(This note continues my earlier post, “Get out of the House”.)
A year ago I wrote about abandoning a solitary existence and joining two writers’ groups. It’s time to follow up. What has this move done for me?
I can say confidently that subjecting my work to peer review is the best thing I have done in the last 10 years.
I had been giving myself too much leeway. Allowing myself too many easy choices. Just because something rang true or interesting, I would use it without questioning the reader’s ability to share my reaction. I had not bothered to take responsibility for every word I used.
Now I found myself subjected to the scrutiny of other writers, with their distinct views of literature. They were unwilling to give me a free pass with one or another of my arbitrary choices just because they liked my work in general. This increased my demands of myself. I could see my work more critically. I developed more respect for the reader. I was given an opportunity to improve.
Much of my prose and poetry has been significantly optimized after being “Gutted”. It’s amazing how, as authors, we may overlook the most glaring errors in our plots that others will immediately notice. The most egregious typos! Other eyes help. Educated, creative minds behind the eyes help tenfold! And by no means is this limited to detecting the problems I missed. It’s also about pinpointing the opportunities I might consider, alternate developments that might make more sense. Every now and then, a work will take on a new dimension after I incorporate all the feedback.
I hear voices. The voices of my fellow writers, commenting on one or another decision I make, sentence I use. Although one might feel insane with so many voices in one’s head, I feel enriched. I have the wisdom and the experience of a dozen other creative minds in my toolkit. Often, I don’t even need to have them read the work to gauge their reactions.
And there is more. Giving constructive feedback is also a challenge and a learning process. Do I speak about the work from my own point of view as a reader? Do I adopt the view of the author’s “target reader”? Do I find a good balance in between? Do I propose a major change if one seems warranted to me? Is there more of myself or of the author in my feedback, and which is best? Are my literary theories and writing recipes sound, interesting, well thought-out?
But it’s not all about discussing one another’s work. There is more to discuss. I have become exposed to so many fascinating thoughts, brilliant works, talented authors – enough for two lifetimes of reading. Thought spurs thought. Information exchange spurs enhanced creativity. We step up to become small players in a larger world. I’m no longer a solitary writer stewing in his own isolated universe. I’m part of a larger context. I have escaped into the outer realm. In doing so, I have obtained not only a strong team dedicated to helping one another grow, but a wide frame of reference, and, last but not least, a lovely bunch of friends.
I have upgraded to a better version of myself as a writer while having a lot of delightful interactions.
I would love the Guttery to pour over every word and every punctuation mark I have ever set down, but one gets only so much reviewing time. I await my next opportunity to be Gutted and whatever that entails in my growth, as a writer and a person. In the meantime, I am inspired by the others: their thoughts, their favorite literature, their participation in life as creative beings, their ways to string words together, their emotional worlds, their particular ways to tell their particular stories.
The world is full of voices, and only one of them is my own.