I've been away, writing, then trying to write, then getting ready for the holidays. I'm still getting ready for the holidays. But I'm dropping by because I got an email last night. It wasn't a fun email to read, but it brought to mind something I believe about what writers need:
Everyone who wants to write a book and get published needs their own version of the angel and devil on your shoulder.
I feel lucky to have so many people [my writerly sister, a writer's group, fellow (former) grad students in the English Department] who are willing to read my work. Most of the time, I get a sort of middling response, some encouragement or praise, and some critique and suggestions for improvement. But I feel like every writer (and of course, this is all IMHO) should have at least one friend who reads your work and points out all the good stuff, to stand by you and say you can make it, regardless of the countless revisions and rejections.
To counter that, we also seem to need one friend/critique partner who doesn't sugarcoat things. Of course, it's nice if they can put it in an encouraging way, but they should be the one person to say, "They haven't told that X, Y, and Z also need work. And these three chapters are weak/plotless/meandering/etc."
It's so hard to finish a novel, to face the hundred possible rejections from agents and publishers, that it helps to have at least one person out there who believes in you whole-heartedly. (Make sure they believe it, lip-service fiends need not apply.) Someone you can go to when you've had a bad day, the writing is stalling, your confidence is low, and they say one line to keep you going, to try that scene again, to brave the task of throwing out whole chapters (when you're so tied to your words, but you know they don't work and need to go).
At the same time, you want to be ready when you face those agents and publishers. Advice abounds, opinions vary, but one thing seems general enough and a strong enough statement to be almost universal: submit your mansucript when it's the best you can make it.
The best, the absolute best. I know that I get to a point in writing and editing when I'm too close to a story to see where the faults lie. I can tell if something doesn't quite work, but not always know how to fix it. Your "devil" is there to help you through that. To say, "Yes, that character is two-dimensional. No, your subplot about so-and-so doesn't work." It won't always be easy to hear, no matter how good they are at softening the blow, but if they're the right person on your shoulder, they'll tell you what you need to know to be a better writer. I find those are the critiques where I listen or read the comments and can agree almost immediately with most of what's being said, but it can be harsh, so I still need to step back and look at those edits a day or two later.
I said this was a giving thanks post, and it is. I find it hard to believe in or accept the historical stories we're told about Thanksgiving when we're young, but there a good idea behind it. One day when you stop and think about the things you have and the people around you that you should be grateful for. Tell them thank you when perhaps you take them for granted the rest of the year. I know it's already December, so very late for this, but giving thanks is something we should do throughout the year anyway. As hard to hear as some critiques can be, I am thankful I have someone willing to tell me what I need to know. It's nice to have one person always standing in my corner,telling me I'll get there, and they get me through some bad days, but...for both people...I try not to take for granted the ones who'll be there when I need them.
Happy writing everyone,