Riffing off Kathi’s “Tweenland” post…
Many years ago I had the astounding good luck of being invited to join a longstanding critique group that Eloise McGraw was in. One of the rules of the group: Always start with a positive comment. Usually we did, but one time, when Eloise read the first couple of chapters of The Striped Ships, we got so involved in critiquing that we–all of us–simply forgot to say what we liked about the book.
First of all, what gall. Who did we think we were, critiquing Eloise? But that’s what she wanted, so we just, you know, scrambled to find things we didn’t think were quite working. At the same time, though, I think we believed on some level that she wouldn’t really take us seriously. Why would Eloise McGraw pay serious attention to the likes of us?
Still, I felt kind of bad about not mentioning any of the many things I loved about the story. I sent Eloise a note in the mail. The next day, she called me. She was so relieved to get my note. She had been on the verge of ditching the story!
Ditch The Striped Ships? Because of something I said? I can’t even begin to tell you how terrifying that was.
I said to her, “But you’ve written so many novels. You know how to do it, right? I mean, I didn’t think you would ever doubt that you’d be able to pull it off.”
This is when she told me that each novel teaches you to write that book…but not necessarily the next one. That when you begin a novel, you don’t have the skill you need in order to pull it off. Each time you have to somehow find a way to teach yourself what you need to know.
I think this has been true of every book I’ve written. It feels like a crazy act of faith every time.