How great it is to enjoy your own writing. Reading a passage and saying to yourself, hey that captures the idea well, I can feel the movement of the water under the surf board, the sting of salt water in their eyes. I can’t say this happens too often to me, so I’m delighted that it’s happening now.
I’m preparing a newly completed manuscript to send to an editor. I say completed, but you writers out there know that completed is a relative term when it comes to writing, but I’ve promised myself this is the last time I’m reading this manuscript. Like many writers I know, I could tinker forever. It’s not perfect, but it’s never going to be, and hey, I’m enjoying it, so it must be okay. Mustn’t it?
I just finished reading a fantastic book called Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. I loved this book, and it got me thinking about what makes a book at YA book. Is it that the character is young? That can’t be, because there are lots of examples of books with young protagonists. Is it that the themes are related to young people? But the themes in this book are dealing with loss, grief, love, finding oneself… all the things any great book is about. So what is it then that makes this a YA book? Or is that category not real? Maybe there are no barriers between what youth and adults read. After all, I’m not a young woman, and I read books lablled YA.
This week, for the first time, I gave the manuscript of a novel I’ve been working on to a reader. Wow, what a moment. Like walking off a precipice you can’t turn back from. There’s no pretending now. No saying, I’m not really working on this thing, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a manuscript now. A book in the making, not some notes and scenes I’m messing around with.
A big step yes, but I chose my reader carefully. I wanted someone who was an astute reader, but not a writer. Someone who could read with enough distance from writing to be a reader, but enough knowledge to be able to articulate their thoughts about the book to me. I didn’t want someone who’d just say, “it was great” or someone who’d day “I hated it, I don’t know why.” I needed someone who’d say I liked this part but not that, and here’s why. Someone who’d care enough to tell me the truth, and to take the time to tell me gently.
So who’d do all that? My husband of course. He reads voraciously. More than I, even. And he loves YA, which is what I’ve been working on. He was the perfect choice and he told me all the things I already knew but had been hiding from, plus a whole lot of other things. He honed in on the places where I wasn’t sure, as a writer, where I hadn’t quite made up my mind. He found the places I’d skipped over details because I didn’t quite know what I was trying to do. He took a look at the big arc of the story and found the places I hadn’t filled in. He told me when my characters knew too much or not enough. Wow, he gave me enough feedback to start editing again, this time with purpose, with direction.
So thanks Michael. Your input was invaluable. My next reader’s going to be writer Laurie Elmquist, who’s fine eye will catch even more detail. I’m intimidated already at the thought, though I know it’s necessary. But I’m also encouraged, because I know how empowered I feel right now to continue with this project.