Writing is in large part dealing with discouragement. And uncertainty. The two things that we must face are discouragement and uncertainty. And poverty. The three things – hang on, I’ll come in again.
Last night I took a recent batch of words to my wonderful critique group (of which, for my sins, I am Chair) and I got them critiqued. And it was a discouraging experience. Nary a positive thing was said. And on my way home I was considering all my excuses, of which a sample I shall here present for you:
- I didn’t set the scene properly
- I chose the wrong scenes to present
- There are many characters and not enough time (with a 1,500 word cap) to draw distinctions between them
- The scene is fragmentary and involves multiple points of view – and, indeed, is part of a very complex novel
- It’s in a genre that few others in the group are familiar with
- They know I’m a decent writer and so they don’t feel they have to bolster me with praise
- It was a linking section and so not much actually happened
Excuses. All excuses. And I’ve no idea how much merit any of them have. Almost as soon as I thought these things I was countering with:
- These people are good writers, wordsmiths I respect; if they say something doesn’t work then it doesn’t work
- A good piece of writing should stand on its own without context
- Gaiman’s quote: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
So: discouragement. For just about the first time I came away from a meeting wondering what the point of it all was: why am I struggling to produce something that’s just not working? If I can’t create tension in quiet scenes then I’ve got nothing worthwhile at all. Quiet, building scenes are the most common in my novels and it’s a skill that needs to be mastered.
But my heart, my instincts are telling me that these scenes will work. When they’re placed in context, when we’ve had the full build-up of the novel to develop the characters and their voices, then this will come alive. I have to believe that. Sure, the writing needs improvement. I can sharpen the dialogue and the action and bring the characterisation alive. This is a first draft. Of course it’s not going to be perfect. I’ve written before (at least once) about the unimportance of words in this context, and I still believe that I’m right.
So I am upon the horns of a dilemma. I can’t allow myself to ignore criticism as that way lies arrogance and a failure to grow as a writer. But, frankly, I think that my group is wrong. My novel will work. This will work.
As a writer you need to be able to accept criticism and rejection and sometimes you’re going to hear things that hurt and sometimes you’re going to be left thinking ‘this person just doesn’t get it.’ But if you’re hearing the same thing over and over – the same specific suggestions, the same problems highlighted – then you really do need to look hard at your work and your skills. But you need at the same time to have a little faith in yourself.
As for me, I’m going to ignore this discouragement for now and crack on. There’s plenty of time for agonising in the second draft. But in order to have a second draft you must complete the first. And that’s what I’m off to work on now.