Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why feedback is a blessing—and also, why it makes me want to scream and hide in a cave

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” ~ Walt Disney

I’ve been really down lately for a variety of reasons. Some personal and some professional. Professional as in both “the day job” and “the side writing career.” I’ll discuss some of the professional because some of the personal is just that: personal. Let’s just say it involves loved ones dealing with illnesses and leave it alone.

But professionally…

For example, there was one day this week where a training schedule was posted at the day job, and I was not on it. On one hand, woo-hoo! No training for me! Fist pump. On the other hand, wait a minute, why am I the ONLY person not on this schedule? Huff! So I asked my supervisor, “Why am I not on this list?” He checked and got a response from his boss that basically amounted to “Who is she again?” I've been with the company 10 years, and the man has no idea what I do.

Thanks for that. Really. Thanks. Facepalm.

I checked my personal email later that same day and had yet another rejection from an agent on my current manuscript. I think I’m up to 10 now. 10 rejections. Since I got more than 100 for the manuscript that became CRY WOLF, that’s not a lot, but still. Each one chips away at my confidence.That particular day was a double-whammy to the ole ego. I got walloped by both the day job and the writing gig. And then kicked in the ribs by personal stuff.

If I were a drinking woman, I would have downed alcohol and lots of it that day. Instead, I bought a dozen donuts…and ate them all. By myself. Yep. I did. Don't judge.

So that’s the mindset I'm fighting right now: that I’ll never come up to scruff with my peers, for whatever reason, so why bother?

Well, because I want to. And because rejection is normal and every person and writer experiences it. It’s really a stupid reason to give up, if you think about it. Rejection usually makes us better for it, at least in the long run. With people dying every moment and some people starving in the streets and kids being shot in schools, having a manuscript rejected seems like such a trivial thing.

I'm doing what I can to get past this hurdle. I’ve been participating in a workshop to strengthen my writing skills. What I love about Angela James’ BEFORE YOU HIT SEND workshop is that she always teaches you the rules as she knows them, then lets you know it’s OK to break them if you feel, in your heart of hearts, it makes your story better. More often than not, though, I'm realizing my stuff is better if I follow the rules. Truth.

I’ve also employed the use of beta readers and begged my critique partners and author friends for feedback. It’s been really helpful…and in some cases, conflicting, which proves the point that your critique partners and beta readers can sometimes mess with your mojo and lead you astray, and you should smack them really hard in the face NOT listen to them.

Example: In an early scene, my hero—who has a bit of a disability—is doing pull-ups. In my first draft. He was finishing 50 pull-ups when the scene began. A beta reader, who is a personal trainer in New York, warned me that 50 pull-ups is “a lot!” and not realistic, even for the most athletic of people. Hmm, well, okay. I changed it to her suggestion of 10. Then two other readers commented the same thing: “Let’s face it. 10 pull ups is a bit wimpy, don’t you think?”

The reasonable thing to do is to delete the pull-ups altogether, right? Pouts lip. I didn’t want to. So I called two gyms in my hometown and asked if said scenario was plausible. The result? I’m keeping it at 10. And I expect if this story ever gets published or reviews, I’ll hear, “It does have a wimpy hero who only does 10 pull-ups though” because we all expect a hero to do 50 pull-ups!

Cue the tiny violins. It's tough being a writer. I never know whether to trust my own judgment, or others. I have fantastic critique partners, and truth is, they rarely steer me wrong. Still, I wonder...Am I revising too much? Should I just leave it alone and keep looking for that one person who will like it "as is"?

My gut tells me this story still needs some work and that it's worth pursuing, so I'm going with that and considering all of the feedback I've gotten so far as I make revisions. I’ve realized I have a tendency to over-explain things and need to do a lot of trimming. That's majority opinion. One person told me my writing was too choppy and needed more narrative, more explanation...but I don't think so.

I agree with some feedback. I don't agree with some feedback. That's normal, right?

I write this post not to gain sympathy or to be mocked. I say these things because….well, actually now that I’ve over-shared and over-explained as I have a tendency to do, I have no idea why. Self-therapy, maybe? Yes, I do feel better, so that must be it. 

Plus, I'm doped up on cold medicine and not in my right mind at the moment. Honestly, I can't be held responsible.

Don't judge. And since I think 99% of all writers can relate to this post, I know you won't.

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