I have more than one critique group — I’m a hussy like that — and I put my precious baby up for review at both of them this month. I was surprised to find that, after numerous other reviews and feedback sessions, anticipating these results had me nervous, anxious and (to my surprise!) prematurely defensive. This doesn’t usually happen, so I sat with the feeling and tried to figure out what was causing them. I realized what the stakes were.
The feedback I received at this stage would determine whether I fix this story or shelve it and move on. I had psyched myself out. I am definitely not the smartest person in the room in either group, so their semi-pro and pro opinions would make or break me and this story. I mentioned this to some of my fellow writers, and they reassured me that everyone goes through this experience.
So, bracing myself for the avalanche of problems, unresolvable questions and general distaste, I loaded up on wine and chocolate, pulled out my notebook and took it.
There were problems. Of course there were problems. Fortunately, they were fixable and my fellow writers very generously supplied me with handouts on grammar and point-of-view. Free classes! Woohoo!
Almost all of the unanswerable questions did, in fact, have very fleshed-out answers; but they were in my head and not on the page. That’s the neat thing about going through multiple drafts — the more you get to know your world, and the more notes you take, the more comfortable you feel cherry-picking the relevant details for the book. It’s much more natural than dumping a two-page history lesson in the middle of a narrative story.
We tend to remember our fuck-ups more vividly than our successes. At first, I was concerned that they had softened their answers because I told them I was nervous; but the pre-printed feedback notes told me otherwise. To beat back the doubts and anxiety, I mark here some of the things they said I did well.
“[The book’s] flaws–and there are some–are technical ones, and quite easy to fix. If I were offered this in my capacity as an editor, I’d jump on it.”
“The prose, with one exception that I’ll get into later, felt very polished and downright poetic in places.”
“There were two arcs that needed to be closed, I liked that one ended happily and the other ended sadly.”
“You mention a lot of really cool stuff, but there’s no payoff (or it’s subtle/implicit in other interactions) make sure those answers are in the text.”
I can’t express my gratitude to this group enough for their patience and support. I’m constantly learning from their examples and perspectives. They are a truly brilliant and dedicated group. Thanks guys. You rock.