Author Koepke

Writing a novel is not a social experience. I favor writing in isolation, where my fictional world can expand. Twice a week, I push my limits and step out of my bubble. I exchange work with other authors, learning, critiquing and empathizing. On occasion, we work through tricky spots, finding companionship in clicking keys, but the vast majority of words arrive in solitude.

Nearing publication, the creative journey becomes crushingly public. Readers, agents, editors, the publisher — all charge in with opinions that matter. The process is brutal and jarring.

It is difficult to put my work, myself, out there for criticism, but the value is undeniable. Learning to write so that a reader will feel, gives words life. The reader only has what I give on the page; critiques help me learn what is still only in my mind.

When the Unbound Book Festival announced the “First Page Rodeo” — a contest for authors to present the first page of their novel to an expert panel — I wanted in.

It was the sort of contest that, when described, people were not sure there was really a prize to win. Along with four other writers, I was to have the first page of my unpublished novel publicly critiqued.

Four industry experts sat on stage, my words scrolling on a screen behind them; my draft printed out in the hands of the audience. I sat, pen poised to take notes.

They started kindly, complimenting the layered backstory, a twist on a theme and the voices of my characters. I could not help but smile, but I hadn’t come for praise. I came for red ink, and they were willing to comply.

They found a word I had changed a few hundred times. “Overworked,” they said, “the author is trying too hard.” I wondered how to think less, when each word obviously matters so much. They were right, I can overthink as much as I want, but it can’t show.

The critics continued, fueling each other over the soon bloody carcasses of my creation. I took furious notes; contemplating how to use their input.

It was not easy to sit and listen to people dissect my work, to take notes instead of defending each choice, but it was worth it. So, yes, I did “win” with the “First Page Rodeo.”

I won the opportunity to get better.

To follow my journey to publication, visit