Two years ago my writing group agreed that we needed to change our routine.
It was decided that from now on we wouldn’t read our own work. Another member would read aloud while we would remain quiet. In fact we would be silent until the entire group had commented on our chapter or manuscript.
Although I didn’t propose the idea, I silently embraced it. For a very personal reason. Reading my prose with my French accent can be a distraction. So on the one hand I figured that it was great to have someone else do it for me. On the other hand I thought that the member who came up with the idea was a little sadistic.
The whole thing was sometimes humiliating.
Why do sentences that look just right on the screen and paper sound imperfect when read aloud by someone who hasn’t written them?
The comments point at ambiguity, repetitions, clichés, and other embarrassing imperfections.
The worse is that you can’t defend yourself before everyone has added her grain of salt.
For anything in life I always want the bad news before the good. When it comes to my writing, however, I like to get the good stuff first. And I’m glad that we all agreed on that point.
Finally when everyone is done, the writer has the right to justify or clarify her choice.
Two years later, I must say that suggesting this routine change was brilliant.
And this week I particularly experienced its benefits.
I have mentioned in a previous post that I am struggling with the completion of the first draft of a YA novel started months ago.
While I trudged my way along a more challenging road than expected I lost my main character. Thankfully I found him again when I opted for a change of plot.
My plot alteration had of course modified my early chapters. So I rewrote the beginning of the novel and brought chapter four for critique. I was happy with the result and wasn’t expecting any major modification after the meeting.
And while my friend read my chapter, I was relaxed, looking forward to going on. But when she reached the last sentence, she exclaimed, “Oh, I love it. Tell me, how long will the kids be stuck in Room 312? And how will they escape?”
Well, I hadn’t planned to have them stuck in Room 312. Period. So I had not plotted an escape either. I had written an entirely different scenario. But I had to be honest.
My friend’s instinctive reaction matched the traveling of my thoughts.
Because when I heard her read my words, I had simultaneously considered another turn in the story.
This realization should have crushed me because I already envisioned more changes ahead of me. Instead, a rush of adrenaline – added to the strong espresso I had ordered – gave me wings.
So I went home, mentally drafting my revision and wondering if anyone would have thought of suggesting this new twist if I had read my own words.
Furthermore, would I have been fully open to the suggestion?
Chance is you will be surprised by the beautiful road this little change opens.