Picture the situation. It’s writing group. You have read out your work to fellow writers and now you are sitting back waiting for the feedback. You’re nervous naturally; none of us find it easy to take what we perceive as criticism, but in general you think that what you’ve brought isn’t too bad. There are of course one or two tweaks you know you should make, but it works well, or does it?
According to the group, there are flaws, quite major ones. A character does not convince, a historical piece contains glaring anachronisms, the dialogue is clumsy, the sex scenes risible. At this point you are desperate to defend your work. “Yes but…” you begin.
Now occasionally even the best of groups have missed the point and justification is in order, but more usually they are right and you are wrong. Face it. Nothing is ever perfect and first drafts, which is what you should be offering up to scrutiny are, and should be, full of things that you as the writer have not noticed, or taken on board.
The moment you open your mouth and start the “yes but” sentence you have closed off your critical faculty. You’ve backed into a corner, come out all guns blazing rather than thinking clearly and coolly whether your highly experienced fellow writers might have a point.
If you are serious about your writing then you should be pleased that people are taking the time to think about and comment on your work and be grateful for what they say, however much it hurts. Writers in the traditional publishing world, those who have editors and agents are thoroughly and sometimes brutally edited. It’s part of being a professional and it makes for a better book and a better writer.
Everyone can write; physically they can hold a pen or use a computer. A lot of people have great imaginations, or new and exciting things to say. But there is more to writing than this. There is the craft of writing, which involves a knowledge of grammar, a love of words and a need to hone and polish your work until you have produced the best possible piece.
You can’t do this on your own. You need that feedback. If you don’t accept it from your writing group, or an agent, or a publisher the chances are you won’t make it as a professional writer.
Writing is hard work. It’s painful. It can be a boring. It doesn’t bring in much money and it’s not the only job where suffering is part of the package. A ballerina has bleeding toes and frequently goes on stage full of painkillers. Jockeys constantly break their bones, builders end up crippled with arthritis. Writers are haunted by a fear of failure, devastated by rejections, constantly wondering if they will ever be good enough. That is how it is.
It is, however, also addictive and when it goes well it’s incredible. There’s something special about the response of your readers and the feeling that by writing a book you’ve created worlds and characters that have a life of their own.
Which is partly why I can’t stop and why when I’ve finished blogging I’m off to re-write that short story for the third time. Why? Because a fellow writer has pointed out all the things that were wrong with it and if I want the slightest chance of having it accepted for the targeted anthology I know I’d better go and put it right.
Thanks a bunch, Jan.