Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Dark Side Of The Desk: Pleasing Everyone

Usually, I don't like writing about the negatives of writing and pursuing publication.  With so many fun and wonderful things about writing like conferences, workshops and retreats, it's easy to focus on the positives most of the time.  Unfortunately, sometimes you have to face the unavoidable unpleasantness of the writing world--or what I like to call, "The Dark Side of the Desk."

When I got back from vacation a few weeks ago, I found an agent rejection email waiting for me in my inbox.  I knew it was coming; I'd been waiting for a response on a revision request I submitted last June.  Rejections themselves are an unavoidable darkness (as are lengthy agent wait times), but, like most writers, I've gotten so used to rejections that they don't really phase me any more.  (There are plenty of fish in the sea, you know!)  However, it was the suggestions in the rejection letter that sent tears of frustration streaming down my face.

What happened was this: Agent A decided the revision still wasn't a good fit for her, so she gave it to Agent B.  (That part at least was a "hooray"--it means she still saw promise in it!)   But, Agent B passed as well, writing a lengthy list of suggestions regarding EVERYTHING I had just so happened to change in my manuscript over the past year and a half.  And I'm not kidding; I mean EVERYTHING.  Each and every thing she thought I should revise was present in my Manuscript Version 2010.  Yes, her "ideal" version of my manuscript was already sitting on my hard drive in a folder labeled, "Rejected Bannock."

You can see why this situation would result in tears of frustration.  Part of me wanted to email her Manuscript Version 2010 despite no revision request.  Part of me wanted to crawl into a hole and forget about all my futile hard work over the past 18 months.  Most of me wanted to scream.  And a little part of me said, "Okay, let's just think about this for a minute.

While it was tempting to push that reply button and attach Manuscript Version 2010, I remembered there was a reason I had made all those changes in the first place.  Now, I don't just follow advice willy-nilly from agents/editors/critquers.  When I sent out Manuscript Version 2010 in, well, 2010, I contemplated all the suggestions I received, latched onto the ones that were consistent and made sense to me, and revised accordingly.  And I was ultimately happier with the manuscript.  What really frosts my cookies about Manuscript Version 2011, is that every submission over this past year has resulted in at least one or two editorial suggestions that would return my manuscript to a prior draft--therefore contradicting the suggestions made by professionals who read Manuscript Version 2010.  (Agent B's suggestions just hit every agonizing point imaginable--and her suggestions even contradicted those of Agent A's!)

For example: following the rules of "The Hero's Journey," I originally had my protagonist, Ellis, stubbornly refuse his quest.  MV 2010's responses were, "But his quest is so cool!  It helps him get exactly what he wants.  Why would he refuse it?"  After rolling that idea around in my noggin, I agreed and revised.  MV 2011's responses?  "He needs to refuse his quest.  He should be angry and suspicious at his situation and unwilling to cooperate."  And my response?  Well, that involves a lot of #'s and @'s...

So, whose advice is right, and whose is wrong?

Well, that's one dilly of a pickle...

Contradicting advice is one of the most difficult things writers must face.  It has nothing to do with the professionals themselves; they don't know they're giving conflicting advice.  (I'm sure most would apologize for the anguish they cause us if they did know.)  Writing is just a subjective field.  Time and time again, my colleagues and I have attended consecutive conferences and even received opposite advice on the same draft.  One professional says, "This is a great opening.  You have me hanging on to every sentence.  Please send more!" But the next professional says, "You're not even starting your manuscript in the right place.  Count me out."  And we writers are left scratching our heads.  Get enough of this conflicting advice, and it becomes absolutely paralyzing.

This is sort of where I am at the moment.  I can't make my hero younger AND older; more rash AND more thoughtful; reluctant AND willing; sassy AND respectful.  So, do I return to MV 2010--you know, that version that got rejections across the board?  Or do I keep going with MV 2011--you know, that other version that got rejections across the board?  Did I simply send my manuscript to the wrong people at the wrong time?  I know it's impossible to please everyone, but what if you can't please anyone?

In such situations, people usually give the blanket advice, "Just go with your gut."  And that's why the need to send MV 2010 to Agent B quickly subsided.  While I can't help but wonder if the answer would have been, "Yes," if she'd read the older manuscript, a tiny voice inside me pipes up, "But you don't like that version."  Perhaps that is the voice of said gut (although, I imagine guts would have manly, Schwarzenegger-esque voices if they could talk.)   And gut is right.  I don't like MV 2010.  I put it in that "Rejected Bannock" folder with gusto.  But obviously, MV 2011 isn't quite right either.  So, since Ellis can't say "Yes," AND "No," to his quest, perhaps in MV 2012 he should say, "Maybe?"

Gut says, "Beats me. Me want more chocolate."

Since guts sometimes aren't very helpful, this is where we'll return to "The Light Side of the Desk" and one of the best aspects of writing of all: your support system.  In instances like this, I would indeed be currently screaming and crying in a cave somewhere if it wasn't for the people who support me.  If you find yourself in a situation of contradiction like mine, just remember that you aren't alone.  There are other writers who share your frustration and are left with a gut who just wants more Hershey bars.  Luckily, I am very blessed to also have a family who curses the Writing Gods for me, a hubby who wipes away my tears, and writing buddies who say, "Okay, let's figure out how to fix this!"

Here's to hoping our writing futures are filled with more Light Side days than Dark ones.

Note: Both pics were found on Google Images.  Snoopy is, of course, owned by Charles Schulz and Peanuts Worldwide LLC.

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