One of the reasons I started blogging was to force myself to put my writing out there for the world to see. I wanted some kind of feedback, because all of the feedback I gave myself was… well, it was unhelpful. I would shake my head at myself, wondering why I even bothered to write. I would look at everything and say to myself: “this is all terrible.”
But when someone else reads your work, even if they think it’s bad, they’ll usually say something really useful. They’ll say: “here’s why it’s terrible.”
And then you can fix it. Brilliant, right? So when I was poking around the blog My Sweet Delirium and found Christa’s idea for a Writer’s Roast, I was enthusiastically on board. The premise is simple: channel your judgiest self and critique another author’s work with gusto, and with the knowledge that the other author is doing the exact same thing to your work. Christa sent me a short story, and I sent her the first chapter of my NaNoWriMo book from last year. Then we got to work.
You can see Christa’s take on the experience over on her excellent blog My Sweet Delirium, where she’s also entirely too kind to me and my writing. I learned a lot from the experience, both roasting and being roasted, so grab some marshmallows and settle in for the first edition of Christa Wojo’s:
What I Learned Roasting Christa Wojo
First of all, this was tough. Christa’s a wonderful, gifted writer, and at first all I had were good things to say so I opened up a second document and let myself go with nice comments. It really was such a pleasure to read, and Christa’s writing is so experiential – I almost felt like I was slipping on her character’s skin for the duration of the story. I just let myself live there for a while, getting to know the character and her situation.
Then I put that aside, and tried again, this time going into a slightly different mindset. Instead of thinking of myself just as the audience, I tried to put myself in Christa’s place with a simple mantra: if I were the writer of this piece, how would I tear it to shreds?
Suddenly, I was brutal. The page dripped with red comments and changes.
As I reflected upon the scorched earth in my wake, I started to notice a pattern – I was obsessed with pacing. Most of my comments were some flavor of “this is underwritten” and “this is overwritten,” or “move this along” or “spend more time here.” I didn’t realize how much I paid attention to rhythm as a reader and a writer.
Some of my comments were a little petty, and there are a few that upon reflection don’t quite hit the mark – I occasionally knew there was something I didn’t love, but I didn’t know what, and I ended up correcting the wrong thing. That’s another reason why this is such a great exercise – second, third, and fourth opinions are absolutely necessary.
After sending Christa the roast, I sent her the doc full of my compliments and my gushing, and I felt much better about it all, because it really was a haunting, provocative piece, and I learned so much from analyzing it as deeply as I did.
What I Learned From Getting Roasted
Now THIS was fun. It was a little scary, as Christa is a real writer. I write papers and go to conferences, but I’ve never gone through the whole process of turning a story in my head into a book, so it was an honor to get her perspective. I’ve also kept my fiction work pretty well hidden, and so I wasn’t sure at all what to expect. Still, I was incredibly surprised by what Christa did.
She cut the first half of my chapter. Just deleted the whole thing, the whole first scene where we get to know the main character and the main setting.
I stared with my jaw hanging open for about three straight minutes. That was the first scene I’d ever written for the novel, a scene that I loved, and just like that it was gone. And I smiled.
The reason I stalled out and failed at NaNoWriMo was because I had written myself into a difficult timeline. I couldn’t get into the action, no matter how much I wrote, my scenes kept leading me into more and more set up. The timing just wasn’t working for my plot points.
Cutting out that first scene fixed everything. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me – Christa gave some suggestions where the scene could go instead, and from there my mind just spun out of control. I was reworking the whole thing in a tighter, neater way. It was amazing how just that very first suggestion gave me a whole new perspective. The rest of her comments were also extremely helpful, but this was the game changer.
And I would never have figured that out alone.
Thank you so much Christa, for this wonderful idea, and your wonderful suggestions. I can’t wait to do this again – soon! And you if you want your work roasted, submit your inquiry here. And while you’re there, check out Christa’s blog on writing, life, and creativity.