Tomorrow night, my fiction writers group meets to talk about the first half of the latest draft of my novel-in-progress. Today and tomorrow morning, I'm trying to get myself ready, partly because I'm nervous about what they'll have to say (though they're always kind and supportive). But I also feel an obligation to them and to myself, to make sure that I'm ready for the critiques that will come my way.
It's a lot to ask of people to read and make detailed comments on 160 pages of a novel (and they'll do the other half soon). Right now I'm rereading all the material, and I've set aside some time to think about my own impressions and concerns. In some ways, a novel's developmental path is more constrained than that of a play. There are certain stages where I can get feedback, but they're a bit more limited. With a play, I might bring bits of it to a playwrights group, and then have a sit-down reading, and then a staged reading, and more readings, and then a workshop production, more readings, a production, and then make even more changes.
With a book, it's not that complicated, or drawn out. Of course, I could choose to work on this one forever, but this is an important time and opportunity. I owe it to myself to make the most of what they have to say, and to try to stamp out any defensiveness that might tend to rumble during the session.
One of the things I find most challenging about working on a novel is trying to return to revisions with fresh eyes. This is tough for plays, too, but I can always put together a reading with actors, which will shine new light on the piece.
In a way, I've had the best of both worlds with my current novel, because I've been bringing ten-page chunks of it to Rhombus, my playwrights group, where we hire actors to read for us every two weeks. I've gotten constant and helpful feedback there from my fellow writers and actors. But while having talented actors read your novel-in-progress is helpful and fun, it also can help hide some flaws in the manuscript. My fiction writers group will dig past some of those.
I just need to be ready.