Not long ago, I found myself intrigued by another writer’s thoughts on reading others’ works, and we got into an exchange, and he shared his MS with me. I wanted to share my own in return, but AX has been done to death (sigh!) and the WIP is so early, everything I “write” is literally sketchy. To call it a draft is perhaps even a misnomer, because right now the only non-research work on the novel is telling MYSELF the story.
I threw what passes for a first chapter or so his way, and got very quick feedback, in detail.
The most interesting part of this is that he took it seriously enough TO critique it. To me, this “writing” is strictly throwaway; if it’s draft at all, it’s still only first draft, and that means nothing of it will exist after revision, perhaps not even after a first pass at it. The scene itself, I think is probably where the book does begin, but I’ve been wrong before (and then wrong again) – and I know how early I am in the progress; I know enough to know JUST how much I don’t know right now. Any statement I make about the WIP is bound to become idiotic in a year’s time, in two years’ time (deliver us all from its taking a decade again, but even so my work isn’t the sort of thing that moves like NaNo) (and now somebody needs to record that as a Weird Al style parody of Moves Like Jagger).
This is why anything I write about the WIP is conceptual, rather than particular.
So it was actually a remarkable pleasure to get feedback like it was real writing. It provides something I didn’t really have with AX, and it also opens up doors – and poses questions.
The first of which is, if a beta reader is like a beta tester, making sure a product/novel is ready for RELEASE, and an alpha reader is the one who gets the fun of cleaning the butterknife … what comes even before alpha? I mean, I haven’t even bought a knife for this dragon, y’all, and it’s no time to go bandying at the beast while she’s still sleeping and I’m miles away in a little quiet glen.
Or something like that.
Feedback is that thing writers savor and sicken from; we can indulge too much and get indigestion, and we hate it and love it in equal measure, even simultaneously. Yet it is always – always – generous of anyone to GIVE a writer feedback. To fail in gratitude for any reader is foolish; even critique we don’t take on is an effort made on our behalf.
Feedback isn’t self-gratification. It is always a gift.
Even if the gift doesn’t fit, they took the time to give it. Even that one person in your crit group who always seems not to “get” your groove, if they speak to your work, the ONLY reason for that is “to make it better” (that their idea of “better” may involve invariably pretty people getting it on, or Must. Have. Werewolves. or whatever their particular thing, is beside the point). When you ask for it – and you get it – feedback is never anything but the result of someone thinking of your work.
That’s a hell of a big deal, really.
I lost Mr. X for a reader when he disagreed with other feedback I was taking, massive cuts to AX when he thought “there was good stuff in there.” And the thing is, he was right, there was good writing. It just wasn’t good writing that served the ultimate goal, which was telling the right parts of the story. He couldn’t take the waste; he was more attached to my darlings than I was. Except that: it wasn’t. Words can be very, very pretty indeed, and even exciting – and still have no use as one part of a whole. This is why the call it killing the darlings, of course. You don’t just kill off the ugly and the useless and the weak, you have to take the scimitar (or the butterknife …) to GOOD WORK, if it doesn’t honestly contribute to the greater structure.
There are many, many beautiful pieces of art and furniture and so on I admire and might even love to have, but not all the beauty in the world will actually fit inside my house.
This is what drafts are for.
And so I have a lot of pretty “writing” right now, which has earned the irritating scare quotes I know are probably giving some of you a case of the hives, and which will not be a part of the final MS. I’ll know it happened. I may even let it continue to exist electronically, for when I finally do get published, establish myself as a literary light, and the Ivy Leage university library of nobody’s dreams someday needs to curate my body of work for posterity.
(Or, y’know, just because I am vain.)
The pretty things don’t live any less because I don’t put them in a glass display case and preserve them at all costs.
Some pretty words are … just exercise.
But it’s always nicer to have an exercise partner, and to remember that writing *is* exactly that. That it is a limbering, a means to some kind of fitness, and that doing it with others takes away some of the fear and the anguish and can be motivating and just more fun.
I found out not long ago one of my dearest friends, TEO (The Elfin One), harbors regret that she never helped me when I asked her to beta read AX.
Now, I certainly complained about that blasted butterknife and no backup. And obviously that revision was not a good one; once That Certain Agent gave me an R&R, and good feedback, it got somewhere. But merely surviving the dragon wasn’t enough for that MS, not that first time.
But that someone would regret not being there with me? That she would apologize after all this time, and re-up for service on the WIP. That it would even be an emotional matter … ?
I was stunned. It had never occurred to me.
Like so much about writing, it hardly ever occurs to us as is doin’ it, that there’s anyone else in the world who’ll ever really, truly SEE, read, hear, be there in and with and for it. I still never have gotten the hang of being able to really feel it when anyone has my work. The idea is literally inconceivable, at least for my wee and paltry little brain.
And so empirical evidence there is someone stalking in the world I am still learning how to build … it’s curious, and one of those shocking surprises as an author.
This work exists. And it’s garnered an opinion, it’s sparked a thought.
Amazing. And I’m always glad, too, if that thought isn’t “yawn” or “what-the … !???”