Recently in The Story of an Adult Headcase: The True Life of Charley Daveler, I left my home country of America to another continent to be with my Australian boyfriend. That was in November, and since then—Well, since forever really, but exacerbated ten-fold since then—I’ve been in a state of high stress in attempts to figure out what I want with my life.
Well, now that I’m out of money and my visitor’s visa is up, I’m returning home today (as I’m writing this kind of “today”) and the emotional havoc my stomach is playing on me is not enjoyable.
I miss my boyfriend, I am lugging all my earthy possessions in two heavy-ass bags from the domestic airport to the international, I could not find a pen for love nor money, (Literally. No attempts at prostitution or regular old barter got me anything.) I have a thirteen-hour flight ahead of me, going off of four hours of sleep, where I will then proceed to move back in with my parents, examine emigration options, get an actual job—the horror—and I just put two and two together and realized my plans to go with my mom are inhibited by the aforementioned bags that I’ve already spent around 300 extra dollars getting to the States in the first place.
Having decided last minute that I would stay the whole summer and earn some money, I also put down around 500 (borrowed) dollars on the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. The experience has always been great, and I’m excited to do it in general, but I felt a strange sensation upon clicking send.
After the rewrite of my first couple chapters, I’ve finally felt confident and excited for my book again. The last time I felt like this was in the earlier stages in which I went to the conference and received a very painful criticism from a woman who will be there again this year. She had a combination of some really great points with some really bad ones, and a whole lot of ambiguous, simplified advice stated fairly rudely - “WHY ARE YOU DOING IT THIS WAY. JUST DO THIS.” – making it incredibly hard to be objective. She was a likeable person while being closed-minded, and had very different tastes than me in general.
I wish I could say that the experience benefited me, but as I look over the ninth draft and see of how it has improved, especially thinking back to the changes that I initially braced against, I realize her feedback held me back and didn’t contribute much to the end result. Her condescension made it harder to accept not only what she had to say, but anytime anyone else mentioned something similar, the negative association was already there.
Right after I heard what she had to say, I left a little stunned—partially because I had met with her before her critique and she pointed out she said, “The manuscripts this year are really good!” So, I entered thinking she liked it, but when it actually came time for the critique, she sounded like she hated it. Not even tore it to shreds; every suggestion seemed to have this undertone of “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? WHY THE HELL DID YOU THINK THIS WOULD BE INTERESTING?” She also criticized my very intentional attempt to describe a dangerous world through the naïve perspective by saying, “YOU’RE TELLING A STORY. NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT STUFF.” She was right in that it was dull, but wrong in that I was just talking about stuff. Her hostility (and yes she wrote in all caps) was alarming and discouraged me.
You can see why when I found a few of her comments to be, for lack of a better word, dumb, and others to be absolutely dead on, the way she phrased it made it very hard for me to know if my distaste for her comment was simple offense or actually my gut.
When I was disheartened, seeing the people around me bragging about how an agent wanted them to send something and how much a writer loved their work, I finally admitted my shock to a peer, who pointed out to me that my reader does not like science-fiction what-so-ever. That was, funnily enough, the first time I ever realized the problem of getting feedback from someone who isn’t your target audience.
The second time I went to the conference with this same manuscript, I was now on a fourth complete draft, having reworked the beginning many times over, and had my whole little prologue problem.
This time I did see a much improved reaction. The agent and writer who I got to read it weren’t as stoke as, say, people were for another manuscript I was working on, but after months of receiving vague, overly simplified, and inconsistent advice from others, they had a lot of praise and only a few, consistent critiques about world-building. The agent told me really enjoyed it even though she didn’t represent the genre, and suggested I send it her coworker, using her name. (Which I never did because reasons.)
The third woman told me it was obviously a first draft. Did I finish it? It’s your first book. You haven’t written science fiction before. You don’t read science fiction. You read satirical science fiction—She’s there again this year too.
And another author is a woman I worked with in a writers’ group, someone I consider to be dedicated and moderately knowledgeable, but condescending, pedantic, and competitive. She’s the sort who instructs you to explain everything to your readers because they are too dumb to understand much of anything, the kind of writer who, upon being informed that her opinion is inconsistent with the other advice you’re getting, claims everyone else is an idiot and just trust her.
She’s reading this year too.
There’s also a man who told my peer, upon hearing what his story was about, that he “wished you hadn’t told me that because there are so many good true stories to be written.” He also sat in front of me in a play criticizing it loudly.
Then there’s the guy who’s married to the first girl, and another author who has seems to cause drama where ever she goes.
Having paid 175 dollars for critiques alone, I have no desire to re-experience criticism with these specific individuals, and while I am sure, knowing the people in charge and their accommodating attitudes, I can reasonably be asked not to be paired with most of them on the grounds they’ve already given me their feedback, the thought still stresses me out.
Thoughts of rejection haven’t really made me nervous in a long time. I suppose it is the potential of this new beginning more than anything else that worries me. Mainly, I don’t want to lose the excitement again. I felt as though my last beginning got less and less “world-building” comments, was successful in solving their complaints, and now I’m not sure how well this new one does with establishing the norm at all. I have no idea what the reader knows. I enjoy it myself, I have high hopes for the piece, but I’m afraid that I’ll go in there, see the disenchanted faces, and fall back into the, “Well, I’m doing it anyway,” slog.
I think seeing all of these people in one place make me question why I have so many poor experiences. Even though I realize that four out of six people in these conferences gave me good advice, that five out of seven in my writers’ group I highly enjoy working with, to not want to deal with so many people, I feel like an especially hostile individual. Now, I logically believe that it has more to do with the human instinct of focusing on the negative over the positive, that most of these people I encountered there, so of course I’d run into them again. Yet why aren’t those who gave me really excellent critiques to be found again? I believe in honesty in any critique and won’t claim to be the humblest or least sensitive person, but I also have worked hard on developing diplomacy and making constructive criticisms effective. I would wager to guess that none of these people are aware of the negativity I associate with them. They may think I’m an idiot, but I doubt they realize how agitated I get in their presence.
But most importantly, it also reminds me off how a bad criticism can affect me. I’m not so much afraid of them not liking it. As I said, I don’t expect to be read by most. Besides, not one of them likes or has much respect for my genre anyway, so their rejection means very little on a logical scale. (Which is of course is the only thing any normal human being cares about, right?) It’s more so a fear that I will hear something I don’t understand, get a reaction that I don’t know how to fix, and just lose this feeling of hope once again. I like the exuberance I feel when I am happy with my work, and it’s hard to lose that, even if it is for the greater good down the road. Especially when I am so close to finally submitting.
Plus, I paid 125 dollars for an extended critique, and if, hypothetically I paid that much to get the same feedback from these people, I would have been very upset. I’m concerned I’ll get another person who fixates on whether or not I should use “lightly” or “slightly” and misses the fact that a gun disappeared mid-scene.
My worries of the future have been causing me physical pain, and I realize there’s not much I can do about it. My plans are, for now, to live a day at a time, focus on one problem to the next, rather than trying to prevent future pain by antagonizing over it constantly.
Right now, I’ll focus on finding a bathroom. I won’t think about how the shuttles work, how I’m going to get my heavy bags to them, what I’m going to do with them as I fly with my mother to New Orleans, where I want to work, if my beginning is really as exciting as I think it is. I will solve one problem at a time, and maybe it will help me chill the hell out.
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