It Takes a Village

You know how sometimes you start a book, and the first page says, I lovingly dedicate this book to Hazel, the pet groomer who keeps Foo-Foo so nicely trimmed.  I’m guessing this book is the 56th one published in the series, and the writer has thanked everybody and their brother already and is opting for short and sweet.

More typical is the forward that runs 7 pages and mentions everybody along the way who made the most remote contribution to the book.  “And my Aunt Mildred, who suggested that I change the name of the pawnbroker from Simon to Herman.”

I’m not really the 7 pages of forward type.  But if I listed everyone individually who made a contribution to a book, it would probably be 7 pages.  Because for most of us, it really does take a village to write a book.  Here’s a sampling of my village.

As soon as I finish the first draft of a chapter, I send it out to my First Draft Readers.  Incidentally, this helps define what a “first draft” is – i.e., it has to be clean enough so I’m not embarrassed to send it out.  I’m a pretty sorry proof reader, so perhaps I should be embarrassed by some of the gaffs, but by now I’m not.  On the flip side, once a chapter is “released,” I never go back to rewrite it until the entire first draft is finished.  If I discover something that has to be changed, I make some notes in the chapter in red, but I never touch the prose.

Originally my first draft readers were mainly for encouragement.  I wanted a group of people who would give me shit if I didn’t get them a new chapter in a timely manner and occasionally tell me that they were really enjoying what I was writing.  Now, as a more mature writer working on Novel #4, I need general more feedback and not nearly as much encouragement.  But some.

One of my first draft readers, Kate, also serves double duty as my wife.  She’s been my most dedicated reader throughout this journey, reading every word of every draft and making comments in the margins (she gets her very own paper copy).

Another first draft reader is my writing partner, Susan.  This is a new experiment for both of us – we’ve been doing it for 5 weeks now – but both of us are really enjoying the process.  We do a close read and give specific feedback on each chapter.  In Susan’s case, it is her indispensable “green edits” (I used the word “infamous” before, to which she took amused exception).   We also meet weekly to discuss.

I belong to two different critique groups.  One is a group of hearty amateurs, poets and prose writers both.  We meet twice a month; everybody reads something and gets a critique.  Some of our members have made amazing strides in their writing over the year that we’ve been doing it.  But we encourage as much as critique.

The other group is the Woodlands Writers’ Guild.  This has some very talented critiquers who will fiercely (if lovingly) pounce on a point-of-view violation or an awkward phrase.  This group also meets twice/month.  Strangely, only a small handful of writers read per meeting.  I don’t understand that – I read every time.  They’re probably tired of hearing from me by now, but if somebody is going to listen to what I’ve written and give me feedback, I don’t want to miss it.

Once I finish a first draft, I do a hard content edit.  Probably a third of the words get changed during this rewrite.  Tighten, improve, polish is the goal.  For my last novel, I posted chapters 3 times a week on my blog.  By the end, I had developed quite an online critique group.  There were hundreds of useful comments.  It took a while to incorporate them all – an extra rewrite, truth be told – but the result was a much improved work.

Then there’s the proofreaders.  These people have a talent that I’m simple lacking, and are happy to employ it on my behalf.  No publisher would look twice at the error-ridden result of my rewrites.

And let’s not forget Stella.  World-class networker, her goal is to unite the writing world, one niche at a time.  Stella is the driving force behind this blog as well as the umbrella web site and organization, AllThingsWords.  And who incidentally connected me with a publisher who wanted what I wrote.  Every writer needs a Stella, and I’ve lucky to have the original.

Beyond the confines of my village, there’s the army of people out there eager to help if you ask for something you need.  For example: there are statues of 5 artists in front of the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia.  I distinctly remember that from my youth.  I needed to know if one of them was Leonardo da Vinci.  One crappy little fact – you’d think it would be on line somewhere, but no.  So I called the museum.  An amused curator was happy to interrupt her day to tell me who they stood silent guard in front of her museum.

So thanks to my villagers.  I appreciate you.



2 thoughts on “It Takes a Village

  1. Rusty, wow. High praise.

    Your writing was destined to be published, I merely selfishly stepped in and snagged an outstanding writer for our publishing house. I hope you still know me when people recognize. 🙂


  2. Like you, I have a few people I work with who are a loosely connected group. Not all work with each other in terms of critiquing or plotting. 🙂 You are one of those for me.
    There are some of us who do our own plotting and writing and like others to proof and find plot holes or major flaws like missing character arcs. There are some who merely serve as cheerleaders and more or less say they like it, keep writing. There are others who are really geared toward recognizing the emotional value and whether it’s missing from a story (gotta have it!)

    Then sometimes when we help others plot. On occasion I find myself too close to my own story to realize that I’m not spelling out something that I should, like it’s in my head but not on paper. So that’s when I ask “what’s missing?” and those others tell me what they think it is.

    It’s so awesome to have people to work with. I recently started meeting with a little group, one of whom you know from WWG. I’ll not mention his name, in case he wants privacy, but there are 4-5 of us, and rather than doing the simple task of critiquing, we have been working on our story lines, saying outloud who our characters are, fleshing out our plots. It’s been nothing less than AMAZING to listen to stories and to see the passion in people’s eyes for their characters. I think we all leave inspired.

    I may start a second little group. (we only meet once a month, so it’s doable, I think.) And if it helps others….

    Damn, I love this writing thing!


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