Anyone who says that writing is a solitary activity is missing a huge piece of the equation. The writing group.
A few nights ago, I got together with three of my MFA girlfriends to talk craft and give feedback. I submitted pieces of two projects: the first three chapters of an early middle-grade chapter book, and the first three chapters of my ill-fated, oft submitted but never requested, 5-years-in-the-making young adult supernatural mystery novel.
Which I learned, by the way, is not a young adult novel at all. But, of course, I didn’t know this on my own. I had to be told this by my mentor and advisor who reviewed the manuscript for me only a week or so ago. How did I not know this? I mean, I was always told that the age of the main character determines the age of the readership because kids like to read about characters who are their age or older. My main character is fourteen. Ergo, young adult. Right?
Not so, people. The content and tone of the manuscript do far more to determine the readership. So even though my character is fourteen, which would place him squarely in the young adult category, the content and elements of the book are clearly middle grade, for a plethora of reasons I won’t go into here. But I couldn’t see this on my own.
I also couldn’t see, in this manuscript about which I have been querying and submitting furiously over the past six weeks, that I need a chapter prior to the first chapter to make the readers care about the main character before he’s plunged into the darkness of the spirit world. After all, if your character falls into peril before the reader gets to like him, who’s going to care? Of course, what I remembered from all my years of writing instruction is to begin in the heart of the action. Start with a bang at the moment of change. I thought I was doing the right thing. Why couldn’t I see it?
Because I needed objective eyes, which I could not possibly have after honing this manuscript for five (almost six) years. Sometimes it takes that outsider’s perspective to shed light on the dark spots that only appear gray after you’ve looked at them for so long.
Thankfully, I now have many objective eyes. I just hope I remember to never, ever send out a single piece of writing again without running it past my amazing writing group first.