Last week I wrote about my own revision process and how important I think it is to revise (and I’m not just saying this as an editor/writer). I wasn’t quite finished discussing the merits of revision, so I wanted to focus on it again this week.
For the last few months, two of my writer friends and I have been getting together once a week to workshop my friend Joaquin’s YA manuscript. Joaquin was told recently that as part of his revision process, he should have people read his manuscript out loud. This act accomplishes many tasks: moving from writer to audience gives Joaquin the opportunity to hear how his words sound when read by Mary and me. Is a line awkward? Is a sentence missing a word, making the meaning unclear? It also gives Joaquin the opportunity for feedback, something the three of us are all too familiar with as products of English degrees and the college writing workshop setting.
There is something very pure about returning to the workshop setting, but doing so outside of a classroom. The three of us are avid readers and writers and spend much of our time sitting around drinking and talking about our writing anyway. What else is there to do when you’re broke in Brooklyn? In the classroom workshop, there seems to always be something else below the surface: competitiveness. Each student wants to have the best piece read during the workshop. They want praise from fellow students and especially the professor. Perhaps this only happened in the workshops I attended, but sometimes that competitiveness was distracting. That’s not to say that I don’t like constructive criticism. I’ve never been a proponent for the touchy-feely workshops where everybody has to say one thing they liked about a piece before they can say anything negative. That’s a waste of time. If I wanted to hear something nice about my piece, I’d talk to my mom. The workshop is the place for critiquing.
The difference in our Sunday night read-arounds (besides the ever present bottle of red wine), is that we’ve all come together with a common goal: to help Joaquin with his manuscript. Mary and I can point out the character discrepancies or plot holes because we’re coming to this story with fresh eyes. We’ve got the distance that he doesn’t have as the author. This reader-based approach also affords moments of true appreciation in which Mary or I will stop reading and note a beautifully written sentence or description. We’re not forced under some classroom workshop setting to say one nice thing, so we can authentically respond to his work. Plus, we’re solely focused on his piece, not trading it off with our own writing. That way we can give him our full attention (which admittedly wanes a bit as the night goes on and the wine bottle empties).
Once we finish Joaquin’s manuscript, I want to offer up one of my short stories to the altar of peer review. In a way, this less structured workshop approach gives us the opportunity to collaborate on each other’s work. In the way an author works with her editor to shape the best finished product out of her story, my friends and I are helping each other through the sometimes daunting task of revision. Inevitably the rewrites belong to the author, but it helps when you have a support system to help you through it. It’s like therapy for writers.