Monday, March 26, 2012

The Point of My Work

Oh, the mistakes I’ve made. I’m reading my manuscript in its entirety—something I’ve never done because I only finished it last month. I’m unsure how other writers revise their work, but I decided to read it through making changes as I go before tackling the huge mound of edits that have grown on my desk from my critique group.

That mound of chapter critiques reminds me of the time I helped a friend clean her house. On two little tables, her children created their art. The paper from their projects stacked up. At the time, I wondered how they could work since the stacks were high. I picked up the first few pieces of paper, admiring their talents, and then I realized that my friend had never thrown out any of their artwork. As I picked up pages, inch by inch, their talents deteriorated back to their toddler selves lacking in hand/eye coordination. It was like watching a movie reeled backwards. I also knew, like the art work she never bothered to throw out, that she was oblivious to her children at times.

Now looking at my revisions, like that artwork, stacked in time reflecting my decreasing skill, I see those early mistakes I’ve made. I initially kicked myself for not revising my work immediately from the critiques. Instead, I let them pile up. Now, I’m glad. My work will reflect my increasing skills and my writing more than mirroring my critique partners’ styles. I will use the critiques and their comments to guide my work, but not be my work. I can also report that it’s more tweaks, ensuring that I stay within my POV and discarding stilted language, than a total rewrite.

My friend started having seizures in her thirties due to the “stress of having young children,” the reason I helped her clean her house. She had told me that in her youth that she suffered from hyperactivity. During college, she had stopped taking the medication because she didn’t seem hyperactive anymore. After the seizures started, an aunt revealed the truth. The seizures started at age two after her father slammed her head on the concrete basement floor resulting in brain damage. Her family was so embarrassed that they told her the medication she took controlled her "hyperactivity."

 I felt sorry for my friend, but I also knew from her children’s behavior that she too bordered on committing child abuse. She said that rather than abuse her children when she felt out of control, she over compensated by not disciplining them at all. Her trouble in forgiving her father reflected her self-condemnation.  

My friend moved to another state, but I think of her and remind myself to be thankful for my ability to work, learn and develop my skills. Her father’s abuse also reminds me that my protagonist’s abusive childhood reflects the reality of those around me. It may be fiction, but it’s real.  


Gloria Alden said...

I so hate reading about child abuse. My heart aches for those children who suffer in abusive situations. I wonder how your friend is doing today? Unfortunately, children who have been abused tend to become abusers, too, although not always, of course.

I keep a hard copy of my WIP and I write my critique partners' comments on each chapter after I've sent it. I use the critiques they send me if I think they are valid ones and ignore the others after telling them why it wouldn't work for my vision. Fortunately, most of the comments they send are positive ones - at least fortunately for making me feel good about my work. Actually, my first book has gone through a lot of revisions over the years, most of them from my own growth as a writer.

Warren Bull said...

Child abuse is the horror that passes from generation to generation. Your friend's response to her children was less damaging that what she went through as a child.

When I get accurate critical feedback I quickly incorporate it into my work. Positive remarks are help my feelings. Negative remarks help my work.

E. B. Davis said...


I hope you don't hate reading about child abuse too much so that it will prevent you from reading my book. But then that's backstory, which I've included only a glimpse at to show my characters history and development.

I've printed out all of their comments. Some will be eliminated by my re-write, yes other comments I'll discard. Like asking me to explain BOLO when a detective says it.

E. B. Davis said...

I was still writing Warren when I received their comments so I didn't have time to incorporate them. I have a high stack, but I will get through them.

Yes, her response was more positive than her father's, I'll give her that, but the chaos of her life impacted mine. I hate to admit it, but I was so glad she moved.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, all children who have been abused do not necessarily become abusers. That's something the media has perpetuated because often abusers have been abused themselves--or say they have, looking for lighter sentences--but many abused children never become abusers, just as many children of alcoholics never become alcoholics. I know, in my family of six abused children, only one became a child abuser. It's very hard for those of us who deal with it to have the belief out there, perpetrated by the media who always simplify or distort research, that abused children almost always become abusers.

EB, it's a tough line to walk between using constructive criticism to make your work better and being overly influenced by critique partners. I think it starts with having good critique partners who are trying to help make your work stronger in its own particular style of work.

E. B. Davis said...

When I critique, I try to respect my partners' styles. That's one of the reasons that I've held off incorporating their line edits. I'm going to read an entire chapter's worth from all three of their critiques to see if there is a theme to their edits, something fundamental lacking, that requires a rewrite. No sense in wasting time with line editing if I need to rewrite the chapter.

Although I knew something was off with my friend and her children, I didn't understand and was shocked when I learned the truth. Although her family hid the truth from her, her father couldn't have reformed so much that it was a total surprise to her.

Not having the ability to control emotions--emotional immaturity--is one aspect of our society that I see more and more. We're so concerned with our right to express ourselves that we have no understanding of the value of self-restraint.

Linda Rodriguez said...

EB, I agree with you on critiques. Often, the particular point one critiquer makes is not the real problem. When I see more than one zero in on the same area, though, I know there's something wrong there. It may not be exactly what they think it is or their suggested solution may not be the right one, but there will be something that must be clarified or improved in some way.

Gloria Alden said...

No, EB, I would never not read a book that included child abuse. That's life and writing about it, you're bringing it to the attention of readers. In fact, in one of my short stories, the murderer was someone addicted to child porn. I don't skip reading the true things that happen in the newspaper, either, it's just that my heart aches for these little ones. I had several students who'd been adopted only to end up in abusive adoptive families. Their newest adoptive families had a difficult time with them, but I'm hoping everything worked out for them eventually.

And yes, Linda, I know that's not always true, and probably less so than we read in the newspapers. My ex-husband had been an abused child, but he didn't abuse our children. He had an explosive temper at times - lots of yelling that was rather scary, but he never abused them or me, either. His parents were both heavy drinkers, but he only drank a little at parties and that was rarely.

The first person, who critiqued my book back in pre-Guppy days, did a lot to clean up my rambling sentences. But she did it with such a sense of humor, I always appreciated how much she helped me rather than feel like she was criticizing my baby.