My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Norma Gail. Her debut contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams, was released in April 2014. Her devotionals and poetry have appeared at the Stitches Thru Time blog, ChristianDevotions.us, and in “The Secret Place.” She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, FaithWriters, Romance Writers of America, and the New Mexico Christian Novelists. Norma is a former RN who lives in the mountains of New Mexico with her husband of 39 years. They have two adult children. Click here to visit her website.
My First Hard Critique
I cried. My first negative critique at a writer’s conference stung like a hornet and I rushed back to the room to pour out my sorrow to my husband. The acquisitions editor’s words seemed harsh and biting. Just prior to my meeting with the editor, I met with an author who was so enthusiastic that she offered to meet with me over lunch to share some helpful tips. That encounter helped me, but after the second experience, I wanted to run home.
Bucked up by my husband’s encouragement, I headed back to the main building for my third critique, this time quivering with trepidation. If I received another negative appraisal, I might as well go home. After all, I paid for these critiques. The least they could do was be constructive.
I took my place beside a freelance editor, my shaken confidence prepared to meet with discouragement. With the fragile ego of a fledgling author, I braced myself for the bad news.
Wonder of wonders, she had visited Scotland, and she loved my book. This editor thanked me for the opportunity to read my manuscript. She smiled and said that though there were many red marks, each problem was very fixable. The story intrigued her. I sighed with relief. Perhaps I was not a failure after all.
In spite of this encouragement, the earlier biting words of the other editor followed me throughout the day, nipping at my confidence, and overshadowing the two good opinions. I wondered why I bothered signing up for so many workshops. Each one further reinforced the feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no business thinking I could write a novel.
Skipping the evening session, my husband and I walked around the grounds soaking in the calm and peaceful atmosphere of the mountains. He reminded me of the friends who gave of their time to read my first attempt at a novel. All five of them liked it. Didn’t that mean more than the opinion of one person? I countered by saying they were friends. They wouldn’t want to discourage me. They may have corrected grammar and punctuation, but they weren’t professionals.
I was too tired to lay awake worrying about the negative editor, but her words sounded in my head as I prepared for my second day. The critiques were over, but I was going to pitch my book to agents and editors and I had no idea what I was doing. I felt over-scheduled and overwhelmed with everything I tried to cram into that first conference experience. Choosing my outfit with care, I climbed into the shower, dreading my day. I allowed the one negative person to far outweigh the two positives.
A new thought occurred to me as the warm water worked on the knots in my shoulders. That editor hadn’t even known the correct genre of my manuscript. She had the setting right, but thought it involved time travel when my book was contemporary.
I called to my husband and told him my theory. While I did my hair, he looked over the three critiques. His opinion was the same. Two were thorough and positive. One was incomplete and negative. My outlook did a complete turn-around. Two out of three was not bad for my first try.
No one bought my manuscript at that first conference--understandable, considering what a newbie I was. I had so much to learn. I met other writers who were receiving similar responses. One said that particular editor was not the best choice for that genre, no matter what it said in the conference pamphlet.
A year later, I received a contract for that same book following my second writer’s conference. I can now see that the negative editor was correct in some of her criticisms. I did “head-hop.” I had too much telling and not enough showing. She is a professional and recognized the problems without reading the entire thing.
I still believe criticism should be constructive, but not everyone does that well.
I don’t relish the critique process, but I have learned to respect it, even when it is discouraging. Most editors want to see writers succeed. Whether they are good at encouraging writers or not, their comments are usually valid and necessary. Every critique is a chance to learn. An opportunity to learn can lead to growth as a writer. I’m willing to take the criticism in order to be the best I can be.