Let's Talk About Fear, Baby.
Not as fun and catchy as the Salt and Peppa song, is it? But today, we're going to talk about fear and insecurity.
Earlier this month in my writing update, I wrote about the secret novella project I was working on. I am pleased to report that as of August 18, 2017, and clocking in at a little over 30K words, that novella is done. Yes I celebrated. There was a lot of strawberry ice cream involved.
BUT (and there's always a but) that's when the scary part comes it. Sending my precious baby off to beta readers and CPs for them to get their feedback. This story is very personal and meaningful to me, so I was particularly anxious waiting to hear what they had to say.
Let me back up by saying critiques and beta readers are essential, and that getting feedback from then is not something to be dreaded. A good CP/beta is there to help your story be the best it can be. It's not about beating you down and taking delight in pointing out every flaw and mistake. It's about saying "Here's what I think you need to do to make your story better, and help you improve." You are too close to the story, and getting an objective outside set of eyes is so important. Besides, you need a tough skin to survive in this business, and if you can't handle constructive criticism from your betas and CPs, how are you going to deal with feedback or rejections from editors and agents? It's a good practice run for what you'll experience down the road.
The reason I say sending your ms to your CPs and beta readers is scary is because you've spent weeks/months/years pouring blood sweat and tears into this manuscript. It's a labor of love, and now you're sending it off in the world, where people will be free to give their opinion on this work that you're so proud of. You're taking a leap of faith by trusting your work to others.
Sometimes it can be hard not to take the criticisms personally, and not to think you're the one found wanting, not the work. It can feel like they're not just evaluating your work, but evaluating you. It can feel personal because writing is such a personal and intimate thing, But I'm here to tell you, it can be done. You don't have to be afraid . Just try to keep these things in mind:
1) First drafts by definition are gong to be a hot mess. It's about word vomiting and getting the words on the page. As Nora famously says "I can fix a bad page, but not a blank one." You can worry about pacing, comma splices, typos, split infinitives, plot holes, and stilted dialogue later. What matters is that you have something to work with. So don't freak out when your first draft comes back with tons of notes and suggestions. It's true for everyone, it's not just you. There is a reason why "Writing is rewriting" is a commonly quoted phrase amongst writers. Because it's true.
As my good friend and Tough Love Administrator Adele Buck so astutely puts it, "NOBODY'S FIRST OR EVEN SECOND DRAFT IS CAMERA-READY. Nobody. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying."
Adele also has some great thoughts about the critique process, and you can check them out here: http://adelebuck.com/2016/08/20/lets-talk-about-critique/
2) Bear in mind that these are all suggestions, and every read of your manuscript is going to be subjective. One CP may think what the hero said to the heroine in x scene is too harsh, another may love it. YMMV. So learn to take that to account. My rule of thumb is if more than one beta/CP bumps up against something, it is probably an issue that needs to be addressed. But as Elyssa Patrick told me, you should always listen to your gut instinct and trust that you know your story best. Don't let your voice get drowned out. If you feel something is important, then keep it, even if your CPs may suggest otherwise. I think this comes easier with practice.
3) Remember that a good CP or beta reader is worth their weight in gold and treat them accordingly. They are taking precious time and energy to give you thoughtful feedback on your work, so honor that and reciprocate. They do it because they believe in you, see your potential, so always remember that too. They wouldn't push you otherwise. They're their to hold your hand, let you vent, and give you a kick in the ass when you need it. I appreciate Adele, Liana, Lenora, Laura, and many others who've read my work for this reason.
I admit all this is easier said than done. Remember how I sent my novella out for critique? Well the emails have been coming back and I am in the process of taking it all in. Luckily, none of them told me flat out "This is a hot mess. You got a lot of work to do!" The consensus seems to be "What you have is good. It's got potential. Here's some ideas on how to make it better." Which was wonderful to hear and a huge relief, but reading all the comments and feedback can still be overwhelming. So I get it! Been there, done that. I've had multiple conversations with writing friends who have all helped me keep perspective and told me I could do it.
I'll leave you with this final thought. The measure of a good writer is not sheer natural talent. It's about persistence and perseverance. The writer who keeps their butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard, willing to do the hard work, who keeps writing and submitting after multiple rejections, who constantly strive to improve, those are the writers who succeed. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "If you're going through hell, keep going." In other words, the only way out is through. Take a deep breath, believe in yourself, and keep going. You got this!
And remember what Tessa Dare told us in Romancing the Duke: DOUBT NOT!