Monday, December 07, 2009
Stairway of Love gets reviewed by the briliantist writers in Portland!
Last night my writing group came over, manuscripts in hand, sat in a circle in my living room and opined on Stairway. Jim said I should have been wearing a crown. Seriously, all that was missing was a cake with candles in it and a wish before I blew them out. The Stairways lay about, each decorated with the pen colors and handwriting of my various workshop mates. Chelsea (blue marker) said she was proud of me. Cheryl (red pen) said I was one draft away from a book deal.
Everyone who writes a novel-length manuscript should have access to this--a circle of trusted advisers--smart writers all--who want you to succeed.
We're a big group. In size, in psyche, in personality, in success, in every way, we're big. And we come from disparate writing traditions. Some of us have MFAs, some literature and journalism degrees, some, none of the above. We write memoirs, thrillers, popular fiction, high lit. Poetry, reviews, screenplays and short stories. We blog, avoid the Internet, write until 3 a.m. or only in manic bursts.
Though we've been meeting weekly in one configuration or another for, in some cases, two decades, this is the first time we've ever critiqued a manuscript in this fashion. None of us was sure it would go well, in fact some of us had serious doubts it would work at all. One of the great things about our workshop, we've all said at one time or another, is that there's no homework. We show up, pass out pages, and get feedback chapter-by-chapter. Until now.
We decided to add this once-a-month whole-work review to our weekly workshop because although feedback on granular sections is undeniably useful, and has a cumulative quality as we venture further into our books, occasionally the critique veers toward the pedantic as we examine sentences and declare, on a micro-level, what works or doesn't. At a certain point, it's crucial to examine work from a big-picture stance, the way the ultimate agent, editor and reader will. For me, and for my next draft of Stairway, this was imperative.
Typical of the workshop model, the group started large and positive, and then moved into particular concerns, holes and problem areas. Having set the work aside for a month made me pretty open to hearing the negatives, and when there was disagreement about what should be done about the bumps, I felt relaxed enough to push further to get to the heart of the problem so I could determine whether the issue was universal or an individual reader's taste.
At some point, we stopped offering opinions on problem areas, and began to come up with solutions. The evening swerved into brain-storm mode. "What about" became "what if" and, in the course of two-and-a-half hours (and a few glasses of wine), MAJOR areas of my book got fixed. It was magic.
All that remains is two months of disciplined focus as I pore over my notes, re-engage my intuition, and dive into my book. Happy birthday, SOL, it's time to get you out of the womb.