Well, I fell off the planet. Yes, a metaphor – falling off the planet would be extremely difficult. That, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I met my “rough draft” time frame and I am now working on improving said draft. It has a long way to go but I’m very happy with the introduction (1 chapter down, 40ish to go!). It’s sitting at around 97,000 words.
The original beginning was scrapped. It might show up later but now it’s just referred to in passing. I thought cutting scenes would hurt… you know, someone grabbing your innards and twisting as I gasped for enough air to stay conscious. But, you know what? I feel fantastic! It’s one of the few large cuts I’ve made and felt extremely therapeutic. There’s also a level of vivacity and sexiness to the new opening that I really enjoy. Every writer should enjoy their own work. After all, that means one person likes it!
Commentary on Critiquing:
Words can hurt, can inspire, and can make a writer walk away from their project. They can also close a writer off to the intent behind each syllable spoken. In a critique group (and I am a member of many), we read the work of others to provide feedback to help them improve. Sometimes it’s extremely concrete. Sometimes we can’t give that same concreteness to the words we use to critique because technically the story is fine but something is missing in the heart of the scenes which are read.
The other day a new critiquer read through a few (later) chapters of my rough draft. He had not read any of the earlier stories, which can be problematic in fantasy. He has little context for some of the words or growth of the characters to that point. He response was (I’m paraphrasing) “I don’t feel you, the author, in this. I don’t see what you like. Reading this is like reading a textbook.” So, concrete? Not really. Painful to hear? Absolutely. What were they reading? Part two of a first draft.
A few reactions I thought I could have: My novel? You couldn’t feel me? Preposterous! He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A textbook? Well, I read a lot of textbooks I liked, so there! He obviously can’t enjoy a good text book.
Are these the emotions I thought worthwhile and constructive? Nope. If I employed them I was listing to the letter of the words spoken, not the intent. And, let’s face facts, not everyone likes what I write. When I’m done, if I’m lucky, agents, editors, and publishers will all have a go at twisting my words, telling me to cut them, expecting me to improve what I wrote so it will sell. If I ignore one critique because of the words used, I’m not learning how to handle rejection.
So, let’s start with the initial reaction: Ouch! Ok, got that out of the way. I, as the writer of those pages, had to work hard during and after a critique like that to understand what he was saying and be open to take the time to process.
This goes back to some of the critters.org guidelines which suggest that the words chosen to critique material are chosen with care. Now, lest you think I threw my walls up (per my earlier examples) and said he was wrong, I thought about it. He was saying the description could have been better. See, those sections were mostly straight from a character’s POV (except one – sure enough that was the part he liked) without elaboration on the setting, places, etc… It was an area I was aware needed improvement. So, I focused on the intent, which was similar to comments other spoke throughout the night. I listened, I learned, and I went home to write and allow the writing to soothe the remaining ache.
Remember when you review someone’s work, while you might not be able to see their heart in the story, it’s there. Hidden beneath words, diluted by facts, it sits on those pages you are reading.