Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Holding Fast

By Hannah

Sitting at Group, sometimes one of us will start with careful praise before coming around to something big that didn’t work. The reader was led astray, for what? The place where the story seems to lead is impossible. This is not about small edits, but major elements. The writer waits, hoping another voice will chime in to say even a bit of it worked, that a goal was met, an effect achieved. Sometimes the voice appears, sometimes it doesn't. Heavy sigh.

Having work read gives me the sensation of watching trapeze artists moving from one set of rings to another. There is the smooth arc across, the leap. Will they or won’t they make it? The apprehension is real. Even if I don't agree with the criticisms, I have let readers dangle, or worse, drop.

Most often, criticism points out ways to improve the set-up. The overall performance is fine; it's the rings that are in the wrong place. Maybe earlier details are needed, a shift in the reader's attention, a change in pace.

There are, of course, a few occasions where there are real differences in opinion. We have discovered it's okay. Really. We understand every reader has a unique history and distinct preferences. The trick is to never discount or dismiss those differences, but to hear them and consider them with care.

In doing so, we have found value not just in the feedback, but in screening work against a tiny sample of the reading population. We respect each other's opinions, take them seriously. As a result, we are more firmly grounded in what we are willing to concede, and where we must hold fast when our stories venture into the wider world. We have become better listeners and better editors, but we have also become better advocates for ourselves and the stories we have to tell.


Patry Francis said...

Learning when and how to advocate for your point of view when you believe you're right, and when to relinquish it and LISTEN when a reader makes a valid criticism are so valuable.

I envy you your writing group!

Anonymous said...

We did come to this process wary yet hopeful, and it has been a learning process that expanded as we came to trust each other, rather than something we fell into quickly. This blog's origins really are in others asking questions of us, helping us realize how lucky we are in how it developed!