Epiphany at WRITING for CHARITY

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When August 21st rolled around, and Writing for Charity (WFC) along with it, I had completed 13 pages of my work in progress (wip). I was EXTREMELY anxious to share my first page (cuz that’s all you are allowed to share at this event) as I was experimenting with a multi-writing-genre format.

The protocol for most writing groups requires that someone OTHER than the author reads the draft. The writer CANNOT say ANYTHING. This is difficult for me, and I slipped when my reader Ann Dee Ellis couldn’t figure out a weird contraction.

“Ah, ah, ah, Renae,” she said. “You need to listen to the way readers might say this word.”

Of course she is right, and such a read-through revealed several issues that I immediately recognized. I started to point them out, and Ann Dee stopped me again as I needed to see if our group members identified the same problems FIRST. And they did.

I had hoped my writing experiment wouldn’t appear gimmicky, and that it would introduce readers to a WHAM-BAM first line; SUPER strong voice; and an INTRIGUING plot set-up.

If those areas were graded, I’d say I received a D, B, and D. And this is why.

  • The first line introduces 2 pieces of the plot that I wanted to emphasize, BUT one part overshadowed the other to the point that my readers didn’t even notice the second detail. And that one was THE most important! This problem deflated both the WHAM and the BAM.
  • While the first page does a decent job of creating a YA voice, the experimental format doesn’t help readers get a real feel for the character’s voice. THIS is critical. Without it, we don’t understand enough about the MC to decide whether or not we like him/her, and if we don’t like that him or if we aren’t intrigued with her, why read on? (I just talked myself into reducing the “B” to a “C”.)
  • While I think I have an intriguing plot idea, I failed to clearly introduce it. My peer readers had to go back and re-read the first part to figure out what had just happened. (NOT a good thing.)

So with those flaws in mind, my group discussed what I could do to “fix” the problems. Ann Dee led the discussion, and she helped me understand the limitations of the format, and she also threw out an idea that could improve the ALL-IMPORTANT first line.

Other group members asked good questions that helped me recognize additional holes.  And so, I went away with concrete ideas that should strengthen that first page and, hopefully, the rest of the manuscript.

The question I asked myself was this: Shall I revise OR start over? I remembered that Carol Lynch Williams challenged followers of Throwing Up Words to toss out the first 5 pages and reCREATE them – NOT reWRITE them. I believe recreation means I come at the story in a different way; and while I like the multi-writing-genre idea, I think I need to scale it back some. BUT I will NOT even look at those first 5 pages when I reWRITE/CREATE them!!!

The point is I walked away from the workshop experience rejuvenated because I remembered this quotation from Writing Simplified:

Writing alone isn’t enough to help you improve; you need FEEDBACK.