Fresh Eyes

For writers, be they published, semi-published, or completely unknown, feedback is essential. Open up any article about polishing your writing skills and you’re likely to find the author touting the benefit of having a pair of “fresh eyes” peruse your latest endeavor. This is one of those rare occasions when a cliché is not trite, but absolutely true. Having someone review your work before turning it over to the powers that be (Mr. Editor-in-Chief, Ms. Literary Agent) can provide invaluable insight to the strengths and flaws of your writing. One of the best ways to get regular feedback is to join a writer’s group.

I myself have been a member of a small writer’s group for nearly a year. We have four writers: two novelists, a poet, and someone who has no clue how to label herself. (That’d be me, the poet-screenwriter-blogger-fanfictioner-aborted novella-ista.) We all bring a different writing style to the table and have our own strengths. Some of us can hammer out dialogue in distinct voices, some of us can link up crazy plotlines, and some of us can capture a perfect image in the precise amount of words desired. We meet twice a month to review each other’s most recent work and offer up pointers, answer author questions, and confess what’s working and what just isn’t.

And I love it.

And I hate it.

(Hey high school kids, I’ve just illustrated the meaning of the term ambivalent.)

I love it because it keeps me in the writing vein. It’s too easy to drift away and call myself a writer when I haven’t strung together and independent clause in weeks. (No, Tweets do not count.) Meeting with a group of other writers helps me stay in writing activities, keeps my skills sharp. It also opens up to me the perspective of multiple kinds of readers from different demographics as they review various genres. For instance, I’ve learned that some men do not find male characters believably masculine if their inner dialogue is too flowery. For a girl like me whose work typically appeals to female readers in the 12-20 age range, this kind of insight is especially helpful.

But I also hate it. Being an active member of this writer’s group requires a lot of time. Our meetings typically last 2-3 hours, and we the required reading for each meeting takes me an additional three hours. (I take copious notes and thoughtfully consider what I wish to discuss.) For all this effort, the group usually only spends about 20 minutes on my work. They pay me lovely compliments such as, “You’re just such a good writer!” and “I couldn’t think of anything that really needed tweaking.” Sure, I walk away with a flattered ego, but over time I’ve begun to think the payoff is not equal to the effort.

And this is the point in the blog post when I sully the name of Monty Python by singing myself a Gregorian chant invoking the creative inspiration of the plot bunnies and slap myself in the face with the first volume of the OED. Because really…you just can’t beat a fresh pair of eyes.

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