The Bloody Page

I received my first critique of my first book (from someone other than my mom or husband) in the spring of 2008.

After much fear and trembling, I’d joined a small critique group through ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers.) Pushing send on that first submission made me feel like I was walking the plank on a gigantic pirate ship, destined to plunge into the shark-filled waters, causing my poor words to be slashed and slaughtered.

What if they hated it? What if they came back and said it was the worst thing they’d ever read? Worse, yet, what if they said it was fabulous but silently snickered behind their cyber-mail back and plotted ways to kick my sorry rear-end out of the group?

But then a thought came to me. What if they really DID love it? What if my work was utter brilliance, and they begged me to critique their work because of what they felt they would glean from my writing prowess? (Think jumping off the plank only to be rescued by friendly dolphins who let me ride on their backs while those on the ship hoot, holler, and applaud!)

I’m sorry to report, the reality was somewhere in between, leaning toward option A.

The critiques I received back were a bloody mess. And I’m not swearing in a British accent there. Comments overwhelmed the pages, words were sliced everywhere, whole paragraphs were victims of the brutal attack.

At first, I was left numb. But as I read through the notes, the wheels in my head started to unthaw and turn. Their notes to a very novice writer started to make sense. Show, don’t tell. Don’t explain here. Explain this more. Adverbs in every sentence is not a fab idea. Adjectives after every noun doesn’t help the cause. Beats, not tags. The list of my faux pas goes on and on.

After a day of mourning, I got to work.

I’d love to tell you that I rewrote that chapter and it was perfect. No such luck. I’ve edited that chapter about 100 times since then, even getting more dripping red critiques.Much of my problem was that I was trying to put Barbie Band-aids on very large holes that really needed antiseptic ointment, gauze and an ace bandage, if not amputation all together.

Fast forward three years. My original manuscript is sitting, bandages still intact, in ICU.

A new baby was born a few years ago and survived the plank a little better. In September, I was tickled pink to sign my FIRST publishing contract. Sandwich, With a Side of Romance is set to release September 2012.

But very, very soon, my poor sandwich book will be dripping in blood again, but from a new source. A publishing house editor!

I’m getting ready to walk the plank again. On one hand, the safety of the boat sounds really nice. To live in my-book-is-wonderful land is tempting! But I’ve survived many massacres now, from critique groups, to rejections, to contest results. And I’ve learned that what doesn’t kill my book will make it better.

Discussion: For you unpubbed out there… who do YOU have to “bleed” your writing? Have you survived, or did the coroner have to get involved? For you pubbed among us… *gulp* does it hurt too badly???

38 thoughts on “The Bloody Page

  1. When I got laid off, I took the opportunity to write the ‘novel’. Dear to my heart, I sent out the first three chapters for critique. Hmmm…battered, broken and bruised, I put it aside so I could heal up a bit. But, as I work on my new novel, I refer to my first one for the critique, the lesson, and most of all the correction. It was a blessing in disguise. I beleive this is how we grow….through correcton. (Although it still hurts!)

  2. Lots of blood here but learning to really appreciate those red strokes:) I think it is the best way a writer can learn. I would love someone to read my work and rave but won’t happen in these early stages:)

    • You’re so right… and really, I don’t think I would WANT it to happen. Because said raver would probably be lying, and my WIP would be none better for it… only my ego!

  3. I participate in the online community, Fictionista Workshop. The first time I got a chapter back from an editor I just about cried! Surely it wasn’t THAT bad. Turns out it was. I’ve learned more from being edited than I ever did from English classes. What’s gratifying is watching fewer and fewer red marks as I improve.

    • I learned very quickly after that first critique that my high school English classes weren’t all I thought they were!!! They taught me my love of adverbs… ha!

  4. I can so relate to this. My WIP has been lying in ICU for quite some time now. It’s overwhelming sometimes, but so worth the process. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I’m weird in that I like the pain (part of my maiden name). I love getting feedback and working on my novels until they shine. Critique partners are great for this. I tend to double guess myself, so getting feedback from others is wonderful.
    ~ Wendy

    • Wendy… I’m like that more NOW. But that first one was hard. But now, I look forward to it a little, anxious to find out how I can make it BETTER. Because NO one wants a review at the end of the day that says, “Who the heck edited this piece of crap?!?”

  6. I still get nervous about critiques–I’m always worried someone’s going to hit me with something I simply can’t fix. But otherwise, I just try to stay open-minded, because the feedback always has merit at some level, even if I don’t take it hook line and sinker.

    I do a lot of magazine (NF) writing these days, and it’s a very different kind of critique. The interesting part there is that editors don’t always ask me to fix something; they just change it to their liking. A bit disorienting at times, when it’s done moderately heavily.

    • Kathleen… that WOULD be a hard critique, to not be given an option to edit some parts yourself.

      I’ve always said, it’s only a bad mistake if you can’t fix it. But some times REALLY hard problems can seem super overwhelming. In writing though, I like to think it is always fixable. It’s whether it’s worth the TIME and effort to do the fixing is the question!

  7. Krista – I’ve often thought that the writers who survive and thrive are the ones who can take criticism and work with it. Congratulations on seeing the work as a team job and not an individual pursuit!

  8. I’ll be undergoing the bloody adventure in about 6 weeks when I turn in my book-length Bible study manuscript to my editor. Call me weird, but I look forward to seeing her edits and meeting with her as she describes why she did certain things. It helps me grow and learn, but I know there will still be some part of me that holds a funeral for those slashed, murdered words and paragraphs. Thanks for your great post, Krista!

