I am a lucky man. I have a quartet of angels around me without whom this book would never have been finished. I am speaking of four true, trusted friends – all women, although that is coincidence, I think – who have read bits and pieces of the novel as it has progressed. They have offered advice and support and criticism – and, above all, a crucial sense of perspective. They have also played an invaluable role in propping me up when the going has been tough and I’ve been ready to give up on the whole thing. Most writers are perpetually assailed by self-doubt. Better to recognize this and buttress yourself against it than to worry about it too much. The fact is, occasional soothing words of encouragement can help immensely.
Writing books is a lonely business, and sometimes it helps to be able to discuss things with someone else. A few months ago I had lunch with one of my readers, and as we talked about the novel’s characters I became quite emotional – the book was more or less finished by then, and I was surprised to find myself becoming quite moved at the prospect of finally saying goodbye to them after so many years. It was a bittersweet, but rewarding, revelation, and one I never would have had if we hadn’t been taking about it.
Listen to your readers. You don’t need to follow everything they say – it’s your book, after all – but consider their responses carefully. By all means reject their suggestions, but be sure you have good reasons for doing so. Each of my readers bring different sensibilities and approaches to the act of reading, which has offered fascinating insight.
A word of caution, though: your readers are precious resources. Use them sparingly. Resist the urge to share every paragraph you write as soon as it’s down on paper. Remember, people can only read something for the first time once. I employed three different approaches. My poor wife has been reading bits of the book for years – so long, in fact, that she can no longer keep the story straight (particularly as I have been rewriting so much.) Two other friends have been reading more sporadically, but in fairly large chunks. And the final member of the quartet read it all in one go. Each approach has its benefits, but obviously the last one is the most valuable, since that is how a regular reader (one hopes!) is going to interact with the book.
I would encourage every writer to find their own angels. Trust them, adore them, and be very, very grateful. Christina, Jennifer, Elaine, and Allison: thank you.