RECOVERING FROM A SCATHING CRITIQUE

In my last post I talked about the value of multiple eyes on your writing. I’ve always believed in the importance of objectivity to assess a creative work, because the creator is too close to see it clearly. When I finished the first draft of Transitions, I passed copies out to friends and family to give me feedback. Most raved about how much my writing has grown. Obviously that pumped me up, and I dreamed of landing an agent and maybe even ending up on a bestseller list.

I should have had fair warning when I saw a friend over the weekend who had promised to give me an honest assessment. We were at a party, and she always managed to be in a different room. On the way home I told my husband I was pretty sure Pam hated it and thought it was really awful, because otherwise she would have mentioned the book and made at least some general remarks.

But what a reader likes is subjective. I held out for the professional critique I had paid for. It arrived earlier this week – six pages of summary notes and 350 pages of notes in the margin. In that massive volume of feedback, I found maybe one or two positive comments. The rest, essentially, said I should scrap the entire project because it wasn’t redeemable. Well, she didn’t exactly say that. But she said to throw out more than half of the manuscript and, if I really wanted to use any of it, I should turn it into a formula romance.

That line just about made me lose my breakfast. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with formula romances. Lots of writers make good livings writing them. But I had set out to write something bigger. My first two books had been romance/women’s fiction – not the usual formula, exactly, but that was at the core. I wanted to write something important. Something people would remember.

Clearly I failed Big Novel 101.

And speaking of 101 – she referred me to numerous books and resources to go back to square one and learn how to write a novel successfully. I’d only taken 15 years of classes in colleges and on-line, and filled my bookcases with how-to writing books. If I hadn’t “gotten” what made for a good novel by now, going back to the learning stage wasn’t going to make a difference.

My first reaction was anger. How dare she imply I lacked basic skills and where did she get off bashing the courses I’d taken. “Have any of the instructors ever written an actual novel?” That’s what she asked. I not only found it condescending, I was insulted for my past instructors – all accomplished, published novelists, some with multiple awards.

I vowed I’d never write again.

Then I slept on it and got up the next morning and started going through the detailed comments. She wasn’t kind – but then, I hadn’t paid her for false compliments. And when I looked at her comments and compared the relevant text, the novel really didn’t hold together. I had tried to do more with the novel than was realistic. I loaded it with political commentary. I sacrificed up close and personal scenes with the main characters in my attempt to write “more than just a romance.”

Seen through her eyes, I had to admit she was (mostly) right. I’m still offended by her lack of any positive comments, since I do a good job with dialogue and I personally still think I did a good job with setting some of the scenes. They were just the wrong scenes. I tried to cram so much into the story, I ended up doing a lot of summarizing – the dreaded “telling” vs “showing” that I had learned to avoid in one of my many 101 classes.

I don’t know yet where I will go from here. I’m still licking my wounds, and dread the thought of blowing up the whole story and starting over. And I still refuse to write a silly category romance with a lot of phony tension and battles between the sexes. But I did succeed in writing non-formula love stories in my first two books. I have lots of fans from those books asking me when my next book is coming out.

My husband would be thrilled if I gave up writing, as it takes me away from “us” for long periods of time. Part of me would love to just leave it behind – surely there are more productive ways I could spend my time?

But every time I think about that, it feels like an amputation. I am a writer. I’ve been a writer since I was a child when I made up stories to get my baby brother to eat his vegetables. I loved doing term papers in school. I sought out opportunities to write throughout my health care career. Removing writing from my life would be like cutting out a vital organ, or a piece of my heart.

So I need to let all this gel a bit.

This bashed manuscript was not well-conceived and really out of my comfort zone. That was part of the appeal of writing it. But it taught me a lesson. Work from your strength. Use what you do well. Maybe experiment a bit once in a while, but stay the course.

Maybe I will go back through the manuscript and see if there are parts I can use toward another women’s fiction. Ideas are already ping-ponging in my head. I’m trying to stop them because I know I should step back and take an objective assessment of what I want to do with the rest of my life. But I think I already know.

I am a writer.

About Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse

I, like so many others, am a novelist struggling for recognition. My newest novel, THE EYES HAVE IT, is available on Amazon in Kindle version. My other novels, IN HER MOTHER'S SHOES and STAR CATCHING, also are available in e-book format through Amazon and other formats by request here or on my website. AUTUMN COLORS was my first novel and is still available through Amazon and B&N in multiple formats. My early writings are women's fiction, also suitable for YA. My work-in-progress is a historical fiction. Come visit me at my website: www.dawnlajeunesse.com.
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1 Response to RECOVERING FROM A SCATHING CRITIQUE

  1. Fia Essen says:

    Yes, you are a writer!

    I cam empathise with your pain as I’ve experienced similar manuscript bashings. I gave up more than once. Don’t do that! I now realize giving up was a mistake… because, like it or not, I am a writer.

    Dawn, I’m going to say it again – You’re a writer. And, pardon my French, a damned good one.

    Like

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