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October 2, 2012
Many of the writers were told to go ahead and submit their full manuscripts. Joy!
Even more, though, had flaws and mistakes pointed out in their summaries and synopses…things that needed to change before the story would be considered.
The flaws included such fixable things as:
- the manuscript was 20,000 words too short for the genre
- the manuscript was told from an unworkable POV
- the plot sagged instead of rising to a recognizable climax
- the historical setting didn’t sound authentic
Reactions and Responses
What I found most interesting were the writers’ responses to the news that their manuscripts had flaws that needed work.
They included many reactions:
- Some denied that there was any big need for revision. They decided to ignore the editor’s or agent’s comments. Every writer except one was an unpublished writer too, so I’m not sure what they were basing their denial on.
- Some writers admitted that the flaw was there–a few had already guessed it–but they took the news so personally that their self-esteem was flattened. They left the conference depressed–not a good state for revising.
- Some defended their mistake or flaw. One writer who had pitched an idea for a genre that the editor didn’t publish argued that they should! She defended her choice of publisher, claiming that they needed to think outside the box.
Yes, it’s hard to hear that your idea needs a major overhaul to be publishable. None of us enjoys hearing that. What’s the answer? Eric Maisel in Fearless Creating says this:
“What are any of us to do? Abandon the work or complete it, learn from the experience, cry, forgive ourselves, and move on…Now dry your eyes. There’s work to be done.”
Yes, it’s true that editors, agents and publishers can be wrong. We love to hear such stories of rejected manuscripts that went on to publication (with no change) and hit bestseller status–even becoming classics.
However, says Nava Atlas in The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life:
“There are certainly many other instances in which writers refuse to take any constructive criticism and cling to the notion that their freshman efforts are brilliant and beyond reproach. This creates a ‘me versus them’ mindset that’s never constructive.”
What if you’re willing to fix your writing mistakes, but you don’t know how? What if you freeze or block at the revision an agent or editor has requested? These words from award-winning Elizabeth George in Write Away might point the way for you:
“Why do [writers] reach sudden dead ends? Why do they become afflicted by the dread writer’s block? I believe it’s because they … don’t have enough craft in their repertoire. Put another way, they have no toolbox to root through to repair a mistake in the house they’re trying to build.”
You may not have the right tools in your toolbox, but you can get them. (Example: if your problem is the story lacking conflict or a climax, study books on plotting until you figure out the problem.)
How About You?
I’m curious. What do YOU do when you get the “fix this” message about your fiction?
Do you have any tips or special survival strategies for this?
[Be sure to read the great tips in the comments section posted by some much-published writers!]
October 3, 2011
Critiques are very valuable, but in the end, you have to be the judge of your own stories. You have to believe in your own writing. And trust me, negative critiques come to everyone.
I was reminded of such a case when my granddaughter was here overnight recently and wanted to watch two Narnia movies we have on DVD. I was pulled into the magic of the stories again right along with her. I love C.S. Lewis‘ books, both his adult works and those for children.
Going Beyond Criticism
He’s probably most famous among children’s writers for his Chronicles of Narnia books (and now movies). Surely his books were well received from the beginning, right? No–his critique partner (none other than J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame) didn’t like it.
From C.S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands: The Story of His Life with Joy Davidman: “When Jack [C.S. Lewis] had completed his story about four children who discover a magic wardrobe and, through it, find a way into the land of Narnia, he showed it to Tolkien, who was unimpressed. Feeling, perhaps, that Jack had aimed rather more at achieving an effect than at creating an Other World of the kind he was writing about in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien told him that ‘It really won’t do, you know!’ Jack was discouraged and put the book to one side for a while before returning to it and rewriting the first few chapters. However, he still felt uncertain about whether it was any good or not, and decided to ask the advice of someone else.”
Thankfully the second person he asked was more enthusiastic. Jack then went on to complete this book, which became the first Narnia book: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
What about you? Do you have a story that still resonates with you–but you put it away because someone didn’t care for it? I do. And I’ve dug out both unfinished novels to look at again.
