I got to thinking about results a few days ago. We can be told something, read about it, kind of “get it” but when we do a control study, or science experiment, or we get our hands on whatever it is and do the actual work, then it hits home. The results become visible. Or maybe it’s just me because I’m a visual learner. I was eagerly awaiting the return of my manuscript after it went out to readers. I’d printed it up on three-hole punch paper, slipped it into a purple binder, found a fabulous first kiss photo and enlarged it and put it into the front plastic cover. I titled the manuscript above the photo and wrote my name at the bottom. How cute!
It was nerve wracking. I’d been over those written words about five times. I’d done as much as I could do with the story, yet I released it with trepidation. I sent three pages to an editor who wanted writing samples for a class on deep editing, to be held later in the month. The next day I found three mistakes in my submission. I cringed. Once again I’d moved too fast. I knew that class (where I’d be in the audience) would be like the episode on the I Love Lucy show where Lucy had written something and the teacher asked if he could use it as an example. Poor Lucy was bursting with pride. On the day of class he read it as an example of what not to do. Oh yes, Lucy. I see the writing on the wall.
My critique partner is on the East coast. I sent an attached copy, and she used tracking changes for comments. The beta readers are not writers and I wanted them to concentrate on the reader’s journey. I wanted to know if they sank into the story world and forgot to look for errors and omissions. Did I start in the right place? Did I rush the information, or let the story unfold through character? Where did it stall? Was it believable? Did any character at any time act out of character? Did I miss any threads of conflict? Did I not develop any character fully? What was their feeling when they finished the story? Did it have enough romance and sex, remembering of course that the characters are under duress? It is after all a romantic suspense.
I gave the beta readers sticky tabs to mark any page where they’d made a comment. I also told them to comment in the margins. Yesterday I got the binder back. The ladies were amazing, and they found a few things my tired eyes had read over about a gazillion times, and not noticed. Next week I’m taking them out for lunch and we’ll have a final discussion as a group. My critique partner also returned her comments. She made one about my ending that made me sit up and take notice. I had once again written a black moment that was exciting and plot driven. I’d ended with a nice happily ever after scene, BUT, I’d skimmed over the true emotional black moment. The one where the relationship seems like it is going to hell in a hand basket and the two will never reconcile their differences. I went back into the story and tweaked, and added another short scene. Then I added more emotion to the ending.
It’s easy to tell ourselves we’re amazing. It’s easy to tell ourselves we totally suck. We have to get the stories out of our heads and onto the page, and develop a greater understanding of story, and make it believable for the reader. The only way to do that is to keep on writing, and to share our work. We have to suck up the criticisms and make the changes. We have to appreciate the positive comments but not let them make us lazy. We have to get back into the writing ring and create some new stuff, tweak some of the old stuff, get rid of our tics, and bad habits.
We have to take to heart the results of our work, as seen by the reader.