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.