Thursday, January 24, 2008

When to Listen...

Maven Lacey KayeThere are at least three types of critiques in this world. There's the one that you shrug off: a typo or something completely off-the-wall. There's the one that makes you want to scream and beat the other person over the head with your point. And then there's the one that twists your stomach and makes you ill with fear.

I don't have much to say about any of them. I have the least to say about the last one. There doesn't seem to be much one can do when faced with the complete and utter destruction of her book, whether it's due to a pin-sized plot hole that leaks air so stealthily it's nearly impossible to trace, or a story that rambles and writhes and simply won't come out the way it seems in one's head. What about voice? I can think of at least four Mavens who've rewritten most or all of a manuscript because they realized too late they needed to put more dark here, more edgy here, more angst or historical tone there.

Plots: we've replotted entire books to make them make sense. Given TSTL heroes hope for a brighter tomorrow. Deleted reams and reams of subplots that weren't worth the ink it took to print them. Come up with tighter, more saleable books, better characters, and killer hooks.

It can be done. I know it can be done. But it's exhausting work. One wants to believe it never happens to other people. That everyone else writes perfect books the first time around--or, at least, marginally excellent books that require only mild editing.

It's not true, of course. In my head, I know it's not true. But when I think about dismantling a story to build it back up again, it makes me want to close my eyes and hide. What if I do it wrong again? What if it's better, but it's still not great? What about when I send it out for that all-important beta read, and she still finds enormous flaws? Do I just write something else? Is my entire genre, my entire voice then in question because one story won't hinge together without squeaking?

What do you tell yourself? What would you tell me? And if I told you I was going to steal those words of comfort and offer them to someone else, would you want to be quoted? :-)


Bill Clark said...

Here are some "words of comfort", Lacey:

And I don't think where the folks are out in their publishing career has much of a bearing on the value of the blog. For instance, I love the Manuscript Mavens blog and I think only Jackie (small press) and Carrie (debut with RH in '09) have any contracts in the works. But it's a great blog, full of smart writers having interesting discussions.

Those WOC were written yesterday by Diana Peterfreund in her blog thread. Just thought y'all would like to know! :-)

Jennifer Linforth said...

"But when I think about dismantling a story to build it back up again, it makes me want to close my eyes and hide..."

I am right there with you. What I would ask? Will this make me a better writer?

I am about to throw in the towel on this series, but know I can't. I have to rip apart the second book to fit the adjustments my editor has made to the first. And, frankly, I don't want to listen.

When we work hard on our books, we see them through the writer's eye and the eyes of our CP's. Maybe through the eyes of a contest judge, but we all know how subjective contests can be. But seeing a book through an editor's eyes and that of a publisher is totally different. They see it in order to make it sell, to make it shine. No one says we have to agree with what they tell us to do or what they suggest, but we do have to ask ourselves 'do I just want this one book, or do I want a career as a writer...'

Often that means making adjustments. I approach all this knowing I can always learn and by learning I can pay forward my experience to some other writer banging their head on a keyboard. (Much like what the Mavens do on this blog--paying forward their piece of the journey to publish) It makes hearing what I don't want to hear much easier. The ISBN is just a part of a much bigger picture.

It works for me. Voodoo dolls and pins work great too, but I was told never to speak of that... *G*


Jackie Barbosa said...

Bill, thanks for letting us know about Diana's blog nod. I went over and left her a thank you note ;).

But when I think about dismantling a story to build it back up again, it makes me want to close my eyes and hide...

Uh, you and me both, Lace. This must be why I am procrastinating like mad when it comes to pulling The Manuscript That Shall Not Be Named back out of mothballs. I want to do it. I have a good reason to do it. And yet the thought terrifies me.

Hmmm, those didn't sound much like words of comfort, did they? Well, maybe in tomorrow's blog post then, eh?

Marnee Bailey said...

I'm in the midst of rebuilding my WIP and I have to say that I find the entire process riddled with excuses to procrastinate. I start thinking, twist my mind into a pretzel, then blink and stave off a splitting headache. This usually is followed by some internet surfing, email checking, and venting to my blog partners. Then I start the process over again.

It is hard work. I keep hoping it's worth it, but there lies the rub. I won't know until it's done and then it might have all just been a huge waste of time.

Ok, after that rousing pep talk, off I go to my spreadsheet storyboard....

Carrie Ryan said...

You know, rather than rebuild a book (my second) I just decided to let sleeping dogs lie and chalked it up to practice. There was a big plot problem on the first page and I didn't feel like dealing with it. Sometimes, I do think stories just won't work out and it's best to focus on the next one -- use what you learned to move on.

lacey kaye said...

Sorry I've been quiet today and no, I didn't throw myself off the mezzanine (although there was a moment there I thought about it :-). Thanks, Diana and Bill, for the shout out! Thanks Jennifer for sticking in there with me. Thanks Jackie for promising to write a more spirited blog post in the morning (and save me from myself!). Thanks Marnee for hitting us up during her procrastination jaunt :-) And thanks Carrie...for saying something that is so too often true.

Marnee Bailey said...

No problem! I continue to procrastinate and hope that Jackie can assist me in my endeavors tomorrow.

Erica Ridley said...

This post resonates with me so much, Lace. As both a critter and a writer.

Coincidentally, when organizing a box of random objects last night, I came across a calendar sheet with this quote:

Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't.
- Erica Jong

I got some advice like that this week, so I feel for you. My personal opinion is: as long as the feedback doesn't derail my enthusiasm for a story, it's always better for me to know than not know.

All the same...

lacey kaye said...

What a great quote! Now I'm terrified...

Darcy Burke said...

That's a great quote, E. I have a penchant for asking for advice when I already know what I must do.

Your questions are terrifying. And give me pause almost every single day. But in the end, I am doing this for the journey (Jackie's post does have words of comfort!). As crazy, frustrating, and exhausting as that journey might be! It's also pretty great because it brought the Mavens together.

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens