The Right Second Opinions

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Two weekends ago I got to experience a different culture: that of quilters and sewers. All it took was standing in front of the quilting fabrics at JoAnn’s, staring discriminately at the choices, and piling potential bolts of fabric on my shopping cart.

Okay, fifteen bolts of fabric. It was a little excessive. I admit.

But just by doing that, the other shoppers around me assumed I was a fellow crafter. I couldn’t believe how often other women started conversations with me, asking, “Do you think this fabric would make a better pillowcase for a nine-year-old girl or a fourteen-year-old girl?”

“Nine-year-old, definitely,” I said.

“And I can’t figure out what contrasting fabric to use for the border.”

“I’d go with something teal,” I said, pointing out the teal in the main print.  “That would really draw out the other colors, too.”

They wanted second opinions and assumed I was qualified to give them!

(Well, until they took a second look at my huge pile and asked politely, “Is all that for the same project?” Then they realized that I’m actually insane.)

It got me thinking about the shared culture of a common craft.

When I want a second opinion on my novel, I ask other novelists to read it. Sure, asking my parents or siblings or friends is nice, but only another novelist will give me the feedback I really need.

I remember early in our marriage asking Hubby what he thought of a sewing project I was about to start. I held up the pattern for him and held up the fabric and said, “See, it’ll look like this picture except with this print.” But he couldn’t see it at all. He told me directly, “I can’t. I’m just not good at picturing how something’s going to look.” (This is the reason I am in charge of planning all home projects, like basements and landscaping, etc. He supplies the labor.)

That might have been the first time it dawned on me that you have to get the right opinion for every project — the opinion of someone who’s able to see all the factors of what you’re aiming for.

I mean, there are just so many pieces to keep track of and “get right.”

For example, in a novel, in any given scene you have to have a sense of the voice, the setting, the characters, what the characters are doing, what the characters are saying, what the characters are feeling, what you want the reader to feel, what the stakes are, how the stakes are escalating, how the scene bridges from the previous scene to the next scene, how it all plays into the overall arc of the novel, how it plays into the individual character arcs, etc.

Ack! There’s so much that can go wrong. The pacing, first of all, can be too slow or too fast. The scene can make the mistake of describing all those details instead of showing them as they happen. The scene can work on a technical level but be emotionally void. The scene can be fun but not fit the novel right.

And only fellow crafters — used to the frustrations of all those possibilities themselves — are going to see those things and be able to point them out to you. They’re the people who can tell you if your fabrics and threads match.

Right now I’m working through notes that a couple of writer friends sent me, and they say fantastic things like, “I lose sense of this character through these chapters,” or “Your main plot arc gets lost in all the individual character arcs here,” or “This character’s POV is working well because I know what he’s thinking and feeling, but I don’t get that at all with your other character: I have no idea what she’s feeling.”

Those might sound discouraging, but strangely I feel the opposite way about them. I’m so excited to have the missing factors pointed out to me so that I can quickly go through the scenes and add what’s needed.

It’s nice that your mom or your spouse likes your novel, but find a fellow writer, someone with at least the same level of experience as you if not more, and have them give you the real scoop. Maybe you were hoping to appeal to fourteen-year-olds and they’ll tell you it’s definitely for nine-year-olds, and that might be hard to hear, but that’s how it goes.

I have my set of writer friends for manuscript advice, and for advice on applique I turned to my neighbor who sews. I call my dad for fix-it problems, my mom for cooking and parenting. It’s good to have the right opinions around.

What do you think? Who do you turn to for what projects? Who’s your hotline for the best second opinions?

Leave a comment!

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