Big Chicken

I was talking to my mother today about possibly handing her some of my novel to read, and she made a comment about another book (this one) that made me stop and think. She said she did not enjoy the dialogue between the characters in some places – that she found too much of it contrived and unrealistic.

And I realized the scene I had been thinking of sending her bore something of a resemblance to the scenes she was complaining about in the book.

Now, I don’t think what I wrote has the same tone that she was objecting to. I don’t intend it to (those same scenes bothered me in that book). I have a very clear idea of the tone I am trying to strike – but I don’t know if I’m doing it.

My mother, of course, would tell me if I asked her. She’d read what I wrote and tell me truthfully what she thought of it – if I told her that was what I wanted. But I realized it’s not. I don’t want criticism at this point – I want encouragement. I want praise.

Not unrealistic praise, of course. I only want praise if it’s deserved. In short: I want what I’ve written to be good. And I am absolutely terrified to show it to anyone to find out if it is.

I will almost certainly let my mom off the hook, at least at this point. I won’t make her my first target. That’s just unfair. She may hate it, and have to tell me so, and then I will spend the rest of my natural life under the coffee table.

If some stranger hates it? I’ll spend a few days under the coffee table. A week, tops.

NaNoWriMo has a forum just for prologue/first chapter critiques. Some of those critics are BRUTAL…and of course I skipped over the actual pieces being critiqued to the critiques themselves, so I’ve no idea which critics I agree with. That’s a first step, and I’ll probably start with that, since it’s risk-free for me. I remember the writing classes I took in college, and how I learned quickly whose feedback I agreed with, and whose I did not. Beyond basic grammar – and sometimes not even then – critiques are subjective, and will often have more to do with whether someone will like your work, revised or not, than whether the flaws they mention are things you ought to repair.

Although I do remember…I started a novel for one class (a mistake, actually; this class did not require “finished” work, and I think it was far less useful than the class that required finished short stories), and one woman was so deeply upset by one part of the plot that she spent a fair amount of time yelling at me about it. In retrospect, she was right: I had trivialized something that should have been given far more weight, and that did not, as it stood, feed the plot in any useful way. At the time, I think I was mostly shell-shocked that I’d bothered her so much.

On the other hand…knowing I could provoke such a strong emotional reaction was pretty powerful feedback as well. Boring the reader is the worst thing any writer can do.

So the plan is this: Read through the Chapter 1 critique forum, and decide from there. I have to have someone read it, and if I can find a fairly reliable group of strangers, that’s probably the best bet.

But really? I’m shocked at how terrified I am. All along I’ve been planning on finishing and publishing this work. Isn’t it better to subject it to criticism now, when I can still revise? Am I really afraid that it’s so awful my only choice will be to abandon it?

Writing has always been what I do. It’s not my day job – I’ve never been paid for it – but I’ve done it since I was a child. Since before I could read. And if something I think is good (unpolished, sure, but still pretty good) turns out to be horrible – what does that mean? What do I do with that?

When did I become such a big chicken?

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One thought on “Big Chicken

  1. I remember those times in high school when I would hand in my short story with an enormous amount of confidence and pride, and then get a bad grade on it. From then on, I always made my best friend, my brother, my dad, and some random person read my stuff before I handed it in. My grades increased a bit, but yes, I can totally relate to you – I was terrified of letting people read what I wrote. The worst part is when you think you wrote something amazing and it turns out to be complete trash. Your post, however, is awesome. Cheers!

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