Wednesday, April 3, 2013

IWSG Untalented and Unaware


It’s the first Wednesday of the month, and that means it’s time to release our fears into the world, tie our sins to the goat and scare it into the forest. I feel a bit like the goat this month, but more on that later. The Insecure Writers’ Support Group was started by Ninja Captain Alex, a mighty fine read on the internet if I ever saw one, and this month’s co-hosts are are Annalisa Crawford, Julie Luek, and Elsie. If you’re new to the IWSG, go over to Alex’s blog and hop on the Linky and read up.

This week I’m talking about something that has always worried me, but more now than ever. You see, when I was a kid, people would praise all sorts of things that I did. I sang; I danced; I was in plays, and every time people would tell me how great I was at these things. But then I went out into the real world—the world not wrapped in a small town where I was related by blood to a third of the town (no seriously, I had six cousins in my English class)—things were different. The band director scowled at me when I auditioned for the band. He took me, but only because there weren’t enough trombones. Sing for the band? Ha! He had others “much better suited.” It turned out to be his girlfriend. I auditioned for plays, and never got call backs. I had been a star, but the more I was out in the real world, I realized that I had never been all that special. There was a whole sea of special, and I was lucky to have sight of the shore. Worse, I realized how untalented, untrained, and unprepared I was for the real world.

And now I wonder if the same is true about writing.

I mean, sure, I read a lot, but how do I compare myself to others? I’ve written a lot at this point (I’ve got you in my sites 1 million words!), but comparing my skill set is something that I still find myself totally unable to do. And yet, I’m starting to feel like I’ve got a feel for how I write, and what makes it good.

And that scares me.

The last time I thought I was good at stuff, it turned out I was untalented and unaware. I know most writers start in that place, but I zoomed through it pretty quickly. I’d already experienced the heartbreak that comes from expecting to be a big shot and discovering I was the bug not the windshield. So when I realized that I might be poorly equipped to judge my own work, I went at it with a hatchet (but I kept writing new stuff). I listened to every scrap of advice and feedback, and I slavishly followed whenever possible. I tore apart my work, and I put it back together.

And then something happened.

I got feedback that I didn’t agree with.

More frightening, it was from an industry professional. And I didn’t agree with it on a visceral level. Like if I’d gotten that advice while reading a book, I’d have chucked the book across the room. It was a classic case of “didn’t get it.”

But then a thought crept in: What if she’s right, and I’m wrong? What if I’m still untalented and unaware (again!)?

Then my negative voice saw the chink in my armor and went crazy. What if every nice thing anyone has ever said was just the nice part of the criticism sandwich? What if I really do suck and everyone is just being nice about it?

It was pretty easy to quell all the ridiculous bits from the little voice, but I’m still left wondering if I’ve just gotten too big for my britches. What’s worse, I’ve already tried opening the story the way the publishing professional suggested. EVERYONE hated it. EVERYONE. Even my mom said she didn’t like it.

But was that a failing of mine?

So yeah, I am now standing on the shaky ground of I believe in my story the way it is, but someone said they didn’t think it was very strong. Now what?

If you’ve been here, boy do I know how you felt. But I realized something: there are all kinds of people in the world. All kinds. There are people who don’t care if you can’t use a hyphen or always get peak, peek, pique confused. There are people who have strong feelings about how you spell grey (or is it gray?). And in publishing, it only takes one yes.

Whether I’m right or I’m wrong, there’s only one thing left to do: write the next novel.  

31 comments:

  1. Yep, that's about the size of it - there will always be someone better than us... but there will always be someone worse too. You own your vision of your story. You have to believe in it. If you're doubting yourself, that's probably being transferred to the page. The publisher who wanted the changes had her vision, but she's just one person. Finish it, write the next, query, write another... gradually you'll find your skin's a little bit thicker. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Annalisa. I'm a big proponent of the no single path to the end of a story, and I think you're right. She had a different vision. And I disregarded her vision because I have my own.

      Delete
  2. Oh my gosh... just slap my name on this post and say I wrote it! Because I get this. I get this sooooo much. Man, I could write a novel on this because I'm so here with you. But I do think you know deep down. Trust your gut. You know you've got what it takes and that you've got the talent. And as long as we keep working, we're going to improve regardless, so we might as well go for it, right? It's better than not! (Notice I switched into "we" because I'm still trying to convince myself daily, LOL!)

