The Writer and the Peer Review

The reader often has clearer eyes. It is these words (written as the final line of my previous post) that I come back to again. It’s quite by co-incidence that this line tallies with another writing experience of the week. I’ve been sitting on a bunch of short stories, which I’m gathering for my next collection, and I don’t usually sit on them in this way. I usually send them out for peer review. For some reason I’m not entirely certain of, I’ve been sitting on this batch. I’ve been brooding. The brooding has resulted in the stories pushing their backs more and more into the coop I keep them in.

The reader often has clearer eyes; though some writers and commentators more or less dismiss talking about- or letting others see- their writing before they consider it ready for public consumption:

Never talk about what you are going to do until after you have written it.

— Mario Puzo

I just think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension.

— Norman Mailer

Don’t tell anybody what your book is about and don’t show it until it’s finished. It’s not that anybody will steal your idea but that all that energy that goes into the writing of your story will be dissipated.

— David Wallechinsky

I don’t care to talk about a novel I’m doing because if I communicate the magic spell, even in an abbreviated form, it loses its force for me. Once you have talked, the act of communication has been made.

— Angus Wilson

The thinking on the loss of the magic or the energy, the detrimental effect on the creative act, is appreciated. However, for this writer, something has been learned over the years by way of interaction with trusted others. My brooding storage of stories has no real root (perhaps there’s a little laziness in not sending them out to those trusted others, but perhaps there’s also a gathering lack of faith in what the words are). There’s always a point when situations change. So I sent forth one tester start of a story, which may become a piece in its own right.

What transpired was that it was read in an entirely different way to the intention in the writing. That a sinister interpretation was made of what was intended as something quite the opposite took me by surprise. The result is that the changing of just one word might well alleviate that issue. This is a small epiphany in a long week, yet one that’s worth writing about.

If we don’t trust others with our words whilst they’re in their green form, we won’t see their misinterpretations and so forth. Of course, there is an argument to suggest that misinterpretations aren’t amiss at all: that is, that all interpretations are valid, that beauty — or banality — is in the eye of the beholder, that interpretations make the work all the richer.

Whichever way the writer falls on this latter argument, peer reviews can be valuable stepping stones along the way. In choosing to ignore alternate interpretations in the editing, at least we’re aware of them beneath it all (something we wouldn’t have had the chance to see if we held our work to our chests until the moment of editor approval and final publishing).

You do have an editorial input other than yourself, don’t you? If not, then you should have this. Even if you’re self-publishing (especially if you’re self-publishing), editorial input at the latter stages of the work will complement the peer reviewing process. It helps if that editorial input is also a writer (though many aren’t). I’m fortunate to say that I have the editorial eye of an accomplished writer and poet in her own right.

Perhaps there is argument to say that the loss of magic or energy is possible in seeking peer review support — I’d prefer to look on it all in the positive though: it’s all a matter of timing. Keep that magic close and don’t let it go in the initial writing process; brood if need be; know when other readers’ eyes need to see the green formations; amend your work if you see fit. You’ll be a stronger writer for it all.

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