  9. Krista,

    This was great to read as I just got my first ever publishing house edits back. I, too, was having some mild (ok major!) anxiety about what they would say. The process of putting your words out there for other’s to evaluate I akin to subjecting your child’s photos to a modeling agency– not that I’ve ever done that but the thought being– this is the most beautiful thing I’ve created– how could anything be wrong with it?

    This is survivable– now off to do my publisher’s edits. Let me know how yours go.

  10. Fun analogy, Krista! Does it hurt too badly? Honestly, no. It’s that thick skin you develop over tim from your critique groups, beta readers and agents that prep you for that editors letter. It just seems to feel less ‘personal’ and more like business. Plus, you have the giddy realization of having that publishing contract to help ease the pain! (:

    • Rebecca, that’s exactly how I think I will feel… HOPE I will feel! I’m EXCITED about the thought of getting them… but part of me I think is trying to prepare myself for the worst, just in case! HA!

  11. Yes – it hurts. But stop a minute – no-one is saying anything about you as a person. You are still the same wonderful, creative, generous person you were yesterday. You just happen to have written something that is, well . . . needs work. That’s not so terrible.

    • LOL, Jo. I have this horrible perfectionist personality… it really IS so terrible However, the thought of it going out to the general public in all its flawed glory is MORE terrible. Bring on the edits!

  12. I do not have any one to help me with that. My friends and family love my work but that is as far as I have gotten. I would love to be in a critique groups but I don’t personally know any other writers. I am trying to learn from each of the blogs I visit. I have written five books but I’m not sure if I should go on until I know if what I am writing is acceptable. I’m not sure I could quit though.Thank you for your blog post I found it helpful.
    Glenda Parker

    • Glenda… Kudos for continuing to write and for having the insight to visit blogs and seek out input on your work!!! There are a lot of writer’s associations that offer potential critique groups (ACFW which I mentioned is one), or even Google writer’s groups in your local areas. And if you’re in a financial place to do so, a paid edit by a professional editor can be a HUGE help as well! Good luck!!

  13. I have an amazing CP who makes my stuff bleed. And it’s always better when she gets done with it. I’m getting pretty good at making it bleed myself and finding places to cut, since I write long.

  14. There’s definitely a wince-factor associated with the critiques I get back, but because I trust my crit partners and editors’ motives, I know their only goal is to make my writing stronger. That makes the hurt sting less and help more.

  15. True story from my BC (Before Contract) days: The first time I attended my fiction critique group, I was instructed to bring 5 pages. Yep, that’s all. Five. I handed out three copies of those 5 pages — and then sat on the couch and shook while my WIP was read aloud my a multi-published, best-selling, award winning author. Afterward, she looked at me and said,” You can write fiction.”
    And then we got down the the serious work of teaching me how to write fiction well.
    Four years later (and one contract in hand) does walking the critique plank hurt? Sometimes.But I know the feedback is never malicious. I try really, really hard to embrace all that feedback as gifts — wisdom from other writers who want me to succeed.

    • A gift is probably a much better way to look at it than “walking” the plank, HA! But you are so right… the feedback is not meant with a malicious intent (aka kicking you off the boat) but to help!

  16. What a clever post, Krista. I feel your angst. I’ll be going through revisions on my debut novel soon. Like you, I’m reminding myself how much I’ve been helped by the critiques my CPs gave me and the Revision Notes from our agent. I’m also holding fast to the fact that I love editing. It’s the best way I know of to take a story from good to great, from great to stellar, and from stellar to best seller. =)

  17. it’s amazing how much emotional investment we have in our babies. But a good critique group can really move us along and help us grow. One thing I found though was I sometimes offered my baby for critique too early back when I first started writing, giving others too much say . . . I think we have to get a little more grounded in our voice and our story, especially in first books, before giving others too much say. At least if you’re a people pleaser like I was. (I’m getting better. lol)

  18. It really doesn’t hurt too badly. Probably to my advantage, when I worked as a PR writer at a university I had a boss who was great with the red pen, no malice, just patient teaching. That way, I learned to appreciate editing. When that boss retired, I had another who was pretty vicious and he helped me develop a thick skin. I’ve learned to be grateful for both methods. When I received a lot of editorial suggestions on my 2nd novel (almost none on my 1st, but that was a difference in editors), I pouted for about 3 hours and then decided to be grateful!! It’s a good habit, although one that is at times elusive in my life. Thank you for the great post, Krista!

  19. I have been blessed to have a wonderful editor/friend who has managed to gently prod my writing in the right direction. He makes only suggestions and told me from the beginning his opinion is just that “his opinion” he said that I am the writer and it is up to me to listen to the suggestions and decide if they are right for me. As it turns out almost every single one was right, once I was in the right frame of mind to think about them. I have learned more than I could ever imagine from him, I am truly blessed to be in his acquaintance.

  20. Well, I don’t have anyone at present who will give me what I consider to be truly informed critique. A friend from high school/college approaches crits of my work as the literary criticism he was taught to do. So his crits are more, “You’ve written book A, which I understand like this. Why didn’t you write book B?” I have a cousin/writer who comes close to doing this, but she never sends me anything so I can reciprocate.

    Real life crit groups I’ve been in have mainly been mild. Not a whole lot of bleeding going on, except by me of them.

    I have received some excellent critiques of my poetry on three different internet poetry critique boards.

    DAT

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