Friday, May 17, 2013

The Necessity of Fresh Eyes & Critique Partners

by Mindy McGinnis

I'm giving in to the idea of self-sufficiency.

Yes, I know I can buy my own pickles cheaply. Yes, it does make my kitchen hot and steamy when I'm canning. Yes, sometimes things go wrong and shit explodes everywhere and you end up with welts. But I'm still very into the idea of making my own food, and its not because I want everything organic or that I'm afraid of chemicals and preservatives.

It's because I want to look smug when the end of civilization comes and I'm doing alright. If you want to learn more about my survival strategies, check out my vlog over at the Friday the Thirteeners blog today. Hint: it involves jelly beans.

Recently I decided it was time to expand from vegetables and canning into an herb garden. I had a nice spot picked out in the side yard and was waiting to borrow my mother's tiller to make the dream a reality, when ugly necessity reared its head.

I have a stone path following the fence around my pond. The area immediately to the left of the path has been a weedy, troublesome problem for three years, mostly because the rocks themselves sat there for a good long while and encouraged all kinds of weed growth and simultaneously discouraged mower blades.

So I got the tiller, and prioritized. The weeds were an eyesore, a shoulder-height testament to my inabilities as a lawn owner. The combined energies of my wrath, a mower and a Mantis took the smirk off their little green faces, but by then I had realized that I didn't have any grass seed and wouldn't have time to get any until the weeds had recouped and mounted their second assault. Meanwhile, my herbs were setting on the back porch, drooping dejectedly as they waited for their home away from Lowe's.

I got all pouty, drank some ice tea, and my mom came over to see how the herb garden was coming. I told her all my problems - the feisty weeds, the depressed herbs, the unbroken lawn waiting to become a garden, my lack of grass seed. She looked at me and said:

"So why don't you just put your herb garden in the ground you tilled up instead of grass?"

And the clouds parted, the Hallelujah Chorus played, and I saw all the advantages: I could harvest my herbs from my little stone path, I had much easier access to water than in the side yard, converting that ground to garden meant less mowing around the steeply sloped banks of the pond, and... (BONUS) it was already tilled, I wouldn't have to buy grass seed, and my herbs would be happy.

The only addition my mom had was, "Well, duh."

I needed mom's fresh eyes to alert me to the lack of common sense I was displaying, and sometimes we need that in writing too. As writers, we'll have our heart set on certain actions, dialogue, even events, that simply aren't what's best for the story itself in the big picture.

We need our beta readers and crit buddies to say to us, "Hey, why not try this?"

And, if they tack on, "Well, duh," try to remember you love them for a reason.
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Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.

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