Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tacking on That Tough Skin

A week ago I took the next step in my writing journey. Through Twitter, I met some ladies who are part of a writing group that meets locally. I considered joining one before, even searched online, but hadn’t located one I thought would suit my needs. Or perhaps I wasn’t ready. Either way, this time when they invited me to come so we could check each other out, I committed.
            I tried not to think about things too much. I finished my current round of edits, printed my manuscript, query letter, and synopsis, and baked some killer pumpkin cookies with cream cheese icing (when in doubt, sweets never hurt, in my experience). Suddenly the evening arrived, and after a long day in hell…oops, I mean at my day job, I gathered the bits of my soul and set off into the unknown.
            I met everyone, and they seemed nice. We ate some minestrone soup and chatted about our goals and where we are currently, then got down to business. Since I’m the newbie, and they were sort of auditioning me, I went first. Let me say, I’ve never given my writing to anyone I didn’t know, except for college professors. The people who’ve read my novel liked it, but their opinions are colored by things like being related to me.
            I had been nervous before going, complained to my husband and my best friend about it. They tried to calm my nerves but, not being artists, they struggled to grasp the reason for my fears. Now, as I prepared to read Chapter One in a novel I’d been revising for months, my hands shook like a heroin addict two days sober, a fact I hoped they would attribute it to the coffee. My throat was dry and after the first few sentences the words stuck to my tonsils and had to be scraped off. I took off my cardigan in an attempt stem the flow of underarm sweat that threatened to bleed through my shirt. After reading about ten pages, then held my breath.
            They had nice things to say, assuring me that my writing wasn’t total crap, that my stories were worth telling. They also had some excellent advice on craft, an admitted weakness of mine and an area I am intent on improving. Their advice was sound, kind, intelligent, and timely. Two things amazed me. First, I didn’t die from embarrassment or anxiety. Second, they instantly put their finger on the problem I have struggled with for months. They only listened to ten pages, and were able to tell me how to make my beloved story work better. This is a subject for another blog, but reading and critiquing others can also immensely improve your own work. Turning your eye a different direction, looking for holes and craft issues instead of worrying about your story, benefits everyone.
            As artists, we are naturally sensitive people who crave rave reviews and positive reinforcement. It’s part of our makeup. Nathan Bransford blogged about it this week, it’s a good post that stirred up a hornet’s nest of comments. We want to defend our work, because as we write, little pieces of our souls break off and mix in with the prose. It’s hard when people stamp on them. If we don’t put our work out there for others, though, how will we improve? Art is inherently subjective. I love movies that make my husband want to claw his eyes out. I’ve seen art hanging in people’s homes that inspires me to vomit in their decorative urns. Different things appeal to different audiences. Everyone isn't going to love your writing. It will be enough if you can reach the people who do.
            So I challenge you, writerly people, to be brave and charge ahead. Let others help you improve, help you arrive at the point of reaching your audience. I hope I’m on my way, and I’m pleased as punch to have found a group of women whose opinions I respect. Go, find yours. You write a novel on your own, and it’s an intense, personal experience. Polishing that novel takes a village, just like raising a child.


  1. It's great that you took that step! I don't feel anywhere near ready to do that, but it's exciting to hear that the experience was constructive for you.

  2. That's awesome! I SO wish I could find a group like that. Kudos to you for going through with it despite your nerves. :)

  3. It must be wonderful to meet in person with your critique group. I have one online and I'd love to find one locally. I attended one group and the feedback was almost too positive after I did my reading. I didn't trust it. I wanted constructive stuff.
    I enjoy Nathan's blog as well. Learned a ton from it.
    ~ Wendy

  4. Hey there! I remember when you first put up your blog, now it looks like you're getting loads of hits!! Fantastic, way to go.

    A group is so valuable. I've met lots of great people here through a series of writers workshops, but Twitter is a whole new universe. I'm amazed by how it opens up information that I might never run across otherwise.

    Those pumpkin cookies sound wonderful, too!

  5. I am proud of you! Can't wait to read your work :)

  6. Critique groups--especially live interactive ones--are awesome. You may find that as you start reading and critiquing others' work, you begin seeing and understanding better how to fix your own stuff. And hey, just talking writing regularly with others can give you energy to keep at it.

  7. First of all, I just came across your blog and I'm so excited! Another historical fiction writer- we're few and far between! I have some catching up to do on your blog, but your novel has me totally intrigued. And I completely empathize with the evil job- I had one of those for years before I became a teacher.

    Congrats on getting out there and being critiqued. It's hard and painful, but worth it, eh? I've been working to critique people's work lately and it's a great experience. And I get my first true round of beta critiques for my book on ancient Egypt in two weeks. I'm scared and excited!

    I promise I'll be back to visit your blog! A lot!