Saturday, January 26, 2008

Isolation and Power Bars

The Lost Highway, a short story coming out in the March release, Love, Texas Style, was my first solo trek. Short as it was, it was exhilarating. Like a secret kept for three weeks no one knew about.

I've always surrounded myself with critique partners, which in the early stages, was invaluable. We learned together, commiserated about horrific contest scores, signed up for college writing courses and offered up everything we had as a sacrifice for the benefit of the whole.

But the time comes when the writers of a particular group become over-saturated in each other's words and find it difficult to be objective. This happened a year or so ago. Our meetings shifted from devouring each other's pages, pen in hand, to discussing plot possibilities and market potential. We still commiserate over setbacks, but we've entered a more complex part of ourselves as writers. Where the drive to impress the outer world doesn't come close to the drive to impress oneself.

Stephen King advises writers to resist the urge to show the story to anyone until it's finished, and only then, an "ideal reader". Even a well-intentioned remark can alter the course of an entire story.

This time, not letting anyone in feels like a solitary pilgrimage without the necessities. Sure, I have a map, but what if I interpret it wrong? My only compass is internal, unreliable and skewed by shady things like bias and opinion. If I end up at a different destination than I would have with those tools, am I in the wrong place or on the journey I was meant to follow? And, I liken feedback to a power bar. Writers are like junkies looking for the fix of their next review, always wondering how our words land on another's ear. Without this nourishment, the end seems to outdistance me.

As strong as I've been writing The Night Caller, I couldn't resist the urge to send out the first ten pages to a few contests. Enticing as it is to land on an editor's desk as a finalist, this time I wanted a handful of Beta readers. People who didn't love my work just because they loved my potential or what I'd done in the past. Sentinels at the first step to ensure I headed in the right cardinal direction. I can take it from there, can't I? Maybe it was a mistake, going against the advice of Sir Stephen, but I told myself I wouldn't actually read the feedback until I'd arrived at the end of the journey.

And when I make it to Timbuktu, I'll have a power bar waiting for me.

At what point do you open your work up to someone else's interpretation?


Sandra Ferguson said...

Interesting introspection.

When is too much advice simply too much advice?

The better the writer . . . the soon that advice becomes too much.

Wow, do you have writers pegged, though. That whole 'we need the next review, the next positive piece of feedback'. Yep, you're right. We're comment addicted.

How hard to go it alone and trust only our personal instincts, but how rewarding when the words flow true.

Marilyn Brant said...

Great post, L.A. :-)

I could've benefited (greatly) by the advice of other writers earlier in the process of my first several novels. I waited until I was done before asking for feedback, and the errors I made required such tremendous rewriting that one novel is still untouched in a dark corner of my hard drive.

Then I started getting feedback earlier... Too early, as it turned out, because it kept me from finishing a different novel for months and months.

Now, it's a mix. Certain readers I'll trust to scan a first chapter or two, just to see if I captured the tone, made the character intros clear, etc. Most often, though, I wait for critiques until I'm done with an entire first draft.