Smoked salmon bagel and a cup of confidence, please.

I while ago I agreed to review a manuscript for someone, lets call her Melinda*.  She had a completed novel that she was about to produce as a serial podcast.  How exciting!  I love the different ways you can get your work out there.

She asked specifically for help with her grammar.  Well, I can do that, grammar thug that I am.  I read the first chapter through to get a feel for her style and for the story.

Then I closed the document, untouched, and sent it back to her with the following note.

Dear Melinda,

I have read the first chapter of your manuscript, but there’s no point going further.  Grammar is not what you need to work on.  I’m going to be honest here, because I don’t think being ‘nice’ is going to help you improve.

That first chapter was nothing more than a catalogue of actions.  There was no hook.  There was no character development.  There was nothing there to draw the reader in and make them want to read on.

There are many useful sites out there to help you learn the craft of writing.  Take the time to read around and learn.  I’m sure there’s a very interesting story buried in your manuscript somewhere, but it needs a lot of work to come out.

Best wishes,
M.

Do you think I was harsh?  Arrogant perhaps?  Well, maybe I was.  Maybe there are readers out there who would love to hear about the heroine waking up, having a shower, going downstairs, eating cheerios, feeding her pets (all named) and heading off to work.  That was the first chapter.  I was bored after the first sentence.

Needless to say I didn’t hear back, and I’ve no idea whether the writer is going ahead with her podcast or not.

The incident percolated in my subconscious for a few days, and then bubbled up into my conscious mind.  I am a dweller, and I dwelled.  I got angry.  Then morose.  Then depressed.

Apathy hit.  I opened my manuscript, stared at it for a while, then closed it, untouched.  I listened to my characters talk at each other, their mouths full of sand.  The scene cooled and died and left a flaccid corpse on the page and the characters crawled over it like shiny carrion beetles.

I want to have Melinda’s confidence.  I want to be able to write pages and pages of words and not have to deal with the knowledge that my work is not good enough, is never good enough, will never be good enough to satisfy the gape-toothed inner critic who sweats her vile excretions into my mind.  You’re no good.  You’re no good. You’ll never be any good any good anygoodanygoodanygoodanygoodnevernevernevernevernevernevernevernever…

Melinda has a finished manuscript.  She thinks it’s good enough to make into a podcast.  She has the confidence to showcase her work, confidence that it’s good enough.

That’s what I want.

One cup of confidence, please, and a side order of bug spray.

—-

* Not her real name.  Not even close, so don’t try to figure out who she is.

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6 thoughts on “Smoked salmon bagel and a cup of confidence, please.

  1. Hm. Big day.

    1. When I get hired to edit something, I don’t comment on it. So if your friend asked you to edit something lousy, that’s what you do. If she asked for your opinion of the content, then let her have it. Parallel: When you take your car to the shop for an oil change, do you want a lecture about how you bought the wrong car?

    2. There is a significant difference between real confidence and brain-dead fearlessness. Don’t envy someone too dumb and too self-absorbed to gauge their own ability/value/skills. Dogs don’t chase cars on the highway because they are “confident.”

  2. Dealing with the Inner Resistance Monster/Inner Editor/Perfect Girl is a lifelong battle. I’ve found Dr. Susan O’Doherty’s column The Doctor Is In and Stephanie Quilao at Back in Skinny Jeans inspirational in ways to over come it. I also cannot recommend Heather Sellers Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter enough. I have used her exercises on dealing with anxiety over writing fears when it gets too bad. And bitching on the blogs is always an option. I tend to use that when I know I’m being an idiot and need to talk myself out of it.

    Harsh in your advice? No, though based on how I edit, I would have sloughed through to where the story really started and showed what needed to chopping off with an axe. Why is my picture next to the definition of “masochist”? ;)

  3. Put me down with a vote for not harsh either. I would just hope that she had the courage, and thick skin required by any writer to firstly, get mad, then depressed, then read it again (get angry again) then think perhaps, just perhaps, she CAN do this, no matter what anyone else things, and push on.

    While you’re pouring cups of confidence, give me one. Cause I still ain’t got rid of those inner editors. I even know what those guys look like …

  4. I don’t think this is harsh at all. But then again, I’ve been living in Germany perhaps too long. :-) IT#s good that she realizes she needs others to look at it, but … I hope she takes your comments to heart and actually works to make her books better.

    I try not to think about what I’m writing at all on that level…’Is this good enough, I suck’…if I do I am blocked. Yick.

  5. Aww, you weren’t harsh. Just brutally, skin-scrapingly honest. I really hate when people read my stuff and say, “that was cool” without providing anything constructive. Trust me, you’re doing this person a service.
    For confidence, you just need to believe in yourself and your writing…and turn off that inner critic! The first person you’re writing for is yourself. Write something you enjoy, then worry about selling it later. Nobody likes a bunch of critics hanging on your shoulder while you write, whether real or invented. So to Merrilee’s inner critic I say: STFU, you’ll get your turn when she’s ready.

  6. I’d love a cup of that confidence too, it would be wonderful to have, specially some days! I am sure you know the ones I’m talking about.
    And I don’t think you were harsh, from experience it’s the harsh comments that are the ones we most need to hear – she’ll either be at the point where she doesn’t believe you at all, or the point where she knows your right (even though it probably hurts) and that it’s time to take a good hard look at her story and get back to work.
    As long as you are being honest, then I wouldn’t dwell on it, she’ll come out a better writer for your being up front with her about how you felt about her work.

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