Lord, I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into. I started attending a critique group, and for the past few sessions, I’ve been perfectly content to read other writer’s work and give them what I hope is helpful feedback. But when the organizer emailed a call for submissions for next month’s meeting, I impulsively hit reply and said, “I’ll do it!” Do I have something for them to read? No.
A good friend wrote last week, “I have been reading a lot about writing recently. Specifically, I am curious about the writer’s process as I am developing one of my own.” As I attempt to come up with a piece worthy of my critique group’s time, I’ve thought a lot about her statement, reflecting on my own process. I set an alarm for 6am during the week, getting up to write while the rest of the house sleeps. But that’s not really a process, that’s just a schedule, right?
During times of deadlines, my process is one of avoidance. I have dozens of “big ideas” jotted down in Evernote, on post-its, on the lines of my navy blue Moleskine – five or six word phrases like “I am an unreliable narrator,” or “Notes under my pillow for God.” My phone is full of voice memos for those pieces. But when I think about sitting down and trying to put it all together? I procrastinate. I delay. I use my writing time to blurt out blog posts. Like right now.
A local friend and I trade critiques sometimes. We email our work to each other, then meet for lunch or coffee and trade feedback. Lesley’s advice is instrumental in my growth as a writer (as I hope mine is to hers), and thanks to one of her critiques, I tightened up a piece that was ultimately accepted. This past week, after reading the work I gave her, she told me, “I love your voice.” But the piece still needs a lot of work.
That’s where I get stuck as a writer. My voice comes through in my blurts, in my blog posts, in my “shitty first drafts,” as Anne Lamott calls them. When I start polishing, though, when I cobble together the voice memos, and the scattered notes, and rearrange and cut and organize, I don’t know how to keep my voice. The writing feels forced. “That’s why I loved Wild,” I told Lesley. “Strayed’s writing is raw, like when I blurt, yet it’s also refined. Somehow she keeps her voice through all the polishing.”
It’s a tricky transition, this progression from posts to pieces. From self-publishing on a blog to submitting for review by others. But reading about writing and setting an alarm clock, meeting deadlines for your critique group and maintaining your raw voice while refining your words, I guess those are all part of the process.