By Amy MacKinnon
It didn't go well.
Weeks ago, I submitted the first two chapters of my WIP to my writers' group. It was my turn to be critiqued, and truth be told, I was a wreck. I was at a crossroads and badly needed these pages to be good. Having my first book, Tethered, well-received by publishing types should have been all the reassurance I needed. But we are writers and we are required to prove our merit anew (to the world, but more important to ourselves) with each subsequent story.
The other issue at hand was I'd just finished reading the sophmore effort of a writer whose first book was brilliant. This second book was a disappointment. It read too much like his debut, even the characters had the same voice, inflections, physicality. I didn't want to write another version of Tethered so I stetched beyond my abilities. This work-in-progess of mine could not be first person, there would be no present tense, there would be multiple points-of-view and even an omniscient narrator. It was a struggle.
My writers' group was kind, of course. First, they spoke of the good contained within my pages and then told me all that wasn't working: too much backstory plunked in here; slow down the action there; be careful to tread lightly with the visuals in this section; and, no, that nickname doesn't work at all. They were kind and they were honest.
Afterward, I thought I had shown them too much too soon. For me. I was feeling fragile and uncertain, I should have waited. Perhaps this story wasn't what I should be writing. It was hard.
From time to time, I'd open up the document and re-read what I had. Should I proceed? I started another. I liked it very much, it would be a joy to write. Almost easy because I'm so close to it. The research will be a cinch. There is no ease to the research with my WIP. My book is based on actual events, a horror the world turned its back to, but one I can't forget. Reading, and oh my God watching, what mothers and fathers, what young children had to endure left me devastated. I should let go of the story, I thought.
But it wouldn't let go of me.
What I didn't realize (and you may find this difficult to believe) was that each time I reviewed my WIP, I revised it. It seemed too little to meet the demands of my writers' group -- they have very high standards expressed in the kindest possible terms. A tweak here, deleting a paragraph there, punching up dialogue all around moved it forward, though I was certain it wasn't enough.
Last night, they critiqued those same pages. Their hard work and mine was rewarded; they deemed the work up to par. After they finished with their feedback, Lisa asked if the last time had been too much, too critical. I told her it was, that I hadn't been ready to hear all they had to say so early on in the project. But Lynne disagreed. She said that while I may have felt that way, the revision proved otherwise. Hannah agreed the proof was on the page.
I don't know how some writers do it, how they work without the support of others who know what it is to labor and second-guess and obsess over every word on the page. To wonder if the work is good enough and not receive an answer.
Last night felt exactly like the very first time I presented the first two chapters of Tethered to Hannah, Lisa, and Lynne. I was elated and reassurred that I was on the right path. More than that I was grateful to know I have these three extraordinary women in my life.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
By Amy MacKinnon