distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

No Going Back Now

Yesterday, thanks to the beauty of Twitter, I realized that people could now maybe, possibly, actually be reading the final version of my new novel.

I realized this, and my heart almost stopped!

Oh, there’s still a ways to go before ARCs (advance readers copies, for reviewers), but I think it hit me just now: This is happening.

For real.

It’s even more strange to imagine anyone reading this novel because I don’t show too many people my writing. I showed this manuscript to even fewer people than the manuscript I wrote before it—and I didn’t show that many people the last one. Most of the people who’ve read this new novel have really only seen the first few chapters. For some reason, the more years I write, the more I want to keep my writing close. You’d think I would be the opposite.

Why have I turned so shy?

Or I wonder if maybe it’s a weird kind of confidence. Not that I think I don’t need feedback—this novel would absolutely not be what it is without my editor. Maybe it’s just that I’ve taken all the feedback from all the years of writing before and am still incorporating it, on each new project, and I think (I think) I know what to do to get it to a certain place. Who knows.

Maybe keeping my writing close is a reaction to all those years of workshops—feedback from so many voices, often saying opposing things, until your mind knots up in utter confusion and you put your stack of scribbled-on stories in a box* to revise later and, ten years go by, and I guess that story’s dead.

Or maybe it’s simply that I’m a private person. (Yes, even though I have a blog, I swear I’m private.) And this novel felt so close to me, I couldn’t imagine sending it out in the world.

Though soon it will be.

Out there. In the world.


Even though I’m shy and private and possibly sometimes a tiny bit confident, maybe, I do have some envy over writers who have critique groups. I think that’s pretty great to have critique partners you band together with and continue sharing manuscripts all through the years. How wonderful that must be.

How about you? Do you keep your writing close or do you show a few cherished, lucky people?

And to those of you long past workshops—grad school or otherwise—has workshop ruined you or do you miss them?

* See my closet. Or under my bed. I still have the comments from my workshops in grad school on stories I barely even remember writing!

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10 responses to “No Going Back Now”

  1. I know exactly how you feel. For years I have never let any non-writers in my life read my work — that includes friends who actually *ask* to read my stuff, family members, my husband, etc. I have been in a steady stream of writing groups, though, so I definitely know the frustration of different voices offering conflicting advice.

    Last year, I finally started giving my husband short stories to read — to me, this signaled that I was finally coming to a place where I felt more comfortable with my short fiction and felt it might be closer to being ready. But even so, I still keep my work close. Like you, I think I’m better able to trust my own instincts and figure certain things out on my own. All these years of studying and trying and failing and trying some more seem to be adding up to something.

    I’m still a member of two critique groups, however, and I find the feedback very valuable. Of course, it’s taken me years to find such solid readers who “get” my work. It’s not like throwing it to the wolves at a random conference and getting 25 different perspectives that don’t help me at all. (I’ve had people tell me, “Make this a war story.” “You need more action, by which I mean explosions.”) Having outside readers I trust is a huge help…especially since I’m not at the point where I have an agent yet.

    While I’ve been a member of countless writing groups and have attended conferences, etc., I don’t have an MFA. I’m interested to hear from post-MFA folks about how those workshops affected/influenced/destroyed/helped them.

  2. I vote weird kind of confidence. I didn’t really take any creative writing courses, but I’ve always imagined that workshopping in a large group would have left me even more confused walking out than I was walking in! You’ve got to find one or two or three trusted readers who love and support you but can also be constructively critical, and you definitely have that! (Can you tell I am gathering my thoughts for a talk to a high school creative writing class tomorrow?) :}

    Congratulations again on finishing up the line edits, and THANK YOU SO MUCH for helping me celebrate on Saturday night!!! I’m sorry we didn’t get much time to talk—maybe we could do coffee or lunch next time I’m up?

  3. I’ve shown very very few people my entire manuscript–aside from the huge burden I feel it imposes on people, I’ve come to learn that my creative process isn’t open to feedback all the time. There are times I am ready, and there are times at which I am not. My husband is super-busy; even if he is one of the people whose opinion I want/trust, I find I can’t give him my manuscript, because he’ll give me feedback months, sometimes a year, later…right when I’m in the midst of revising and his feedback is no longer relevant or not welcome. His is the only non-writer feedback I receive–everyone else is a writer. One of my pet peeves is to get feedback saying, “Doesn’t work” from someone who doesn’t understand the writing process or writers. A lack of empathy in the feedback frustrates me!

    I’ve workshopped a chapter here and there in my novel; it’s helpful to figure out tricky chapters, or pivotal chapters…but most of the time, I just keep my novel close. Like I’ve said before: it’s my fetus. Some people like to talk about their fetus all the time…others don’t.

    And @Laura: I have had my ups and downs, post-MFA, about workshops. I’ve had my fill of workshops and critique groups, and I am largely wary of them. Groupthink hasn’t destroyed me, but it did destroy part of my writing for awhile…and while my writing has re-surfaced with greater clarity, I had to wander the woods in order to do so. That said, I’d go get another MFA if I could, and I don’t regret the MFA experience I had.

  4. I feel like my deadlines creep up so quickly that I rarely have time to share my manuscripts with my writer friends. I’ve come to mostly rely on my editors but I do wonder if my novels could be that much better if I’d had a few more readers.

  5. I’ve shown my WIP to a couple of friends (both editors) so far. They have instructions not to say anything bad about it whatsoever, because quite frankly, at this stage, any criticism at all would stop me in my tracks. They can critique it all they want when it’s done. But not now. Now I just need gentle encouragement.

    I can not wait to read IMAGINARY GIRLS. Need it now.

  6. I don’t have a critique group anymore either. I agree with you about hearing too many different opinions. I do have a cherished writing buddy and a few amazing first readers. But I have been known to talk a lot about my characters when I’m working on a first draft. Conversations with friends often begin, “want to hear about the cute/funny/scary/sad thing that happened to my book character today?” My friends are very patient with me, and saying things out loud often helps me understand my characters better.

  7. I ate lunch with Joelle this weekend, and we talked about this some. I, too, don’t enjoy the critique group paradigm. But maybe for slightly different reasons. Still, I agree that – at some point – you have to limit the voices you let in. Because style and voice are so subjective. At this point, I have one or two people who I feel comfortable letting read stuff (not including the agent.)

  8. The right readers make a big difference. A participant in a writer workshop I facilitated commented, re a story set at a summer cottage in Wisconsin, that it needed something more, he didn’t know what, “Pirates, maybe.”

  9. I definitely keep it close, and rarely tell anyone but family when an article or story gets published. The work is like your baby, and it’s never fun having someone criticize your baby. Having said that, you always benefit from a second pair of eyes, so I let non-family professional writers be those eyes. It doesn’t hurt quite as much then…

  10. I get all nervous when I hand in a book to my editor… because there’s some quiet and then all the sudden someone from SMP will tweet that they’re reading it and I’m like AH IT’S OUT THERE. INTERNALLY! It’s the scariest most awesome, freakiest thing. CONGRATULATIONS ON THIS MILESTONE, bb! This terrifying, makes-it-even-more-real milestone. 😉 My sharing relationship with my work is different for each book… more people see them now than they used to but at the same time I am simultaneously more protective of them? I don’t even know how that makes sense. But there it is. I think sometimes having too many cooks in the kitchen is a dangerous thing but I also know people who THRIVE on it, so what do I know.

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