Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 14, 2015

Careful

After years of writing without seeing a book land on shelves, I’m happy to have a new book in the world and two others on their way. But I still have work in earlier stages of progress to tend to. I love the generosity of early drafts, how they offer a place where mistakes are welcome. And I like the word-fixing of final drafts, the excitement of seeing a story head to new readers. I recently sent a book to a copy editor after some dwelling on whether it was okay to write “Ho, gluepots,” instead of “Ho, glue pots.” And making sure that the ten children in a family stuck to their proper ages during the narrative’s course of years. But those drafts in between that are good enough to show someone else, but still mistake-ridden? Well. I was just reminded of how fragile those can be.

Last month I gave some pages to a reader, who was underwhelmed. I shrugged. There are many, many stories, and people have different tastes. I knew some of what I wrote needed fixing, and I was pretty sure I could do that. I put away the notes to tend to other work. But now that’s that done, the manuscript which is not so very far from done was still sitting there. I had another book to work on. But last night when my husband asked, “When am I going to see that book with magic you’re writing?” I said it might not be till summer. I told him I was thinking of working on something else.

But his interest reawakened the interest in me. Only then did I realize the lackluster response hurt more than I showed with my shrugs and qualifications. Our writing is always tender. We have to be careful who we show it to – but still, we need to send it from our desks. Every response can teach us something, and covering our eyes and ears is rarely a good way to learn. We have to seek outside opinions if we want our book to reach others, and it means we have to have a somewhat tough skin. Various forms of rejection are part of this work. Barbs or stumbling blocks can come in many forms, such as ignorance, unkindness, or truth. Sometimes it takes a while to unwind those strands, particularly if they’re tangled.

tulips

Spurred by Peter’s kind question, not to mention his tulips, I realized I’d been circling my own manuscript with fear, and had to ask myself why. Sometimes blocked doesn’t look like blocked. We can call it busy. We may turn to another project and call that choice. Maybe it is. But it can pay to take a closer look at what we’ve left in files or drawers.

I hope all of you have someone in your life who will ask, “What’s happening with that book you told me about?” It’s one reason those writing dates, meeting for coffee and complaints, are important: often someone will remind you that they’re waiting and that there’s more than one opinion on a work. It can be wise to look back and consider what happened when we put aside a story we once loved. I get out the index cards, heat up the coffee, and light a pine scented candle. I’m telling myself what I’d tell friends: You can do this.

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Responses

  1. Jeannine, this is very eloquent. And as a sometimes-writer but more-recent painter myself, I relate to your feelings around avoidance, judgements, courage, support, and more. I notice I “circle around” my canvases at times and need to ask myself why. Although we do what we do for the joy it brings us, it is work and we do hope someone out there will love it enough to buy it. So, I dig out the unfinished paintings, light a jasmine candle and make a cup of tea… or in some cases, pour a glass of wine!
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks for commenting, Laurie. It is good to have company both circling and remembering a time comes to pause and make another mark. Lifting a wine glass to your process and accomplishments!

  2. It definitely helps to have more than one critique partner, so that the opinions can balance each other out or confirm their truth.

    I won’t show early drafts to just anyone. Like you, I am careful when I am still exploring. When I show something early to my critique group, I tell them that, and ask specific questions. (Is it too slow here? Does this make sense?)
    I’ve only had one truly hurtful response, and I learned something from that, too (that I wouldn’t want this person as my agent).

    • Yes, in my very trusted critique group, there are three voices — if all agree, I’m pretty much going to follow along, but if there are conflicting opinions, that helps me to think something through.

      And I agree, even in hurtful responses there’s usually something to be learned — if only, as you suggest, that here’s someone to stay away from. That does happen, and it’s tough. In my situation it was a one time thing — and yet there were some valuable take-aways besides the feeling of being a bit pushed into a wall I didn’t know was there.

  3. Having trusted family or friends read your manuscript is priceless. The lovely thing about it was building on those relationships during the reading process. The comments were most helpful, even the ones that stung a little. But that’s what makes writing good instead of mediocre – – that pushing and prodding, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth – – but in the end it makes up for a far greater product. I’ve had people tell me that it took a lot of courage to send my work out to be critiqued but to me it was just a matter of course. You are so to have your network of critics eagerly waiting for your writing plus a husband who supports you so much. I have that same good fortune.

    • Yes, we are lucky to have these trusted readers. But I think you should own that you are courageous as friends tell you. Yes, showing the work is wise. It must be done. But some get stopped by fear and you did not not. Jo March would approve!

      • I don’t know, I guess I see it as an opportunity for growth, you know, to do your best work. It’s worth a little pain. 🙂

        • It takes courage to move through the pain and grow.

  4. I have an awful lot of manuscripts to attend to. Thanks you for this post.

    • You have a lot of gorgeous manuscripts that need what only you can give. I expect they’re very close to being their full manuscripty-selves. I hope you make/let that happen!

  5. I love that Peter asked, and I love that it sparked your re-attention! You are so right about fragility and how others’ interest and enthusiasm are often the fuel we need. We NEED people on this journey! That’s what it’s all about. xo

    • I’m so grateful you are part of my journey, *kind* Irene. Thank you, and happy holidays!

  6. Exquisitely written and ever so true. Thank you for this reminder. I have tears in my eyes!

    • Thank you, and wishing you fresh inspiration, which I expect is closer than you think.

  7. This post just touched my heart, Jeannine. Sharing our creations is a step into the unknown and always feels like a new part of the adventure. And what a journey it is! The project I’m working on is very different than my fiction writing in that I need lots of feedback to understand different perspectives than my own. Sometimes I need to take a deep breath and shake out my attachment to certain things. Like you so beautifully put it, each response can teach us something. So true. And who would want to miss out on that!
    I’m so glad Peter is reminding you to revisit your story. ❤

    • Lorraine, it’s always great to connect with you. Yes, different projects ask for different points of view. I’m glad you’re finding the right breaths to move forward. Wishing you all good things in the year ahead.

  8. Reblogged this on Jennifer M Eaton and commented:
    This is a great article.

    This very thing happened to me just last night when my teenage son asked about the book I wrote and abandoned about three years ago because I realized I wasn’t talented enough to do the story justice.

    Listening to him fanboy all over the story, and point out how he thought it was better than the NYT bestseller he just finished (I don’t know about all that) – but anyway, it really got me thinking about that story again, and wondering if I’d learned enough about writing to re-envision that epic tale.

    I’m trying NOT to think about it until I get my current WIP done, but the story is very much on my mind again.

    • I’m glad you found something useful here, and wishing you smooth-as-possible paths on what somewhat-abandoned and current project. Enjoy that treasure of a son!


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