For the past few weeks, I’ve been driving my husband mad.
Text from me late morning at work: “Has the post arrived?”
Reply from him: “Yes. No MS.”
Text from me: “Grrr”
It got to the point where he’d pre-empt my question and text me as soon as the postman had been. Then the news I’d finally been waiting for arrived at 11.31am on Thursday: “The manuscript has landed!!” Only problem was, I was out for the day at a local play park/petting zoo with my seven-year-old. And I didn’t think she’d appreciate me saying, “I know we’ve only been here for 45 minutes and you haven’t fed the lambs or handled a guinea pig yet but we’re going home so mummy can read her critique.” So I stayed. And looked at the lamas. Or are they alpacas? Never really been sure of the difference!
At 3.30pm, I finally convinced her it was time to leave. Even without the MS waiting for me, I’d had my fill and would have been leaving about then anyway so I didn’t feel too guilty.
I eagerly ripped open the jiffy bag, curled up on the sofa … and my heart sank.
It wasn’t what I’d hoped for.
My day job is in learning & development. I coach people for a living. I train them for a living. I develop them. Feedback is something that I give and receive regularly and one of the things I really loved about the two reports I received for book 1 were that they were balanced. Both flagged up improvements that could be made (particularly the 1st one where I was still learning and knew I needed further guidance) but they also had lots of positives about my writing style, my characters, the story, my use of dialogue and so on. I’d expected (and hoped) this year’s report would be similar. But it wasn’t. Before I go any further, I will say that the NWS is an absolutely incredible opportunity and I’ve been so grateful for the feedback during my three years of membership. It is a privilege to receive feedback from experienced published writers and I feel that I’ve been able to take the feedback on book 1 and use it to fine-tune my first novel into something pretty special (I hope!) I don’t think I’d have been able to take it where I’ve taken it without the insight offered by both reviewers.
This year, however, has knocked me. The report was filled with opportunities for improvement and, whilst my reviewer said I had great potential within my storyline, I was left in no doubt that she didn’t think I’d exploited the potential. At all. Did I cry? Did I get mad? No. I just felt completely and utterly deflated. And numb. And that feeling continued for the next two days. For the first time ever in the eleven-and-a-half years since I first had the idea for book 1 and started to write, I seriously questioned what the hell I was doing thinking I could do this. Why was I investing hours and hours of my life in research and writing and submitting and hoping and waiting … when I clearly had no talent whatsoever. My writing pals, The Write Romantics, and I have often likened being an aspiring writer to being on a roller coaster ride. At the weekend, I wanted to stop the ride. I wanted to get off. I’ve never, ever, felt like that until now. I felt lost because, if I did stop the ride, what would I do? My life is writing. I’ve worked everything else round it. I love it. It’s part of me.
By Saturday teatime, I wasn’t feeling much better. The Write Romantics had rallied around and been incredibly supportive as always which helped massively. One of the group, Alex, suggested that I put book 2 and 3 aside and work on something different. I know what my 4th book is going to be about. It’s set in the same fictional town as the trilogy but it features a new cast of characters. She suggested I start to think about them instead. So I went into the spare bedroom and chose myself a new notebook from the huge collection in there (I have a thing for notebooks) and started to create the four characters. It was the best thing I could possibly have done because it was new material so it was exciting. Best of all, it made me start to believe that I could do it.
Last night, I decided to start working through my MS again and was surprised to find little pencil entries like, “Really lovely”, “Nicely expressed,” and “Love it!” Those little scribbles were just what I needed. Whilst my reviewer had focussed on all the improvement areas in the report, there were some things she liked but they were on the MS instead. Phew! Another Write Romantic, Jo, has also suggested that much of the feedback may be as a result of going blind into book 2 when there is a prequel. She could be right. My beta readers loved book 2 and are clamouring for book 3 but maybe you need to read book 1 first to feel this way. Alex hasn’t read book 1 so she’s going to beta read book 2 for me and Jo (who has read both) has asked an avid reader friend of hers to do the same. It will be interesting to hear their views and compare them to the critique.
How do I feel a few days on? I’ve asked the fairground operator to slow the ride down but I don’t want to get off it as I love it too much. I just hadn’t realised there would be quite so many bumps in what had seemed like quite a smooth ride until Thursday. I’m going to finish reading book 2 and making some minor tweaks and then I’ll factor in the feedback from Alex and Jo’s friend before I do anything major. Because, as my reviewer said at the very end, it’s only her opinion and, so far, it differs from the opinion of all those who’ve read it so what’s to say it’s the opinion to be listened to. Tricky. Very tricky. Watch this space for more news of where the ride takes me next!
