A lot of people have seen me in my underwear.
At least, it certainly feels that way.
The first book I wrote, I didn’t tell a soul about. I sat at my computer day after day, knowing that this is what I want to do with my life, but I had no idea how to do it.
Every day, and every page had no destination in mind. It really truly was about the journey of being one with my keyboard.
And then I was done, and I had to take that next step. I had to give it to somebody to read.
While I love my story, and I know that THAT book was always meant to be my first, the idea of letting somebody else read it made me a little queasy.
I did what we tend to do in times of crisis. I put my need in the hands of someone I trust with my life and I asked them to tell me that I am okay. That it would all be okay.
And then I hid under the desk, in a ball, with my hands wrapped around my head until I was reminded (twenty five thousand times) to believe in myself.
All I kept thinking was that I feel like I’ve walked out on stage for all the world to see, in my underwear.
I’d like to tell you that this feeling of waiting for judgement goes away. I’d like to tell you that I can put my drafts into the hands of anyone anywhere and believe in myself the way I am constantly (and lovingly) reminded to.
Every story is a piece of me, and I am essentially giving it to you and waiting to see if it is loved. If it is liked. If it is good enough.
I am always going to worry.
What has gone away is the fear that I am standing on this stage, in my skivvies, alone.
In the summer of 2016 I joined a critique group. This group is made up of six other writers, all who range in experience, genres, and even age. We span decades, and represent all stages of life. We have a private network where we chatter online. Sometimes checking in every once in a while, and sometimes filling days on end with non-sensical chatter.
We trade work weekly, and that too is at all stages. Some of us have polished works of art and some of us are slinging out NANOWRIMO clay.
I’m a tough girl, and I’m smart enough to know that there is always room for improvement. There have been weeks where I thought that I handed in something that was going to get a standing ovation. Never in the history of ever has there been such a beautiful combination of words. And then I open my pages and I see a red-penned massacre. Even worse, the paragraph that I thought was the pinnacle of perfection had been highlighted, by all six, with various notes that collectively told me- What is the point of this?
There have also been weeks where I accidentally fell into brilliance. – That right there, best sentence. Way to bring it round back to X,Y, Z.
Yeah, because I meant to do that…totally.
To their credit, I think I am one of the harshest partners. It’s nothing for any one of them to open up their returned document and be flooded with hundreds of red lines, and notes in the margins. I’ve slashed, highlighted, and cut. I’ve rewritten and flat out said – this is what you meant to say.
I have to admit, I love beta reading/ light editing as much as I love writing.
My red pen shows no mercy. I know this, and I make no apologies for it.
Our jobs as writers is to stand at the edge of our limits. Our jobs as critique partners is to push each other just that one step farther. Because that is where we know our partners will shine.
And they do shine.
I didn’t think I could love these ladies more.
But then just a few weeks ago, two of my partners had the unique opportunity to have their works reviewed by industry professionals not yet in any of our grasps. They could have taken their notes, edited accordingly, and moved along with the next books. I really wouldn’t have been the wiser.
What they did instead was share their feedback. They were brave enough to not only share the intimate experience that is drafting a story from scratch, but they were kind enough to point out the weaknesses that had been exposed.
Not to benefit their own writing, but to benefit mine.
They are allowing me the honor of learning from their mistakes, and that is an enormously brave thing to do.
I’ve noticed this about not only my critique partners, but about writers in general. And it doesn’t matter how famous they are. A couple of months ago I went to a meeting where the speaker was an agent at a very prestigious publishing house. The point of the evening was to workshop our blurbs (the bit on the back of your book that tells you what it is about so you can make a ten second decision to buy or put it down). We went around the room, and anyone who wanted to could share their blurb in progress, and have advice from this agent as to how to improve it.
It took a bit of courage, but I shared mine. To my surprise, the agent had little issue with it. She smiled and said “That sounds like a really sweet story.” She said if I were to do anything at all to it, maybe tighten it up a bit. Cut out a few sentences.
The writer sitting next to me who was, is, and probably always will be out of my league whispered to me- Email that to me, I’ll help you clean it up.
Just last month, our monthly meeting was simply a plotting workshop. I sat with three other writers, and we told each other about our stories and where we were stuck for ideas. And together we brain stormed to get each one of us up and over our “wall.” It was, essentially the grown up version of the story game where you go round and round, building a story one narrator and sentence at a time. It was great fun to imagine what I would do in somebody else’s book, and it will be even more fun to discover if any of my ideas will make the final cut. I came home with pages full of ideas for my next project. And several offers of – please e mail me if you need more help.
I have never met a group of people more willing to share their obstacles so that another writer can find the path of least resistance.
I have never met a group of people more willing to run down the road of success and turn back to make sure that those that follow don’t get lost.
I have never met a group of people more willing to stop, and pick each other up and dust each other off.
I am a better writer than I was a week ago. I am a better writer than I was a month ago.
A year ago.
I am better because I have a network of people who know that I can in the moments that I believe that I cannot.
Thanksgiving was just a few days ago, and for you I give thanks.
To my six, and the extended network that I have grown over these past few years, I am eternally grateful for the trust, and faith that we share in each other.