A magazine editor called me out of the blue (I love it when they do that!) and assigned me a docu-drama.
Befuddled, I asked, “Uh…what’s a docu-drama?”
She explained that it is a dramatic, first-person, as-told-to story – similar to those “drama in real life” features in Reader’s Digest. “It’s written like fiction, with scenes and dialogue.”
Uh oh. I’m not a fiction writer, but the assignment sounded fun and challenging, so I agreed to tackle it.
I conducted the interview, wrote out the whole story so I could get the big picture, and then started cutting. And cutting. And cutting. After the fourth draft, the story sounded so disjointed I wasn’t even sure it made sense anymore.
It was time to call in the rescue squad. I dashed off an email to my writer friend, Jenn Doucette, asking her to highlight places in the article I could condense and to suggest a headline (I’m headline-challenged; Jenn cranks out perfect headlines like nobody’s business).
A couple of hours later, I received her reply: “I’m on it, girlie.”
An hour after that, she returned my marked-up draft, accompanied by the terse message, “The story seemed way too choppy and disjointed.”
Whoa…she doesn’t mince words!
But I appreciate Jenn’s blunt honesty, because it’s exactly what I needed to hear. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that the story was… er… choppy and disjointed. I just needed another writer to confirm it.
During the last five years, I’ve been a member of a writers’ critique group, joined my local writers’ association, and had several writer friends (such as Jenn) who I can call on in emergencies.
These sorts of relationships are invaluable for us writers, for several reasons:
- Writers tend to be solitary people, scribbling away in dimly lit rooms for hours on end. We need human contact to stay sane. Even if they are other writers.
- We writers tend to fall in love with our words. We pen (what we assume is) the perfect phrase, and we dread the thought of someone criticizing our words.
I wasn’t disappointed. While I disagreed with some of the changes she suggested and didn’t incorporate those edits into my next draft, the vast majority of her suggestions were right on target and had me smacking my head, saying, “Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?!”
Jenn (who is a fiction writer) pointed out gaps in the story’s timeline, places where I’d made choppy transitions, and stilted dialogue (among other things). After her honest critique, I felt much more confident tackling the next revision. All it took was a second pair of eyes.
Do you have a critique partner/group? Tell us about one thing your critique partner has said that has helped you improve your writing.