Writing’s a funny business. The very act itself is a love/hate relationship. When I start a book, I have new ideas swirling in my head, new villains, new worlds to conquer, and I can’t wait to dive in. Somewhere after the first fourth of the book, when the set-up’s done and the middle is setting in, I doubt myself. Do I have a strong enough conflict to push to the finish? Are my characters interacting enough to create emotional tension as well as drive plot points? I stagger through to the novel’s halfway point, and then I’m always sure that I’ve run out of steam. My subplots now look like hideous diversions that will sag under the gravity of too many words. That’s when I play the game of “what if?” What if something comes at my protagonist that I, as his creator, never saw coming? What if he takes a wrong turn, hits a wall, wants to give up? Just like I do about now. I don’t like this book anymore. What started out as fun has become an impossible feat that I’m pretty much sick of. And then I struggle to the last fourth of the book–the wrap-ups of my subplots, the final, big battle, and the short denouement–and all is well. I love this book again. Until I start rewrites.
But that’s just the writing of the book. Now, it’s time to get beat-up, in the nicest possible way. I hold my breath after I’ve made the story as good as I know how to, and then I give it to my critique buddies. Believe me when I tell you, no one catches all of their own mistakes. There are plot holes, that were perfectly there–in my head–but never made it to paper. There’s repetition that drags entire chapters down. There’s awkward wording, “duh” moments, and more. When I get their feedback, it’s time to go through the manuscript again. (I want to stress here, that I’ve had my writing friends for years now–I know when they mark something, I’ve screwed up. But it takes a while to find critique partners who are right for you. A friend wrote in circles for a while, because her partners didn’t know her genre and wanted to change her writing so that it mimicked theirs–not what a critique is for). When I finish fixing that draft, I give the manuscript to my grammar guru who copy edits the whole thing. Then I fix those mistakes (hyphens don’t like me). And finally, I give it to my agent. And there are always more things to fix.
Finally, it’s time to put the novel or novella online. And every writer wants readers to buy it, love it, and review it, right? In our fantasies, every reader writes a glowing review of how much they loved the story and our writing. And that is a fantasy. Because it’s never going to happen. People don’t like or look for the same things. Hopefully, more people will like your story than not. But you can’t please everyone. Someone’s going to want more of this, less of that. I’m not a famous writer. I rejoice when I just get a review. I read them, think them over, try to decide if I should change something in the next book. The most helpful reviews, for me, tell me what they liked and what they didn’t. The only reviews that bug me are the ones who give my work one star with no name and no comment. What am I supposed to learn from them? Come to think of it, though, that’s not as bad as my friend–who sells LOTS of books, who got a one-star review with a comment that said, “What a waste of time and money.” That still doesn’t tell a writer what the reader didn’t like. So maybe no comment is better:) (My friend, by the way, had so many five-star reviews, she just shrugged and said, “Can’t win ’em all.” And she’s right. You can’t.)
The thing is, a writer needs to find her balance on a tight rope of listening to people enough to grow and improve and not listening enough to stay true to her own voice/style. I belong to an awesome writers’ group, and new writers come and go. They usually do fine when one of us is reading. They listen to the comments and join in when we go around the table. We often lose them after the first time they read, though. And I understand. Writing is a private endeavor. And as much as all of us want feedback, it’s not always easy to take. Most of us, even the members who’ve been writing for a long time, can get defensive. When it happens to me, the trick is to keep my mouth shut, give myself a few days to digest what failed on a colossal level, and then figure out how to fix it. But my first instinct–and theirs, too–is to defend our work. But if a person doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like it. That doesn’t mean we have to change it. I’d say that if four out of five people tell you something doesn’t work, though…well, you’d better fix it. Reviews are pretty much the same. They can be helpful, but at the end of the day, your writing is yours. And you can’t please everyone.
My final point–as much as feedback can make us doubt ourselves, thank the heavens if you get some good, honest comments. They’re not easy to come by. I am grateful to every reader who goes to the bother to share his/her thoughts about my stories and writing. THANK YOU!