Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Progress. And the importance of different types of readers.

Despite my diminished working time, I feel that I have made some significant progress in the last week or so. You might say that I have broken the back of the novel, although given the mood swings that go with writing a novel, it could have knitted its own spine back together by next week for all I know.

At this point I can see the end, and know just what I need to do in order to get to the end of the first draft. It's just a matter of systematically working through each section that needs to be added (in contrast to the last one, I have not worked from beginning to end, I have jumped around a lot). It's been slow. I have installed a picometer to the right (you may have noticed it creeping slowly upwards), but I have written many more than 42,000 words over the past year - 42,000 is just the number of words that have stuck. And I do tend to revise somewhat as I go, so I don't race through a complete draft and turn around at the end, breathless, to see what I've got. I know what I've got. Now. I say 'now' because a few weeks ago I definitely lacked clarity; clarity which I now have gained. I think. (Hark at her, how certain she sounds!)

I decided it was time to send some out to a trusted reader. Most of my readers are other writers. I will be having a long overdue meeting with my writing group when I go to Wellington in March (I say long overdue, but I have not been ready up until now). But in the meantime, I needed another type of reader. Not a writer-reader, but a reader-reader. So I sent it off to my friend Mary (not Mary McCallum fyi). What is great about Mary is that she is a very careful and intelligent reader. She will not only get excited for me if she is enjoying it, she will tell me exactly what works and why. She is the perfect person to send my first four chapters to because she will ask a lot of questions about what is going on, and then tell me whether or not I am answering them sufficiently.

I got a wonderful email back from her, saying all the things I needed to hear right now to give me the boost to keep on going. And I don't mean just unconditional praise such as you might get from your mum or husband, but useful positive criticism. From a very clever reader's perspective. She added, at the end, somewhat apologetically, that the new novel is more sophisticated and complex than The Sound of Butterflies ("not that there's anything wrong with The Sound of Butterflies," she said). And I wrote back and told her that in fact that was the highest praise she could give me, because any novelist's fear for their second book is that people will say "well it was OK, but it wasn't as good as her first one".

I'm looking forward to my writer-readers' feedback too, which will no doubt be more critical, but for now, Mary has given me the energy to keep going. You could say that she is that elusive 'perfect reader' I have in mind when I write my books. Now that she's given it the seal of approval, I can continue with confidence. Because sometimes a writer can't see the bloody wood for trees, and some outside help is what is needed. Thanks Mary.


Sharon said...

Rachael I'm so excited to hear of your burst of progress over the last little while and am so pleased that everything is coming together with your novel.

I am, of course, dying to read the book as soon as it's ready!

Mary McCallum said...

here here - that particular mary sounds like she's worth her weight in gold -

Laini Taylor said...

Yay! Congrats on being able to "see the end" -- that's marvelous. Every writer needs a reader like Mary who will cheer you on, but not blindly praise you. Too much criticism too early is paralyzing. I recently send early chapters to a few friends for just this sort of nice and mild feedback. Sometimes we NEED some praise -- writer's adrenalin!

Hope all is well! Good luck with the rest of the book!

Anonymous said...

can we clone your Mary please and send her over the ditch?

Congrats on the sliding down the slippery slide towards the end - wweeeeeeeee

Beaut Commute said...

I wouldn't say my feedback was 'nice and mild' Laini ;-)

Anonymous said...

Rachel, I was fortunate to spend all of Waitangi Weekend at Fleur Beale's home. She has read the WHOLE thing and scribbled and scribbled and I was able to work through her notes but not only that: ask questions, make comments and we bascially spent the whole time talking about the characters and the events happening to them. How lucky was I to have such generous and positive imput.

Your post hightlights for me the reality that, for many writers, we DO need response and input from others: readers, editors, writer friends. Not only to help with our current project but to jolly us along when we are in a low place and our confidence is shaken.


Anonymous said...

Yay for Mary. She's not only your perfect reader, she's also about as close as it gets to a perfect friend.

BTW - the title of my last post was also "Progress". Nice little overlap. x

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

How great to have such a good friend and reader! :)

On a side-note, how do you find other writers to meet with and to read over your work? I have a small writers' group that I meet with, but for the most part they're not really serious writers, and write a completely different genre from me.

None of my friends are writers, and I get really jealous when I read your blog and you talk about all your writer friends! I wish I had writer friends!

Rachael King said...

Hi Ruth, I met my writer friends through doing the MA in Creative Writing at Victoria Uni back in 2001. None of us had had novels published then, but now we all have.

I also made some good online friends at It is an excellent online workshop that is great if you are writing short stories. Over time, you get to know people and some of them are published novelists. I have a couple of trusted readers from there as well - we swap our work.

Hope that helps!

Roger Morris said...

You're very brave to share your work along the way. I just can't do it. My loss, of course. I don't know why I can't. Fear of someone telling me what I'm working on is rubbish, or fear of getting a bad steer too early on.

But when you don't share along the way there is so much more stress and pressure when it finally comes to someone (editor, agent) reading the finished thing. It used to be that my wife was always my first reader, but this time and last time, I just didn't have time to let her read it before it went to the ed. That's the problem with deadlines.

Anyhow, well done on reaching this point. I have a feeling you will gather pace now you're through that difficult middle patch.

Mervat said...

I have been following your blog for quite some time and only now have enough courage to comment. Congratulations on your success thus far. Your comment about not seeing the woods for the trees reminds me of what my PhD supervisor used to say to me during the data collection phase of my thesis. For me, the trees and woods separated and became in focus after going through the thesis, after taking time out away from it for while (as scared as I was to get away from it for a while), and during the write up of my introduction (i.e. the last part!). And what a thrilling experience that was. I look forward to experiencing that again.

Thank you for the advise offered in your other posts.

Rachael King said...

Thanks for commenting Mervat - sorry it didn't show up for a whole - my email was down over the weekend and it usually alerts me to new comments.