Your new manuscript has made it past the First Reader with flying colors and a kindly criticism or two. Congratulations! Enjoy this victory while you can, because the next step can be a bit of an ego-buster. It’s time to pass your work on to your next literary judge.
Earlier identified as the “line editor from Hell,” my critique partner’s real name is Martin McCaw (or so he says). We’ve been reading and analyzing stories for each other for several years and are still on speaking terms. Sometimes we joke about this:
“I’m done with your manuscript. I’ll drop it off today but I won’t stop to visit, I’ll just ring the doorbell and run.”
Don’t get the wrong idea. We’re constructive with our remarks, but sometimes you have to confront your critique partner about something- -a phrase, character, description, line of dialogue- – that slows the story down or, at worst, doesn’t belong there at all. As an objective reader you can spot these oddballs right away; they’ve probably survived this long without being cut because they are, for some reason, dear to the author’s heart. Writers refer to the correction of these mishaps as “killing your darlings.”
Aside from identifying the awkward “darlings” we find typos, question unusual punctuation, point out words or constructions that are used too often, bust each other for clichés and complement each other on things especially well done. Martin is an ace at all of these things- -he taught creative writing at the state penitentiary for seventeen years and he’s taught me a lot, too.
We also goad each other to submit our work for publication. The goading part is my specialty. When we started working together I’d sold a couple of stories. Though Martin’s work was fabulous, he hadn’t. I soon learned (with some helpful clues from Libby, his wonderful wife) that he hadn’t submitted his work- -anywhere! After some prodding he sent his story “Light In The Window” to Short Story America (http://shortstoryamerica.com/). The tale of a slick correspondence course salesman was pounced on immediately and featured in their first print anthology- -in hard-back! I tried not to gnash my teeth with jealousy (and nearly succeeded).
Martin and I are alike in our commitment to writing the best stories we can but we are different in many ways. He writes literary fiction; I work in the speculative and western genres. He’s an expert tennis player; I’m lucky if I don’t fall off the NordicTrack®. We have generational and gender differences and grew up on dramatically different sides of Washington State. These differences are helpful: they give us insight to worlds outside our own.
I’m nervous about posting this piece. Is my punctuation perfect? Have I overused “ing” constructions? Have I left a “darling” lurking somewhere? Have I mentioned you can find Martin McCaw on Facebook? And I’m not even going to tell you about all the writing contests he’s won. .