This post is hard to write. It’s uncomfortable, and not a little embarrassing. No. More than that. It’s bloody humiliating. I debated whether or not I could ignore the situation entirely and pretend as if nothing had happened — Move along. Nothing to see here. — That, however, would have been neither honest nor productive, both of which are planks in the platform I use to run this blog.
And so, this post.
The ugly truth is this: last week, I got a serious writer smackdown.
It wasn’t a great week on any front, actually. Thursday night found me feeling pretty low, but then Friday drove up, burst in with both barrels puking fire, and did its level best to finish me off with extreme prejudice. By 10AM Friday morning, I was nothing more than a puddle of rendered fat seeking a drain.
I’ve had enough failures in my life to know that a true failure is one from which you learn nothing. Therefore, I shall use this post–and the few that will follow it–to explore that learning process. And I think there’s a lot to learn from this experience: about the craft, about myself, and about me as a writer.
Here’s what happened.
I heard back from Jefferson Smith’s Immerse or Die project. (For those just joining our broadcast, the IoD project works like this: Jefferson steps onto his treadmill for his daily 40-minute workout, opens a book from an indie author, and reads until the timer goes off or he reaches three WTF moments. Each time the poor quality of the writing breaks his “immersion,” he charges a WTF. Three strikes, and you’re out.)
There are few things in this world more demoralizing, more soul-crushing, than to set the bar intentionally low and then fail to meet that rock-bottom expectation. In all honesty, I had hoped Jefferson would find my book intriguing enough to keep reading, but realistically, I knew the opening section was rough. Quite rough in places. With this in mind, I would have been satisfied if I made it to the 9-minute mark. (Jefferson is a tough room.) I absolutely did not expect to make it all the way.
I made it to 2:43.
You read that right. Not even three minutes.
I was gutted.
My first conscious reaction (after the impulse to vomit, followed by the impulse to lie down and wail) was to give up writing altogether. Seriously. It was. I mean, if I couldn’t keep a reader’s attention for three frakking minutes, (even a highly critical reader) then what am I playing at here? I mean come on. It takes me longer to poach an egg than it took me to disgust this reader.
This reaction lasted for some time.
My second conscious reaction was to buck up and try to learn something from the experience. Was he right? Was he wrong? Was he fair? Was there anything of value to be gleaned from such a detestable result?
As soon as I started asking these questions I knew that there was something to be learned. Jefferson might be hyper-critical and overly sensitized to certain issues, but that does not mean that the issues do not exist. Not only that, after some inspection of the opening pages of that book, I realized not only that the mistakes were there, but that I had been unable to see them. Yes, even though I had put that book through dozens of edits, had received feedback from a cadre of beta readers, and had even received a critique from my agent (at the time I finished it, I still had one), none of us– none — had raised the very blatant issues that Jefferson mentioned.
And yet, there they were, clear as the summer’s sun.
What errors? What issues?
I’ll be detailing them in the coming post or two. Hopefully, the other writers in my reading audience will learn from my errors. Or not.
Regardless, I intend to learn from them.