Monday, February 09, 2009


One of the great things about being in a critique group is that you get to see your partners' manuscripts before anyone else does. You get to make comments, point out things that you loved or things that bother you about the other people's stories, and generally be in on the stage when the gems are rough--before they're tumbled and polished to a fine gloss. It's fun to watch the process, to look at a polished piece and know what it looked like before it was polished. Kind of like looking at your friends' kids and saying, "Gee, I remember when she was in diapers, and now she's all grown up, tall and beautiful."

There is another side to that, though. You see a rough draft. You suggest changes. The crit partner makes changes, then brings the manuscript back with the changes in place, but in many cases, it still looks much the same. You go through it again, maybe catch a few more things that need to be fixed, make comments, and then the writer takes the work home again and makes more changes. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. By the time you see the supposedly final, polished, submittable version, you've often read the manuscript so many times that your eyes are starting to cross and you're tempted to skim. But that's exactly the time when you shouldn't skim. If there are errors in there now, chances are the writer has gotten tunnel vision as well and can't see the few little typos or other issues that may be there, as yet undetected by anyone because of the more glaring errors that stole the spotlight in earlier drafts. The writer might even have added errors by mistake while writing that final draft, and just can't see them to save his soul--or his manuscript.

This is often the stage that benefits the most from completely fresh eyes, but sometimes there just are no fresh eyes available. So it's up to the crit partners to read just as carefully the fifth time through as they did the first. I try, but occasionally I still find myself tempted to skim a scene I've already read in triplicate. When my friend who is entering the contest sent us her final draft this last week, I took a few days' break from reading it and then finished it up at Sunday's Moxie meeting. And even though I'd read it more than once before, I'm glad I didn't skim. This final version was tight and fast, and I could see where all the fat had been edited out of it. All the slow parts were gone. It held my attention despite the fact that I'd seen it so many times before, because it was so polished. It was like looking at a friend whom you've only ever seen in blue jeans or cutoffs, only this time she's wearing an evening gown and looks like she's ready for the Emmys. It was the kind of transformation that makes you say you're proud that you "knew her when...".

But with a smile and a nod for my crit partner, I'm glad this entry is ready to go out the door, and doesn't need to try on another dress. Good job! Heaven knows, you've read my stuff time and again in the past; it's good to return the favor.


Anonymous said...


Just to let you know, the entry was mailed off yesterday. I was a neurotic mess by 2pm when I sent it. But it's gone now, and I promise I won't be messing with those sections anymore until the 2nd draft is ready for lift-off which should be some time after I finish the first draft.

KHurley said...

Congratulations on sending it off! It turned out great. Now you get to play the waiting game. Good thing there's more book(s) to write in the meantime!