“…though we often soliloquize about writing being a solitary existence with coveted ideas held closer to the chest than Bluebeard’s key to his chamber of torture and death, writing should never be a purely individual undertaking.”
While wrapping up a perfectly productive Friday, I led my students through a discussion of Charlie Fish’s fabulously wicked short story, “Death by Scrabble.” We were exploring conflict, its relation to tight plot development and the vicious need for stake raising in fiction of all kinds, not just those stories teeming with vampires. I was just about to close the conversation when one of my students raised his hand and pointed out a connection in the story that I, after four years and twenty four class periods of teaching it, had never recognized. It was subtle, it was pivotal, it was brilliant, and I had become too familiar with the overall story, and the story’s punch line, to see it.
It is entirely possible to get too close to things: the novel you’ve been writing for ten years, the short story that you’ve rewritten over and over a thousand times that still just doesn’t seem quite right, a lion at the zoo…
The point is, while we often soliloquize about writing being a solitary existence with coveted ideas held closer to the chest than Bluebeard’s key to his chamber of torture and death, writing should never be a purely individual undertaking. If you refuse to let, at the very least, your intended reader skim through your opus and offer the most general of feedback, you do yourself a terrible disservice.
We all can benefit from fresh eyes and a fresh perspective of our work. You may find that the technical name of a rare gun in the hand of your protagonist pulls your reader from your story and sends them on a mad Google search where your extensive research pounded that term into your subconscious so often that you had no doubt it was as common an item in modern households as a toaster. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to find that you’re wrong.
If we’re honest with ourselves, does this emergence from the solitude of creation stifle and stem the flow of those creative juices? Or does it, instead, offer up a new dark alley that we didn’t see between the massive structures we erected in our mind’s vision of the work. An alley that can be explored, fleshed out, and may bring new surprises as we descend back into our solitary cell of creation.
Step away from your work, place it in hands that you trust, but place it in hands that are not afraid to tell you when there’s something missing, or something wrong altogether (Ahhhh! Talking hands!!). In today’s world of social groups and social media, there’s no limit to the amount of people willing to help if you have the courage to seek another’s foray into your twisted or fantastical imagination. Join a writer’s group, start a blog, ask a friend, a family member, a teacher or a mentor. Check out the following link for a list of writers’ groups near you: Squidoo.com List of Local Writers Associations The list is delineated by state making it easier to find your friendly neighborhood wordsmiths.
Here’s a novel idea: Be a guest writer on the Roundtable Podcast and let us dig into whatever shallow grave your thoughts are buried in. (Okay, a bit shameful, that.)
The outcome is the same as the student who saw in that story a detail that I had skipped over time and time again because I thought I knew it and had stopped looking. Discourse, conversation, workshops, even reading your piece into a voice recorder and listening to it the next day, can open you up to that one shift, that one detail that some blogger, someday, might call subtle, pivotal, and brilliant.