IWSG—Working without Critique Partners

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(My Horny Hump Day post is here.)

The first Wednesday of every month is the posting-time for the Insecure Writers Support Group.

I often feel as though I’m in a minority of writers these days who doesn’t have a team of critique partners or beta readers. It would be nice to have people willing to read and constructively critique my work, but things just haven’t worked out. I actually got some e-mails from interested people back in June, as the result of some CP mixers, but I feel really bad I wasn’t able to respond because I was so busy with camp. Would it be too late to respond to some of them now?

I found someone through Ladies Who Critique who read the first chapter of my Russian novel, but even though she said she really liked it, she never got back to me again. (I’ve since made a number of significant edits and rewrites on that first chapter, after having thought I was finally done.)

Then there was the failed connection with the writer who volunteered to read the entire manuscripts of everyone planning to participate in a historical contest that fell through. Some of my readers are acquainted with her, which is why she’s going unnamed. You know, if she really didn’t have the time or interest to read a historical saga, she could’ve at least gotten back to me and told me that, or asked if I had anything that was shorter.

I spent a huge amount of time and effort editing, rewriting, revising, and polishing my Russian novel over and over and over again, an entire decade after finishing the first draft. This person didn’t even realize the sheer amount of garbage from the original 1993 material I completely junked or radically rewrote.

It took a hell of a lot of work to bring that book out of its ridiculous beginnings to a mature, complex historical saga and love story. All she saw was a number, and didn’t even bother to read even one chapter or section to see WHY the story needs to be so long. Who expects a Russian novel to be short anyway?

And I had a rather negative experience with a would-be beta reader who’s a lot younger than I am and who apparently comes from a much different school of thought regarding critiquing and writing. When did it become acceptable to ONLY point out what you didn’t like, instead of equally pointing out things you did like?

Well, if a would-be beta even takes you to task for using a font that isn’t the precious, saintly Times New Roman (which makes my eyes bleed), chances are it’s not a good match anyway. After 19 years, Palatino feels like home. I’d rather go back to Helvetica, which was the default on the older Macs I grew up with, than EVER use TNR. At least Helvetica has a personality and looks distinguished.

Palatino is elegant, timeless, beautiful.
Helvetica has a modern, distinguished look.
Times New Roman is so tiny, generic, and boring, and makes my eyes bleed.

Palatino

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One of the (by now rather dated) pieces of advice in Olga Litowinsky’s Writing and Publishing for Children in the 1990s was to use a font that looks like it came from a typewriter, if you’re using a computer, since many editors and publishers are used to dealing with typewritten manuscripts. I’ll admit that I’m old enough to have used a typewriter more than a few times (though it seemed a bit archaic since I literally can’t remember a time before computers, having begun to permanently remember in 1983 and having had at least one computer in the house ever since), but how many people under the age of, say, fifty were still using typewriters instead of computers at the time that book was published in the early Nineties?

So when I started working on my lost first draft of the book I just completed in February, I decided that Bookman looked like a good of a font as any. I thought it looked closest to what I was familiar with from a typewriter. When that old ’83 Mac had a short-circuit on the monitor only a few months into having it in my room, in the fall of ’93, I had to move to working on the new ’93 Mac in my parents’ room. Lo and behold, they didn’t have Bookman on the new Mac’s version of MacWriteII (which still remains my favorite word-processing program, since it was so easy to understand everything, in spite of how it’s considered extremely obsolete now), so I settled for what looked like the second-closest, Palatino. That was also the font I changed my Russian novel into, after having had it in the default font of Helvetica (which I think is rather ugly, not least because it doesn’t even have bars on the top and bottom of its capital Is). And that’s what I’ve been using to type ever since, unless I’m using a fancy font for something special like a title page.

I’m glad to know that it’s considered outdated advice by many people nowadays to submit manuscripts in the butt-ugly Courier, which looks so machine-generated and devoid of personality. Many people recommend Arial, which I also think looks kinda devoid of life and substance. Times (NOT Times New Roman, mind you) I can sorta get behind, since I got very used to it from it being the default font in Quark on our computers at work (I work at a newspaper), but it still doesn’t have that special something that Palatino does. Palatino just has a home-like quality to it, a familiarity after about seventeen and a half years of typing in it almost exclusively, a special personality that you can’t get from an overused, computer-generated-looking, or default font like Helvetica, Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier. Personally, I think Courier is the ugliest font I’ve ever seen.

I love Palatino so much that if I were ever to get a tattoo, it would be a typographical tattoo and in Palatino. (Not that I think I ever will, since the traditional halachic prohibition against tattoos is so strong, even knowing that many modern non-Orthodox commentators have reinterpreted that passage to mean gashing or scarring oneself for the dead, not getting a modern-day tattoo.)  And even though I only chose it originally because it seemed to resemble Bookman and because I thought it was best to use a font that looked typewriter-generated, I just fell in love with it over the years. It’s sort of like my pen name, initially just a random thing but then turning, over time, into something that just fit me perfectly and seemed just right. Once you’ve been working with a font for so many years, no other font seems quite right.