The errors in my works-in-progress are obscured by clouds. I can’t see them clearly, but I know they’re there. Fortunately, I’m in a good crit group whose members can not only brush away the clouds so I can see my errors, but they also suggest ways for me to fix those errors. Last Thursday morning, they cleared away quite a few clouds.
Our crit group doesn’t have an actual name. We’re all working with various stories for young people—kiddie lit. So we’re a kiddie lit crit group, or kiddie litters, or kiddie litter critters. Or something. What we call ourselves doesn’t matter. What we do does matter.
Our group contains four members, but one Amy couldn’t make it, so last Thursday’s group was just Claudia, Amy T, and me. We’d sent our works-in-progress to each other over a week earlier, so we didn’t have to waste time getting familiar with the material. We worked on Claudia’s picture book idea first. We cut out a lot of words—stuff that didn’t need telling because an artist could show, refined the story, and added several layers. Amy T, who has two kids and has read a lot of good-night books, noted that the material—with just a few changes—would be perfect for a good-night book. And it would!
My WIP is a middle-grade novel that I’ve worked on—and off—since December 2006. The first three chapters have actually been critiqued by a New York editor, Meredith Wassinger, who works for Sterling and who gave me good advice at the 2007 CNU conference. Chapters 4 and 5 have been work-shopped some and only have minor problems—problems that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. Chapter 6 sucked. Big black clouds hung over it. Now chapter 6 has been refined, rearranged, expanded—to become chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9. Why didn’t I see that before?
When we left the library at noon, a haze hung over downtown Rocky Mount. We could smell something like burning wood. But we didn’t see any fire or any fire engines racing around. (We did see a tractor parade, but that’s another story.) What’s going on? we wondered.
On the way home, we heard on the radio that smoke from the big fire in coastal North Carolina had reached our area. Those smoke clouds had to travel over 300 miles to reach us!
You can hardly see Smith Mountain in the distance.
On Saturday, we had more than an inch of rain. The next morning, the air was clear and the smell of smoke had vanished.
Less than a week later, no traces remain here of the big fire.
Thanks to nudging from my crit group, I’m now 15 chapters (plus the ending chapter) into my novel. I’m nearly halfway through.
The clouds have lifted, and I can see where I’m going.