Welcome to the official blog of Maumee Valley Romance Writers of America! We're a local writers' group in the Toledo, Ohio area. Most of us write romance, but we also have members who write other genres too. New members are always welcome to visit or join the group. See the meetings page for details. We post every Monday and Friday about all things book-related. Whether you're a writer, reader, or both, we hope you'll stop by often and get to know our dozen contributors.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Work in Progress

The idea that being a good writer takes lots of determination is not new to me. It’s only since I’ve made the decision to call myself a full-time writer instead of a wannabe writer that I’ve begun to understand just what this means.

Having a career writing stories has been a dream of mine since adolescence. But there was always something to keep me from doing it. On reflection, however, I realize that all of my reasons—even having a full-time job—were excuses. I could have found an hour or two a day to write if I had made the effort to do so. So why didn’t I?

Fear of failure. 

What if my writing isn’t as good as I think it is? What if nobody ever wants to publish it? What if I’m just wasting my time? If I don’t try, at least I won’t be devastated if I don’t succeed.

I knew when I embarked on this new adventure that eventually I would have to submit my work to others for critique. But when I rather miraculously discovered the ideal critique partner sooner than expected, I found myself panicking. Just do it and get it over with. So I did. And it wasn’t dreadful. It was helpful to see my story from the eyes of someone who hadn’t created it.

Although I revised the next installment rather extensively, I still had a feeling of doom when I sent it off to Desi. When she responded with a suggestion that I rethink the characterization, how did I turn that into “This really sucks and you might as well give up”? 

The good comments she wrote—and there were many—might as well have been invisible because all I could see was that my characters sucked—and that is a major issue.

After the initial shock faded—admittedly weeks, not days—I could finally accept that having to go back and rewrite the novel is not the end of the world. It is, in fact, a great help to me to be able to put my finger on the problem. I think perhaps I am now beginning to fully appreciate the value of having a good critique partner. 

When I finally confessed about my total freakout, she said, “Writing is such a personal act and we don’t always know how deeply our comments can wound. As a veteran of two creative writing degrees, I had years of returned torture to build up my alligator skin. I think the deal is that you’ll have to accept the positive things I say about your writing if you are going to accept the negative things. Either what I think has value for you or it doesn’t.”

Much like any other craft, writing is hard work and requires great effort and a willingness to learn. Skillful writers are made, not born. They write and rewrite many times over. It takes a certain ruthlessness to discard words that were so painstakingly put together when they turn out to be utterly wrong for the story. 

If I am serious about making writing a career and not just a hobby, I have to be able to see each project as a work in progress. If Hemingway rewrote “A Farewell to Arms” 39 times before it was published, what makes me think I’m a failure if I have to rewrite mine more than a few times?

My partner has helped me understand that as a writer, I am a work in progress too. Thanks, Desi, for holding my hand along the way.


Patrice Kavanaugh said...

Good for you for giving yourself time to reflect on how to react to the critique...and not just tossing out the good comments with the bad. And being willing to take another crack at getting that characterization just right. You'll get there!

Constance Phillips said...

Barbara, Thanks for sharing those feelings we all go through here. As writers, we want to be read, but receiving the criticism that goes along with that can be very hard. You're right though, it's part of the growth process. Part of getting better.

Ayda Recknagel said...

I love the very insightful quote from your critique partner. We don't intend to hurt when we critique others work, we only mean to help. When it's our turn on the receiving end, we're so close to the work that it's hard to see others comments in that light. Thanks for this post.