Wednesday, April 11, 2007

They Said What?

By Hannah

My husband took it far worse than I.

Our group met at my house for the first time since Amy, Lisa and I met Lynne. After pleasantries and general business, we pretended I was invisible and they critiqued my first full draft. Having done my own initial review, I was not surprised as they confirmed certain elements as strengths and of course, as weaknesses.

As after each of these full draft sessions, the reviewers’ faces crinkled in concern. Is this overwhelming? Do you know criticism comes from the heart, that you have Something, that we want to help you prepare to revise? As always, the reviewee was grateful, smiling despite the faults found, indeed, because of them. Confirmation of direction, next steps clear.

After they left, my husband, who had been puttering in the background, ears wide open, looked stunned. “You did all that work! How much of this do you take? Do you listen to everything they say? Where do you go from here?”

Up. Out. Better.

Fiction as a process is only revealed to people who throw themselves into it in a true way. I have always written, I write for work; still, I committed myself to fiction in a deeper way only two or three years ago. I didn't realize the difference at the time. It is only by doing, reading, doing, listening and doing, that the layers of skill and thought and craft required to complete a work, in every sense, become clear.

I explained to my husband that writing -- including revision -- is like building a house. The first draft is the shell, the walls, the layout. To put them up is a huge accomplishment, and to the outside world, the house appears done. Like new construction, however, it is highly unlikely to sell because of course, it is not finished. Still, you can walk through a first draft to see what it will become, its potential. You start a list of to-do’s to complete it. Structural pieces to shift, details to refine. Decorating, if you will, of scenes, of characters, of wordplay.

My husband heard, really for the first time, how far a first draft sometimes needs to progress before it is ready. What I heard from the group is that I have a house with potential. I am excited to move back through it, room by room, to make it a proper home for my story and characters.


Therese said...

Hannah, I love the house-building analogy (and have used it too!).

What's most apparent, and impressive, here is that you have exactly the right approach to handling your draft's critique.

Not to mention a terrific critique team...

All best wishes on your decorating efforts and a future sale. :)

Lori said...

Yes, your analogy works very well. I remember the first day of "real" critiquing in a university fiction writing class (as opposed to the tenative niceties that passed for such during the first couple weeks.) To hear your characters, your scenery, picked apart and rehashed was slightly painful - until you realized that your classmates were treating them as real writing! Searching out the flaws gave the story the power to spring to life, validated by the scrutiny of Readers.
Best of luck with your next steps!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Love the analogy--and jealous of your critique group. Man, I'd love to find that here in the heartland.

Larramie said...

Hannah, that was wonderful as it made the entire writing process become visually creative and -- dare I say -- almost fun? Of course before the building ever begins, there are those blueprints! ;o)

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Yes, I too love the house analogy, Hannah. I'm curious what your husband does for a living. It's funny how sometimes we think men are impervious to criticism like the kind we receive. But I'm convinced some of them would crumple up on the floor for 10 minutes, then get up, wad up their ms, and pitch it in the trash. (I don't mean to make sweeping generalizations, here--sometimes I feel like doing this!)

We women are resilient! And you have a vision. You are already thinking beyond the framework. You are having garden parties! Good luck with your revisions!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I am SO lucky to have these three women, so strong at reading as well as writing. I learn so much from them and through them, and from listening to writers like yourselves talk to what the layers entail. My husband is in marketing, too. It's so quick, hit the mark and out, in comparison to this. And I do think women find out far sooner that life is not a straight line; once you know that, it is so much more manageable. (I almost wrote easier, but that's not accurate, is it?!)