I used to roll my eyes at my mother when she quoted this little diddy. She normally whipped it out after busting me for watching too much Felix the Cat (Lordy, I’m dating myself), and forced me outside. Funny how she has no problem with my being holed up in my office for twelve hours a day – so much so that everyone calls it The Batcave – but I digress.
Like other lessons my mother taught me, this one has come back to haunt me, but for different reasons. Instead of saying “no Man is an island,” I’ve changed that to “no Writer is an island.” Sure, it goes against the grain of everything we know, which is that writing is a very solitary endeavor. But if we don’t get out of the Batcave and get among our fellow writers, we risk becoming stale.
Case in point: I have this friend who’s written five books. None of them have seen the light of day. She caught me at a vulnerable time when I had the flu and handed me all her manuscripts. “What’s wrong with my writing?” she wailed. So I checked her work out and critiqued each one. The most puzzling thing to me was that her fifth manuscript was as stale as the first. It’s not that she can’t write – she can. It’s just that her writing is filled with same problems in every story.
She appreciated the critiques and went home to begin rewrites. Had no one ever done this for her before? Does she not belong to critique/writing groups? No. Argh! We all need feedback. Read my lips…WE ALL NEED FEEDBACK. I’m not talking about anyone’s mother in law or second cousin, but a fellow writer who understands POV issues and can recognize fluff at ten paces. If we don’t have solid critiques, we are free to commit the same newbie writer errors over and over again and it doesn’t matter if you’ve written one or twenty stories – they’ll all be fatally flawed.
Join a good writers’ group, be it in person or online – there are some very good ones. Nothing is more challenging than having the feedback of five, six, seven fellow writers to help you see your mistakes. It doesn’t guarantee that your writing will be perfect, but it will help you learn about whether your characters are believable, whether you’re writing in the right POV, your dialog makes sense, you’re telling vs. showing, and a whole host of other aberrations. We can’t be islands. At some point we need to reach out and allow others to see our work in order to make us better writers.
Oh, and Mom? You were right about mixing checks with stripes.