Monday, June 21, 2010

Writers, Be a Pro When You Get Notes

I got a bunch of great notes from my critique partner on my manuscript, and I'm now implementing them at speed. Most of them. No reader's notes are going to jibe 100% with your thoughts, but if you can get someone like Elisa, where it's pretty damned close to 90%, jump on that person, tie them down and force them to be your critique partner.

No, not literally, you weirdos.

Even with someone as sensitive and smart and in sync as Elisa, I find getting notes can be tough. I had lunch with my friend Ruth the other day, and she helps people write screenplays for a living. She too had the same question - why is it so hard sometimes for the writer to get notes? She gives notes all the time and sees the struggles that ensue.

Ego is the easiest answer. And that's part of it. After spending months writing something, to have someone else come along, read it once, and point out a problem means either that you're an idiot or that they are wrong. Which answer would your ego prefer? And sometimes the note-giver isn't right. But a LOT of the time they are (I'm talking about trusted note-givers here, not your grandma or butcher - DON'T give your book or script to them and expect anything useful to come out of it.) So you feel like an idiot.

But you're not, because writing is hard. It's harder than giving notes. Solving the problems is ten times tougher than pointing it out. So you're not an idiot. But your note-giver is still probably right.

And that's the other reason getting notes can be tough emotionally, because writing can be tough emotionally. Hell, it's tough all over. I find that I get so enmeshed in tying up one thread, I'll forget another. Or (and this happens CONSTANTLY in my writing) I assume I've made something perfectly clear when in fact it's as murky as the Gulf of Mexico. (Don't get started on the oil spill. Just... grrrr!) I resist telling people flat out what's going on. I want them to infer it. And sometimes that works. Sometimes, especially in a book, you just need to fricking spell it out. You don't have actors saying your words to help add emotion or a great director shooting your scenes to imply something with a camera angle or spot of light.

Writers can get too close to the material and lose perspective. You may know your book better than your note-giver. You may know these characters like you know yourself. But just as a good friend can sometimes point out a pattern in your own behavior that you never recognized, a good note-giver can do the same for your manuscript.

So be a pro. Take the notes with a smile even if your heart trembles with pain and rage. Then put the manuscript down, and take a walk, hug your dog, or have a nice glass of Toasted Head chardonnay while watching True Blood. Then go back and realize how the note will help you make your book better and go for it.

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