Behold, the Power of Writing – Tagteam Style

For about the last six months writer buddy Jim Chambers and I have been getting together about once a month to grab a burger and beer and talk about writing. He tells me what he’s up to, I tell him what I’m up to. We kick around ideas, we commiserate on the writing process, we kick each other in the ass when we need it ….

During one of our pow-wow’s a while back I asked Jim to read FINDERS KEEPERS and give me his feedback. Last week was go time.

As I’ve developed as a writer, dialFor about the last six months writer buddy Jim Chambers and I have been getting together about once a month to grab a burger and beer and talk about writing. He tells me what he’s up to, I tell him what I’m up to. We kick around ideas, we commiserate on the writing process, we kick each other in the ass when we need it ….

During one of our pow-wow’s a while back I asked Jim to read FINDERS KEEPERS and give me his feedback. Last week was go time.

As I’ve developed as a writer, dialogue has been my strong suit, while I’ve struggled at times with structure. Well … just so happens that Jim has laser vision when it comes to story structure and plotting, so bingo, bango, bongo …

Jim’s input was so useful–so on point–that with his help I’m getting FINDERS KEEPERS tighter and more rip-roaring than ever! Not a lot of work to be done–a nip here, a tuck there–but in all it’s going to take my book from being [i]thisclose[/i] to being [i]Kick Ass[/i].

I haven’t been this jazzed about FINDERS KEEPERS in ages. In fact, our pow-wow was so charged with creativity that Jim blogged about it himself. (I’ve included his post below).

And this brings me to another point, one that I’d sorta forgotten, and am glad to be reminded …

Asking for feedback about writing is actually a tricky proposition for both parties. As the writer, you have certain expectations about the type and depth of feedback you’re asking for, which potentially sets you up to be disappointed. Did you hear too much, not enough? Was the reviewer being too soft? Too mean? Too vague? Too snarky? Just not helpful at all? Did the reviewer just completely not get your story? Or did your work just blow chunks and the reviewer didn’t have the heart–or vocabulary–to explain how and why?

All of the above happens. A lot. It can actually be quite difficult to get the exact kind of feedback–and in the right way–that really helps.

Then there’s the reviewer’s point of view. As the reviewer, you typically don’t want to hurt the writer’s feelings (unless you’ve got it in for him or her), so it’s natural to veer to the soft side. But then, by not being as honest as you mean to be, you run the risk of disappointing the writer, who really is looking for help. Then again, as the reviewer, you also run the risk of being too harsh with your assessments, even if they’re on point, and then the writer might really hate your guts, even if you’re right. And then some people are actually so blood thirsty they look for ways to rip you and your work to shreds. (I try to avoid those people ….)

Good gravy. The combinations are endless.

So when Jim started to list his points about FINDERS KEEPERS, I could see that he genuinely wanted to help me, that he had something significant to say, but that he was hesitant, perhaps worried that I’d get upset if I heard something I didn’t like or agree with. He almost literally hid behind his beer after each point, as if I was going to break out a can of whoopass either verbally or otherwise. (I can assure you, none came).

Believe me when I say that I’ve had my work ripped to shreds, whether the comments were valid or not. First, Jim was quite generous with his praise, and when he had issues with the plot or structure, he offered them fairly. I agreed with his points almost entirely, and as the night went on, he became more confident with his explanations, realizing (I think) that I genuinely wanted to hear what he had to say, and that, not only was I not offended, I was genuinely grateful to hear it.

As I was reminded by this exchange, asking for feedback may seem simple on the surface, but underneath, it’s anything but. Writers are people too (believe it or not), sometimes with extremely fragile egos. I like to think that I can take it just so long as the feedback is offered in a manner that is respectful and intended to help me, whether I agree with the comments or not.

At one point Jim offered a comment about the end of my book, which he suggested I change. I disagreed. I didn’t get upset, I just explained why I did what I did, and after thinking about it again, Jim liked the way I handled the plot. But he did have another point about the end that he still thought was missing, and after thinking about, I wound up agreeing with [i]him[/i].

This is the writing exchange at it’s best. When two writers can kick around ideas, let them flow, argue, agree, disagree …and ultimately come away the better for it.

As Peter Griffin would say: It was friggin sweet.

——

Jim’s Blog:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Behold, the Power of Writing!

Last week was a rough week. Nothing spectacularly awful, but one of those weeks when not enough goes right, too much goes wrong, and way too much simply doesn’t go at all. Annoying. Frustrating. And, to some extent, demoralizing. A real beat down of a week.

But these things have a way of turning around in the most unexpected ways.

Awhile back my friend Russ asked me to read his novel Finders Keepers. He’s been working on it for a long time, gone through at least a few drafts I know of, and has had some very promising interest from some good-sized publishers. He’s also got a website dedicated to it. When he asked me to read it, he was closing in on finishing the first draft of his second novel and planning to polish FK afterwards. Lately Russ and I have gotten into the habit of hanging out to talk about writing about once a month, and he thought I might give him some feedback before he tackled what he plans to be his final draft.

As long as I’ve known Russ, this was actually the first of his writing I was going to read. I get nervous when people ask for my feedback. I like doing it, but too often over the years I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position of telling people things they obviously didn’t want to hear. Not that I’m some wunderkind. It’s only ever my opinion as a reader and writer and I take pains to be tactful, but a lot of writers, it turns out, are rather…well, thin skinned.

Shocking. I know.

Thing is, Russ ain’t one of them. As I soon learned, Russ is a genuine journeyman who knows the devil isn’t in the details, it’s in editing and rewriting the details. So when we got together for a beer last week, Finders Keepers came up. After I finished telling him how wonderful, deep, and engaging his characters are, how crisp and lively his dialogue is, and how flat-out cool and original some of his ideas are, I got around to a few…structural items…that had bothered me as a reader. Then, somewhere along the line (Don’t ask me exactly when, because we were drinking; writers are always drinking, it seems. Shocking. I know.)… but at some point, I blurted out that I thought he might want to cut the first, oh, 150 pages or so of his novel and start it much later than he had.

Then I hid behind my pint of Guinness and held my breath. And waited.

That’s when Russ said, "You know, I was sort of thinking that, too." Or words to that affect. (Again, drinking.)

After I decided he wasn’t trying to lure me out from behind my Guiness for a quick ninja blow to my larynx (trade secret: all writers have ninja powers), I cautiously set my glass down. We then spent about an hour and a half hashing through what he’d written, what he’d intended, how it had read to me, how he’d edited it in the past, and what he might do with it for the final draft.

The whole evening left me really energized about writing. We writers work alone too much. Sometimes we really need that little push from someone who reminds us to listen to our instincts. And sometimes we need to be reminded that writing is about going out on a limb even if that only means being honest when someone asks for feedback.

So, two days later Russ sent me a rough draft of his new first chapter. And it rocks.

Then the same day my Domino Lady author copies showed up in the mail and Jason Whitley sent me the last piece of art for my upcoming story collection, Resurrection House. And it creeped the hell out of me. Jason is that good.

And that downtrodden, sickly feeling that’d been nagging me all week simply… went away. Behold, the power of writing!

Post edited by: rcolchamiro, at: 2009/04/29 05:38

Post edited by: rcolchamiro, at: 2009/04/29 05:41

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