Wednesday, November 10, 2010

'Where Good Ideas Come From' & the Benefits of Crit Partners

It’s easy to get ‘too close’ to our work as writers. We write, we revise, we revise again. At a certain point, we need to just back away from the manuscript so we can see it with fresh eyes. But even then, chances are we’ll miss something in the solitude of editing.

That’s the reason you always hear critique partners are a wonderful fantabulous thing. For the past year+, I’ve had a great critique partner. We meet nearly every Wednesday at Starbucks. Sometimes we exchange writing, sometimes we don’t. But we always talk about what we’re working on and what’s not working in what we’re writing. Without fail, I walk away with ideas about how to move forward with my WIP.

So, I thought, why not find some more critique partners? Not to mention, I’ve also been on the hunt for beta readers, so I’m not scrambling when the draft of Through Charlotte’s Eyes is done. It seemed incredibly serendipitous then, when author Roni Loren started #betamatch on Twitter so fellow writers could find each other. Then, just days later, literary agent Mary Kole hosted a critique connection on her blog.

Connections made! Critique partners found! And as I’ve been getting feedback on my first few chapters, new realizations about my WIP seem to popping out like crazy. And I can thank all these new ideas on exchanging ideas with other writers, critiquing each other’s work, etc.

There’s a scientific basis in critique partners work, or so I’ve learned from reading ‘Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation’ by Steven Johnson. The book takes a wide-angle lens perspective on where ideas come from. I haven’t gotten too far into yet, but he talks a lot about the influence of environment, about the way science works... and then there’s this section about where great ideas are often fostered (again keeping in mind, lots of his examples come from science):

Excerpt from pg. 61:
“Dunbar’s research suggests one vaguely reassuring thought: even with all the advanced technology of a leading molecular biology lab, the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains in a circle of humans at a table, talking shop. The lab meeting creates an environment where new combinations can occur, where information can spill over from one project to another. When you work alone in the office, peering into a microscope, your ideas can get trapped in place, stuck in your initial biases. The social flow of the group conversation turns that private solid state into a liquid network.”

Aha! Scientific reasoning behind why group thinking works (mind you, not herd mentality - that’s a different post for a different day). Just exchange his lab for the writing desk, and you’ve got a perfect analogy for why critique partners are a good thing. Get away from the solitiude of writing for a little while and talk to another writer about what you’re working on. Even if its online and not at a table in Starbucks, it helps immensely. Frees your thinking. Opens your mind to new possibilities.

I’ll write a more detailed review of the book when I’m done, but I already do suggest ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ to any writer at any stage in the process. Johnson has a way of opening your mind to the different ways our minds open to new ideas.

Not to mention, he’s a huge advocate for writing ideas down (to form new connections to seemingly unrelated things). “You get a feeling that there’s an interesting avenue to explore, a problem that might someday lead you to a solution, but then you get distracted by more pressing matters and the hunch disappears,” he writes on page 83. “So part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down.” Again, that’s another post for another day.

For now, go out, write, and share your ideas! Speaking of, it’s time for me to meet with my critique partner.

Til next time, here’s to letting those creative ideas flow.