Oops, I did it again. Almost.
Right on the heels of a post about how I let one negative comment stymie me, I nearly did it again.
I had a blue pencil session today. For those not in the know, a blue pencil session is when another writer or editor critiques your work.
For my session I chose a mystery writer with nine published books. I haven’t read a lot of her work, but what I’ve read so far reminds me of early Mary Higgins Clark.
I won’t go into the gory details, but she told me something that had me convinced my novel needed a massive rewrite that would result in the deletion of at least a hundred pages.
I felt like crying, but not for the reasons you may expect. I was relieved.
I knew there was something wrong with this book! Finally, someone had told me what the problem was. And how to fix it.
Or had she?
Unable to contain my emotion, I called The Boy. Instead of being delighted about this amazing leap forward, he was skeptical.
As we talked, I began to second-guess my delight about the feedback I’d received.
One of the issues she had with my novel is it starts in one setting, and because of some big events in the main character’s life, moves to another. The writer’s argument was that my story had to stay in one place. I couldn’t introduce the reader to my protagonist in one location, surrounded by one set of people, and then move her to another place, where she is surrounded by completely different people.
The Boy pointed out that a few other novels manage to do this successfully. For example, a little-known book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. How different would that story have been if JK Rowling had started it at Hogwart’s?
Then I realized other things…
- The writer was suggesting changes that would have made my story more like her writing style; and
- Other people who had the same writer for a blue pencil session right before me were devastated by her critiques; and
- This writer reviews crime fiction for a newspaper.
While I do think my book needs some work, if I blindly follow her suggestions, it would be no better than thinking I have problems with voice because that’s what one agent said.
When I met Jack Whyte at the book-signing session later, he complimented me again on my writing. I jokingly told him about my blue pencil session.
“And then you’ll get an editor who will tell you to put those hundred pages right back in,” he said.
At the time, I thought his comment was specific to epic fantasy, but now I get what he was really trying to tell me. Everyone is going to have a different opinion of my work.
“How do you know when you’re good enough?” I asked him.
“When an editor asks you to put the hundred pages back in,” he laughed. “I told you before. I just wrote a book that is either the best thing I’ve ever written or complete crap–I have no idea. That never goes away.
You never know.”
That’s the scariest thing about writing. You need to have faith in your own ability to tell your stories your way–and you need to keep that faith even when readers, book reviewers, agents, editors, publishers, critics, book clubs, well-meaning friends, and writer’s groups tell you you’re wrong.
And faith–believing in something that can’t be seen or proven–is mighty hard to achieve.
But I’ll keep trying.
What other choice do I have?