In general, I’m a fan of brutal critiques. I don’t need anybody pussy-footing around my ego. If I’ve written a shit story, I need to know it was a shit story.
The reverse of that, however, is that if I’ve written a good story, I need to know it was a good story.
This may come as a surprise. Afterall, if you write a brilliant story, you just know it, right? You realize your utter genius and thrust it into the mail and make tons of money and win shiny awards and sell the movie rights, right?
No, not really.
I rarely know if what I’m writing is any good. I secretly hope it is. But I rarely, if ever, know.
Sure, there have been some short stories I liked just as they were. I didn’t ask for feedback because I knew I could sell them as-is. And I’ve sold stories I got feedback on of the “you’ll never sell this as-is sort.” I’ve also not sold stories that me and my critiquers thought were great.
That’s how it goes.
But when I’m working on projects that take years, that I look at all the time, I have to have outside feedback. I need to have a handful of very different voices telling me how what I’m doing is coming across, because if I’m ridiculous, I need to know I’m ridiculous. If I’m spending years on something totally useless, I’d like somebody to tell me. I may end up disagreeing with them, but at least I’m prepared for that kind of feedback from the Big Bad World.
I like harsh, constructive, detailed critiques for the initial revision phase when I’m fixing everything that’s wrong, but once I’ve gotten 6 or 8 or 12 months into revisions, revisions that sometimes take years, some of the best feedback to have around is the glowing shit. The “this was brilliant!” shit.
For me, this was an email I got from my buddy Julian who read the first draft of GW. He absolutely loved book, and gushed about it, and every time I felt horrible and defeated tonight, I thought about that email, and I pushed through it. Because, believe me, sitting here in Dayton, OH at midnight working on this last round of line edits, it’s pretty much all I had. I’ve wanted to throw in the towel with this book at least half a dozen times tonight (not to mention how many times the last couple of months, particularly after some other critiques).
I keep thinking: “This book is shit! It’s the worst! It’s going to be horribly embarrassing! What if it IS published, and then people I know READ it, and they say, THIS IS THE WORST SHIT IN THE WORLD! And suddenly they avoid me at social functions and I have no friends and people are very polite in public but talking about my shitty book in private and OH DEAR GOD I’M GOING TO WRITE ANOTHER BOOK AND IT’S GOING TO SIT IN ANOTHER FUCKING DRAWER OH GAWD THAT’S EVEN WORSE.”
These are the things that pass through my mind at midnight in Dayton, OH.
The rest of the time, I secretly believe I’m brilliant.
But man, you know, for those Long Dark Teatimes of the Soul, like tonight, line edit pass number three on a book I technically finished in September and wanted to start marketing in February, first-draft-praise-letters are fucking priceless.
I have finished my stack of line edits. I’m going to bed, rereading the whole fucking thing tomorrow, and starting work on my synopsis and query letters.