Tonight a writer I admire and respect is critiquing my book manuscript. Fear and nervousness quickly give way to feedback fantasies:
- “This is the best book I have ever read in my life.”
- “Your prose is the best ever written in the English language.”
- “You didn’t know this about me, but I happen to be a millionaire, and I would like to fund your genius.”
- “Because your book is such a god damned masterpiece, I went ahead and showed it to my publisher. She wants to publish it immediately. In fact, I showed it to multiple publishers, and they all want to publish it immediately.”
- I walk into the room (this is more of a writing workshop fantasy), and before class even begins, everyone stands up and starts clapping. The teacher wipes tears from her eyes. Her mouth says “Bravo,” but no sound comes out because she is overwhelmed with emotion.
Though these fantasies will never come to fruition, I view them as progress. When I was younger and more inexperienced, I pictured looks of disgust. Whispers. Passed notes and little snickers. Dead silence. Someone official busts into the classroom and asks for Jenny Dolan. I raise my hand feebly. “I’m sorry,” Official says, “but there was a mistake. You were never meant to be admitted into this MFA program.”
Now I’m imagining the final scene from Mr. Holland’s Opus. Why? Because I believe what I’ve written is actually good. To be successful as a writer (or artist or entrepreneur or any number of things), you need a certain level of egoism. You have to believe that what you’re doing matters, that your book is worth reading, that people are going to get something out of it, that people will buy it, that there’s an audience that will connect with it, that it’s worthy of acclaim, and least of all, publication. If you don’t believe that your work is any good, then how are you going to convince an agent, an editor, or a would-be reader that it is? How are you going to stay motivated enough to finish the darn thing?
Feedback fantasies like mine are silly, but they can serve a purpose and be a point of pride. I’ll write another post soon with my tips for getting the most out of a critique session (and why the traditional writer’s workshop is one of the strangest modes of torture ever concocted).