While it’s good to get outside feedback, don’t let negative feedback be the deciding factor. If you do, you just might deprive the world of stories that will inspire for generations.
July 22, 2011
During the 1988 Jamboree encampment of 32,000 Boy Scouts, one troop (38 Scouts) led the entire Jamboree in cuts treated at the medical tent.
The huge number of nicks from busy knives sounded negative until someone toured the camp and saw the unique artistic walking sticks each boy in that troop had made. They led the entire encampment in other kinds of games, too.
Wounds simply mean that you’re in the game. It’s true for Boy Scouts–and it’s true for writers as well.
I know an excellent writer who has revised a book for years–but won’t submit it, even though everyone who has read it feels the book is ready. What benefit does she get from that? She never has to face rejection. She never has to hear an editor say, “This is good–but it needs work.” She never has to read a bad review of her book, or do any speaking engagements to promote her work, or learn how to put together a website.
She will also never feel the exhilaration of holding her published book in her hands. She won’t get letters from children who tell her how much her book means to them and has helped them. She won’t get a starred review or win an award or do a book signing. She won’t move on and write a second (and third and fourth) book.
Paying the Price
If you want to be a writer, you have to get into the game and risk a few wounds. Figure out ways to bandage them and recover from them, but don’t be afraid of getting them. They’re simply a sign that you’re a writer. Wear the battle scars proudly!
What part(s) of the writing life make you want to stay on the sidelines and out of the line of fire?
April 8, 2011
We don’t like to talk about quitting or giving up on our dreams. But let’s be honest. Will every wannabe writer eventually land big contracts, snag a well-known NY agent, and be sent on ten-city book tours? No.
Maybe your dreams are more modest, but you’ve worked at breaking into publishing for years. Should you continue the struggle? For how long? How do you know when to quit?
Asking the Wrong Question
I came across an excellent discussion from a blog post that is several years old, but the advice is timeless. Called “When to Quit,” it’s a lengthy article by Scott Young on this subject. I hope you’ll read it to the end.
One factor the article said to consider was how you feel on a day-to-day basis as you pursue your dream. How is the process affecting your life, your character, your growth? “So if you are pursuing your dream and you don’t think you are going to make it, the question of whether or not to quit doesn’t depend on your chance of success. The real question is whether pursuing this dream is causing you to grow. Does this path fill you with passion and enthusiasm? Do you feel alive?”
You may not agree with all his views, but I guarantee that the article will make you think–even if you have no intention of quitting. It might lead you to make a course correction however. And it will make you evaluate why you’re pursuing your particular dream–and that’s always a good thing!
If you have a minute, give me your reactions to the ideas in his article.
August 20, 2010
If a friend from your critique group told you ”I just can’t get started on my story today,” what would you say? “Get moving, you lazy do-nothing wannabe!” I hope not!
If your writing friend bemoans receiving another rejection, do you say, “Well, what did you expect? Your novel stinks!”?
I would hope not. Most of us are better friends than that…except to ourselves.
Your Own Best Friend
Listen to how you talk to yourself. When you procrastinate, do you beat yourself up? Do you call yourself names? And to paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” Does it spur you on to do your best writing–or to give up and eat a pint of ice cream?
When you receive a rejection, do you downgrade your writing? Do you tell yourself that publishing is just a pipe dream, that it’s for others but not for you?
Do you say things to yourself that you would NEVER say to a writer friend?
Time to STOP!
Learn to tell yourself the truth–but with kindness. Be a mirror that reflects back understanding. If you got off course, gently encourage yourself back on the writing path you want to travel.
- You’re so lazy that you’ll never get anything written and published.
- No editor or agent will ever read your novel, much less publish it!
- You only have friends on Facebook because they don’t really know you.
Say this instead:
- You may have trouble getting started because you’re afraid of something. Try journaling to get to the bottom of it.
- You may (or may not) find an editor who loves your novel–but you’ll never know if you don’t keep sending it out. Let’s try one more time.
- Many people in your real life know you and love you. Make a list. Be thankful for each person on the list.
Be That Good Friend
The next time you stall or hit a rough spot in your work, talk to yourself like a true friend would. Be kind, be understanding, give some praise, and encourage yourself to try again.
