Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 26, 2012

Reading Your Work Cold

The Philadelphia Writer’s Conference is coming up in June. I’ve already registered to go, and am in the process of gathering the submissions for the critiques and contests. What’s been interesting is my reaction to reading the excerpts I am preparing to send.

Before I get to that, let me dump a little backstory in here.

I have a toddler. She takes up most of my time. For a while I tried to cycle my writing projects, trying to work on all of them at once. But that just made me feel like I wasn’t accomplishing anything, because I never got to the end of anything. So I decided for the sake of my sanity to focus on one project at a time.

The project I have been working on is a middle grade dystopian steampunk mashup. It will come as no surprise that this is one of the works I am sending in to the conference. I have gathered notes from beta readers and crit partners, and reworked the first 2500 words thoroughly. Then I got more feedback from my crit partners and reworked it again. The opening is significantly better than it was, and I can’t wait to get to work on the rest of the book to bring it up to the same level.

The second excerpt I am sending in is a YA novel—I’m not sure if it would be called a fantasy or a paranormal for genre purposes. The girl’s got supernatural abilities (paranormal) but they come via her father, who is a Greek god (fantasy). So take your pick.

I haven’t worked on this story for many months, so I came to it with very fresh eyes. And I was pleasantly surprised—mostly because I had made changes to the story that I had forgotten I had made. The edits I had made definitely improved the story, and I found myself excited by it in a way I hadn’t been last time I worked on it.

We always hear the advice to put a work aside for a time and come back to it fresh. Usually, this advice is intended to allow you to see the errors and mistakes you’ve made. We rarely hear about the flip side of that coin: Coming to it fresh also allows you to see the strengths of what you have written.

My YA wasn’t perfect, by any means—my crit partners still had some suggestions. But it was so much stronger than what I had remembered having, that I found myself thinking, “This is good—almost like a professional wrote it.”

When I find myself thinking that, I know I’m on the right track.

So if you have the luxury of time, put your work aside before doing a final edit. And when you do come back to it fresh, don’t just focus on what’s wrong. Allow yourself to see and revel in what you’ve done well.

Enjoying those gems in your writing will energize you to bring your A-game to the final edit, and that passion will make your words shine.

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Responses

  1. How wonderful! I love too going back to a MS you havent read in awhile and falling in love all over again! Hope you have a fantastic time at the PWC. Will miss going this year, but doing ThrillerFest instead

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    • I’ll miss you at PWC, but have a great time at ThrillerFest!

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  2. You bring up a great point about the type of feedback we usually want from beta readers: impressions and emotional reactions. When I beta read for others, I give comments in the document for specific lines or sections, often with stream-of-consciousness emotional reactions. At the end of each chapter, I’ll usually give an overall impression on pacing and character likability (“Not much seemed to happen plot-wise, but we got more character development, so that’s good.”) Then in the email with the feedback document, I’ll give an overall impression of the story, characters, and anything I didn’t touch on in the comments.

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