For the past few weeks, I’ve been driving my husband mad.
Text from me late morning at work: “Has the post arrived?”
Reply from him: “Yes. No MS.”
Text from me: “Grrr”
It got to the point where he’d pre-empt my question and text me as soon as the postman had been. Then the news I’d finally been waiting for arrived at 11.31am on Thursday: “The manuscript has landed!!” Only problem was, I was out for the day at a local play park/petting zoo with my seven-year-old. And I didn’t think she’d appreciate me saying, “I know we’ve only been here for 45 minutes and you haven’t fed the lambs or handled a guinea pig yet but we’re going home so mummy can read her critique.” So I stayed. And looked at the lamas. Or are they alpacas? Never really been sure of the difference!
At 3.30pm, I finally convinced her it was time to leave. Even without the MS waiting for me, I’d had my fill and would have been leaving about then anyway so I didn’t feel too guilty.
I eagerly ripped open the jiffy bag, curled up on the sofa … and my heart sank.
It wasn’t what I’d hoped for.
My day job is in learning & development. I coach people for a living. I train them for a living. I develop them. Feedback is something that I give and receive regularly and one of the things I really loved about the two reports I received for book 1 were that they were balanced. Both flagged up improvements that could be made (particularly the 1st one where I was still learning and knew I needed further guidance) but they also had lots of positives about my writing style, my characters, the story, my use of dialogue and so on. I’d expected (and hoped) this year’s report would be similar. But it wasn’t. Before I go any further, I will say that the NWS is an absolutely incredible opportunity and I’ve been so grateful for the feedback during my three years of membership. It is a privilege to receive feedback from experienced published writers and I feel that I’ve been able to take the feedback on book 1 and use it to fine-tune my first novel into something pretty special (I hope!) I don’t think I’d have been able to take it where I’ve taken it without the insight offered by both reviewers.
This year, however, has knocked me. The report was filled with opportunities for improvement and, whilst my reviewer said I had great potential within my storyline, I was left in no doubt that she didn’t think I’d exploited the potential. At all. Did I cry? Did I get mad? No. I just felt completely and utterly deflated. And numb. And that feeling continued for the next two days. For the first time ever in the eleven-and-a-half years since I first had the idea for book 1 and started to write, I seriously questioned what the hell I was doing thinking I could do this. Why was I investing hours and hours of my life in research and writing and submitting and hoping and waiting … when I clearly had no talent whatsoever. My writing pals, The Write Romantics, and I have often likened being an aspiring writer to being on a roller coaster ride. At the weekend, I wanted to stop the ride. I wanted to get off. I’ve never, ever, felt like that until now. I felt lost because, if I did stop the ride, what would I do? My life is writing. I’ve worked everything else round it. I love it. It’s part of me.
By Saturday teatime, I wasn’t feeling much better. The Write Romantics had rallied around and been incredibly supportive as always which helped massively. One of the group, Alex, suggested that I put book 2 and 3 aside and work on something different. I know what my 4th book is going to be about. It’s set in the same fictional town as the trilogy but it features a new cast of characters. She suggested I start to think about them instead. So I went into the spare bedroom and chose myself a new notebook from the huge collection in there (I have a thing for notebooks) and started to create the four characters. It was the best thing I could possibly have done because it was new material so it was exciting. Best of all, it made me start to believe that I could do it.
Last night, I decided to start working through my MS again and was surprised to find little pencil entries like, “Really lovely”, “Nicely expressed,” and “Love it!” Those little scribbles were just what I needed. Whilst my reviewer had focussed on all the improvement areas in the report, there were some things she liked but they were on the MS instead. Phew! Another Write Romantic, Jo, has also suggested that much of the feedback may be as a result of going blind into book 2 when there is a prequel. She could be right. My beta readers loved book 2 and are clamouring for book 3 but maybe you need to read book 1 first to feel this way. Alex hasn’t read book 1 so she’s going to beta read book 2 for me and Jo (who has read both) has asked an avid reader friend of hers to do the same. It will be interesting to hear their views and compare them to the critique.
How do I feel a few days on? I’ve asked the fairground operator to slow the ride down but I don’t want to get off it as I love it too much. I just hadn’t realised there would be quite so many bumps in what had seemed like quite a smooth ride until Thursday. I’m going to finish reading book 2 and making some minor tweaks and then I’ll factor in the feedback from Alex and Jo’s friend before I do anything major. Because, as my reviewer said at the very end, it’s only her opinion and, so far, it differs from the opinion of all those who’ve read it so what’s to say it’s the opinion to be listened to. Tricky. Very tricky. Watch this space for more news of where the ride takes me next!