Writers Journey: The Fine Art of Criticism, part two

Research is a must when you are getting into your structure and working on the writing of scene after scene.  If you do your research before or during your writing you will save yourself the pain of finding contrary discoveries later when the editor or copy editor gets hold of your words later in the process.  It’s important to be as critical of your own work as possible now, rather than experience an extensive period of rewriting later.

In some ways you can’t avoid certain aspects of rewriting even if you’re a careful researcher or editor on your side of the work.  When books are written largely for target market audiences today, you will find that more often than not, people will ask you to make amendments to what you’re putting on the shelf.  Particularly with large publishers, they do have target demographics out there and they do research on what will and won’t sell according to those demographics.  This can be a trying process for a writer in general as you wrestle with your vision in the waters of a market place that can feel fickle and faddish.

The best thing you can do is make sure that your work is well-edited either way.  The most important thing is to hone your voice within the work and to essentially be yourself.  People will often still be drawn to an author’s style or tone.  Authors are like friends to the reader; they will come to read what you have to say the way a good friend opens your emails every day.  So once you’re pushing through structural edits, you need to settle in to what makes the work sound like it comes from you and no other author.

One writer, Julia Cameron, suggested that it’s best to write anything to someone who ‘gets’ you.  Even if you’re starting a chapter of a novel, if you toss your voice out there on the page as if you were writing a letter to one of your friends, the salt and grit of who you are would begin to emerge and a chapter written because you know your friend Jan might love this idea suddenly gains character.  Beyond skill, this also takes some faith and courage because it’s very difficult to project who you are into the page and to trust that your verve or wit is not going to offend or bore someone who picks up the work.  Well, it will probably bore someone somewhere because that’s how life is.  But it’s the courage and familiarity that makes a work thrive with verisimilitude and character and these are what make the classics endure the test of time.

When you make another editing pass, you can smooth out any rough edges where your personality might shout over the process of the work.  It takes skill, experience and some objectivity to know when to keep the tone intact and when to push forward with simple schematics and building blocks, so that you go slightly invisible to the reader while you pull them through certain experiences with you.

How do you get the experience and objectivity?  We’ll take a look at reading groups next week.