Monday, July 28, 2014

Through New Eyes

Post by Jenny

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve experienced two powerful examples of what it means to see with new eyes. The first comes via my mother. Ten-plus years ago, when she had cataract surgery on her right eye, the doctor advised her to have the left done, too. “I’ll be back,” she told him. (It cracks me up to picture her saying it like Arnold The Terminator, in her dark post-op shades.)

Well, she put it off. And off. And off. Her cataract grew so mature that she was effectively blind in her left eye. (Had I known this, I would have stepped up my daughterly pressure for her to just go in and get it done, already.) Last week, she finally had it removed, and it has been fascinating to see how she and her brain are adapting to once again receiving sensory information through the left eye. Sometimes her vision is perfect, sometimes it’s double, but every day, it’s improving.

The second example comes from my writing. I have this manuscript, see. In 2007, it was the second finalist (so close!) in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Contest. One of the judges wrote a note on my score sheet telling me I’d surely get published. I pitched to an agent who—“I never do this,” she said—asked me to send her the complete manuscript. I left that conference walking on air.

I mailed the manuscript off. Three months later, when I worked up the nerve to follow up, the agent replied that it “wasn’t what she thought it was” and wished me good luck.

The past seven years have been like my personal Groundhog Day. Every few months, I dust the novel off, polish it a little more, send out a few queries, and get one or two encouraging ‘no thank yous.’ I work on other projects, too (and thankfully don’t eat nearly as many desserts as Bill Murray did in the movie) but I just can’t seem to quit this one.

Now for the new eyes part: although I’ve had excellent readers over the years who have given me good, helpful feedback, last week was my first experience with a bona fide critique group. Even though these wise and talented writers have only read the first two chapters, I know that seeing my all-too-familiar work through their eyes is going to help me in so many ways. Like my mom’s eyesight, it will no doubt be a gradual process, but I hope to come out of it with a sharp new perspective.

What helps you look at your writing with new eyes?


Lynn said...

Time. It's the only thing that seems to get me far enough away from the story to re-read with any clarity or objectivity.

And since I'm always learning from my writing, other writers, reading about writing, etc. the time that passes also means I know more when I come back and see things I couldn't have seen earlier.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Jenny. I tend to put first drafts on the shelf for a long time which makes it easy to see all the flaws (and the occasional good stuff) as if someone else wrote it.

Sarah Reichert said...

It always helps me to put it away for a few weeks, or even months, in some cases. For some reason I also get a totally different perspective when I have the work printed out and read it on paper. I see so much clearer and its easier to go back and forth.

I'm always so impressed by your writing, Jenny! Thank you for the post!

Anonymous said...

I have to step away for a while from a project. It's amazing how much you learn as a writer in just a few short months that you can then bring back to the WIP. And I also was a finalist in the RMFW contest (but in 2008) and thought, "there's my ticket to publishing!" Nope. I've set that ms aside for so long and when I recently edited the first 50 pages I realized just how much more I had learned over the years and that I *think* I've been able to finally make the story what I wanted it to be. (I only started it 10 years ago)! ;-)

Sarah Sullivan said...

Jenny, I'm so impressed by your perseverance in sticking with a work you believe in and clearly love. I have no doubt that will lead to success! It's amazing to me how much my writing evolves overtime whether in hours, days years. It sometimes paralyzes me because I overthink it or think I need to wait until I am a better writer to complete a project, but I know that's not an answer either. A new critique group seems like a fine idea! Good luck and good writing!

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