On September 7, I posted on my blog “Don’t Avoid Editing Many Layers.” I want to expand on that post today as I’m constantly revising my own understanding of critique partners and how they help us writers grow. Revising is the most important part of the writing process, apart from generating material to revise, and I’m constantly reminded of how valuable good readers are.
I recently submitted a short story I’ve been working on—“Safe Harbor”—to two different online critique groups I belong to for a total of five readers. The piece is part of a collection of interconnected stories from The Sinners’ Club and follows an overweight Tricia van Elp through two event-filled days. I waited until I’d received all of the responses before reviewing them and then incorporating some of the recommendations.
It amazed me that so few of the readers had similar reactions to the character and the narrative. In some cases, their responses were totally opposite One reader thought Tricia was more of a caricature. A second one felt Tricia was a well-rounded and interesting character. It also surprised me to discover that each reader had a particular slant s/he took when looking at the story. One stood back and gave a summary of what was going on and what the main themes were; it’s always interesting to see such things through another’s eyes. Another was interested in structure. A couple focused on word choice and how the character came across to them.
If you’re a writer, you know that you need to be an expert reader yourself in order to sift through the various observations critiquers will make and determine what input is of value. Even though I didn’t agree with everyone’s opinions, I still found the variety of reactions very helpful. And I was grateful I had five of them to sort through. Each person offered in his/her own way valuable input into the story.
The reader who was sensitive to structural things helped me to see that the story actually ended earlier than I’d thought and observed that the conclusion seemed tacked on. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed it myself during previous revisions and was grateful for her close reading.
This experience reinforced my belief that it takes a village not just to raise children but also to get the kind of helpful feedback we writers need as we navigate our way through our fictions. “Safe Harbor” is a much stronger piece because of the various input I received and feels ready to find its place in an appropriate publication.