My cardiovascular exercise of choice is cycling: it’s exhilarating (especially on Pennsylvania hills with shoulder-less roads), low impact and offers great scenery (in 15 minutes I can be next to a burbling river: perfect). Most days, I ride alone; I do the distance, but take my time.
Couple days ago, a friend called: Want to ride this afternoon? Sure, I say, thinking I can probably keep up. We’ll go at your pace, he says (he’s in better shape and gracious). We start out, me in the lead. All of a sudden, I’m flying down hills, cranking up hills, way faster than usual. My friend is not pushing, not cajoling; he’s totally silent the whole time. We finish, chat a bit, then go our separate ways. Could I go this far this fast tomorrow?
I’m editing a book these days, working with more than a dozen writers. Some are experienced, some are new to the field. They send essays which I read, then I make comments and send the work back for rewrites. To a person, they seem grateful for the remarks, and what they’re producing keeps getting better. Because I’m such a great editor? Pshaw. I think it’s more likely that being part of a group is having this effect.
I’m also getting edited, as beta readers for a light mystery I’m finishing weigh in with their comments. Sitting on the other side of the desk is trickier; I’m not always sanguine when someone wants to correct my word choice, grammar or punctuation. And if they raise questions about a story arc or detail–that can be interesting.
But. I’m finding that these beta readers/editors are usually right. And even if they’re not, or if it’s a judgement call, I still learn something from their remarks. My manuscript is, without doubt, better for their participation in it.
As with cycling, I can write on my own, and manage to cover ground or fill a page. However, while writing has a lot of solitary in it, good writing is hardly ever a solo act. It’s tough to write by committee (try reading an instruction booklet, or a company’s policy manual, for evidence of what happens when a lot of voices shout into a single document), but it’s also nearly impossible to write well as ‘me one’, to quote a favorite Bahamian saying. If it’s progress I’m after–getting better at nearly anything–it’s people I need.