Giving response to a writer’s manuscript is a delicate dance. We want to respond to what moves us, what confuses us, what keeps us reading. Most of all, I hope that my feedback can help another writer go deeper into the story and write the best book possible. But I must always keep in mind that their heart is on the page. At least I hope it is. And that sometimes the right response at the wrong time can slow a writer down or bring them to a screeching halt. It’s that time of year in the Hamline program when grad students need to choose a piece to share in workshop at the summer residency. Which one is ready for deep discussion and multiple opinions?
It’s up to each writer to figure out what kind of response we need when. It’s not as hard for me to share a nonfiction manuscript that’s not fully formed. To get feedback on how it relates to kids and how to structure the topic. A draft of a picture book even early on can elicit feedback on structure and emotional resonance. But a novel, oh, my. Too much feedback too soon can pull a writer away from one’s vision, one’s dream of the story. My current novel will soon be ready for critical feedback. But it’s already been through multiple drafts. This time around I needed to go pretty far down the road on my own before sharing the whole story. I need to be open to comments, and not needing to respond, no, no, no. You just don’t get it (you stupid reader.)
Last week I did final edits on a picture book that I sold three long years ago and first conceived in 2004. An illustrator is finally working on art and I can’t wait to see it. I did a complete revision earlier this year, tighter and more focused than the manuscript the editor bought. Thankfully she likes this version. With the passing of time, I was able to revisit this story in a new way without so much emotion or resistance to needed changes. And when I brought the final version to my writing group all I needed was feedback in a few places on word choice and their thoughts on my editor’s suggestions. Their suggestions were spot on. But this was easy to take feedback because it wasn’t open to any and all comments about story and character.
A graduate writing program has to have deadlines. This can be a challenge when work is fresh and not ready for public consumption. Sometimes I share an early piece with just one trusted writer, not a whole gang. I believe that is what working with a faculty advisor is like. When I share an entire manuscript, I need to be ready to step back and listen without defense. Taking in feedback and then returning home to work on it with new eyes, but still my eyes, my vision of what I want this story to be.
I'm with you on this, Claire. Even talking to someone about a project prematurely can be dangerous. Identifying something specific that you need to know about your writing really helps when you have to sort through feedback.
So true, Claire. The timing of feedback is important, as well as where we are in our own heads with the work. There is such a thing as sharing work too soon.
And yet, as students we must do this. It's an interesting quandry. There have been many times when I would have loved to sit on my writing for a few days (or longer) before sending it off to my mentor. But then there is something so freeing about having that one collaborator who knows what you are doing, and trusts that you will do it. And to have no choice in the matter. It's almost like you just have to set this feeling to the side. It terms of student/mentor there is a sacred trust that I think I will never find again, now that I am graduating. And now I will graduate to the world that you speak of, the one where I won't share you work prematurely…hmmm, one more thing to miss.