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I'm writing this mostly for myself, but I also have the audacity to think that it might be interesting to other writers who have to deal with feedback from readers. Because even though there's no doubt that feedback is necessary to improve writing and sharpen stories, you're also dealing with a bundle of emotions that can be hard to handle.

So, I'm in the process of rewriting my novel. To assist me I have a lot of excellent notes by two sharp and conscientious readers. One has given me line notes and short, overall pointers, the other reader has provided me with a thorough overall critique of the things the reader didn't understand. They're an immense help and will make revisions much easier, especially for those things that the readers agree upon – those will have to be changed.

But logic only takes me so far. I'm an insecure man at heart, often doubting my own worth and the worth of my writing. I've had some of these notes lying around over the summer, and yet I'm anxious to look at them. Yes, they are the tools of my trade, but they also spark a lot of emotions in me that a hammer will never provoke in a carpenter. And emotions, I find, are both a curse and a necessity when you deal with writing.

So, here are a few of my anxiety generators:
·        There's no clear indication from my readers that this is a smash work that will conquer the bookshelves everywhere. And so what, you could say. I could even say so myself—it's only my second novel, and there are worse fates for a poor manuscript than ending up in a drawer. BUT I WANT THIS TO BE A SMASH HIT and it's not, and who knows if it'll ever be, and what if I've been wasting my time and no one will ever look at it again...
·        There are more things here that the readers don't understand than I expected to encounter. In fact, sometimes I feel that half the points I'm making haven't registered with the reader(s). So when I face certain criticisms I find myself divided between rewriting entire chapters and ignoring everything out of spite because-I-know-better-darnit.
·        The main character is a pretty ordinary guy with no special skills. He has real trouble, though, and real motivations, and still he comes over as 'vanilla' in a spicy world to my readers, and I fear that's going to kill the story's chances of publication. I chose his non-special-skill status specifically because I think main characters don't have to be superheroes or young adults with special powers (or ultra-pale boyfriends), but I'm agonizing over this at the moment. Should I make him more swag? Should he be a provocative sum-bits who should never have set foot in a courtroom. Or should he simply be what most people are, even in fantasy worlds: A normal man going about his business?

I don't have the perfect answer to dealing with all this, but there's one thing I know I have to do when revising: I have to be conscious of my feelings. I have to know if I'm annoyed with a comment because it hurts my pride or because it's factually wrong. I have to know when I'm so scared of failure that I feel like deleting an entire chapter – or when I'm so afraid of failure that I gloss over the critique and pretend everything in a scene is just hunky-dory.

Working through the novel will help tip the balance towards a better, more believable, and hopefully more enjoyable story. That's what revisions are all about, and I'll do it to the very best of my ability.  But hell, it's not easy.

So my advice, should you ever find yourself in the same situation, is to be prepared to face your feelings and think about how they influence you while you improve your story. Because they're part of the game, and ignoring them will only make the revision harder.

And please, if you have anything to share about revisions and emotions, I'd be delighted to read it. 

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
threeoutside
Sep. 3rd, 2013 03:12 pm (UTC)
Oh, how it hurts when the Monsters go after your baby! Feelings ALL too familiar. I look forward to reading this book about the un-spectacular guy! But, you know, most ordinary people (like us) do have some particular things they do very well, either just because of a personality trait (like empathy) or because they have a special interest (say, carpentry). And when a person knows an area very well, it's not at all unusual that their intimate knowledge and expertise in that area, radiates outward into other aspects of life. Even concrete knowledge, like carpentry, can provide insight into non-concrete aspects of life. That's where metaphors come from, and think about the ordinary people you've known who are deeply wise about life. Chances are they have practiced some art or craft, like cooking or farming, all their lives, and it's from that knowledge and experience their wisdom comes.

These are pretty mild-mannered examples (and very generalized, too) I've given, but if you want an "edgier" character, the principle still applies. Mistakes and accidents and their consequences, as a person learns that expertise, can have a sharpening effect on one's personality and a darkening effect on one's reactions to the world. Not to mention the impacts that the actions of others have on us.

Hang in there! You don't have to tack pre-digested labels onto a character to make them stand out, and cause readers to root for them!
jakobdrud
Sep. 3rd, 2013 07:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the reminder about 'ordinary people'. The main character certainly has useful skills - among other things, he's a salesman and very diplomatic - and he brings that to good use. But it's that thing about showing it in his world view that can be improved, so that's on my plate for now.

