Yesterday I received my critique of the first 50 pages of my manuscript (Summer of My Summer Jobs) from Cynthia Voigt. This was the prize I had won last year from Bookwish for their What You Wish For essay contest. The prize actually was a 1 page critique; Ms. Voigt sent 5 pages of critique plus marked up the first chapter (14 pp) of the ms. Her 5 pg critique opened with this arrow, straight to my heart of hearts:
“Yes, I do think you are a writer. The first time I read through this ms, while I was often confused and saw characterization weaknesses, I found myself at the same time entirely engaged. To me this translates as the mysterious quality maybe named story-telling. And there is also something that Shakespeare names in King Lear as “authority” – which some actors have, and it enables them to carry off even bad roles, something like talent, probably. To my mind, you have these qualities. You have the right to be writing stories.”
I have always been a writer — I was the kid who was always writing stories, then plays in high school, and majoring in playwriting in college. But many of you may know that after college, writing is pushed to the side, for pursuits of marriage and bill paying and raising children. I don’t mind that part (though honestly most days, now that the older ones are teens, it can be trying). I don’t even mind that my days now that I am a library director are filled with work that involves writing town reports and strategic plans and storytelling through fundraising or as justification for procedures and policies. But as an adult, I do need confirmation in a way that I didn’t need when I was younger, because so many other necessary things push out this particular creative expression.
I remember once, a few years ago, I was talking to a young woman about writing. She knew me as a mom of three young children, and this could be my insecurities talking, but there seemed to be this odd expression on her face just under the surface that seemed skeptical, in the way that you might look at a badly-aging beauty queen talking about the glory days. Searching beneath the roughly-hewn surface for the glimmer of something special underneath that used to be so obvious. So yes, I do need to be reminded.
So now I have the delicious task of re-examining the book with Ms. Voigt’s very excellent comments. It is somewhere between brilliant and a hot mess, but that’s something I have experience doing – fixing messes, reorganizing, mapping, directing.