After letting my manuscript languish for a while, I decided it was time to get back on the horse – to give it the attention it deserved so that it was in tip-top shape to send out. So on Sunday, I spent the day critiquing and being critiqued at a workshop held at the Princeton Theological Society and organized by the New Jersey chapter of SCBWI. A well-organized program, the Mentoring Day is held several times a year. This one consisted of one-on-one critiques with editors, group peer critiques with five other writers and two first-page sessions. This workshop attracted me for two reasons: It was one day (versus a weekend conference) and the editors read 30 pages of a manuscript (versus only a first page or maybe the first ten).
Now, when I sit down with an editor who has reviewed part of my manuscript, I fantasize that it will go sort of this way (and I know I’m not alone so fess up):
WRITER: Good morning, Editor Lady (they’re always women), it's nice to meet you. EDITOR LADY: Oh, writer, I was looking forward to meeting you. I simply couldn't put down your manuscript. Is there any chance that you have a copy with you? I'd like to read the whole thing as soon as possible. WRITER: Why yes, yes I do. I happen to have a copy right here.
Okay, so the reality is less fantastical but also more productive. The editors take time to read your work, mark it up and then write up their thoughts in a one to two page memo outlining what worked well and what needs attention. My first one-on-one critique was with Allison Wortche, Assistant Editor at Knopf Crown. Allison presented me with both encouragement and thoughtful suggestions for improving aspects of my manuscript, pointing out specific areas that caught her eye.
After the one-on-one, I joined my peer group where we critiqued one another’s work. Like the editors, we had each read our peers’ work and prepared notes of our impressions. The five women in my group were as thorough as they were kind. So despite the fact that I thought I had addressed some of their points in earlier drafts, I duly noted the areas of concern.
Next was a one-hour first page session during which the first pages of each attendee’s manuscript were read followed by immediate responses by the editors about what they liked or why it didn't work. We broke for a leisurely lunch in a lovely private dining room and then returned to our classroom for another one hour first page session. When the first pages were finished, the peer groups rejoined to complete our critiques.
Since I paid extra, I was allowed a second one-on-one critique in the afternoon. This time I met with Lisa Yoskowitz, Assistant Editor at Dutton Children’s Books who was, despite seeing me late in the day, both welcoming and focused. Lisa not only had prepared notes but also marked up the manuscript and offered to review the notes as well as ask any questions I had about the manuscript or writing in general. (It would appear that I have a bit of an issue with commas.)
I left the day with my mind pinballing between the dread of the work ahead and excitement to tackle the problems. There are days when I wonder why I’m writing books. I doubt my ability and the odds of publishing are so stacked against me. But I love creating characters, and settings. I love telling stories. And I become grumpy when I don’t do it. Being in a room of 24 other people who are working toward the same goal gave me a sense of comradeship. I’m not crazy for wanting to write stories. Or at least if I am, I’m not alone.
Now please excuse me - there’s work to be done. It’s time to get back on the horse.