“Fine writers should split hairs together, and sit side by side, like friendly apes, to pick the fleas from each other’s fur.”
- Logan Pearsall Smith
I have the great fortune to belong to a writers’ group, known variously as The Group, The Writing Circle and The Babbling Book (by me, although the others find that one a tad silly). We are a handful of women writers, writing nerds, really, all of us published in literary journals and such. For nearly four years we have been meeting twice a month, and at each meeting we discuss two pieces.
Yes, we gossip and laugh and drink tea and eat cookies – lots of cookies. We have evolved as writers and as friends, and we are as committed to each other’s writing as we are to our own. No piece of writing ever comes to harm, although the criticism is thorough. It’s criticism in the good sense: we are all interested in making our writing better.
Where giving criticism is concerned, I use a light hand (but for Strunk-ish copy editing – I’m known as the Comma-kaze). I’m aware of the pitfalls of exerting too much influence and interfering with a writer’s instinct, which is counter-productive.
Where receiving criticism is concerned, I follow three rules offered to me by one of the best editors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with:
1. Take 1/3 of the suggestions and apply them (ie grammar, spelling, glaring boo-boos).
2. Take 1/3 of the suggestions and consider applying them.
3. Take the remaining 1/3 and offer them up to the fishermen as bait for their traps.
At last week’s Babbling Book meeting we discussed a short story of mine, Butterfly. A few of my own suspicions were confirmed. This word and that phrase didn’t ring true, and such-and-such needed emphasis; and while X wasn’t necessary, Y could be enhanced. There were a few surprises, too.
When it’s ready, I’ll post the revised draft. So far I’ve had a go at Rule #1, and am working away at Rules #2 and #3.
Surely it’s lobster season somewhere.