Caught looking for the best bits

Bring in the critics
Bring in the critics

It is surprising, when you say you are writing, who is interested in seeing the manuscript and who is not. Some people are (understandably) afraid your work will be terrible and they will have to damn it with faint praise. Others are genuinely not interested.

In my writing course I have got used to sharing extracts from my book and hearing feedback. It’s been a helpful and positive experience. It’s also been stimulating to listen to other people’s work in progress, as much to get a sense of what’s going on behind good writing as to learn more about the common pitfalls.

The other day, in advance of my next reading slot coming up in the writing course, I was with my writing buddy in the most unfashionable café in county Dublin, scanning my chapters trying to pick out the right excerpt to share.

What to choose? I interrupt my writing buddy for the fifteenth time that hour and hope that look does not mean he is rethinking our weekly arrangement of writing together. Well, he says, are you sifting through your novel looking for the best passages? Cue guilty smile. And what if I am?

The problem with writing a novel, I have realised, is that every page has to work and that requires great persistence and attention to detail. Nobody will wade through the clunky bits to get to a gem they don’t even know is there.

And the other thing about the best bits – they’re probably not that great after all. I think Samuel Johnson may have hit the nail on the head in the 18th century.

“Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

6 thoughts on “Caught looking for the best bits

  1. Great quote from Johnson. This reminded me of when I was having a tennis lesson (many moons ago). The (gorgeous – is that relevant?) coach asked me what I wanted to work on and I said, ‘Well my forehand is my best weapon’. He laughed and said, ‘Then we’d better work on your backhand!’ It’s probably easier said than done, but what about picking out what you think is a ‘bad’ section and reading that to them? You might get a pleasant surprise. 😉

  2. Picking out excerpts to read is difficult. Maybe a section where things happen, not too much dialogue or scene setting. Don’t look for the gem; Johnson is probably right.

  3. I can’t imagine Samuel Johnson responding well to criticism, but perhaps I’m being unfair. Anyway it sounds sensible advice – a forerunner of the Marilyn Monroe thing of doing a twirl in front of a mirror and removing whatever accessory catches your eye. Good luck!

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