One of my writing goals for 2017 was to find a writer’s critique group. I appreciate and enjoy my writer’s inspiration group that I joined more than a decade ago, but it’s more to stimulate creativity with short prompts, no critiquing of one another’s work. I hoped a critique group might motivate me. I work well with deadlines and never had problems turning in stories on time when I worked as a journalist, both on a weekly paper and on a freelance basis. But on my own I’m like a toddler, easily distracted by a shiny pin wheel or a puppy which is not an optimal method to get novels completed. My writer friend Tracy, seen above, and myself went to the critique group a few weeks ago. She also is in dire need of deadlines because on her own she’s also distracted by the myriad of entertainment options we have at our fingertips today. So many movies and so little time. We both hoped that we could bring in a few pages of our manuscripts each week to the group and get feedback that would inspire us to keep writing. We had hope.
Our hopes were dashed on the rocks of…well on an inept group leader. What troubled me the most was the advice the woman leading the group told the novice writers in attendance. Go ahead, she said, just write and send out your work. Don’t bother with those pesky skills of revising or editing. The editors at the publications will do that boring clean up work for you.
My mouth fell open which is not an attractive look. I did not drool, but I did want to pipe up and tell the silly woman she was leading her novice writers astray. I stayed silent because, after all, she was the boss of her group. Tracy and I won’t be back, but that woman’s wrong advice haunted me. I started thinking about how writing is like a resturant.
The kitchen where I work starts out clean. It is like a blank piece of paper. Sure it looks tidy, but nothing is being created. It’s like a writer who just sits and stares at the computer screen but does not type. When the grill is fired up, and cooks start chopping vegetables and stirring soups, that’s when the action begins. People are waiting to be fed. The kitchen gets loud and messy. It must in order to create anything. It’s like a story. First comes just the white emptiness.
Then the writer’s mind starts to work adding and discarding ideas. Our imagination, or our memories, or both, get to work and we write. A cook stands before a hot stove and we sit alone in our room. Our first drafts are suppose to be a mess. Just as the cooks have to keep checking temperatures or flipping a steak, we keep working on a piece of writing until we decide it is completed.
But not so fast. Food is not just prepared, thrown on a plate and sent out to the dining room. Here is Andria my co-worker making sure a plate is looking perfect. She has that winning waitress smile, too. Often there is an expediter, usually the chef, standing at the line with a towel and a keen eye, making sure the plates look the way they are suppose to look, with all the right ingredients. The expediter makes sure there are no blobs or spills on the plate. It must look perfect. The chef does not want the dining patron to have to clean up his or her own plate because the kitchen was too lazy to do the job. That spoils the entire meal.
Same with writing. No writer can expect a book publisher or a magazine editor to clean up spelling or punctuation. That would be like sending out a salad without dressing and half the ingredients missing and expecting the person paying for the salad to finish the job. Silly. Even when I attend a critique group, I don’t expect anyone there to teach me how to use commas. I’m looking more for suggestions to improve a story, or to encourage me to finish a story, not how to spell.
Thankfully I have my writer friend, Stella, who is always willing to look at my writing before I submit. She lives in Santa Fe, and is always busy doing something artsy, but she takes the time to offer me helpful suggestions for which I’m grateful. My avid reader friend, Laura, has offered to look at my writing, too, which I hope she knows what she has gotten herself into. So it takes a village to truly produce a clean manuscript just as it takes an entire kitchen, including the front of the house staff, to make for a memorable meal. Even famous writers make sure they are doing the best job they can to submit a clean manuscript. It’s just a matter of pride.
Let me add this, though, my writing always feels to me as if it could be improved. I had a short story published years ago. When I got the book in which the story was included, I saw so many things I wanted to change. I even went back and with a pencil and made all the changes as if the book hadn’t already been published. I know. I’ve been called crazy before.
Just as the food at the resturant has to eventually be served, so does a manuscript finally have to be declared done. A chef could keep fussing and fussing and there would be a lot of hungry people waiting. I’ve seen cooks do that. I want to scream at them…just serve the food. With writing, sometimes when we have done our best, we just have to let our work go and hope someone will eat it up.