excellent. I plan on checking out Part 2 on Saturday and participating in another interesting discussion.



Karen said...

Hey Janet,
I, too, had a wonderful conversation with a fellow Chick this past week using the IM critique method.;) I came away with a clear idea of what I needed to accomplish and change. I would definitely use that method again.

The first IM conversation I had was the Chicks get-together and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I feel its an extremely convenient tool for busy people. Its also allows for people seperated by distance to connect and help each other.

Janet said...

And I hope THAT Chick is working hard on her re-writes. If that Chick is wondering - I'll have a full critique on those first 6 chapters e-mailed to her by Sunday :)

My question - what on earth did writer's do before the wonder of technology? Can you imagine writing your novel on a typewriter? Or all that research, now literally at our fingertips, done in libraries? I admire those writers.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Janet, and thanks for the plug. Laptop's been giving me some troubles but I hope to get tomorrow's post up right on time.

I haven't done a lot of in-depth critiquing via IM, but I've done practically legions of brainstorming over the years with the help of a good friend (the lovely lady who made my new banner). I know exactly what you mean about how things can start to rebound and just spiral completely out of control -- in a fabulous way of course. We end up exploring all sorts of what-ifs, new possibilities, and very often brainstorm on several different plots at once, so we're both coming up with ideas for each other.

The redesign for Eventide came out of a conversation like that actually. Amid other things we got to talking about layouts, graphics, and such, and I gabbed mindlessly about how I pictured the blog and what I'd do with it when I had the time. A few days later, this title banner shows up in my email :P

Janet C. said...

Hey, Hayley! Hope your laptop worries get resolved (see, that technology again). Looking forward to you post.

You're very lucky to have that relationship. Joining SRW was one of the best things I've ever done in relation to my writing. I know Suse blogged about like minded people, but it's so true. Non-writer friends can only take so much discussion about imaginary characters and plots that have spiraled out of control (must say, though, my friends are very patient with my musings :)

*See* you tomorrow.

Janet C. said...

Notice I'm now Janet C. - as I was surfing my favorite blogs this morning I found a comment left by Janet. Hmmm - that's interesting. When I checked out her profile, I discovered she's from Ontario, Canada and she had been Janet in Blogland for a lot longer than I had. So, I changed my profile to Janet C.

I know no one really gives a rat's behind about this, but I'm procrastinating. So instead of opening up a word document, I'm here yakking about profiles.

Please, don't mind the crazy lady in the comment section - if you look the other way, she'll get tired of talking to herself (maybe) and go away.


Suse said...

Hi Janet, great blog. Makes me reconsider a few things. I'm the kind of person who would prefer to pick up the phone to get the answers I need; however, that would not be practical at all for critiquing or discussing a manuscript.

I was first introduced to IM when my son moved away to attend school. I found I got a lot more information from him on MSN than I did in a phone conversation. However, I find that I don't like being tied to the computer to have my conversations because there always seems to be a hundred other things that need to be done at the same time. However, I have discovered I need to rethink that as well. I read a newsletter the other day that said that people who multi-task are prone to dementia related illnesses. Apparently multi-tasking causes the brain to work in short term sequences (starting and stopping) preventing long term absorption. It's like switching a light on and off continuously - not allowing true lighting on the subject. (Sorry everyone for that gloomy note.)

On the bright side, it's Valentine's Day tomorrow. Is there any better day to think about love and passions?

Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet C.,
Since I'm at work at the day job (don't tell anybody I'm online) I am not at work on my WIP. I must confess I am the mystery Chick to whom Janet was IMing (is that a word?)last night. Janet is a fabulous critiquer and I value very much the input she has given me on this particular project. I just hope I help her as much as she helps me.

What did we do before email and instant messaging? Killed a lot of trees for one thing. I remember when I first started with SRW if I wanted the group to critique something for me, I would first have to print enough copies for everyone. One month I would take them to the monthly SRW meeting for distribution and at then the next month, or retreat, the group would give me the critique. It was fabulous in that the critique occurred face to face, but it took a long time.

In my group here in Winnipeg, we do it the old fashioned way. Every month we read passages from our work. It's surprising the things you realize when you have to read aloud. You can really tell when a sentence or a piece of dialogue sounds awkward. But again, the downside is that if you want to get an entire piece critiqued, it takes forever.


Janet C. said...

Hey Suse - yikes on that report. When I was surfing for teen lexicon last night (and BTW could only find British phrases) I came across a couple of articles on parents writing about their children. Boys and girls sitting in front of the computer with seven or eight instant messages going at the same time as surfing the web and doing homework. As an ex-teacher, I shuddered (imagine what that finished homework looks like). As a person who frequently multi-tasks, I was in awe. But, like the article you mention, those parents were concerned because their children could not focus on one thing at a time. I saw that in classrooms - I see it at work. And when I go to a movie and I see people watching the movie and having a conversation (texting) to friends at the same time I shake my head. Has technology taken away our ability to live a simple, 'in the moment' life?

Food for thought.


Janet C. said...

Hi, Jana (get back to work)! Thank you for your compliment, but I think of myself more as a living sounding board. And you have no idea how much you help me - with critiquing, with support, with friendship. I thank you. (Yes, Jana is the Dr. Freud I spoke of - and she did much to restore my badly beaten self-confidence)

Wow, that was some system. I do, however, agree with the reading out loud form of critiquing. I try to read my WIP aloud so my dialogue sounds genuine and my sentences aren't too stilted.

Watch for an e-mail tonight - I'm on page 83 and will send it off as soon as I'm done. Have I mentioned how much I love this story? She's (Jana) good.


Captain Hook said...

Janet, I totally agree with you that IM rocks. About 5 years back, my teenage daughters sat down with me and showed me how to do it.

Man, I felt like a fool for the entire lesson! But now I can't imagine my life without it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Okay, I'm really late today. I was baking for a youth fundraiser all Friday and bidding on everyone else's desserts until now but wanted to get my 2 cents in.

Great blog, Janet. I love IM'ing, too! The conference IM with the other Chicks was my first group IM convo but I had used it a few times before. Actually, when my 10 yo son gets home from school, he'll say hi and gets his snack, then he'll go on his Dad's laptop and IM me and say, 'Hi, Mom.' again. He's just around the corner from me but he likes to IM. I think that's why I laughed so hard Janet, when you mentioned kids on bikes texting each other.

Janet - you said, Can you imagine writing your novel on a typewriter? and then you have writers like Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone With the Wind in longhand. Yikes!!!

Suse - you mentioned multi-tasking. I really like the MSN IM feature that highlights the orange tab when someone talks to me. That way after I send my words, I can go do whatever on another page and get back to them when they answer. The IM on FaceBook doesn't allow that. For the FB IM, you have to stay on the FB screen. As soon as you leave it, your IM box is gone, too. I can't multi-task on FB because of that. Too many times, I've sent a msg, gone to do something and then forgot and left the person waiting for me. Not good. :(

My hubby didn't use IM until he went to Calgary on business. Then he'd IM to us each night. It was a lot cheaper than the phone!

IM has all the benefits of a Chat Room except you don't have to book a time or log in. Just contact and you're off. Convenient.

Again, great post, Janet.