Why is it that "slow" months are never slow? I dropped Windrider to my writers' critique group at the end of October, anticipating some leisure time to do a little catch-up critiquing, some short story revision, even--gasp!--find time to reduce the stack of to-be-read books beside my couch.
Sigh. None of those things have happened, except the critiques (sort of). I did some really intense critiques for the Orycon writers' workshop, which I hope were helpful to the authors involved, then plunged immediately into critiquing a novel on my workshop for another member. That is now finished, and I at last, three weeks into November, have a little time to think about my own writing.
By wonderful coincidence, a full crit of Windrider arrived on the list yesterday, plus a friend has been providing her chapter-by-chapter impressions, which I today finally got a chance to read. It is always interesting to see how your characters come through to other people, what the critter missed in the read, what you forgot to put there, and what ideas spark in your mind as you absorb that feedback.
Perspective truly is everything, which is why I always recommend that a writer put a finished work away for anywhere from two weeks to two months before revising it. I suppose most writers have a vague idea of problems in the story structure or characterization or worldbuilding that they take away from the finished draft. Windrider was no different. I knew parts of it dragged and was afraid my hero was a little too angst-ridden and might seem wimpy. He is not the macho kick-butt action hero, but a rather quiet, steady guy who finds himself coping with crap that has arrived through no fault of his own. Typical Joe Everyman forced to discover what lies within.
Now that I've had three weeks of NOT thinking about Windrider, I find the slow stirrings of story trudging around in the back of my head again. I see fixes for stuff I hammered my head against the wall over in the drafting. I see depths to characters that I didn't before, and ways to make them more meaningful to the story. I see their actual roles in the story better, which clarifies how to use them and get the most out of them. (Yes, they are characters, not real people. I can manipulate them however I want and they can't object. So there. :) )
Best of all, I see ways to make the story richer and more memorable. This slow evolution taking place in my subconscious has delivered conclusions not greatly different from the impressions I'm seeing from these two first readers, which is both somewhat humbling, and a great relief. It does tend to take the sting out of crits when you secretly agree with assessments that might be less than flattering. Experience counts, as well. Newbies tend to panic or sulk when criticism seems negative instead of the joyful positives they may have expected. After being involved with the critique process from both ends long enough, one tends to let the "ouchy" stuff bounce off and focus on the fact that something is not working.
I hope that the finished version of Windrider will remain true to what I want for it while strengthening the weak elements pointed out by my readers. Anyone who is not in a workshop or critique group and wondering if such a group is worthwhile, my answer is yes! A thousand times, yes. Hie thee to the nearest suitable group and dip a toe in. And by suitable, I mean one that is open to and experienced with your genre, whatever it is. Mainstream folks are sometimes not great at critiquing spec fic, and vice versa, but a variety of viewpoints can be invaluable. If you're looking for a good, long-established genre workshop, the one I belong to, Other Worlds Writers' Workshop, is a good one (and yes, I'm a moderator of it, so I can vouch for the unusually high standards of critiques given).
Perspective is the most valuable gift a writer can give to herself. Whether through stepping away physically, seeking out others' opinions, or both, it is the only way we can get outside the story long enough to see that it's not perfect, and why. Just don't let it sit so long the urgency goes away, and the lure of something new leaves it languishing in the drawer. (Been there, done that.)
I look forward to revising Windrider next month, and I hope the end result comes close to my vision for a satisfying story. I guess you guys will tell me if it doesn't!
Don't forget to check out Firedancer, the first book in this series, to see how well Windrider stacks up. You can read the first chapter here.