This post was inspired by a recent post/comment thread I participated in on the blog of a writing friend – Paul Dail, author of The Imaginings, which I’ve reviewed previously. So I apologize if any of you saw that and parts seem redundant, but it got me to thinking and I wanted to think a little more so decided to do a post of my own…
I’ve gone on a bit here about how the writing thing is going well lately (woohoo!). That is great news, because it means things are moving along, but it also means that I need to start thinking about not only the writing but also the editing/revising/preparation-for-publishing stuff. And that part of the process is a bit of a black hole to me. So I’ve been thinking more and more about how to get my work into cleaner shape.
I have wonderful family/friends who have read some snippets of work here and there, and have gotten very nice comments from a handful of you non-related, non-biased-in-my-favor readers. But what I need is not nice people saying nice things – I need people saying the not-so-nice things.
I need a writing buddy.
For those not in the know, a writing buddy in this context is someone who is also a writer and who is willing to trade excerpts, chapters, or stories back-and-forth with you for comments/critiques. It’s someone who will give you the unbiased, unglossy truth, who will pick you apart and point out the grammatical errors, the inconsistencies, and the holes. It’s the person who will tell you that your baby is ugly, your cooking sucks, and your haircut makes you look fat. But hopefully it’s also the person who will do that in a constructive way – offering suggestions, not just criticism. In other words, the person who will give you baby sunglasses, cookbooks, and hats/head scarves.
The problem for me is not accepting the criticism. I’m actually okay with that. I know I won’t like it. But it’s like the doctor – I know enough to know that I need someone who knows more than me (and believe me, that’s a lot to know), so I know I have to get the help. The problem for me is that I don’t like working with other people. BLECCH.
I got out of corporate America because I was sick of working with other people. I have always hated group projects and collaborative stuff because most of the time, let’s face it, other people suck. But, as I said, sometimes you need other people, and you need to collaborate. So I decided to suck it up, buttercup, and do what I had to do.
Fortunately, I had a writing friend (through Book Blogs) with whom I had already hit it off, who was looking for something similar. I knew she was way far ahead of me, content-wise. She had offered some helpful tips during the course of our “getting to know you” email exchanges, and I already knew we were similarly-tempered from that. In the course of talking about writing she asked if I’d be interested in trading material for critiques. I didn’t bite right away, out of the general leeriness mentioned above, but because I knew I needed to keep moving forward, decided that this might be the swift kick in the arse I needed to stay motivated. So I said okay. I figured I could always do one back/forth then beg off for the future if it didn’t go well…
Long story very short, you could knock me over with a feather at how pleasantly surprised I’ve been by the process. I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful I found the process. Her comments are always insightful – sometimes I use them, sometimes I don’t, but it always helps to know how a reader experiences what I write. I’m a very lazy editor, so if nothing else she always helps remind me that what is crystal-clear to me is not always so to the people living outside of my head.
I also found it surprisingly helpful to critique someone else – it helps me see/think about things to be mindful of in my own stuff. It’s hard to find the time sometimes, to be sure, but we are both very upfront about time limitations and the importance of blunt (but constructive) criticism – and about appreciating that we are very different writers with unique styles, which means we won’t always do anything with every critique point.
It’s turned out to make a world of difference to me to know that I have someone waiting to see more from me on a regular basis. It’s also helping to have “deadlines”, albeit very soft and self-imposed. That’s been a big issue with me for a while (teehee), and the accountability that comes from owing work to a person who is NOT related by blood or marriage (teehee again) is exactly the kind of arse-kick that I often need to keep working when the lure of Temple Run or one of the fifty novels sitting on the shelf call my name.
I’m curious to hear what any of you out there think about writing buddies or critique groups or similar comment-trading scenarios. I’m also now in a writing group, which is another utterly new experience for me, so any thoughts on those would also be particularly interesting. I will keep you posted on my progress with both – I’m more certain of the writing buddy than the writing group at this point, but who knows what the future will look like…