Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ultimate Test

For all you writers out there, closet and otherwise, one of the hardest transitions to make in writing is taking that scary first step towards going public.  I’m not talking about ‘publication public,’ but the steps that precede – letting someone other than yourself peek at what you’ve poured onto paper.  Putting your writing out there for someone else to read and judge is the first step in admitting and accepting the inevitable… you are a writer.  Maybe your first readers consist of the small group of people in your critique group, or your sister, your friend, your pen pal, your mother, your spouse, your dog (assuming the family pet will stick around and listen to you read) or anyone else you trust enough to allow a glimpse of the part of you that you are broadcasting to the world.
As often as published authors run anxiously to check the Amazon reviews and to grab the first issues of relevant magazines and newspapers to read those reviews, the apprehension towards reading these often anonymous or professional reviews is nothing compared to that initial anxiety when you are asking readers you actually know to pass judgment on your writing.
Assume now that you’ve made it through round one of the process and Mom’s given you the thumbs up and swears left and right to Aunt Betty, Uncle Joe and anyone else who will listen that you’re a prodigy and a true writing genius.  The next step to test Mom’s theory that you’re the next Tolstoy might be to workshop a page or two with a formal critique group or even at a first page session.
Interestingly enough, I recently attended one of these first page sessions where an agent and publisher pass judgment on the first page of your writing.  Talk about anxiety!  Possibly the most interesting thing to gain from this session is the benefit you receive from hearing someone else read your writing out loud.  It’s amazing how different your words sound when someone else reads them to a room full of listeners.  It’s a little like hearing your voice on an answering machine or watching yourself on TV (trust me, that’s weird).  All the things you thought you didn’t do come to the surface and you find yourself nodding with the critique and thinking “Wow, how did I miss that?”
So, if you’ve put some words on paper and are ready to share with the world, you might want to take a second look before you leap.  It’s definitely a hard market out there, and finding your niche is sometimes harder than the writing itself.  Sure, let Mom and company read what you’ve written, but also take it to the experts and realize that any constructive criticism can only make your writing that much better.  After all, it took Tolstoy over six years and several revisions to complete and publish “War and Peace.” If you’re still on year one or two with your first draft, then you’ve got plenty of time to spare. J  
          -Suzy Ismail

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