Figuring out exactly how to write the ending of my spec TV pilot episode Jump! is still eluding me, but the first sixty pages got a rave review from a screenwriting friend of mine today, which was really nice of her.
Feedback is always a bit of an emotional rollercoaster – the blind terror when about to receive it for a new piece of work (I’ve been known to hover over feedback emails for ages before opening them), the relief when the general opinion is positive, the worry when the reader mentions the exact story problem you hoped you’d hidden, and then the quandary of which suggestions to take on board and which to cut loose.
As I’m trying to sell my novel Certainty at the moment, this fear is intensified when waiting to hear back from literary agents. I dread form rejections (the ones which are sent out to all works that aren’t taken forward by a particular agency), yet there’s also comfort in the impersonal element to them, in the sense that I’m not being directly criticised. They’re the lowest rung on the ladder, but also the easiest to brush off. Personal rejections are better in a way, because there are often crumbs of positivity in there, but they’re also worse because you tend to get comments along the lines of “this is well written… but it’s not for us”, which can be frustrating in trying to work out if there is actually anything wrong with what you’re sending out. The wait for feedback on full manuscript requests, though, is by far the hardest, as there always seems to be more riding on the outcome. If rejected, the possibility of getting nothing more than a very short “no” is pretty depressing (they read my entire novel and all I got was that? Gaaaaah!), but at the same time, any critique which identifies specific major issues would also be a mite dispiriting (they read to the end and still didn’t see its potential? And they picked up that story issue I thought I’d hidden – if only I’d sorted that, they would have said yes. I’m such a failure).
Let’s face it, what writers are looking for when it comes to feedback is the word “yes”. Yes, it’s amazing. Yes, it’s brilliant. Yes, we want to represent you. Yes, you’re going to be a massive success and are going to be able to buy your own island. Yet even when the feedback from readers is very positive, it’s amazing how many doubts remain. They loved it? Then they can’t have read it properly – what about story issue one, story issue two, story issue three and so on? They didn’t mention any of them! Or the classic (and I’ve done this a few times now): okay, so you love it, my other writer friends love it… so why not the agents? Whhhyyyyyy? Oh, the inhumanity.
Writers want to be told yes, but also that something’s rubbish so that they know it needs to be improved. They want to be told exactly what the problems are, but aren’t fans of direct criticism. They hate impersonal rejection, but find personal rejection much tougher to deal with. They want praise, but when it happens they’re suspicious of how it’s come about. What a tangled web of contradictory thoughts.
Self-doubt is hardly the exclusive preserve of writers, but in my experience they manifest it on a daily basis more than most people. So why put yourself through the ringer? Maybe because when that feedback comes in for a piece of work that you’re proud of, and the person reading it identifies exactly what you were trying to achieve, then all seems right with the world. Until the next time, at least.
Despite all the above, or maybe even because of it, I find receiving and reading feedback to be addictive, scary, dangerous and exciting. Much like the process of writing itself, actually.