And just to be clear, I don't think of my readers as monsters. More like two Jedi masters who are annoyingly right most of the time ;-)
("Use the right spelling you must.")
threeoutside
Sep. 3rd, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, I knew you didn't! But the Feels aren't always fair or rational, are they?
jakobdrud
Sep. 4th, 2013 08:53 am (UTC)
You're absolutely right, the feels can be fierce adversaries if you don't make your peace with them.
bogwitch64
Sep. 3rd, 2013 04:04 pm (UTC)
Separate. That is the best advice I can give you, and the hardest to actually use. You are not your story. Your story is not the whole of your talent. It is a story. ONE story. If you look at it any other way, you are dooming yourself whether the thing goes viral, or sits in a drawer.

You know my motto is "modesty is for suckers," but the lesser known half of that motto is "but vainglory is for fools." Don't get any more attached to the success than you do the failures. Think of darling Jo Rowling after her Harry Potter success, and the not-so-stellar books that have followed. See what I mean?

Use the notes from your readers, but do not sacrifice your "aesthetic." You know what's right and what's wrong. You do. TRUST that you do. If both readers didn't understand a bit, consider that you need to come at it a different way, not necessarily do away with it altogether.

Whether you agree or disagree with ANY reader, it will make you think. It will make you SEE differently. Use that to better your work, not necessarily change it.

Good luck, love.
jakobdrud
Sep. 3rd, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the support :-) I am not my story. Good advice that I'll be happy to repeat to myself a couple of times. My key to actually following it is to know when I'm feeling vain or confused, so I'm already halfway there.

It also helps that I've revised over 50 short stories, making it easier to think of the story as the product instead of My Baby! It just surprised me how actively I have to work with my feelings about the feedback this time.

And I know the comments are pure gold. I just have to mint it the right way.

jongibbs
Sep. 4th, 2013 12:46 am (UTC)
'if you have anything to share about revisions and emotions. . .

Don't forget to have fun, especially when what you're doing isn't ;)
jakobdrud
Sep. 4th, 2013 08:54 am (UTC)
Revisions AND fun?

Next blog post: Revising while roller-skating.
jongibbs
Sep. 4th, 2013 09:22 am (UTC)
How can you not have fun making your story even better? :)
jakobdrud
Sep. 4th, 2013 10:49 am (UTC)
I was attempting a joke, but actually I don't think of revisions as 'fun'. The results are rewarding, and I think of the process as a kind of puzzle solving, which I find absorbing. But maybe that's a kind of fun as well?
jongibbs
Sep. 4th, 2013 03:18 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! :)
glynisj
Sep. 4th, 2013 12:49 am (UTC)
I understand a little about how you feel. An online friend was critiquing my blog posts (memoirs) for a short time. Although the feedback was good and I'm grateful, I felt like my writer's ego got a punch in the eye. It definitely didn't feel good.

Probably this post you've written will help sooth your wounds so that you'll do a terrific job on the rewrite.
jakobdrud
Sep. 4th, 2013 08:55 am (UTC)
Exactly - the important part is to not let the ego get in the way. I'm working on it ;-)
jennygordon
Sep. 4th, 2013 07:57 am (UTC)
I find that a key part of the revision process is putting my ego in a pickle jar, and parking it on a high shelf. That way, I'm far better able to view feedback (relatively) dispassionately, and to seperate out what is useful for my story, and what doesn't work so well for me.

Something I struggled with during the feedback stage of SeaNovel was that I received such helpful feedback, and so many interesting thoughts from my readers, that I lost sight of the core of MY book when I came to rewrite. I was so busy trying to incorporate all the fabulous ideas that I lost sight of the heart of the book I wanted to create.

I realised in time and started afresh, asking myself what is the HEART of MY book.

I think this is key. Your book is not you, but the HEART of your book is something only you know. THAT'S the part you need to remain true to. Everything else is negotiable.

But more than anything, don't forget to have fun!
jakobdrud
Sep. 4th, 2013 09:00 am (UTC)
Locking the old ego away will be a big help. I still have to rethink how much I'm going to change the setting based on the feedback, but somehow, a couple of questions resolved themselves overnight. I now have several ideas how to explain things without cluttering the world with too much information.
jennygordon
Sep. 5th, 2013 07:14 am (UTC)
Hurrah! Glad some solutions have presented themselves already. I usually find that allowing some time to let feedback or questions 'settle' helps, and is more constructive than trying to think about it immediately.
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