Like many of you, I have “Let It Go” on a constant loop these days, and I can’t always blame my three-year-old :). But as I was getting ready to write this post, I realized how apt the title is for the current step in my revisions. As I shared in my last post, the revisions on this manuscript have taken a lot longer than usual. Yesterday I reached the point where I couldn’t look at it another minute, which meant it was time to let it go. I’d done everything I could without getting outside opinions, so it’s now with my first round of readers.
It’s interesting how my view of sending off a manuscript has changed over the past few years. I remember this tight knot in my gut the first time I sent off pages for a stranger to read. I hit send and thought, “I hope they love it!” I wanted a critique–that was the whole point after all–but I also wanted them to tell me how great it was. I have to say, that first critique I received made me want to curl into a ball. BUT, it was so on-target. I needed to hear what that other writer had to tell me.
I was much better prepared the second time around. Although I still wanted my readers to love it, I expected the notes would hit hard. But I had more to learn because I had a tendency to jump in and change everything. I revised that manuscript to try and please everyone, including an agent who asked for an R&R (revise and resubmit). Unfortunately, the revision was very specific to that agent, and she left agenting before reading the manuscript. Obviously it wasn’t meant to be.
For my third manuscript, I learned another important lesson–how to cull out the comments that resonated with me and ignore the notes that didn’t feel right. It’s a hard line because any time there’s a comment, it’s possible that an agent will feel the same way as that reader. However, I’ve learned that I have to stay true to what I believe the manuscript should be, so for that manuscript, I carefully considered every comment and determined which ones felt right. It’s still out there with agents, so the final verdict isn’t in, but I know it’s the story I want it to be–until I have an agent to work through any remaining issues with me :).
So now we come to today. Instead of wanting my readers to love my manuscript as it is, I want them to love its potential and help me whip it into shape. It’s kind of like sending a kid off to Kindergarten. You birth them (write), mold them (revise), and then you need someone else to teach them the things you can’t. (Obviously this analogy doesn’t work if you home school your kids.) You prepare them as much as you can, and then a teacher (reader/CP) tells you which areas need improvement. The revision notes are the homework, except in this case there’s not just one right answer.
If we stick with the school analogy, I’d say I’m close to graduation. Like anything else, writing toward publication is a learning process. With each manuscript I’ve advanced to a higher level of feedback from my readers.
Let me jump over to the critiquing side to explain. I have this internal monitor tracking how much I think the writer can take, a sort of thermometer measuring how much feedback I can give. So if the writer is at a level that needs a lot of grammatical or technical feedback, I’m likely to focus on that and leave off some–not all–of the bigger picture issues. But if the writer has already mastered things like showing instead of telling, eliminating adverbs, etc., I have more space to go deeper into the story and characters. I’m sure the people who read for me take the same approach, and as a result, I get much deeper feedback when someone reads for me now than I did when I first started. Does that mean those early readers weren’t going deep enough for me? Not necessarily. The truth is, I probably wasn’t ready for it. Now I can take it.
So, as Elsa sings:
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
Well, I’m not really going to slam any doors, but I am going to forget about the manuscript while it’s out of my hands.
If you’re around the same stage as me, have you noticed a change in your attitude to critiques?