Last night my writers’ group critiqued my current novel, or, more precisely, the 50,000 words that I’ve written. It was a good experience. They’re a tough bunch of critics, and I’d prepared myself to be dragged around the carpet and kicked into the corners. I’d submitted an unfinished manuscript, a first draft for F** Sakes. What was I thinking? But I woke up happy. In fact, I was smiling.
Reasons I am happy: They all read it through to the end. They mostly had positive things to say about the big issues like plot, narrative-drive and story (there were some quite major issues with character… which I can handle). Some members even read it in one sitting. There were words thrown around the room like ‘Love’ and ‘Brilliant’ (there were also words like creepy and weird and sexpot, but I won’t expand on those).
I won’t dwell on the bad things that were said, because I’ve written them in my notebook as signposts for making my novel better. Every reader brings something fresh and unique to the table and, even if you don’t agree, it’s an impartial reader’s opinion, which is invaluable. I’ve learnt far more from this group than on any of the creative writing courses I’ve attended.
Maybe I’ve just grown a tougher skin, but there were no bruises on my body when I got up this morning. I was tired and slightly hung-over, from a little wine and a lot of cheese and salami, but I still managed to get up with the kids, take my bike for a walk to the bike shop (needs new mudguards), and return via a lovely new knitting shop we have here on the high street called Wild and Woolly (just had to mention it, http://www.wildandwoollyshop.co.uk/), to my desk, where I sat down to work. I started with an experiment: to change the first chapter of my novel from first to third person.
When I began this book I wanted to write it in third person, but didn’t because I fell into what felt comfortable – First-Person Slightly Nuts Female Narrator – and occasionally, while writing, I’d say to myself, Really? Can I really only write like this? Of course, I know in my heart that I can write in whatever way I decide to write, only it takes time and bravery. As one of our group members pointed out last night, in order for us to grow as writers we need to know our strengths and weaknesses, and, interestingly, even though I tend to write in first person, one of my weaknesses is my tendency towards internal monologue, pad psychology and melodrama (not good). Sometimes we need to take a step back, to be able to breathe fresh air into the world we are creating. By changing the perspective, I saw these deadly words, passages even, turn red before my eyes, as they fluttered from the page, screaming: Cut me out. It’ll be so much better without me.