by Maria Geraci
The other day I was getting my eyelashes worked on (long story for another post) and while I was blissfully laying there on the table, a Norah Jones song came on Pandora. I can't remember which one exactly, but Norah Jones has such a distinct voice that you always know it's her when she's singing. I've always been a fan of Norah's but hearing her sing brings a smile to my face. Norah, you see, helped make me a better writer.
Years ago, (about 12 to be exact) when I first began writing I belonged to a small online critique group. I was new to writing and thought that a critique group would help me hone my skills. Our process went something like this: Every week a member would upload a chapter of their work and the other members would critique it. When my first time came I was nervous, to be sure, but mostly I was excited to see what people thought of my work. Because of course, I was going to "wow" them with my genius. Right?
Um, not so much.
That first critique was brutal. In a nice way, because the members of my crit group were nice people, but brutal to my precious ego, nonetheless.
I can remember opening up the crits and seeing what I perceived as negative comments everywhere. My first chapter sucked (my words, not theirs) but essentially, I needed to start again from ground zero. I spent the day driving kids around in my minivan, waiting for evening to come when I'd have some alone time to get a good cry in (because generally it's not good form to have an emotional meltdown in front of your kids). I questioned whether or not I had the chops to start another career in what was probably the busiest time of life.
That night with the kiddos (and the hubby) all tucked in bed, I opened up a bottle of wine and put on a Norah CD and reread the crits again. And again and again. While her soft voice crooned in the background, I began to see the wisdom in my crit partner's words. I didn't "suck" but I needed to learn to write. I knew I could tell a story. Like Norah, I knew I had a unique voice (like we all do!). I just needed to zero in on my voice and learn the writing skills necessary to tell my stories the way they needed to be told.
It turned out to be the best crit of my writing life. I woke up the next day and started again from scratch, because that's what writers do. They learn from their work and rewrite until they get better. And in twelve years, that hasn't changed. Even though I'm published now, whenever I hear Norah, I think back to that day 12 years ago and am inspired all over again to never give up and keep writing better.