6 thoughts on “Stop the ride! I want to get off!”
Critiques are hard. In the back of your mind you always hype yourself up to thinking that your work IS so good that you wont see anything negative come back. I think that is why it is so disappointing when we do. But really, you handled it well, and one bad critque wont be the be all end all! Keep up the good writing! 🙂
Thank you so much dontdeletemeblog. I think you’re so right that there is that fantasy of getting the perfect review that it is really hard when it comes back being everything but. The improvements were really valuable and I’ll act on most of them but the bit that really upset me was the lack of balance in there. The review kept saying there were lots of good points, then only flagged the bad ones up so it made for very difficult reading. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I really appreciate it.
Aw, Julie. I feel for you, really. It’s funny, I was feeling exactly the same last night. Really deflated. I thought about all the hours I’m putting into this – all my weekends, mornings, any spare time I have really that are given over to writing. I never seem to go anywhere these days because I just don’t have the time. If I’m not writing I feel guilty. My mother said to me a couple of weeks ago that she didn’t know why I bothered, as it wasn’t as if it was getting me anywhere! Last night I just sat on the edge of my bed feeling really depressed and wondering if she was right. Why am I putting myself through this? For what? But then I thought, if I wasn’t writing what would I be doing? And how can I not write when all these ideas are in my head? So I took yours (and Alex’s) advice and this morning I got up, switched on my laptop and wrote a short story. Honestly. I’m not one for short stories, I find them really difficult unless someone gives me a subject or a title and a deadline. This story was in my mind as I woke up and so I ignored the novel that has been my taskmaster for the last few months and opened a new word document and got on with it. It’s just under 2,000 words and nothing like anything I’ve been writing for the last couple of years. I feel better. A bit. I do go through these periods of gloom and total lack of confidence. At least you have the Write Romantics for support which is good. It can be a very lonely business, this writing lark. I’m sure you will come out the other side and one day you will look back at this as all part of the learning process. We have to learn to take the rough with the smooth and all those other dreadful cliches that people spout when we’re feeling down! Writing can be a very difficult job, but take heart that you are far from alone in feeling like this. Even the greatest writers have their insecure and depressed moments. One day, all these trials will make a very interesting chapter in your autobiography! 🙂
Keep smiling, and keep writing!
Aw Sharon, you’re so fabulous! Sounds like you’ve gone through the exact same thing as me recently. As I said in my post, I’ve never wondered “why bother?” until now and it’s a terrifying thought. I’ve taken a natural break from writing since the review and have tried to get my head around what “normal” would look like. How would my evenings pan out? It’s a strange reality. One of the sacrifices I made in order to writer is not watching much TV and I suddenly envisaged a life where I got back into the soaps and just veged in front of the box. I realised I’d far, far rather write even if it never gets me anywhere! The irony is that, even if (when) we get our publishing deals, the roller-coaster ride isn’t over. There’s the panic over whether the book will sell, whether we’ll get good reviews, whether our publisher will extend beyond the original 2-3 book deal and so on. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a case of “be careful what you wish for”!
Congratulations on the short story. I keep thinking I must try something different again. Maybe it’s the break I need.
As for bad critiques, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! I’m here whenever you’re feeling low and thanks so much for being there for me. Can’t wait for a proper catch up at the weekend.
Oh Julie (and Sharon) I feel for you both. As Julie knows, I quite regularly wonder why I bother! I feel massively guilty about the time I spend writing and often think I should give up. However, I have had feedback over the three years that I have been properly trying to write, that has suggested I might make it, and a recent email from an editor has given me hope that it really is just a matter of time. It’s a long painful process at times, and Sharon is right that we Write Romantics are extraordinarily lucky to have each other. However, I am very envious that you are getting to meet up in person this weekend! I am also with Julie on realising that *the call* is just the start, but let’s only worry about one thing at a time 😉 I have been lucky enough to read for both of you ladies and you are extremely talented. You will get there, both of you, and I will be able to say that I knew you when. Jo xx p.s. I do want a mention in your autobiographies though!
Thanks for commenting, Jo, and for the positive words for both Sharon and me about “the call” coming soon. I was thinking today about all the advice articles I’ve read in the past from published writers. There has been lots of advice out there about dealing with rejections but I don’t ever remember reading anything about the huge amount of waiting time so, when I make it and the writing journals are clamouring for my feedback (ha ha), I’ll make sure I emphasise that you really need to be in this for the serious long haul. I think that we all need to relax a bit more and return to why we do this; because we love it. And therefore just enjoy the hear and now, the art of crafting a story, of building characters from nothing. And worry less about getting published or what anyone else thinks. If you manage to achieve that, let me know how!