My dear friend, Judith Waller Carroll, is a wonderful writer who has been another valuable mentor. I invited her to submit an entry for my blog, and today I will share her article. Judy’s beautiful new poetry collection, Walking in Early September, is now available from Finishing Line Press. To read more about Judy and her work, you may visit her blog at: http://inanotherdress.wordpress.com/
The Value of Sharing Your Work
I can’t remember a time when words and stories weren’t a part of my life. My father loved to read and was always stopping to point out an interesting turn of phrase. “Listen to this,” he would say, lowering his book and looking over the top of his glasses.
It might be a witty bit of repartee from one of his detective novels or a lyrical line from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Words excited him, and he shared them with anyone who was willing to listen—his family, his students, colleagues at school as he grabbed a cup of coffee in the teacher’s lounge. His excitement was contagious and his habit hereditary. “Listen to this,” I often say when I’m reading. Words are so much more fun when they’re shared.
It’s a habit I’ve carried over to my own writing. When I’m finished with a poem or a piece of creative nonfiction, I like to share it with others. The obvious reason is vanity, of course. We all like to hear people praise our work. But a serious writer should have a motivation that’s just the opposite of praise: cold, hard criticism.
No matter how good a writer is at rewriting and editing, an objective pair of eyes is crucial to help make the work the best it can possibly be. Faulkner advised writers to go through their work ruthlessly, taking out each and every unnecessary word, no matter how fond you are of them. “You must kill the darlings,” he famously said. It’s easier if someone else pulls the trigger.
Relying on other writers to do the dirty work is not new. Workshops and critique groups have become popular in recent decades, but writers have long relied on friends and colleagues to help them hone their work. Ezra Pound excised whole passages of T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland, making it stronger and helping it to get published. Editor Maxwell Perkins was said to be the genius behind F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, both of whom were excessively fond of their own words.
The poets Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton, who met in a poetry class at Boston Center for Adult Education, had a separate phone line installed so they could read their work to each other whenever they liked. These days they would e-mail.
I’ve been participating in an online poetry workshop for a couple of years and find the feedback invaluable, not to mention the weekly poetry prompt. There are three eight-week sessions a year, and I’m always a little lost in the intervals. Fortunately, I also belong to a local critique group of six women, which meets monthly. Normally I bring prose to this group, but they gamely read my poetry during the “off” periods.
Still my father’s daughter, I get excited when I write something that really sings: beautiful imagery, clever dialogue, a story or poem written in everyday language about ordinary events, with a universal truth slipped in so easily you barely know it’s there. When that rare moment comes, when everything works, when I finally nail it, I push back from the computer, look over the top of my glasses and shout to anyone within hailing distance, “Listen to this.”
If I’m lucky, they’ll not only listen, but give me the honest feedback I need.