It’s our favorite day of the week (Tuesday? Hmm, why not? It’s Saturday somewhere…right? Either that, or I’m off schedule, and that couldn’t possibly be…)! That means it’s time to ramble.
So, you’ve written a draft. It could be a novel, a short story, a nonfiction essay, a comic, anything. You’ve finished it, polished it, edited, and revised it until you’ve gone cross-eyed. You feel like it’s done…but how can you be sure?
I was in a position like that once. (Well, I’ve been in that sort of position a lot, but I want to talk about a particular time.) I’ve had a problem manuscript for ten years, and I spent so long working on this one story. I wanted to know if I was making any progress at all. But I had no idea how to go about this.
The thing about a ten-year-old project? You get so close to the story that you can’t even see straight anymore. I had problems stepping back and looking at the big picture. But if I can’t work on the story anymore, if I’ve revised it to death already, then what more can I do to make it better?
Is it…dare I say…finished?
COULD IT BE???
I was just so done with the story that I answered yes and called it good for now. I started researching agents to query to, in the hopes that this manuscript was clean enough to send out.
There was, however, a little voice in the back of my mind, whispering little warnings, like, “It probably isn’t done. Remember that one plot hole you forgot to fill in?”
“Remember that one plot hole you forgot to fill in?”
“Well, yeah, but, like, it’s probably fine, right, like I could leave that as it is and come back to it in a later installment in the series. It’s…fine, it’s fine.”
“And remember that character you wanted to let live? He’s still dead in this draft.”
“But I like the death here.”
“You need this character for future storylines.”
“Hey: You wrote a whole blog post about not killing characters just to kill them. C’mon, you know better than this.”
“…Nah. I’m gonna call it good.”
Looking back, I can see just how underdeveloped the manuscript was. I refused to listen to that little critiquing voice in the back of my head though. Hindsight is 2020, I guess.
But a little part of me must have been listening to Annoying Writer’s Conscience because I ended up seeking help to see if my draft was finished.
Here’s the thing: Three years ago, I would never have sought out help from others beyond close family. Now that I’m brave enough to ask people to read my work and tell me what they honestly think, life is so much better.
I’m talking, of course, about the writing guru next to you: Your critique buddy. Your writer friend. Your reading group. Whoever you have in your life who likes to read and talk about what they read is a very valuable, opinionated person.
It’s important to have a fresh pair of eyes on your work. A pair of eyes that you can trust. A pair of eyes that care about what they’re reading. A pair of eyes that SEE EVERYTHING.
Now, by this point, I had learned a lot from experience not just with writing but with creating and relying upon a community of writers. Here are some points that are important to remember:
- Recognize that this draft is probably unfinished. Nothing is perfect; in some cases, not even published work. And there’s nothing wrong with having things to fix! It means more work, sure (and more work on a ten-year-old draft can be pretty difficult, believe me). But if you’re seeking readers, it’s to scout out anything you might be missing, so don’t rely on your writing and reading buddies to just tell you everything is hunky-dory. Because it’s probably isn’t. Which is why it’s best to…
- Be open to suggestions. If you found the trustworthy writing guru(s) within your community, then you’ve ideally built up some rapport with them. They want what’s best for your story, and they’ll tell you everything: what’s good about it, what needs fixing, etc. It’s best to keep an open mind and not take these suggestions personally. Unless a reader is super nasty about it (in which case they aren’t a guru so much as a nay-sayer), your guru is giving this hurtful advice purely for your benefit. Don’t throw out that much-needed LEGO brick just because you stepped on it in the middle of the night. Without it, you might not be able to build your super-cool LEGO airplane…or, you know, your story either, I guess.
- Be respectful of their time. People have a lot on their plate. Life happens. Things get in the way. And this friend/colleague of yours is reading your work as a favor (or, if you’ve bribed them with coffee and chocolate, a favor with strong incentive). It’s nice to show your gratefulness by being respectful of their time and telling them how much you appreciate them. Toss a coin to your guru!
- Know which suggestions to take and which to discard. Sometimes a reader will say something that is in direct conflict with what you had in mind for the story. In this case, take the suggestion. Think on it. Shine it up a little bit, put it in a different light. Maybe turn out the lights, close your eyes, and brood on it for a while. Fold it origami-style and see how far it flies. Take a bite out of it. Still tastes bad? Then politely spit it into a napkin and throw it out. As long as you’ve thought about the possibilities of implementing a reader’s suggestion, then you shouldn’t feel bad about not going in that direction. In the end, this is still your story. You’re the one who gets to tell it the way you want.
- Don’t lose hope. This one’s hard. Sure, my draft is close to being almost finished. That’s a long way from finished. But it’s an even longer way from not revised at all. Catch my drift? If you keep revising with the changes you need to make in mind, then the story will take shape. All you need to do is keep writing.
So, let this be a lesson to you, kids: Sometimes that Annoying Writer’s Conscience has a point. And if you’re ever unsure, don’t discount the people who are close to you in your life. Use their sage wisdom, be respectful of their time, and keep sight of where you want your story to go (or, be open to new directions). Who knows? Your LEGO airplane could soar to new heights you’ve never dreamed of.
Happy Tuesday! And talk to that writing guru next to you! You never know what sort of wisdom they’ll drop…