You can be your own best friend.
August 2, 2010
You meet an editor or agent in an elevator or the banquet line. They turn to you and ask, “What’s your book about? Why are you the person to write it?”
Which One Is You?
Do you give a confident 30-second talk summarizing your book’s main points and why you’re the only one who could do the project justice?
Do you say, “You know, that’s a good question. I’m a lousy writer! Who do I think I am anyway, masquerading as a writer? It’s a dumb book idea.”
Of course you don’t spout that second example!
And yet, many writers do that very thing to themselves every day. That evil little voice in your head or over your shoulder whispers, “That’s a stupid idea” or “That’s been done before–and a lot better” or “You’re never going to finish that story.” And like agreeable little twits, we nod and tell ourselves, “This is a dumb idea. I’m never going to finish this. This concept was done last year–and a whole lot better!”
Then, discouraged for another day, we head for the ice cream.
Pitch It to Yourself!
The name “elevator pitch” means a short speech you have ready for that opportune moment when you can market yourself or your book idea to someone that might buy it. Every day–even many times a day–you need to pitch your writing project and yourself TO YOURSELF.
How are you going to sell your story idea to yourself? What elevator pitch can you give to yourself when you’re surprised, not by an agent or editor in the elevator, but by your own nagging questions?
- When “voice in the head” says, “This is just too hard!”
- You say, “I have done many hard things in my life. I can do one more difficult thing.”
- When “voice in the head” says, “There’s too much going on in your life for you to write now”
- You say, “Writing is at the top of my To-Do list because it’s important!”
- When “voice in the head” says, “Editors and agents scare me!”
- You say, “Even when I feel anxious, I can act like a professional.”
- When “voice in the head” says, “I can’t write because I can’t tolerate rejections”
- You say, “NOT writing is the only rejection that matters. It’s a rejection of my dreams. I can write a little each day.”
Write Your Own Now
Take a few moments today and write at least three elevator pitches of your own, counter-acting the voice in your head. Write the pitches on cards and tape them to your computer. When the “voice” badgers you the next time, read one of your cards OUT LOUD. Several times.
And if you’re feeling very brave, add an elevator pitch in the comments section (up to three pitches) that you can begin pitching to yourself today!
July 19, 2010
In 1953 a fledgling business called Rocket Chemical Company set out to create a rust-prevention solvent for use in the aerospace industry. It took them 40 attempts to get the formula right.
Voila! WD-40, which stands for Water Displacement, 40th attempt.
I find that inspiring! What if they’d given up on number 39? Then I wouldn’t have my favorite solution for unsticking locks and making my sliding glass doors actually slide.
WD-40 Your Manuscripts
No, don’t spray the greasy mist on your manuscript. But do take the WD-40 as your slogan. Don’t stop submitting until you also have tried many, many times!
In order to spur myself on to submit several book manuscripts that I had “retired” after just two rejections, yesterday I was reading in Ralph Keyes’ The Writer’s Book of Hope. I was encouraged by some very famous “WD-40″ kinds of authors who would have remained nameless if they’d given up so early.
- Despite being represented by a top literary agent and being read by prominent editors, John Knowles’s A Separate Peace was rejected by every major American publisher who saw it. (It was published in London.)
- Other famous books that went through multiple rejects include: Look Homeward, Angel; Love Story; A Wrinkle in Time; All Things Bright and Beautiful and many other novels that became classics and continue to sell decades later.
- Twenty major publishers thought Chicken Soup for the Soul had no commercial prospects, despite the authors being experienced speakers and aggressive marketers.
- Stephen King’s first four novels and sixty short stories were rejected.
Having your work turned down is no fun, and I won’t sing the praises of being rejected. I hate it too. But we must come to terms with it, accept it as part of the writing life, accept criticism if it has merit, and get on with it.
A Necessary Part
And now…in the spirit of the inventers of WD-40, I’m off to submit my manuscripts another 38 times.
[I'm curious about you. 'Fess up. How many rejections do you get on a manuscript before you give up on it?]