Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Question for Gary Wilson

The winner this week to ask Gary Wilson, author of "Sing, Ronnie Blue" a question and get one of his books is Heather Larson. Heather is a travel and pets writer near Seattle. I know she's going to enjoy this book:

Do you belong to a writing critique group? Who do you have read your writing to critique it or are you your only critiquer?

From Gary:

Great questions. Let me try to answer the last part first. As I tell my students, in the end the writer him- or herself has to become his or her own best critic. What you are writing, after all, is yours and yours alone. You have the final say over what appears in print and what doesn't. Of course, you want that to be the best writing you are capable of. You want to be proud of what you make public. And in the end you have to make all the final decisions about character, conflict, voice, setting, dialogue, words, commas, paragraphs and so on. That's what I mean by becoming your own best critic.
I think I've learned over time to weed out problems as I go along in a manuscript, whether it's a novel or a short story. Each day that I start writing, I go back a few pages and reread aloud what I've done to pick up the "sound" of the writing, the rhythm of it, so that when I begin writing, I'm in step with what I've done already. During that process, I'll come across words that don't seem right or punctuation that doesn't work the way I want it to. There may be whole sentences or paragraphs that need revising, rearranging or to be cut all together. After I've reread things several days in a row, the writing gets to a pretty refined state so that in my final revision readings, I might not have to do major rewriting. But this is a process that has come, as I said, with time and experience. But I think it's something every writer learns.
Once I've finished a piece, I put it away for as long as I can stand to. Months usually. Then I'll take out the manuscript and go through it with a fine-tooth comb, looking for whatever needs fixing. Following that, I prepare a final draft and begin sending the piece off to potential publishers.
In order to short-cut that process, you can use a reader or readers—fresh pairs of eyes, so to speak—to help you along. The main thing you have to be careful about is that you find a person to read your work who will be honest with you. You need to be sure you can trust that person to tell you the truth about what you've written. Having someone tell you something is good when it's not doesn't help. So choose wisely. Oh, and when you've asked someone for an honest opinion, listen to it. Don't argue, don't get defensive, don't let your feelings get in the way. That does no good, either. The best reader I have is my wife. We've always had an understanding that she would be brutally honest about my work. And she always has been. My sons are also good, honest readers. I trust what all of them say.
I don't belong to a writing group. I know many writers who do. Many of my students have formed groups to continue discussing each other's work after they've finished my workshops. And that's great. It's good to talk about writing and how to do it better. My only cautionary note would be that you should be careful not to become dependent on what other people think of your work. In the end, you have to become your own best critic.

It's been pointed out to me that commenting may be confusing for some. It's really easy, though. Just hit "comments" below, which will take you directly to the comment section. You do not need a Google account to comment. If you don't want to sign into a Google account, just hit name/URL. Or, you can even leave an annonymous comment (although it might be hard to find you if you win).

I hope you'll join us on Tuesday, May 6 when Jen Miller, author of "The Jersey Shore" will be joining us - and you will have a chance to win a copy of her book!


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