Friday, April 26, 2013

Re-learning Old Lessons: On Staying Humble And Open to Critique

I'm moving through another round of edits on the upcoming collection, and keeping in the spirit of being open and honest on this blog, I've gotta admit...

I'm kinda eating humble pie, at the moment.

I'll briefly set the scene for you. I've done okay the last few years. Sold a few stories, wrote a novella I think is pretty good (and it actually earned a few Stoker Recs), met a lot of people, worked hard and honed my craft, especially in two consecutive trips to Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp, donned an editor's cap, sold a story to a collection featuring Bentley Little, (forthcoming), and I'm working as a slush reader for one of the biggest horror magazines around.


So I've arrived, right? I'm "here."  I have a collection coming out featuring some seriously awesome cover art, and all the beta readers have made honest recommendations but have been pretty positive in their feedback. I'm finally here.

But then, something happened.

In an honest effort to make sure as many eyes as possible picked over this thing, I stepped outside the genre circle and offered the collection to one of my colleagues, a fellow English teacher, and asked her to look it over for me.  I met with her yesterday because she wanted to discuss her edits, and....

Hoo-BOY.

I'm not sure what I expected. Shamefully, I almost wonder if part of me was trying to "WOW" a fellow English teacher, kind of a childish "Lookit what I did!"  In any case, after setting me up gently, complimenting the strength of the stories themselves and my dialogue and characterization and imagery, she got right down to the nitty-gritty, and addressed my craft. A lot of it she really liked.

But, as usual...I overwrite. I "explain" too much. Even more troubling, I've been copying traits from some of my favorites writers, and it's painfully clear that I'm doing it WRONG, and it's not my style, not my voice.

Her words? She really liked it, and can't wait to read the final draft. But she felt that in some places my handle of the craft was "too loose and wordy" and needed some tightening, though she also conceded that many of her suggestions were opinions, too. 

I'm not gonna lie. Internally, I had a hard time with it, at first. Because I've MADE it, right? I'm HERE. How is this non-genre, non-writer person gonna critique ME? Especially with as much work as I've put into this collection already?

Even worse, I think I was almost on the verge of making the worst excuse ever: "Well, these are GENRE stories. Maybe you just don't get what I'm doing."

Thank GOODNESS I didn't go there.

What's most frustrating is that I've of course "heard" all these critiques before. And, I also need to keep in mind that this collection is SO much more difficult to edit than, say, one short story, or Hiram Grange. It's a collection of 10 short stories spanning the last five years and several different stages of my development, one of them previously unpublished, woven together with an exterior framing narrative. 

But even so, it was a serious gut-check. This collection is good, I feel it. Maybe even really good. But I want it to be great, or at least a stab at great. And this colleague of mine called attention to some things that my colleague feels will make the collection great.

So, once more do I go, into the pale, to wrestle my words, kill my darlings, and strain imperfections out of my craft, trying to get to the purest essence of writing. I don't know if I'll get there, but I'm even more determined - maybe with a renewed vigor - to make sure nothing leaves my hands until I've done EVERYTHING HUMANELY POSSIBLE to make it the best I possibly can.

Author Weston Ochse shared today on Brian Keene's blog his belief in the necessity of multiple editors and pre-readers. And brother, let me tell you...he's got a believer in me...