    :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think trusting my gut is what has me a little worried. My gut has led me to do some really unfortunate things in the past (notably the catching the poop incident), so let's just say we haven't gotten along in a while. But this is that deep down, in my bones sort of feeling. I guess I'll have to call it my gut. I sure hope it's more refined than three years ago.

      Delete
  3. G-friend! I'm giving you a BIG cyber hug! Even though I've never read any of your WIP, I know it has to be GREAT because your blog is TERRIFIC! I love your style! On those lovely rejection letters, we sometimes get, the pro usually points out how subjective the industry is. Think of all the great authors who were turned down time and time again! Like you, they kept going--pushing back that stupid, negative voice in their heads. They got their YES, and climbed to the top! If you don't agree with that pro, don't listen, especially if your betas disagree, too. You do what feels right. I know you'll get your YES! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually have a book of rejection letters, and some of them are fantastic. I've already collected a few really great ones of my own (Oh, I have a college rejection letter to curl the eyelashes!). In the mean time though, I'm hunting my yes.

      Delete
  4. That's the thing with any critique, it's all so subjective. Our speech kids get three critiques a meet and we always tell them to show them to us before they change anything. Because some stuff we'll agree with, and some stuff we won't. Now if we see the same thing over and over then we decide we may need to change even if we didn't want to. :) But you're not at that point. It's still one person's opinion. Yes, it gets some more weight because they're the pro, but it doesn't mean you have to agree.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, this is a great point. As we say in science, one data point is useless (but two will always give you a straight line! I jest). It's definitely something I'm keeping my eye open for when it comes to future feedback.

      Delete
  5. Yup. I know EXACTLY what you're saying. I'm a total wreck when it comes to my writing--but that's why I have my hubby who doesn't mince words. He says it's awful when it's awful--even if I want to strangle him for it. Then again, he raves when it's good. I have to hear it from fifteen other people before I believe him, but hey, at least I know he doesn't tell me what I want to hear. *sigh* Thank you for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also have a few trusted readers including someone who shouldn't be as objective as she is: my mother. My Mom should have become an agent (except that she doesn't like selling stuff) because she reads enough to make a librarian feel like they're out of touch. And she doesn't waste any time on being sweet or kind. If she doesn't like it she says (and I am not joking) "I don't know what's up with that one, Rena, but I don't like it." Just like that. She doesn't even try to be nice about it. So yeah, the honest reviewer is a VERY important commodity.

      Delete
  6. I have nothing to add because you said it all so perfectly. Writing is so subjective, even when it gets out there in the world, some people will say brilliance, others will say meh... It's all about how YOU feel about it. Even the professionals don't know what will work the best for your story.

    The best thing you can learn as a writer is to be teachable. Know when to listen, and when to (for lack of a better word) ignore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Knowing how to be teachable is probably some of the best advice anyone can give a writer who has just finished a book. It's hard to know what's hard to take and what to throw out, but it's really important to know your story and the why behind it.

      Delete
  7. Exactly: What if every nice thing anyone ever said is the nice part of the critique sandwich? I've asked myself that a lot!
    My answer? (On the days I manage to push onward.)
    Do I say nice things I don't mean? Usually not. :)
    Do I know what it is I want to write? YES.
    I think you do too. Everyone has an opinion on what makes a good story--that's why we're writers and readers. It's fine to be open to others' opinions, but in the end you have to be comfortable with your own words.
    Yes, write that next novel!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As usual, the next novel is already kicking my butt. Sometimes, when I'm being very silly, I throw out all the good opinions, and I only focus on the negative ones.

      Then I remember that no matter how you look at it, that's a very poor way to collect data. If I accept the bad ones, then I have to accept the good ones too.

      And yes, I know what I want to write.

      Delete
  8. yes! keep writing!

    i emailed you =)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, and I'll announce the real next novel soon...

      Delete
  9. and did you turn off your captcha? hallelujah!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Freakin Captcha! I've turned it off three times now. It just hates me!

