A writer may brave the mysterious lands where stories and dreams are born by their lonesome. Many attest to the absolute necessity of it. Fitzgerald refused to ever discuss his works-in-progress, and advised all fledgling scribes to do the same. To share with others the process of mining the seams of untapped stories for literary ore is to poison the rivers; to tease open that clam is to destroy the pearl-yet-to-be therein. Writing projects–works of fiction, in particular–wilt and die when dragged into the sun before they’ve been given a chance to bloom and ground their roots.
Only after–long after, in fact–completion can the doors be flung open and the ragged fetal manuscript be allowed to waddle forth into the world. Before that can happen, hundreds of hours must be spent researching, typing, fuming, over-coming roadblocks, sealing plot-holes and, well, crafting something from nothing. Creation must occur, via naught but an extended act of sheer will.
But no novel should–or indeed, is probable to–come into contact with a prospective agent or publisher after being subject to the scrutiny of only a single pair of eyes, especially if those eyes are those of its love-addled creator. No writer can analyse their own writing to an appropriate or sufficient degree to wheedle out the inevitable myriad of invisible typos (which are so easily glanced-over by authors themselves, so clear has the intended witticism been in their minds since before it was first transcribed to the page); the gaping factual errors, born of pig-ignorance and embarrassing misunderstandings; the baggy middles and lumbering climaxes; and the armies of characters who, despite bearing height and breadths aplenty, have not even the slightest traces of depth.
A writer, no matter how great, can never craft a manuscript free of such troubles on the first run. It just doesn’t happen. These innumerate bothers are a necessary part of the process of creation; without them, essential tendons bridging human experience and abstract literature are severed. A one-draft literary masterpiece would be, at least in the majority of cases, fundamentally at odds with the imperfections of the writer who crafted it.
We need readers. Our writing needs to leap out of our arms and into those of another sooner or later. There always comes a point when our mollycoddling embrace will do it no further good; but, rather, hinder its journey to maturity.
A writer can end a raw draft on a high and seal their baby away in a deep, dark box (preferably for at least a month or two) before taking it out to work on a second draft (and, indeed, repeat the process for the third draft and the polish). They can put it out of their minds during the interim and move onto something else. They can almost forget about it, so that when they come back to it and read it through for the first time, their own creation looks alien to their eyes. Such distancing allows said writer to set to the necessary pruning and death/destruction-dealing with an ease that would previously have struck them faint with horror.
And yet, despite the callus that develops during such cool-down periods, the work will always be that writer’s child. It will never be somebody else’s work–not entirely. There will always be fundamental shortcomings in their manuscript–certain sub-plots/flashbacks/romances/ex-deus machinas–that, though they know in their hearts that these elements rot their work from within, they can’t bring themselves to take the shears (red-pen/delete button) to.
Readers are needed: others who are willing to make such incisions in the writer’s stead. Critiques must be sought from trusted people–and no, a slap on the back from a nigh-illiterate Dad just doesn’t cut it. Those unbiased by familial or friendly relations (or those strong-willed enough to overcome such biases) are the only candidates worth approaching; only from the cold-hearted glare of a person capable of laying an infant manuscript upon a cold steel table and tearing out its heart can advice of any worth be gleaned.
The writer’s ego will take a beating. Even the most constructive criticism is capable of cutting deep. A thick skin can deaden such blows, but never quite stem the knee-jerk brooding depressions that follow. Weeks may pass before the resultant feedback can be put to any kind of use.
But it’s vital to any complete editing process.
Readers are a writer’s safety net. Their masked protectors.
Except, of course, when they provide the one thing that can be worse than nothing at all: the Lukewarm Review.
For nothing grips a writer’s heart with an icy fist like a lax, “Yeah…it’s good. I liked it. You should get it published some day.”
Woe be to he whom receives such feedback. And ever more to he who gives it.
Whilst negative feedback can wound–can shrivel a muse to naught but ash–and that which is positive can send us to the heights of delirium, both perform the desired function: they cast aside the obscuring shawls of emotion and attachment, and get right to the heart of the issues at hand.
But the Lukewarm Review can utterly destabilise not just a project, but a writer and the entirety of their literary endeavors; scupper motivations; entrench developing dogmas or, conversely, ease concerns that ought to be deepened.
This arises from one simple fact: you can’t please everyone, and only a fool would try. The joys of literary success come from those few whom a writer might reach out and connect with, and those whom they enrage. A roadblock only emerges in the face of indifference, for indifference retards the progress of literature’s only purpose: to bring together the like-minded, and draw into focus the divide between them and those who think differently.
A work-in-progress might not be bad. It might not be terrible–It might need work, but it might indeed be a jewel in mere need of buffing. It might, in fact, be a work of certifiable genius.
And yet, in the face of an indifferent reader, such a potential gem might very well disintegrate into only so many words upon so much paper.
So please, beta-readers and reviewers the world over, don’t hold back–don’t save writers’ egos the knocks that they most definitely need. Don’t skimp on your wisdom; it fuels the wheels of imagination.
And if we can’t kill our own darlings, it’s your job to kill them for us.
Be ruthless, Constant Reader. Be ruthless.