Author of the Year, 2008
I know, the word looks like it’s misspelled, but its not. It has a very specific meaning in the medical professional, but it also relates to how humans approach life sometimes. Scotoma pertains to a blind spot, either because you can’t or wouldn’t see something that’s right there. I thing as authors, we too can suffer from a scotoma about our own writing. You see, just like with our children, it’s difficult to see faults and areas that need refinement in our stories. When you sculpt and mold a piece of work for months in a cave in your back room, the story takes on its own life and convinces you it’s perfect, and it may be, in your eyes. Problem is, as its creator you may be blind to gaps and yuck portions in the story.
Maybe there are gifted and rare authors out there able to peer through their self induced filters. I’m not one of them. Oh, I am proud of my stories and I do get five star ratings, but it’s not because I’m one of those rare writers I just mentioned. It’s because I accept my unintentional willingness to glance over the rough spots and I use a crutch when I write. I call it my Hit squad. I have a small group of reviewers that evaluate my stories before I submit them to the publisher. And I listen. Boy do I listen.
There are three prerequisites for the hit squad to work effectively. First, they have to love to read and read a lot. Second, it must be someone with the fortitude to tell you the truth. That is a very hard thing to find. No one wants to hurt another’s feelings. It takes time to evolve a relationship with a person so that they are comfortable enough to say the truth, to tell you a page or chapter stinks and not feel there will be reprisals. That brings us to point three. Keep your mouth shut and listen. Do not try to explain how they didn’t get it, or interpreted the passage wrong, because they didn’t. Accept that if they had a problem, there is a real change someone us will.
I’ll admit it was hard with my first two novels. Inside I reflected, “They just didn’t get it.” Then when I considered that the hit squad wouldn’t say “I don’t like this” if it wasn’t true because even when I demand, “Be brutal”, they don’t want to criticize my work. Now that I’m on my eighth story, I’ve developed an effective interactive relationship with my hit squad and they are comfortable with sharing flaws honestly.
I do appreciate their insight, and I do accept it. In my novel, BLIND CONSENT, my wife (the first stage of my hit squad) loved the story but hated the ending. Now I really liked it but I have faith in her judgment. I asked another female friend just to read the last chapter and she agreed. I listened and I changed the entire ending. On my current project, one of my hit squad informed me, “Loved the plot, but the first four chapters stink.” Funny thing is when I was writing those chapters I did hear a whisper warning me this doesn’t feel right, but I ignored it. Next week, I will be rewriting those four damn chapters.
A good hit squad is hard to establish, but they are definitely worth the effort to find, and I do appreciate them and pay them will: hugs and kisses for the wife and signed copies of each paperback for the others. Not much, I know, but it’s what I can afford. Thanks guys.
Friday, August 7, 2009