Can an author write in a vacuum? No, Silly, not that kind of vacuum, where you and your tablet climb inside this dark, stinky cloth bag, yell for someone to hit the switch, and pound out words while a tornado pounds your bones. Although I like that image of a writer fighting the odds to bring something fresh, clean and elemental to light.
No. The vacuum I have in mind is a metaphorical one, if that’s the word. Rhetorical? A vacuum of space and time where you are literally and physically alone. You write, outline, write, fix and write some more. You spend hours, days and entire years, perhaps, butt in chair, making that story, reading it over, crossing out, refining, and writing some more. Word by word. Draft by draft. Paragraph by plodding paragraph. Alone. Very alone. With no one else evaluating, or offering suggestions, helping you brainstorm through dead spots. No one saying Professor Henry Higgins’ famous words, “By Jove, I think she’s got it!”
By the way — see how easily we wordsmiths are distracted? — those words should be credited not to the egotistical manipulator of English gutter-girl Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady,” but to playwright George Bernard Shaw, whose “Pygmalion” inspired the classic musical.
But back to our vacuum and how a writer fares in one. Some can write in a vacuum. And write quite well, yay for them! I am not one of these. Not yours truly. Not Author Dearest.
Don’t get me wrong. I closet myself, earplugs in place, for crazy short or stupid long stretches at a time. Grind out paragraphs and pages with no company or interruption. Move forward steadily and pridefully in this world I’m making on the keyboard or on paper. Believe, really believe, that what I’ve written is the second-best thing since sliced bread. Or wedding cake.
But sooner or later the party’s over. I begin to feel it, then I know it. Something isn’t working, Or maybe it isn’t working as well as it could. I am at a loss as to how can it be made better. More important, how will a random reader perceive the piece? Because, after all, I write to be … READ. Not only read, mind you, but also enjoyed. Hello?
That’s when I realize I need feedback. Intelligent honest feedback. Can’t live without it. Because all writers, maybe even Steven King, possess glaring blind spots about their own writing. We all have those favorite storylines, scenes, characters we are loathe to cull or discipline, though the project would be better for it.
Another set of eyeballs is invaluable. Maybe several sets. Someone or several ones to speak up when that loose child is screaming or cannonballing through the grocery store. Someone to offer an encouraging, empowering word when it behaves like an angel. So to speak. Someone to say whether what you’ve written actually works, is worth a reader’s time and energy. Maybe even someone to give alternatives and solutions. A way out, a way forward.
I am happy to say I actually have a whole bunch of such someones. They kept me on the strait and narrow, or tried to — I have my own opinions and ideas, after all — in the writing of “Saddle Tramps.” And they are still doing so as I write the sequel book and present parts of it for their unblinking inspection.
So. I hereby rear back and holler a huge shout-out to the friends, lovers and total strangers who read my work and continue to give honest reviews in person, email or (THANK YOU!) on Amazon and Goodreads.
I give a happy hoot to members of my mystery-writing critique group, Monday Mayhem. They include authors Jenn Ashton, Sharon L. Dean, Michael Niemann, Clive Rosengren, Tim Wohlforth, and *blushes* Author Dearest. Because, yes, I can be my toughest critic!
Finally, “Hail and Hello” to you reading this blog post whether you “like” and comment, or not. Just your being here is a kind of feedback. But do feel free to share your thoughts!