Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Hermit Crawls Out of Her Cave

by Stephanie Black

I’m a world-class blusher. It’s not one of my favorite quirks. There I’ll be at the checkout counter, smiling casually, speaking calmly, ha ha, don’t credit card companies make the darndest mistakes, here, use this card instead, and meanwhile my face is doing this neon beet routine that flashes the message: “Hey! This woman ISN’T cool and calm like she wants you to believe! She’s embarrassed!” (And for the record, the credit card mix-ups weren’t my fault). There’s probably a limit on how brightly one can blush before one’s facial capillaries sustain permanent damage, so out of fear of exceeding that limit, I’ve stayed away from writing critique groups.

When it comes to the process of creating a story, I’m a very solitary writer. OK, I’m neurotic. If someone walks behind me while I’m at work on a novel and I think there’s the tiniest chance that they might—horrors!—be able to read a word or two on the screen, I hit the button to minimize the open window. After years of practice, I can do this so quickly that the hand motion is invisible to the naked eye. I could take the Olympic gold at window-minimizing. I’m so neurotic that I can’t even write an e-mail if someone is standing behind me (unless the person is a child too young to read). It’s not that I don’t want people to read my writing. Goodness knows I’m hoping that everyone on planet earth will eventually read my novel. I just don’t want anyone crawling into my brain while I’m writing it.

But outside feedback on a manuscript is invaluable. I wouldn’t dare submit a manuscript until at least a couple of pairs of eyeballs other than mine have read it and given it the thumbs up (OK, that’s some seriously mixed-up imagery, but you know what I mean). When I start feeling that hankering for feedback I know the time has come to crawl out of the writing cave. This is never, ever, on the first draft. My first drafts are a mess. And this brings up a side note. I love the Little House books. Absolutely love them. But the last book in the series, The First Four Years, was published after Laura Ingalls Wilder had died. The book was found among her papers, written in notebooks, and it was published. In my opinion, the book is not nearly as compellingly written as the other books because Laura never had time to revise it. It’s a draft! A draft! Aarrgh! Writers, would you approve if your descendants did this? If I die and my great-grandkids are going through my computer and find the first draft of a novel and publish it, let me tell you, I’ll be back to do some serious haunting. Of course, I don’t have to worry about this happening, because no publisher would touch one of my first drafts.

Anyway. My current manuscript (draft three) is now in the hands of people who aren’t me and I am awaiting feedback. I’ve told my readers to be honest. That’s the point of getting pre-submission feedback—so you can fix your mistakes before they appall your editor. But as I hide my head under my pillow and await the reports, I’m hoping that this honest feedback won’t include phrases like, “Nice try, but bleccch.” Or “Well, your first book was OK, but this one . . . (gales of uncontrollable laughter).”

At least I’ve passed the first test. My twelve-year old daughter was the first to read the manuscript all the way through. She read it in three days, and from what I could discern in the seven thousand times I peeked at her while she was reading, I’d say she seemed more or less glued to it. “Do you like it?” I couldn’t resist asking her midway through the book. She gave an eye-rolling response along the lines of, “No, Mom. I hate it. I’m forcing myself to read it.”

OK, OK. Once a neurotic author, always a neurotic author.


At 3/29/2006 3:33 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

My favorite feedback comments come from my brother, who is always my best reader, but always the harshest as well. The best, though, was on some line of dramatic dialogue, which I thought was very serious and profound -- in the margin, he simply wrote: "Holy lame".

At 3/31/2006 6:35 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I'm still laughing over holy lame.

I have my mom and my sister read it. I've realized I'm not so good with the critique thing. I prefer the "You're the best writer that ever lived." Fortunately, my family tells me when I have holy lameness too.

At 9/19/2010 11:05 PM, Blogger Kersti Lou said...

I have to remember this when I start to write! It scares me to death to have someone else read my stuff. I write fanfiction but can't publish it for thousands to read but I am on a site where some people do read it. Still scares me and they say they like it. They never say anything bad about it. I want to publish a book but am scared for even my parents, brothers and sisters in law to read it! Gah! So this really helped me to read it. Thanks. :)


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