For various reasons, I've done a lot of thinking and discussing about critiquing and workshopping recently. In part this is because I had one of the worst critique experiences of my life a couple of weeks ago, when a new member joined my local critique group. I read her work ahead of time, and loved it. LOVED it. But it was a like reading two different manuscripts all jumbled together. Although she hadn't yet finished her first draft, she had been workshopping and critiquing and submitting it to many different contests. Everyone recognized her talent, but she had gotten so much different advice that the work read like it had been written by committee. And when I suggested she needed to go back to her own voice, she said, "but that's not what people are publishing." And yet it is. Within her genre, that's what the best books are like. She got so upset by my critique, so defensive and offended, that I actually resigned my group. I just felt I couldn't work with her and didn't want to stand in her way, or in the way of the rest of the group as a whole. In the long run, sadly, she is going to be the one leaving, and I truly, truly hope she will find the faith in the voice of her heart to see that she can write what she loves.
It's such a fine line. Trusting yourself versus trusting what critique partners, or agents, or experts have to say. The market is fickle, and we are all here searching for answers. I wish I had them. There are so many writers I want to hug and remind that they need to BELIEVE. Just BELIEVE. It will come. Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day. But it will come, because they have something important to say.
For me, I think that's the whole point of writing. We're communicating. It's entertainment, sure, but the stories I love and connect with are those that have some essential truth to share. Some inner core of beauty or ugliness that makes its way from the page to burrow into my soul.
Last week, I talked about the emotional heart of a story. For me, THAT is what writing is about. It's not about a great plot, or the mot juste, or a finely crafted sentence. Those have to be there too, but writing is also about creating a line from one heart to another.
There are many different hearts out there. Everything we read, every critique comment we receive, every workshop we attend grows ours a little more. Opens the spigot of our craft and knowledge a little bit more.
So if you are struggling, BELIEVE. Keep looking for the critique partners who will support you but give you honest feedback while letting you be yourself. I'm so blessed to have Marissa, Clara, Cici, Carol and Lisa Green along with my "real world" critique partners Karen and Elizabeth. Despite the solitary nature of writing, sometimes it takes a village to give us the courage to continue writing. The trick is that no matter how many critiques we get, no matter how many workshops we attend, we have to make our writing sound like it is our own, wholly our own. It can't be written by a village.
Write what you love. Love what you write. But make sure there is something in the manuscript, on every page of your manuscript, that contains an essential truth--a different truth--from what is already being published. If your pages could have been written by anyone else, there probably isn't enough of you on them yet.
So there. That's my droplet of knowledge for the day. I hope it will ripple through my own writing.
What about you? What's the essential truth of your writing journey? Have you found the nugget in your own story that only you can write? What makes you keep believing?