Friday, August 26, 2011
The "Eyes" Have It
It's the mark of a writer, I suppose, that I am less worried about making sure the fridge is stocked and the batteries in the flashlight are fresh and that we have a portable radio than that my laptop is fully charged so that I can write if the power goes off.
Writing is going pretty well.
Which is not to say the writing itself is good. I have no idea about that anymore.
It's great having a writing group that has been together for years. I love them. I know I can depend on them. I know they love me, but that they will also be totally and brutally honest if I write crap. Over the years, I've learned so much from them that I can now see, while writing, what they would say needs changing. Sometimes I leave it in to see if I'm right. I almost always am. I smile when I see "You need to cut this line" right next to the line I knew they'd hate.
The problem with having a writing group that's been together for years is that we have settled into a comfortable way of critiquing. We all tend to focus on the same things we've always focused on, the things we are acutely aware of.
This past week I sent a few pages to a fellow MFA student. I don't usually do that, even though they offer all the time, because I know how overloaded they all are themselves. But I needed fresh eyes. Someone who had never read any of my new book, who didn't come to the pages with any kind of preconceived notion of what the book was about. I thought I knew the kind of response I'd get. I was wrong.
I was stunned to see the critique come back with completely different types of critiques than I was used to. He pointed things out to me I would never have thought of, something that I don't think any of my fellow writing group members would ever think to point out. It was a bit mind-blowing, in the best kind of way.
Let me be clear that it wasn't necessarily better, it was just different. And different was exactly what I needed in these pages.
And some of his comments had broader application, things I will think of and apply not just in these pages but in the entire book, and in all of my writing going forward.
We writers tend to be solitary people, but writing should not be a solitary act, even though it feels that way when we sit with just the computer or pen to keep us company. The best of work needs fresh eyes. Only others can see the weaknesses we can't. Others can teach us things we don't know that they've learned.
And in the best of circumstances, as with my long-held critique group as well as with my fellow MFAers, we learn from those critiques, and they make us better writers in the long haul.
Do you have a critique group or a special beta reader? What is the best thing about having them for you?