Last week I attended the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar in New York City. For those of you unfamiliar with this seminar, writers are given a chance to present their query letter and opening pages in front of fellow writers of the same genre and agents looking for work in that genre. By present, you might be thinking that you simply get to hand your papers to an agent and be done with it.
In this format, we actually had to read our query letters and our opening pages out loud to the agents and fellow writers. I don’t know about many other writers, but the idea that other people are reading my story is nerve-wracking enough, but reading it aloud in front of other people, many of whom are far more talented than I, is worthy of a stomach-wrenching nervous breakdown.
First, let me just say that the agents were amazing. I learned so much from the short period of time I got to spend listening to their feedback. At times the feedback may have seemed harsh but writers need to know how to take constructive criticism and I learned a bunch of things that I hadn’t thought about before and had some of my techniques validated. I also met a bunch of great authors and we all have plans to use each other as critique buddies in the future.
Second, I want to say that reading your work out loud is quite possibly one of the best things you can do during the editing process. The human brain is an incredibly forgiving organ and its number one specialty is pattern recognition and compensation. In other words, while you are reading your own work in your head, your mind tends to fill in gaps, smooth over awkward speed-bump phrasing, and forgives much. When you read your work out loud, you’ll find that you come to a dead stop on awkward sentences, places where words don’t belong, and even on things like misplaced or dangling modifiers. Since I got home from the conference, I’ve been reading aloud each new chapter or scene that I write before I start the usual editing process and I am finding a ton of stuff that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks and only been caught by an editing partner.
I am an autodidact – always have been and always will be. Throughout my life and my career as a writer and computer programmer, there have been these key moments where I am suddenly aware of how much more I don’t know than I used to. At some point, I become fairly confident in knowing what I don’t know and the limits of my own advancement become finite. Then, something happens. I read an amazing book, meet a certified genius, or attend a conference, and everything changes. My horizons recede and I return to this amazing place where I have no idea how much I don’t know. The possibilities become endless again and I get filled with this childlike giddiness as I am confronted with nearly infinite learning possibilities.
This is what happened to me at Backspace. My horizons receded, the possibilities again became endless, and I have an amazing new perspective on writing. The conference re-invigorated me, inspired me, and more importantly, showed me how much more I have yet to learn. I highly recommend this conference for any writer who has finished a book and thinks they’re ready to take the next step toward publication.