On Receiving Critique with Grace

Recently I was accepting into the Womentoring Project (@WomentoringP), and I’ve been working with the lovely and generous mentor, Louise Walters (@LouiseWalters12), author of Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase. I was at a point where I had revised my MS many times and had gotten a lot of interest from agents based on my query and sample pages, but ultimately was rejected without much helpful feedback as to why. I was so excited that she chose me, and a little unsure what to expect. She gave me some great, honest feedback about what was working and what wasn’t, and I was super grateful…

After about a week.

Guys, it’s never easy to get critiqued on your work. It comes from your heart and soul, and showing it to others is the literary equivalent of having a baby and then asking someone if they think it’s pretty. It’s hard. It’s scary. And no matter how professional and gentle and diplomatic the response you receive, and no matter how much positive feedback is sandwiched around it, anything that varies from “It’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen!” is crushing to the writer’s ego. So when I first read the feedback, my confidence went into a nosedive. Despite all the nice things she said, I only focused on the things she said needed work, and for a couple days I was completely miserable. Because 1) I knew she was right, 2) It became clear (without her saying so outright) that the beginning of my book needed a major overhaul, and 3) Because I had no clue how to do it.

So, first, even though my heart was stinging and my mind was cycling through horrific, unkind thoughts about myself and my abilities, I shot off a quick email thanking her so much for her feedback. After all, if you’ve ever beta read someone else’s work you know it’s more work than just reading pages. It’s like reading a book but without the fun of it, because you’re looking out for everything from the major things like character development, continuity, and plot points to the little things like grammar and punctuation. And if the writing style isn’t your cup of tea, this can be quite a chore. Even though I was despondent, I wanted her to know I was appreciative of the work she’d done.

Second, I got good and truly depressed. See above re: ego.

Third, after a couple days of that, I tried something new: I made myself stop thinking about it. In the state of mind I was in, I wasn’t going to be able to make any kind of good decisions about how to move forward. I kept opening the file only to tearfully close it again a few minutes later. So, I said to myself “Self, it is not for you to solve right now,” and I mentally pictured myself physically tucking it into a distant, dark fold of my brain (that I imagine also understands how a car works and all the different rules of football), and left it there. Every time I started thinking negative thoughts about it, I said “Ah ah ah. Not yet,” and pushed it back down. I set a time limit, that I could live in this state of denial for up to two weeks, while I worked on another project.

Miraculously, after one week I was sitting and watching TV, giving myself permission on a Friday afternoon to be a lazy bum, and it came to me. I suspected all along I would have to rewrite the beginning, but suddenly this idea wasn’t so daunting. Suddenly I would start here, move this chapter up, move this chapter back, cut out this chapter, add this scene instead, etc. As Louise told me in her feedback, “I know it sounds like an awful lot, but all novels are an awful lot of work and it can take a long time to get them right.” Reading through her feedback with rested eyes, I was able to hold on to more of the positive things, and the negative didn’t seem so bad. Because 1) I knew she was (still) right, 2) I had accepted the fact that the beginning needed a major overhaul, and 3) I knew exactly how to do it.

So I made a list of all the edits I had to make, chapter by chapter (lists do for me what Valium probably does for other people), and I set to work. Slowly but surely, a new draft came together. And, after much editing, I sent off a new copy to my mentor. About a week later, I got her feedback. She loved the new beginning, but mentioned a few entirely new overwhelming things that needed work. And of course my mind went immediately to “HowdoIfixthisit’stoomuchIcan’tdoitmybookiscrapI’mafraudI’mgivingup,” but this time I remembered my process. I thanked her so much for her hard work, I allowed myself to be mopey that the MS needs more work for only one day, tucked it away for another, and this time I only needed that day and a half before I started my list.

The message here is: it’s okay to be sad when you realize your MS isn’t perfect, and frustrated that there is more work ahead on something you’ve already poured so much of yourself into. You’re human. You’re a creative, you have ALL the feelings. But if you really believe in your MS (or if you did ten second before you received your critique), it’s not okay to give up on it. Give yourself a minute, dust yourself, and get back in the ring.

 

 

 

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