Tell Me

Think of me as if I’ve just gone blind, pushing my way into a room with my arms held out. I’m feeling for obstructions, seeking pathways, needing to know when I’m good and when I’m in danger. The end table is there, so you tell me to turn left. A potted plant is coming up on my other side, so you tell me to go right. Closer, closer, closer you coax me and—there—I’ve found the couch and can sit down safely at last.

The room is my novel. I have no way of knowing where the floor gives out, if I put a table where I shouldn’t, if I’m about to hit a big bunch in the rug. I am at that point where I don’t know what’s good let alone what’s bad. I can’t tell where the voice shifts, really, I have no idea.

Last night E told me about a scene in a chapter that he loved. It was my best writing in the book so far, he said.

So I peeked. I went back and read the scene and chapter in question to see if I could figure out what was especially working. I may have to meditate on that some more, compare it to other scenes to get a real sense of the difference. All I can tell you is that, as I read the good scene back, I remembered what it felt like to write it. I felt so “on.” I spent days on that scene, but the longer I worked on it, digging into it, pushing and pulling and prodding it into shape, the better I felt about it.

I was excited. And you can see that excitement in the writing, obviously. My words showed it without me having to say.

This makes me think of a workshop I was in this summer. Our workshop leader was saying that you can read a story and find the places where the writing becomes alive—where the writer is excited—and the places where it’s forced. Keep what’s alive, cut what’s forced. What do you have left when you keep only what’s alive? She said it much better than I just did. I hope one of my workshop participants is reading this post because I cannot remember how she explained it and I could use to hear it again.

Anyway, it helps me to know what works and what doesn’t—knowing what’s good is just as helpful to me as knowing what’s bad. I’m not fishing for compliments… I just really need a hand sometimes.

Does anyone else feel blind when they read back their first-draft pages?

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