Saturday, November 27, 2010
Writing semipublically is about the most ego destroying activity that I could possible participate in. When I started writing, I received about forty nine form letters and one personalized rejection letters for ever one acceptance. Through years of practice, honing my craft and researching markets I have managed to change my acceptance rate to about one in twelve submissions. As a matter of course, I have developed a thick skin. I like to believe I have a thick skin, but I am constantly being reminded of just how much that my armor is partial and prone to failure.
On thursday some of my closest friends are going to rip apart my first novel Mortal Song. I get to see just how effective my ego shielding has grown. Oh joy.
I am incredibly excited to hear my friend's critique of the book. But... I am nervous. Making art is hard. Hearing that your art sucks is harder, especially if what is actually said is something much softer but you perceived only what you are terrified to hear. I do not want to be informed that the last third of the book is great because the unspoken corollary is that the first two thirds blew monkey chunks. I do not want to hear that it reads more like an outline or first draft than anything approaching a publishable manuscript. Essentially, I do not want to be challenged, I do not want rewrite the thing I've already rewritten three or four times. But I am going to ask for this anyway, if this is what my first readers think because all of my 'do not wants' come from the lazy, whiny bit of me. Or the lazy, whiny significant portion of me. Whatever. I am asking for this because I need to hear it. I am asking for this because even though I choose writing as my art of choice because it seemed the one that afforded the most solitary, ego fufilling control no novel I know of is ever the product of just one dude. Every book I know of and respect was read, reacted to, rewritten, edited, proofed and god only know what else before I ever saw it. And I have to do the same to my work even if I would much prefer to hear that I was God's gift to the english language.
I have -to some degree- learned to tell this irksome lazeabout voice in my head to shut the hell up and I am grateful for this. There is work that needs doing.
I am lucky to be getting critical feddback from people I trust and like, but I have developed the necessary skill to listen to people that I am not fond of whatsoever. I will admit that -reluctantly- I have learned very important lessons from people I thought were douches. This is perhaps the most degrading way to learn but hey, not every bit of wisdom is candy coated just the way you like.
At least this isn't the case for thursday.
Still, there is one aspect of the process I still struggle with. As I mentioned, making art is hard. Getting criticized is harder. But all of that is simple to the greatest challenge: knowing what advice to ignore. On the one hand, critique is very often contradictory: some editors want it longer, some want it shorter, some want more unicorns and some never found the unicorn faeries believable in the first place (I was particularly frustrated by editor feedback about 'I am Moloch' where literally every editor suggested different changes... but such is life.)
But barring contradictions, there is some advice I will disagree with and do my best to ignore. Agents, professional authors and editors get a free pass: I will defer to their greater experience on the matter 99% of the time. Everybody else well... you probably have good advice, I will definately adress concerns that I am getting consistently, I will listen politely to everything else and act on it if I agree but in the end I am responsible for the work and you aren't and I will keep my own counsel. Thankfully, I don't think anyone (yet) has read multiple drafts of my work (except my long suffering wife). I guess the advantage is that my first readers won't know if I followed their advice or not. (Of course I gave my fiendish plan away now... so there is that.)
The difficulty is, how do I tell the difference between honestly disagreeing with someone who is trying to help me and allowing a surge of ego to blind me to something I don't want to listen to but can improve the work.
I will let you know when I master that last bit.