The shift from our initial 5 month frenzy of first-draft writing to the next phase of reviewing and rewriting was like travelling from a hot, steamy, fertile jungle of a planet to one that’s burning under a relentless sun, where every warty pebble is starkly illuminated by the harsh light of critique.
The Fire. As in something one has one’s feet held to.
Act II of our crazy challenge subjected our newborn stories to judgement. And even though our first critics, our fellow 5 writers, were a friendly and supportive audience, we all knew we had to think like the gatekeepers of the publishing industry – like editors – if we were to give useful feedback to each other.
That meant some hard truth telling.
This is where a great writers group really proves its value. It takes a lot of trust to give, and take, criticism. As a group, we embarked on this journey as companions with a common destination. In addition to our individual aims and ambitions, we also shared the goal of helping each other succeed.
So we didn’t pander to each other. We didn’t let precarious plot structures teeter without insisting on renovations. We didn’t allow clichés to stand, or beginnings to stumble, or sub-plots to remain unresolved, or adverbs to run rampant, or middles to sag, or characters to lose their way, or endings to disappoint. Even when delivered in the most supportive of terms, this process is still a trial by fire – make no mistake.
Because we knew Act III would come soon enough, the next (and even hotter) circle of hell: the criticism of the agent or publisher, which most often comes in the form of a rejection letter. No critique. No rewrite advice. No hints as to why your manuscript is, in their opinion, not worthy of publication.
Publishing is a pass-fail business. And we all want to pass.
We gathered for a writers retreat high in the mountains of Whistler, BC, in June 2013 and spent a marathon 5 days critiquing our manuscripts. It was tough, it was loving, it was inspiring, it was hard work, and it was a lot of fun. At the end of our sojourn, we each had a lot to think about. And a lot of rewriting to do.
Because we knew that Act III – shopping our books to agents and publishers – could not begin until we each had a re-written, polished, ready-for-submission manuscript. Along with all the associated homework done: well-researched lists of contacts, pitches, query letters, book jacket blurbs and god knows what else.
And courage. Lots of it.