This blog is supposed to be about my author’s journey, right? That’s why it’s called WordWacker; I’m slogging through a jungle of words, looking for the right ones and slashing away at the wrong ones. I haven’t posted anything about the book in weeks, though, so it’s about time for an update.
The short version is that progress is slow but solid. Here’s the longer version.
Back in January I got the opportunity to join a local critique group. There are five members, counting me, and we get together every two weeks. During some busy times in the spring semester I didn’t have anything prepared to review at a meeting, but so far the group has reviewed my first five chapters, and it’s been great.
This group is exactly what I need right now as a writer. Everyone is serious about the craft of writing and understands the importance of constructive criticism. Nobody is brutal or hurtful, and they all take care to describe what they like best and what is working well. On the other hand, nobody is shy about pointing out what needs to be improved. In the photo you can see some of the notes I scrawled on my drafts as people pointed out everything from typos to unconvincing characters. I’ve written before about how important it is to listen to your readers, and with this bunch of people it has been enormously helpful. Here are some highlights of what they’ve taught me about these first few chapters.
On the plus side, I feel like Sally Fields: They like me! There have been lots of times when I’ve had the usual impostor syndrome, convinced that there’s no way I can actually pull off this writing gig. Not everyone in the group really loves what I write, of course. We all have our personal tastes, and my fantasy story is not to everyone’s liking, but overall the reception has been positive. It also helps that I’ve had the draft cooling for so long that each time I pull out the next chapter I’m surprised by some of what I find there, and generally I like it too. I’m especially happy to learn that my readers are connecting with my characters. One thing that seems to be working even better than I thought is the secondary characters. There are people who were just there for a chapter, even just a scene, that my readers could see vividly and care about: the tough but tender babushka, the cheerful Valkyrie, the whiny emo teen. They make me proud.
On the minus side, I’ve learned that I tend to over-write.I can take a good idea and hit it over and over in different ways until everyone’s sick of it. I’ve written about this tendency before, and it’s one of the reasons I started writing flash fiction for the contests that take place now and then on Janet Reid’s wonderful blog. (If you’re a writer and you aren’t following her blog, START NOW!) I figured I need the discipline of distilling a whole story down to 100 words or less. A lot of what I do now in revising my chapters before submitting them to the group is to take stuff out (which explains the pruning shears in the photo). I ask myself, Is this helping? Do I need it? Can I express this more directly? If so, out come the shears. One sign of this: on Monday, when I submit Chapter 6 to the group for review, I will have condensed the eight chapters of my first draft into just six. Everything is tighter, cleaner, and better, thanks to my critique group. So this is really a plus, not a minus.
That’s how the book is now. It’s going well. By the end of the summer I will have the whole thing revised into a second draft that’s substantially different, and better, than the first one. At that point I’ll need to look for more readers and get more feedback, so I can do more revising. After that–who knows?
Are you looking for a critique partner? Is contemporary fantasy something you’re interested in? If so, let me know in the comments, or email me directly: mail “at” celiareaves “dot” com, with the appropriate substitutions.