Monday, January 18, 2016

Asking for Help, or, How I Quit Being an Idiot

I’ve just printed out some notes on my recently “completed” novel, “Happy, Indiana,” and am getting ready to dive into some “light” revisions. I say “completed” because this thing is really not going to be done until it’s published. I say “light” because the changes I’m making are minor compared to the multiple, major, revisions this book has gone through in the past year or two.

I’m actually quite excited about working on the book again. I had set it aside for a few months, having taken it as far as I could at the time. But last month, I reached out to a fellow writer, a woman I’d met eons ago at a conference and re-connected with online, to see if she’d be willing to read the book. Not only was she willing to do that, but she also organized us, with the addition of another writer friend of hers, into a weekly critique group. And so I’m sitting down with their notes on my opening chapters, and I’m so, so grateful to have their insight.

This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked.

The focus groups I held over the summer with an earlier draft? All I had to do was ask. Now, sometimes people say, “No,” but my experience has been that the majority of people will help you, if you ask politely, and maybe offer them lunch.

Duh, you’re thinking, you’re just figuring this out? Yes. I am. I’m a slow learner, in this arena anyway.

I didn’t show my first (eventually shelved) novel to hardly anyone. I was…scared? Of what they’d think of my subject matter, or my skill as a writer? I was scared they would say the book needed a lot of work and that would throw me into despair, and I’d just give up? Or scared they’d say it was wonderful and then I’d have to curse the world in general for not agreeing? I was scared they’d say, “No?”

I used to have a job in public relations, where it took an entire team to get a two-page press release out into the world. I may have been the primary writer, but there were notes initially about what the focus of the release should be. Then, after I drafted it, there were multiple levels of review and revision, both internally within the agency, and externally with the client. There was strategizing about timing and placement. And by that point, we’d look at it again, and make more revisions, or find the typo that managed to pass a half dozen sets of eyes.

Yet I somehow thought I was going to figure out, for the first time, how to write a killer 300-page novel all on my own? I think it was pride, too, not just fear, that made me think this. The feeling that I had a graduate degree and experience and publishing credits, and I should be able to do this novel-writing thing.

With the writing of “Happy, Indiana,” I finally believe I’ve been able to toss off this image of the lonely, struggling artist. Okay, yes, I write in a closet, but the door is open, there’s a window on the world (or at least my street) and I exit it frequently to talk with friends and fellow writers. It feels good to have a community.


  1. Congratulations on the realization, and best of luck with the revision work. It's definitely hard sending out a novel for review for the first time, but there's no doubt about how much it can help.