Thursday, March 02, 2017

Advance Readers

Writing: A solitary act. A lonely profession. “I love doing signings,” a writer friend recently told me, “because everything else about the book I did alone.”

This week, I found myself contradicting those sentiments when I asked a student why he never shows me a draft before turning in his work. “No writer works in a vacuum,” I said. “In fact, I have three people reading the novel I’m writing right now as I’m writing it.”

Admittedly, this is a major change for me. A time warp of sorts. I find myself seeking more feedback as I get older (I turned 47 this week), a mentality antithesis to what I anticipated during graduate school in my twenties when I attended weekly workshops, writing a novel over three years. Following those weekly critiques –– some helpful, some worthless, some downright painful –– I assumed (is vowed too strong a word?) to write alone (save for my agent’s feedback) forever.

Yet here I am.

Why the change? Necessity is the mother of all inventions and of philosophical mood swings.

I’ve had a crazy year. I’m working more than ever, which at a boarding school –– where I chair a department of 19, am responsible for the English curriculum and experience for 650 teens, serve as dorm parent to 60, teach, and coach –– is saying something. Couple that with starting a new series, and I want someone reading behind me. If I get 10 pages a week of finished copy right now, I’m doing well. (In the summer, I get 10 pages a day.) So if someone has blue eyes on page three, a month later, on page 50, she might somehow have green eyes. Hell, I don’t just want someone reading over my shoulder, I need it.

But it has to be the right person. I can’t have someone reading the book in chunks whose comments focus on suggested changes to the storyline. The plot, after all, changes as I write. I continuously go back and add and trim and change. (My agent, for instance, doesn’t want to see the book until it’s finished.) In terms of plot, primarily, I want to know where the reader is confused. Tell me what doesn’t make sense. This process, in that light, is similar to how I approach student work: I ask questions; I point to what I don’t understand; state where I’m confused. I don’t give “the fix.” The work isn’t mine. I don’t have that right.

Having my work read and critiqued as I go is a new approach, one I haven’t used since graduate school. This time around, it hasn’t been painful. I appreciate my readers’ time. Let’s hope their work –– and mine –– pays off in the form of a strong finished manuscript.

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