A few weeks back, I entered the first three chapters of the book I’ve been working on for the last year. It is a novel I have written, rewritten and rewritten again. I have not only worked hard on my book, but love my story and there in lies my problem – maybe I love it too much. I entered this contest because it was judged by editors and agents. My thought process was a). maybe I’ll be discovered and/or b). I will receive constructive criticism to be able to improve on my story even more. Okay, I really was hoping for the first but was ready for the second…or so I thought. This morning, I received an email with the judges score sheets and critiques attached. Let me tell you, if you ever want to experience self-flagellation, become a writer.
After reading the “the contest was filled with many talented entries.”, “the critiques are subjective.” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, the crux of the email was – “You were not chosen as a finalist.” I took a deep breath, reassuring my ego it’ll be alright. I opened the first attachement from judge #1. Judge #1 gave me a perfect score! A perfect score! Out of 140 points, I received 140 points. A perfect score! (Oh, sorry. My ego just wants to stress this.) The perfect scored judge wrote “Your humor, characters, dialogue and setting were wonderful. I have nothing to correct you on. It read like a published book and that’s the highest compliment I can give you. You NEED to keep writing.” I know, right? If only the rest of the critiques were as pleasant, but remember, I was not a finalist.
Judge #2 and Judge #3 gave me scores in the 90’s. Not so good, right? Judge #2 liked the characters, the setting and thought the dialogue was great. The problem Judge #2 had was with the humor. She/He thought it distracted from the story. Okay, my humor is what drives my story and is the story. This was not such a good thing to read. Judge #3 wrote the setting , the dialogue and the humor were good BUT did not like the characters and thought writing the story in third person would have been better. The humor relies on my characters observations on the other characters which are written in first person. So again, a huge critique to make and take. Both judges encouraged me to continue writing…not as strongly as Judge #1, but with a nice gentle “you go girl” kind of remarks.
Then I opened the forth and last judge’s score sheet and critique. I think I experienced the bloodletting practices in the Middle Ages for these scores and the critique cut my writing veins right open. Judge #4 gave me a 72 out of a possible 140! 72! (Okay, my ego did not want me to repeat that part!) Basically the judge disliked everything about it. She /He thought I was too crass at times. She/He did not believe my characters. She/He thought the setting – a suburb of Chicago – was too boring. (I’m thinking she/he might be a Packer’s fan.) And…let’s just say there wasn’t anything the judge did like. In the end, I didn’t even get a “maybe next time” encouragement. The judge even gave me a low score on grammar and sentence structure…the area the other three judges gave me the highest possible scores. The third judge even commented that was my biggest strength – thank you editor and friend, Karey.
After reading the last one, I started to get my supplies ready for my pity party – chocolates and a bottle of wine. Or would that be whine? No matter, I almost started my spiral down that road of woe is me’s. I was so fixated on the last comments and scores that I began to believe what she/he wrote. I mean, come on, there was nothing positive to bring out of the last critique. I was ready to give up on my dream and live my life as a writer wannabe. My ego stopped me and I started to ask questions – yes, aloud. My family is accustomed to me talking to myself.
Why was I concentrating so hard on the last judge’s score sheet…or any of them for that matter? Why couldn’t I take the positives out of them and work on the constructive critiques of the others? Or here’s a novel (pun intended) idea! Why don’t I consider the suggestions? Why don’t I believe in my work and go with my gut? I mean, the first judge believed in me. I am sure others would as well. Books are subjective the way the email began and I had to let go of trying to please everyone. The only way I would be happy is to please myself otherwise the fun is gone and with it my reason to get up every morning at 4:00 in the morning to write – my passion.
So many things in life are like the critiques I received. No matter how you try, not everyone will like you and for different reasons – your character, where you live, your humor, the people in your life and your words. The secret is to like yourself and to be happy with what you have to offer the world. And, most importantly, concentrate on the people who care for you and believe in you. Tune out the negatives and live in a positive. At least that is what my ego tells me.