I Want You to be Honest. Honest.
By Sara Davison
At Word Alive Press we know how valuable feedback can be to writers, and this week our blog will be focusing on how to receive—and give—feedback on writing projects.
Here is our second installment from Sara Davison, author of The Watcher, the fiction winner of our 2010 Free Publishing Contest, the precursor of our Braun Book Awards. Did you miss part one? Find it here.
When the phone rang, I fumbled for it and pressed it to my ear in eager anticipation. A good friend had texted a couple of days earlier to say she had just finished reading the manuscripts of my two-book romantic suspense series. She claimed to love them both and wanted to call me to discuss them further.
Nothing thrills me more than discussing my work with someone who admits to loving it, so I looked forward to the conversation that would bolster my
pride confidence in my most recent books.
My friend didn’t let me down. At first. She gave me about thirty seconds to revel (read: let my guard down) as she gushed about how much she loved the storylines, the characters, the dialogue, the suspense and the romance.
There was a slight pause when she finished. I don’t think she actually said the word “but” out loud, but she may as well have. It crackled along the many kilometres of wire separating us like an electric current, raising the hairs on the back of my neck accordingly.
Here it comes, was all I could think.
It actually occurred to me to start breaking up my words like I was travelling in and out of long tunnels and would have to apologize and tell her I was losing the connection and maybe we could continue the conversation sometime in the future. Like after the books had become massive best-sellers and everything she was about to say had become moot.
Problem was, she’d called me at home.
Short of lighting a match under the smoke detector (and don’t think I didn’t consider it) I was stuck.
For what seemed like hours, I listened as she pointed out every little hole in the plot, questions that went unanswered that should have been answered, questions answered that would have worked better if left a mystery, and the periodic stretching of credulity.
As a rule, I avoid clichés like the plague. Still, there’s no other way to describe what I went through during that conversation other than a roller-coaster of emotions.
The initial euphoria wore off alarmingly quickly. Trepidation rose to take its place, soon supplanted by an actual, physical pain in my chest (which frightened me even as I grasped hold of the slim hope that I might be having a heart attack and would have to terminate the conversation in order to call for an ambulance). Once I managed to get over myself, however, I sloughed off the self-pity and straightened in my chair.
Actually, some of this was pretty good stuff.
I reached for a pen and paper. Several scribbled pages later (both sides, single-spaced and running up and down in the margins), my friend ran out of suggestions. Or possibly oxygen. Either way, I admit to a sense of relief, coupled with a growing excitement.
She’d made some great points. Even addressed some issues that, deep down, I’d known were problematic, but had really, really hoped no one else would notice. I didn’t agree with all of it, but I could already visualize how to implement much of what she said into the story. It wouldn’t take a ton of work—most of her quibbles were with small, easily managed problems—but the changes I would make based on her suggestions would definitely make the story stronger, more believable, more suspenseful and maybe even a little more romantic, never a bad thing.
As I hung up the phone, the relief and excitement were overtaken by yet another emotion: gratitude.
Giving her honest opinion of my work hadn’t been easy for my friend. Several times throughout the conversation she had apologized, and gone out of her way to assure me that she really did love the books. Still, she cared enough about the stories—and me—to want them to be even better if possible (and trust me, it’s always possible).
I returned to the top of the first page of notes I’d taken, firmly scratched out Note to self: slash her tires, and settled in to contemplate her recommendations. Then I booted up the laptop and got to work.
When I finished several days later, I was ecstatic. If I’d ignored my friend’s advice, or set my own house on fire in an effort to avoid it, the books might still have been okay. Now, though, I was thrilled to see that the –humiliation- humbleness with which I had received her constructive criticism and applied her ideas to my manuscripts had borne fruit.
Holes had been patched, credulity bolstered, questions answered or left tantalizingly—instead of annoyingly—mysterious.
(Brutally) honest feedback on our work is difficult—to take and to give. But if it comes from a genuine desire to help make that work more excellent, and if it is received with a thick skin and an open mind (a powerful combination for a writer to cultivate), it is also a priceless gift.
So I would like to take this opportunity to send a personal message to my friend: thank you, thank you, thank you for having the courage to speak truth to me. You have brought out the best in my work, and in me, and I will be forever grateful.
And no, I don’t have any idea who t.p.’d your house in the middle of the night last week.
One of those questions that will just work better if left a mystery, I guess.
About this Contributor:
Sara Davison is the author of the romantic suspense novel, The Watcher, the romantic suspense series, The Seven Trilogy, and the suspense novel, Vigilant, Book One of The Night Guardians Series. She has been a finalist for eight national writing awards, including Best New Canadian Christian author, a Carol Award, and two Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She is a Word and Cascade Award winner. Her favourite way to spend the days (and nights) is drinking coffee – a running theme throughout her novels – and making stuff up.
Facebook: Author Sara Davison