In the past twenty five years of publishing, I’ve seen a lot of people drop out even though they are truly talented, capable, even world-class writers. It wasn’t because they didn’t have success (some did, some did not). I don’t think it was even a matter of luck. I think that there are traits one can acquire, or remember, or emphasize that will help keep you in the game, as a working writer. The first three are explained in a previous blog. What follows here are the next few that you might keep in mind:
Get people to help you
You are never going to write a perfect novel on the first draft, but if you are lucky, you’ll have a strong manuscript that will be easy to pass onto a select group of readers. Some of these readers will be friends who love books; others will be writers. The former may give you nothing but compliments on your new novel. Excellent. Take the compliments. Let your nice friends say all the things you long to hear so during those unbearable times when you are considering giving up writing for knitting, you have some reason to resist.
As for other writers who read your work, be very grateful to them. They may not “get” your novel; they may not like your novel, but they took time away from their own work for yours. Reward them by being gracious about their comments – no matter what they say.
Also, remember that you now owe them one. They may come to you with a manuscript in years to come. Read it.
Find the value in every comment, no matter how cryptic
Some writers will give you only impressions of the work, but if you read into what they say, you’ll find value. Stuff like, “I didn’t feel the urgency in the opening few chapters” may not seem useful at first. You might disregard the comment, justifying doing so with reasoning like, Does there have to be “urgency”? Isn’t intrigue enough? I can’t think there was much “urgency” in the classics…
Stop. Find the value. What this reader is telling you is that the story has no reason to ignite just where it does. You’ve opened the novel too soon, or at a boring place. Or maybe you are withholding too much action, saving it for later in the novel when it gets “really good.”
Save nothing. “Really good” has to start from page 1. So, the reader has given you a very worthwhile impression.
A of these vague comments will be complimentary. “It’s all so fresh…” is another amorphous comment with enormous importance, for example. Being “fresh” is about as a difficult a task as you can have in storytelling and makes up for all the “I didn’t understand…” comments that may come after it. You can fix understanding; anyone can tell you can be more clear. But how to be “fresh”? Not easy. For some, not possible.
So be patient with comments. Think about each one.
Find the value in every comment, no matter how bitchy
“I feel like I’ve met these characters before” is the sort of bitchy comment that makes you understand why so few critics of writing are people one can ever regard as true friends. However, you better check to see if such a remark is correct in its assessment of your characters. Either the remark is result of the reader not taking time to really read the book — and yet wanting to appear as though he has – or your characters are stale.
Some readers (who are also writers) will give you specific craft advise. Still others, will insist you completely rewrite the novel in some other construction that is closer to their own style than to yours. Take it all, thank them for their hard work, and give some consideration to their ideas. You need these people more than you realize, especially if you are successful. Successful writers are seldom schooled by others – who would dare – and yet all of us need it.