At my second meeting with the Toronto Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writer’s group, I read a piece of my writing out loud for the first time in my life. I was so nervous I could barely get the words out to read it to the group. My stomach was in knots and I was afraid I was going to have a panic attack. I was terrified of what they would say; mainly that that they would tell me I suck.

As with most things, it was not nearly as bad as I feared. I kept coming back and I kept sharing. It very quickly got a lot easier and my writing has improved immensely for it.

It’s been about two years now that I’ve been in the group. I’ve shared a lot of pieces in that time and received a lot of feedback. That feedback hasn’t always been complimentary, but it’s always been constructive and well-intentioned. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at taking it as it’s intended, even when I don’t agree or particularly like what I’m hearing. I’ve never taken any comment I’ve received personally. I believed myself to be well-prepared to receive feedback on my novel without pain or insult.

This week I finished my second alpha reader’s comments on my novel and began the third. This third reader is a member of my usual writing group. I’ve also shared the first three chapters of my novel with a second writing group I’m in. The comments of my first two alpha readers were mostly line edits, with a few comments here and there for clarity or very small paragraph restructuring.

This third reader and the second writing group are really getting into the weeds of it. They’re pointing out entire scenes that are unnecessary. They’re asking me why a character is so passive and noting how certain phrases are destroying any tension I’ve built. It’s much deeper insight and commentary on my novel than I’ve ever received. It’s utterly perfect and needed and wonderful.

It also hurts.

I don’t say this as a criticism or judgement of the feedback. I’m eternally grateful to the people who have offered their time to make my novel better. I also agree with the vast majority of what they’ve pointed out now that it’s brought to my attention. The whole point of this exercise is for people to show me the things I’ve become blind to. There’s a lot I can’t see because I’m too close to it.

That closeness is why it hurts. This story and these characters have lived in my head for over 20 years. It took me four of those years to actually write and get on paper in a format I was ready to share with people. These characters aren’t my babies, they’re me.

So yeah, it stings when someone says they’re too passive, even if it’s true. It stings when someone points out a passage I took the time to write, edit and rewrite doesn’t need to be there. It stings when I take out that extraneous scene and think Yeah, this is way better now. How did I not catch that myself? That one is like failing twice – I wrote an unnecessary scene in the first place and then I failed to see it was unnecessary when I edited the book.

I’m reminding myself that this is necessary pain. This is the surgery to remove the cyst or the benign tumour the doctor finds. Sure you grew it yourself, which took energy and resources. Sure it hurts to remove it. But you don’t need it and it could harm you in the long run. This is pain I have to endure so I can be better in the long run. But yeah, we all know that kind of pain still sucks.

But if this novel is going to be over 20 years in the making, then I want it to be a good novel when I’m done. This week I reworked the first chapter of the book. I added words that were better than the ones I started with. I cut words that didn’t need to be there. I moved words around from one place to another. I thought seriously about every single comment and decided if I needed to address it or if I had addressed it, or if I need to come back to it later when I’ve had more time to think. I still need to re-read the chapter and see if I like it better now.

If it takes me a week to do a single chapter, this is going to take me a long time to finish. Hopefully it gets easier and faster as I go and learn what I’m looking for. Hopefully it gets less painful as I’m able to look at the changes and see how they’ve improved things.

Hopefully I’ll have a really good book when this is all done.

2 thoughts on “Paper Cuts

  1. Rio Murphy

    Thanks for sharing this. I am where you are with my novel. It is my ship out on the ocean. It creaks and groans and threatens to sink often. My efforts seem in vain at times. I am discovering so much while I try to bring it to its destination. I am learning to pay attention in ways that I have neglected since I was a child. I am learning to communicate better the colours of my world than I have been able to do before. I am telling better stories. I am finding all the important juice in honest emotion. I’m listening. I am honouring struggle and celebrating success and finding I’m not alone.

    It is worth it.

    1. Erin

      You are definitely not alone, Rio! Thank you for sharing this. What gorgeous, persistent and precarious little boats we’re all sailing.

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