Wednesday, November 9, 2011

They're Talking About You (and Me)

When I first began my journey of writing and publishing my book, I read quite a few blogs, articles and books on the process.  They all had a few things in common:  the authors said that no manuscript is ready for review as soon as it is written.  They suggested multiple edits, critiques and revisions.  They talked about the process being long and difficult.  They reminded us that very few writers become published, and out of those, even fewer experience success with their work.

I read those words, and although I wouldn't have admitted it at the time, deep inside I was thinking, "That doesn't apply to me. I edit as I write.  My manuscript is perfect as it is written."  I loved my story so much that I couldn't imagine changing even one word.

Three years later, I can only look back and laugh.  My book has grown and evolved so much from that first version, and while there is part of me that mourns what was, I understand that its present form is better. . and I recognize that there is always room for improvement. 

As writers, we so identify with our work that it can be tough to recognize what that work needs.  And after we've poured our blood, sweat and tears into months or years of tender care, hearing that it's still not quite good enough is extremely painful. . so we decide that that advice isn't meant for us.

Guess what?  It is.  There is no writer or written work so perfect that it cannot be improved.  There is no story so complete that it cannot be tweaked.  When those in the know give advice. . they're talking about you.  And me, as it turns out.

As I've mentioned, I work with a terrific group of writers who support each other, offer encouragement and perform monthly critiques on each others' work.  Our core group has learned through trial and error what the others want to hear, how tough we can be, and where we need to pull back.  More than once, we've had authors join us and leave after a single critique cycle.  A few have told me that they didn't expect the level of criticism they received; they came to the group looking only for accolades, not for constructive help. 

I get that.  Hey, I'd love it if every month, my fellow writers told me that the chapter I submitted was so perfect that they couldn't suggest changing one iota.  Well, I'd love it if it were true.  But I am happier that they instead tell me the truth:  they point out a redundant word, question the actions of a character, ask me about motivation or continuity.  Pats on the back are nice, but they aren't going to help me in the long run.

If you're just beginning the road to writing book, don't be discouraged by those in the know.  But don't think you're the exception to the rule.  Know that even authors who routinely see their books on the New York Times best-sellers list admit that their work could have been improved. So can yours, and so can mine.

We writers are a fragile bunch, but we need thick skins to be out there in the world.  So pull up your big girl panties and get on with it.

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