      Delete
  10. Ah... the craft of writing... it wouldn't be worth it if we got acceptance at every turn. If you love it, if you love the stories that you are creating, you have to keep doing it. Take the criticism with a grain of salt, be willing to learn and grow, believe that there is someone out there who can teach you something more about your art... and keep creating. Your masterpiece may never be accepted by the marketing machine that is publishing... but that doesn't mean it's not your best and that you're not good at what you do!

    Oh there's so much more I could say but I'll end with, you're brave, Rena. Brave for putting yourself out there and facing rejection. I hope one day your bravery pays off with an acceptance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Elisabeth, I know that the machine of publishing has chewed up and spit out better novels than mine. I'm not under any delusions there. Publishing is hard and heartbreaking. But I'm giving it a shot. So I'm going to cross my fingers and keep putting it out there (but you can bet I'm listening for the next scrap of feedback to see if it sounds like the other...)

      Delete
  11. NEVER lose your belief in your story. Doubt it, maybe and then send it to someone who's guaranteed to give you their impartial opinion about it. To multiple people, even.

    And then, if they independently come to the same conclusion as the industry professional, you know you have a problem. If not... screw the pro. It's one person's opinion against yours.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny you should mention it, no one had the same response as the publishing pro. But really the issue was that having the confidence to ignore the industry pro made me wonder if I'd fallen back into the fingers stuck in ear mentality where I scream La-la-I-can't-hear-you mode.

      I don't think I have, but that dark voice is always there, waiting for me to slip.

      (and I'm still hopping up and down excited about your book!!!!)

      Delete
  12. Um, I have totally had these same feelings. I did theater in High School, but I was the little fish from the start. It didn't help that my best friend would get all the lead roles either. When I see good blogging friends getting huge deals, I can't help but wonder if the same thing is happening again. But, I keep telling myself that at least in writing I'm learning and improving, something I never did in theater. Even if take years, someday I'll get there :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know what you mean about the watching other people's dreams come true all around you. That is so hard. I just don't even know what to say about that because it's the sort of thing where I have to suck it up. I feel genuinely happy for them, but sometimes I wonder "when will it be my turn? Will it ever be my turn?"

      The only thing you can do is keep writing. There are no guarantees, but if you keep writing, you will get better. And good luck! It's publishing, we all need some luck!

      Delete
  13. Funny. I wrote about openings and how the agents want us to do it their way on my ISWG post this month. Agents don't always know what readers want.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Openings make me want to take hot pokers to my eyes. I think what agents usually bring to the table is what has worked before. But what kills me is that even the agents can't agree on what makes a good opening. And that's because all of this is subjective. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  14. I had an agency pro offer to rep me if I cleaned up the alcohol drinking, the sex, and the language from my WIP. I thought about it, but then decided to pass. I'm not defiant, but some things just don't fit. Look for the fit. Don't settle.

    And I read your excerpt at Daisy's and it was awesome. And quite frankly it's soooooo hard to catch a busy bloggers attention, but you always catch and keep mine!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I actually rewrote the first chapter and tossed my favorite opening line ever (sigh). But after thinking about it for a really long time, I knew that I couldn't take the flash forward bit because then I'd have to do two openings (shoots foot).

      It must have been hard to turn down an agency, but I can totally see how your book just wouldn't be the same without the alcohol the sex and the language. I mean really, should your book be PG? Um, no. I'm glad you had the courage to turn them down.

      Delete
  15. Thank you, thank you! Yes, this is much how I've felt recently. I think I'm breaking on through it, but it certainly helps to hear someone else express the same tendency to self doubt that has plagued me :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, I think that is absolutely one of the best parts of IWSG: knowing that even though I feel completely insane, I am not the only one.

      This is something that has plagued me for a long time, and I'm sort of shocked I didn't see it sooner. I'm glad to have helped in some way. Chin up!

      Delete
  16. I'm late visiting but so happy I did because I've cycled through these questions a hundred times too, but we do reach a point where we have enough experience under our belt that we can say "well, it's a subjective business, and my writing just didn't resonate with that one." If it's resonating with others, then we don't let the insecurity kill us. We keep writing anyway!

    ReplyDelete

I love comments! Let me know what's on your mind.