Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feedback and Freak-outs.

I've been pretty absent lately. It's been a rough week and I try not to blog when I'm internally freaking out, just so you all won't know how the extent of my strangeness. Don't worry. I'm contained now. I think.

I have ABOVE THE WAVES out to three people right now, my critique partner and two very literary friends. This is about the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. At least when you send out a query it's a pass/fail. And you can always tell yourself with the fail that it's the query letter and not your writing. When people are actually reading your work, it's always the writing, and I've gotten some feedback about it already.

Feedback is the worst. You always hope, in any kind of a review-type situation, that it's going to be all positive. Like, "This is the best story I've ever read! I love your style, the inclusion of symbolism, the characters." Or even, "There were a few places where the tenses didn't match up, and you used the word 'comfortable' a lot, but otherwise this is a winner!" You hope for that. And when the feedback is more like, "I see a lot of character and not a lot of plot," you think Oh hell. How am I going to fix that one? and Maybe I have no business writing.

And that's exactly where I go. I, like my MC Amanda and why I wrote her to begin with, feel the freak out coming and either can't or don't know how to do anything to keep it from washing over me. I become insular, stop talking to people, stop existing in real time, and spend a lot of time working out or walking. It's not exactly giving up, but it's... no, it's exactly like giving up.

The thing is, my intention with writing the book I did was to show that freaking out happens, depression happens, but when you just try to get through it, when you fail to learn the why behind it, you limit yourself. You become a cycle of a person. You fail to grow and you stunt yourself from healing.

I am not good with feedback. At first. It takes me longer than I allow myself to digest it and understand it, and I'll admit that, in the past, I've taken feedback to mean that I'm worthless and then quit what I was working on. Not always, but enough times that it's kind of a pattern for me. But I'm not allowing that this time.

In an attempt to thwart the usual pattern, I forced myself out Friday night. I went to a show (Hot Hot Heat, if you're interested), forced myself to talk to the other people around me at the bar, and met a new friend from Twitter of all places. I will not say that I wasn't totally awkward, because every single part of me wanted to be shut up in a small room, and I know I bit the hell out of my nails, but I did it. I changed my routine. I gave myself a distraction.

It was exactly what I needed. I am sitting here at my computer writing after several days of dejectedly gazing at the keyboard. I know that there's a huge need for action in the first half of ATW. I also know that doesn't mean I suck, it just means I need to write some. And I'm not really sure how that's going to work, or what I even want to do with it, but I'm not going to give in just yet. I want to be that person who learns and grows.

And I hope I didn't just freak out my CP for writing this. Really, your honesty means a lot to me, even if it takes me a while to be comfortable with it. Thanks for telling me the truth.

Listening to: my JUST A LITTLE RAIN playlist

xo. kb.


  1. I'd be surprised if you didn't just describe something like what every writer feels when they get feedback.

    Even when I haven't recently gotten feedback I regularly decide that I just don't have an ear for writing and might as well give up and get my free time back to watch more reality TV.

    The fact that you want to keep going, keep writing and making your work better and better, that - more than anything else - makes you a good writer.

    Now this is just a guess, but something tells me that your CP might just belong to a local writer's group and that she might sit every week in meetings with them and listen to a lot of crappy writing and she might very often find herself saying, "There were a few places where the tenses didn't match up, and you used the word 'comfortable' a lot, but otherwise this is a winner!" simply because the work is such a mess that she wouldn't even know where to begin to help them salvage it.

    "You write characters that make me feel like they're my friends," (IF she said something like that - I have no way of knowing) and, "You need more action in the first half," sound to me like the kinds of things you say to someone who really has something and it just needs more work.

    Don't stop.

  2. Kate,

    I commented on this earlier but didn't know post comment went to preview comment - why have 2 buttons!? I surfed away and you never got my comment.

    Anyways, I completely understand where you are coming from - it is hard to throw yourself to the wolves and wait for the wounds. However - WE ARE NOT THE WOLVES, we are your trusted friends who are going to offer you advice/critique and opinion. Opinion. That is the important one.

    You seem to be hung up on the 'plot/character' assessment - but this just an opinion from 1 reader (whether they have an elevated position or not - it is still just an opinion). You have made a stylistic choice - literature can be like film - some people crave more explosions - some crave more midnight conversations. You can't compare 'In the Bedroom' to 'Diehard' and you can't expect an audience to appreciate both styles (though I do, in my lit and in my film consumption).

    Robert Musil wrote nearly 2500 pages of char dev in _The Man Without Qualities_, and slowly and sparingly worked plot points in. Some might find this boring - I found it incredible, and honestly it is the prime reason I aspire to be a writer. For more examples see the works of Celine.

    I have been slowly working my way through the drafts you sent me, partly by design and partly because I have 3 kids! To that end I will say this: the problems I see with the writing could be easily fixed by cramming in more plot; however, if you maintain your vision and are willing to put in the work - the results will be far more satisfying to both the writer and the reader.


  3. I am reading both your comments, Sara and Tim, and they make me think.

    My intentions for writing each of the three books was to tackle an internal struggle, to develop a character and make her face her own demon. I wanted to show the process of learning, and, mostly, wanted to show her success.

    I like plot. I mean, sure, a book has to have action. But I think the action- at least for me- serves best as a catalyst and not as the design or the purpose.

    Where I struggle is the idea that it has to be about plot. I see a lot of literary agents/publisher people emphasizing the importance of plotting. You have to sell it in the query, you have to catch the reader's attention. And I see how that works. A person who sells books has to be able to market it. You need it to attract an audience. As an author, you need commercial viability.

    Or, at least, you need it in order to establish a reader base. I think it would be easier to take more chances once you've had a book/two published and well-sold. My thoughts go to music, and I think immediately that Radiohead had to put out Pablo Honey before they could put out OK Computer (not forgetting about The Bends, but it's a very transitional album for me). I'm not comparing myself to the brilliance that is Radiohead, but you get my point, yes?

    I'm not sure, as a debut author, it would be okay for me to have so much character, even though it's what I want for the book, and expect it to sell or even land me an agent.

    Although, I think of the books I love. My love for them is never about the "what" but the "why" and "how." Even with THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. The story line, the action, was integral to the story obviously, but all I wanted was to learn about Katniss, her relationships, how she dealt with her stress. I was involved in a live chat about MOCKINGJAY and we were talking about the action, but all I could think about was how Katniss had been affected by the events, why she was behaving the way she did, what were her motivations, intentions. This is what I love most about books, and this is what I try to write.

    I don't want to come across as a writer who is unable to take criticism, or is so hard-headed that she refuses to change. But I guess I need to really figure out my non-negotiables and go from there. Not every suggestion is an edict. Although it's important for me to listen with an open mind and consider before making my decisions.

  4. I'm proud of you. You noticed something internally that some people will never be able to do their intire life. Sometimes in situations where we are extremely hurt, distressed or angry, we tend to let it over-power the ability to realize what we should really do to better ourselves. So I say good to you, for doing it, and breaking a cycle. Sometimes by doing things that we don't neccessarily want to do at the moment, can make us see a situation from a different point of view.
    Your friend ;)

  5. I did read this one before. Like a month ago. I could swear I commented. I'm hating technology right now.