Saturday, June 23, 2007

Friends who see our value

by Donna Hatch

I'm going to take a slight deviation from my 'Donna's Book of Writing.' Instead of focusing on tools of the trade, I want to address something within us. This week has been one of the more difficult times in my life, but I have learned two things I wanted to pass on.

First of all, we all need friends. Unfortunately, when I'm down, I often turn inward and shut everyone out, including my very best friend, my husband. Of course I often blame him for my problems. Poor guy. He often says "Hey, I'm a good guy" or "We're on the same team." I seem to be in constant need for reminders that burdens become lighter when someone else helps carry them - even the burdens we think they give us.

In the very unrewarding and frustrating endeavor to get published, I often turn to my writer friends for solace and encouragement. After a particularly scathing critique (these are supposed to be helpful?) by a respected literary agent, I moaned to my writer friends, many of whom are multi-published, that I must not be a good enough writer to ever make a career of it. To a person, and without batting an eye, each one of them assured me that the only reason this agent didn't like my work was because she wasn't the one to represent me. They reminded me of the importance of finding someone who saw my value.

Seeing one's value can be difficult. It takes a mirror, at times. Finding a good friend who loves me helps me see my value.

We all need friends. We all need people who see our value. Surround yourself with friends who see your value and who cheer for your joys and weep for your sorrows.

6 comments:

  1. Donna,

    I'm glad your friends helped you feel better. Really!

    I must, however, respectfully disagree with what they said. I don't know how far you are in the querying process, but having received over 150 rejections myself, I can tell you that only about five of them were more than form-letters. Seriously, be grateful for that critique! Scathing though it may be. They come along as rarely as four-leaf clovers and should be treasured. For me personally, a scathing review from a fellow author is what turned my book into the work that eventually was signed by a very prestigious agent and is now out on submission to several fabulous editors.

    But you know what? The first thing my agent did when she contacted me was still to spend almost an hour on the phone telling me everything that was wrong with my book. Ouch! She then offered me the opportunity to revise and resubmit but certainly didn't offer me a contract or any other such guarantee. It was three months and three grueling revisions later that she offered me a contract. Do you know why she spend so long working with me without a contract? To see how I would handle her critiques. If I had shied away and told her she just didn't understand, do you think I would have an agent today? Nope.

    That doesn't mean I don't have friends to help me feel better. My writer friends (also multi-published, several internationally) are invaluable! They understand how hard this journey is and how tiny your ego must be to survive. But my friends would never, ever, tell me to ignore a professional's opinion. After all, the agents and editors are the ones acquiring manuscripts! That doesn't mean that they are always right, but their experience in the field you are trying to break into as a novice should be respected. (BTW, my writing got better when I started telling myself, "My friends do not acquire manuscripts." :)) Put the letter away for a few days until you are feeling better. Then get it out and think about what she said very, very honestly. Maybe she's right. Maybe she's not. But the chances of her being right are significantly better than the opposite. That doesn't mean your book is without value. In fact, if she took the time to write you a “scathing” critique, it means your book is probably pretty good! But repeat after me, “I am not my book.” :)

    If I may (since this is an LDS site): ever been in one of those meetings where the bishop feels the need to call the congregation to repentance for some issue or another? I've been in several. Some of them had nothing to do with me. Several were things I did, in fact, need to improve on. But they always prick at my ego just a little. Because I try to live a good life! I'm doing my best, right? Well no, in most cases I realize that—like many other members of the congregation—I'm slacking, and I need to do better. No one likes to be told what they are doing wrong and everyone needs friends to help bear them up in times of sorrow.

    But I would be very mistrustful of any friend who told me, “Well, that bishop just doesn't understand. You're doing fine.”

    I am so glad you have a good circle of friends—everyone needs one. I have one myself. But don't dismiss this agent's comments without giving them a good, honest think through. And keep that letter. In six months, you may see a great deal of wisdom in it.

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  2. Donna,
    Thank you for the reminder about valuing who we are! We do need our friends...especially our most loyal friend...our Savior. And I agree with
    Aprilynne's comments...you are not your book...but if you want to get it published it is important to listen to the people buying the manuscripts!

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  3. Donna, I'm reminded of Minerva Teichert (or however she spells it) whose art teacher in Chicago praised the work of many other students, but had nothing but criticism to give Minerva. She almost quit. She finally learned why she was 'picked on'when she accused him. Her surprised teacher admitted that the students he praised would never become great artists, and he helped them be satisfied with what was probably their best. But he saw sparks of greatness in Minerva and took time to help her kindle her fire.

    The University of Hard Knocks undoubtedly exacts the highest tuition, but oh, the compensation for each class.

    Hang in there, Donna, and keep writing and re-writing. After all, that's what writers do.

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  4. Wow! Donna, you have been the catylist for some GREAT advice to all of us who are hoping to publish. Bless your heart for being brave enough to put your disappointment and frustration out there for comments.

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  5. Donna,

    There have been a lot of bestsellers that were rejected again and again by the "experts", before someone with vision gave them a chance. I once heard of a writer who did an experiment, by sending a copy of the classic novel, "The Yearling" out under a different name to agents and editors, who not only repeatedly rejected it, but never even recognized it as an already-published "classic"! So yes, put that agent's critique aside and come back to it later (I always find the rejections sting just a little less with a few days' space, and often include compliments I didn't notice the first time for all the negatives), give it an honest look, but don't completely dismiss the possibility that this particular agent just might *not* be the agent for you.

    Joyce

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  6. I appreciate your comments. The reason the agent critiqued my work wasn't because she was trying to be helpful; she did it because she was obligated to critique the winner of the contest. So even though you'd normally be right, in this case, she took the time to do it because of a pre-arranged agreement – she really had no choice. So, no, it was not “treasured” since she was so way off base on many of her comments as to not even be helpful.

    I wasn't trying to say ignore harsh critiques, I was saying to take them with a grain of salt. And to keep looking until you find someone who believes in you. Everyone has different tastes. Have you ever read a best seller that you hated? It wasn’t your thing. My book wasn’t this agent’s thing. And I needed friends to remind me of this.

    My current editor warned me she'd be harsh, "ruthless" was her word, and I'm totally okay with that because I know she knows best and I value her wisdom in making my book the best possible work it can be. I never just dismiss a critique, I always examine it carefully. Many of a critique partner’s, or judge’s, or agent’s points are good ones, many are not. The point is to discern which category they fall into. And to keep friends handy who will encourage you to never give up.

    Thanks for your input. Good luck to you.

    Donna

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