Thursday, June 7, 2012

Blog Post 100

It seems somehow apt that this one hundredth blog post should mark my return from the breathtaking Rio Hondo week-long critique-fest in the mountains of New Mexico.

Typical critique session
Typical critique session
I spent last week high (9,700 feet) above Taos with a group of eminent genre writers who came together for mutual criticism and to discuss the markets, the writing life, and drink. Each of the ten writers brought an early draft of something they felt needed improvement and which they  hoped could benefit from examination by other professional writers.

Each draft was read multiple times and, in a joint session, each person provided an intense, three-minute expression of viewpoints, sometimes helpful suggestions, and penetrating observations about the sample provided.  At the end of each round of comments there were sometimes lengthy discussions among the group on writerly points of style, phrasing, and pace. More detailed observations were scribbled on the manuscripts and returned to the author.

Any writer worth their salt requires a substantial ego to weather the fickle genre fiction markets and this group was no exception.  Despite their strong egos, there was no animosity, no wails of injustice, nor hurt feelings evident despite sometimes searing criticism over some flaw apparent to all but the author him/herself.  Often I felt that my critiques were a young pony in a draught horse show, underweight and overwhelmed.  Nevertheless, I learned a little about going beyond the obvious surface of words and plot to examine the underlying structure of the piece to discover how to convey understanding to the reader.

My piece was neither more nor less criticized than any other and now I have to sort through the notes and written comments/corrections resulting. That everyone read so carefully and multiple times assured me that little was untouched. Strangely, everyone grokked on a subplot throwaway that I  paid scant attention to and which would take the novel in a completely different direction that I was not contemplating (and may not follow.)

I came away both exhausted and refreshed. The knowledge of the field gained far exceeded any costs I may have incurred. I just hope that that knowledge improves whatever I choose to write.

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