MY COMMONPLACE BOOK (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)
You don’t inquire what is selling these days. You don’t worry about what editors or reviewers may like or not like.
You don’t read chapters to friends or to a long-suffering husband or wife in order to get an independent judgment. Your own judgment is independent. You don’t accept any suggested change except where you made a factual error or grammatical mistake. My motto has been all these years: not a comma. — Hans Koning (1921-2007) Prolific, award-winning writer, journalist, editor, resister of Nazis and of Vietnam War, New York Times, July 31, 2000
I go along with Koning’s first two sentences of advice for the early stages of writing a book. In the last stage of rewriting, I usually have to part company with him.
I confess to reading the whole thing aloud, a chapter or two a day, to my long-suffering husband, who listens silently. I read and watch, sense, feel when something doesn’t get through to him or when it suddenly (after all that reworking!) sounds rough and awkward even to me. Taking the words off the page, voicing them, is a necessary exposure.
My last step before final rewrite is to give the manuscript to a VERY carefully selected, smart writer/friend, who totally respects me but is totally lacking in tact. Whether or not I agree with the blunt criticism I get, I need to look again at the part that didn’t quite make it for him or her. I’ll probably decide s/he’s wrong in her diagnosis, but the negative reaction tells me something needs to be tweaked.
Anyone who is serious about writing can’t afford to be touchy. A real pro is a writer who has learned to laugh off the inner rage that surges when someone fails to swoon over our words of genius.
(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)