Here’s a confession, Dear Readers.
Every time I show my work to someone new, I’m afraid they’re going to tell me to keep my day job.
So you might understand how I was feeling before my masterclass with Jack Whyte.
For those of you not familiar with the epic fantasy writer, the man pulls no punches. He is as hilarious as he is brutal.
And for three hours, he was going to be tearing through manuscript pages submitted by other writers…and encouraging us to tear into each other’s. Yikes!
But I was willing to risk it all–my sanity, my self-esteem, my unwavering certainty that I was put on this earth to tell stories–to fix the first chapter of Dragonfly Summer. A friend’s agent had dismissed it, saying that “it had no voice”, which was devastating because I’d never had a problem with voice before. And I had no idea how to fix it. Whenever I tried, I would invariably make it worse.
I was really curious to see what Jack and the other writers would make of my story. (But I also secretly sort of hoped we’d run out of time before he got to mine.)
Jack began by telling us how much stronger our writing would be if we stopped using adverbs in dialogue attribution. He then went on to say one of the day’s submissions had three of these “bad adverbs” on the first page. Uh-oh. (At least I knew it wasn’t me–I took Stephen King’s admonishment never to use them seriously.)
To my surprise, the first manuscript critiqued–the one with the offensive adverbs–belonged to a woman who was at the conference as a professional editor.
“In my defense, I didn’t edit this,” she said.
“In my defense, it needed it,” he said.
It got worse from there. I certainly wasn’t feeling any less scared. At some points, I was ready to crawl under my chair. And after watching the editor argue against every single aspect of her critique, I was reluctant to comment on other manuscripts unless there was something really glaring no one else caught.
Mine was the thirteenth out of fourteen.
One woman said, “I love the cheekiness of it. You immediately get a sense of who this character is. I like her.”
A young police officer who writes crime fiction agreed. “It’s got a very strong voice.”
There was that word. I couldn’t believe it. I asked if I could say something, and told them the story of my friend’s agent.
In response, Jack told me about his first book. He was rejected by all the agents in Canada and the high-ranking ones in the US. That book went on to sell over a million copies in Canada alone.
“Don’t listen to an agent. It’s only one person’s opinion,” he said. “If they could write a great book, they wouldn’t be agents, would they?”
And then he said the words that made all the difference.
“There’s not a damn thing wrong with your voice.”
I wish I could bottle this feeling: the euphoria of having someone solve a mystery that has plagued me for over two years. The joy of making new writer friends (I’ve connected with three already–one that I hope will edit my work and one I know is already becoming a good friend), and the shared sense of excitement and inspiration.
But most of all, I wish I had a recording of Jack Whyte reading my first page in his wonderful Scottish brogue. That is a moment I hope I’ll always remember.