“Writing isn’t done by committee.” That’s the apt assertion of author Mark Slouka, as quoted in no less an authority than “The New York Times.”
It reminds me of the friend who indignantly asked, “How can you let other people tell you how to write?” The occasion for my friend’s well-meant question was my complaint about a critique from my writers’ group. I’d brought in a new story, only to get a unanimously negative reaction to it. This is what fueled my friend’s indignation. (Never mind that the critiques spurred me on to do an applauded revision.)
Although my friend’s question has lingered in my head for many years, I still submit my stories to the same group. I get honest and perceptive comments each time. As I advise anyone interested in joining a writers’ group, the feedback can be invaluable because it’s difficult to be objective about your own work. (When I once complained that although I’m adept at critiquing other people’s writing I’m invariably less perceptive with my own, a woman pointed out how impossible it is to see the back of your own head, without a mirror. “I can see the back of your head and you can see the back of mine,” she said.)
I do believe that feedback can be invaluable –but I don’t always bring in my first draft if it feels as fragile as a premature infant. I’ve also learned not to show a manuscript to every friend and relative. I know too well the ones who’ll say “it’s great,” to please me, and other people (nameless) who’ll pick the piece apart out of envy or whatever.
As expert as my co-members are there comes a point at which you have to trust your own judgment. I had a vivid lesson in that when the two most skillful editors in the group disagreed about the ending of my story. One thought the last lines were “just right”; the other saidthat the last two lines needed to be reversed. Since I revered their expertise equally, I couldn’t decide between the opposing opinions. Paralyzed by chronic indecisiveness, I was unable to send the story to any magazines – for five years! When I finally made a choice the story was published, but I’m not sure to this day which of the voices I ended up heeding.
That experience taught me it’s vital to develop the ability to weigh critiques and know what works best for you. My favorite rejoinder was by a women who listened responsively to our comments about one of her stories until we suggested that the title should be changed. Clutching her manuscript she proclaimed: ”That’s not negotiable.”
Whether her title was wise or not, her declaration of writer’s rights was something to aim for, too.
Books: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorow” – xLibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” – CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. Also available on Amazon Kindle.