I met with two of my lovely writer friends this weekend. We try to get together on a regular basis, but it's never as often as we'd all like. Talking to them is restorative; I feel new energy after our meetings. We "get" one another, too, I think. I think--because our meetings function more like therapy sessions than workshops--we know one another so well that the advice we can give one another is so much more helpful than the standard workshop here's-what's-no-working-in-your-story stuff. It's real and useful and given by people who can see where the advice-seeker is trying to go, sometimes better than said advice-seeker. I don't think Nancy or Betsy has ever once tried to impose their own personal tastes on whatever I've given them to critique.They're pretty good at figuring out what I'm trying to accomplish and assessing whether I'm on the right track. I'd like to think I'm doing the same for them. It's not easy--for anyone--to do that. It's an acquired skill (and one I know I'm still a little shakey about). It's so much easier, and it feels much more natural to view some manuscript through one's personal lens. "I like this/I don't like that." Eh. Who really cares what you, the critiquer, like or don't like. Is what I have on the page working or not? If it's not, why?
Sometimes, though, the author's intent isn't so clear. I once had to read a short story for class in which the writer described, in brutally sadistic detail that bordered on pornographic, a sexual assault. It was difficult to read, for numerous reasons. Imagine the class's surprise when the writer, when given the opportunity to explain his ideas, he claimed the story was part of a larger work in which the protagonist and her guests were recalling memories on her wedding day. Oh. I see. So just a typical scene at a wedding reception. The happy couple, surrounded by family and friends, recall the most harrowing moments of their lives. Heartwarming. Or something. It's hard to judge those kinds of works, the ones in which the writer's not really sure of the intent (and I have to say, I'm not convinced the above-referenced writer was being completely honest. I think instead that he was caught off guard by how very poorly the piece was received and quickly tried to come up with some kind of explanation. That's what it felt like to me. I still can reconcile what he wrote and his explanation for it. He failed in his explanation, of course, but that might be beside the point. If there is, in fact, a point...Sorry. I feel all over the place tonight. I think my thinking cap is dented.)
Maybe my point is that you can't beat having talented writers who are willing to help you work out all the stuff that's going on in your head. The stuff that ends up on the page, and more importantly, the stuff that gets stuck up there. The stuff that gets stuck because we throw up too many stupid obstacles in our own way. We purposely leave our shoelaces untied and end up tripping over our own feet. There's nothing so great as having people around you who are willing to pick you up and dust you off after you do. They get out there and help you take a sledgehammer to all those brick walls that somehow end up in your way. Invaluable, I say.
Thanks ladies. :)