Monday, April 18, 2016

"O" Only, Don't Go Lonely

By David Sharp

I borrowed the title from a member of my critique group. The phrase was born while she was traveling internationally. She had decided to take a short evening walk, when she was stopped by a security guard whose English was passable if not perfect. The guard was concerned for her safety walking alone, and he expressed it by saying, “No, Madam. I won’t let you go lonely.” Of course, he meant to say I won’t let you go alone, and she satisfied him by bringing her husband with her. But she took that tiny grammatical error to heart and based a beautiful article on it. After reading it, that phrase has stayed with me as well.

I won’t let you go lonely. 
Me? I'm not alone! I've got hundreds of friends!
And even a few who aren't imaginary!

I love writing. Sometimes creative floodgates open, and hours simply melt away. Often these are hours I should have been sleeping, but what can you do? When inspiration hits, it hits. And there you are alone with your writing, and all is well with the world.

But then it isn’t.

Because writing isn’t a solitary pursuit. No matter how introverted you are, writing is intrinsically communal. Why should it be so? Because its canvas is the written word: a form of communication. And communication requires both a sender and a receiver to be what it is. Even a private diary entry is there for an older version of you, who is arguably a different person. Beyond readers, there are also various editors, agents, marketers and hopefully some friends along the way. In spite of it all, writing can be very lonely.

When I wrote theatrical scripts, I knew several actors who happily helped me share them with the world. When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t have the same luxury. It was extremely difficult to find willing beta readers. Even most avid readers are more likely to mow your lawn for you than to read your novel. Worse yet was being the only person who knew or cared about the characters in my story.

No matter how good you are at chess,
you'll need more than this to win.
The manuscript of my first book is over three years old, and it has been through six full editions in that time.  I’ve had a critique group for just under a year, so less than half the time I’ve spent working on this story. And the difference is tremendous! While most of the work of writing is still a solitary pursuit, that monthly feedback session makes a world of difference. With regard to editing, I receive insights that would have taken me months to realize on my own. I receive my story through the lens of others, which I’d never have on my own. And I receive the support of others who have similar goals and interests.

Obviously, my writings are not the focus every week, or even most weeks. It doesn’t matter. I benefit just as much trying to help others polish their work. Getting my head around a different project almost always helps me approach my own with fresh angles. And if that’s not enough, I also get to share in the success of others. In the past few months we’ve celebrated a victory in an essay contest, a book launch and a small press deal. (And I have a feeling there’s more to come. Lot’s more.) While I’m still holding out for my own publishing breakthrough, it doesn’t seem so far away in the face of the successes around me. And when it does come, I won’t be celebrating alone. The success of one of us, is the success of all of us.

No matter how bad you are at chess,
I'm still much, much worse.
Maybe you’ve had a group for a while, and you know the benefits. If not, the Northern Colorado Annual Conference is a great place to find one. That’s where I found the craziest bunch of writers I’ve ever known, any one of whom is far more likely to read my novel than to mow my lawn. Wherever you are in your writing career, other writers are your best resource. Open the acknowledgement page of any book and you’ll quickly see that success does not happen alone. Is critiquing other people’s work intimidating? No worries. Here’s my personal policy for offering feedback that gives me an excuse to finish with a bullet list:

The only question you need to answer is “What would make this better?” The answer will always be constructive feedback, no matter the level of writing.

Your job is to provide a different lens. This is the one thing writers cannot provide to themselves. Even if you’re out of your genre, your comments will be valuable.

It is just as important to tell what’s right. When something works, writers need to know it. Highlight your favorite parts to save them from the cutting room floor.

In the end, it’s just feedback. Whether your suggestions are taken or not, they’re useful. So don’t be afraid to (respectfully) offer them.

Wherever your writing takes you, go boldly. Only, don’t go lonely.


Bob Scotney said...

Only the lonely nearly always applies to a writer who feels more alone when no-one comments on his/her work.

Ronda said...

Well written, David! My critique group has made a world of difference in the quality of my writing. I couldn't imagine having to Go Lonely again!

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