I spent most of last fall getting feedback on my book from an agent, a grant jury and other authors. The problem with asking for those opinions is that I got them. So, what I thought would be helpful feedback on how to improve my story ended up being white noise – a jumbled mess of conflicting thoughts that distracted and confused me.
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciated the advice I got. I can honestly say that I learned something from everyone. The thing I’m frustrated with is my lack of experience in this field. I was unable to distinguish the good ideas from the bad so I gathered them all up and have spent most of the last three months panning through them hoping to find nuggets of true wisdom.
For the most part, what was a weakness for one person was a strength for someone else. For example, my book doesn’t deal with many of the themes common in Newfoundland literature. I don’t focus on the fishery or its collapse, the resettlement of a community or a marine disaster. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will recognize local elements of course (names, dialect etc) but the story will appeal equally to people who have never heard of the province and can’t locate us on a map.
While this led to some interesting discussion of my story, it left me a bit confused as to whether people liked what I’d written or not. Discouraged, I put the book aside during the holidays. I didn’t abandon my project, but my progress has been slower than I’d hoped.
My kids actually gave me the best advice. Knowing I was a bit blue about the book, they cornered me at the supper table the other night.
Son (age 13): “Mom, do you like your book?”
Me (age … never mind): “God yes! It’s a blast!”
Son: “Then who cares if someone else likes it. Just write it for yourself.”
Me: “You got a point there, kid.”
Son (smirking): “Yeah, I know.”
Daughter (age 9 and three quarters): “I like your book, Mommy.”
Me: “You haven’t read it yet sweetheart.”
Daughter: “So? I still like it. Besides, you’re famous. You got a blog and you’re on twitter.”
Son (laughing): “She’s not famous. She’s Mom.”
Me (to son): “Eat your vegetables.”
Daughter: “Mommy, at my Christmas recital you told me not to worry because if I had fun playing the piano, the audience would have fun too.”
Me: “Yes, I did say that.”
Daughter: “Well if you’re having fun writing your book, the audience will have fun reading it.”
Aren’t my kids smart? 🙂
I’ve now gone back through all the feedback I’ve received. There’s some negative stuff – like the person who said she didn’t think I could do it but gave no explanation as to why, the person who had an issue with my punctuation (notably semi colons) and the person who said he has no “tolerance, sympathy or empathy for the genre.” In fairness though, the punctuation chap also thought my story was “intriguing” and “fresh.” The one who didn’t like the genre said he “loved” my writing, particularly the dialogue between characters. And the person who thinks I can’t do it (a) doesn’t know me from Adam and (b) will eat crow when my book is on the New York Times Bestseller list.
Besides, the agent who reviewed it (as part of a course, not a query) thought my descriptions were vivid and that I’d effectively “raised the stakes.” And Newfoundland author, Paul Butler, has said that my story is becoming a “real page turner.”
I unearthed another little gem in the feedback notes. During the Piper’s Frith workshop last October, Lisa Moore reviewed a portion of my book that involves several people moving around in a kitchen interacting with one another. She asked if I’d read any of Zadie Smith’s work because my writing reminded her of On Beauty. I’d never heard of Zadie Smith but made a note of it anyway. I’m glad I did. Turns out, On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2006.
Listen, if my writing reminds one Man Booker finalist of another Man Booker finalist, that’s good enough for me! Who knows, maybe one day I’ll even join them.
Here’s author Zadie Smith reading from her award-winning novel On Beauty.