After receiving multiple rejections from agents for Sentimental Journey, several of which said some variation of “very good writing but…” with the “but” usually followed by “too slow” or “didn’t keep me turning pages” or “I just didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped,” I decided I needed some help.
I’m the first to admit I’m not completely objective about my writing. When I finish a page or chapter that I love, or that heightens my emotions, or just flows like great prose, I’m hard pressed to see that it might not contribute to moving the story along. I’ve had all or parts of the novel edited by multiple “experts,” which is what accounts for the “very good writing” tag. But I needed someone who would look at the bigger picture, identify and help me see what works, what doesn’t, and what I needed to do to fix it.
Enter one of my old writing instructors. He had critiqued Autumn Colors for me, and threw me into a panic when he recommended major overhauls and re-ordering and yes, lots of cuts. But the final product was so much better! So I braced for the pain and sent Sentimental Journey off to him.
And, as expected, the cuts were significant. “Redundant” was a big part of the problem, not to mention being inside the main character’s head too much instead of revealing the story through action. My first impulse was to say “nuts to you” and leave it the way it was. Then I compromised and made a separate working copy. I’d make the recommended changes and see – nothing to lose, right?
Whole pages ended up on the cutting room floor, and too many other paragraphs and individual sentences to count. Each word cut felt like a slice from my own skin. All that introspection and beautiful description – GONE! I felt a little like an amputee with phantom pain in the missing limb, only my pain was with the many discarded words.
I’ve only finished the rewrites for the first half so far. I spent the morning re-reading that first half and guess what?
It is crisper, faster moving, and more likely to hold the attention of a reader who isn’t me. I was glad I took the chance (although with built in insurance). And very glad I chose to take it to the one person who wouldn’t just be “nice” and tell me it was wonderful the way it was. It was worth the pain.
And if I have one message for anyone reading this, it’s that it is important not only to have someone objective critique your writing, but also to apply the recommendations, no matter how much it hurts. You can always go back to the way it was, but I’m betting you won’t want to.
You are so right, you need someone knowledgeable as well as honest to critique your work. All of the ‘I loved it’ comments are certainly nice for the ego, but do nothing for the work.
Critique is scary. but unless you want to parade about naked thinking you’ve fancy new clothes on, necessary. A good friend compliments, your best friend tells it like it is.