Over a year ago, I had an idea. That idea consumed my thoughts night and day, snowballing in my mind into people; so real to me they felt like flesh and blood. Their adventure played in my head like a movie reel on repeat; and every time it replayed it got more intricate and exciting. That was when I got antsy. I had to get this story out of my head, somehow. So I wrote.
Once the first draft was done, I revised it numerous times until I decided it was finished. I knew it still had grammatical problems that I could work on later, but I wanted someone who knew what they were doing to give me feedback on the writing and the story. So I decided to take the opportunity to utilize a manuscript evaluation service.
I had no idea what I was in for. Using this service was a real eye-opener, or perhaps more accurately, a total slap in the face. Don’t get me wrong, I realize being a writer is not for the faint-at-heart; it is notoriously known as a cut-throat, exclusionary business. But my knowledge of this did not prepare me for the feedback I got from the evaluation.
I got the notice in the mail that I had a parcel waiting at the post office. I had been waiting for the evaluation for over three months, so I was fairly certain my manuscript had been returned to me. I brought it home, got into my pajamas, poured myself a cold one and then I tore into it. Or should I say - it tore into me.
In my (paid) line of work, I use a strengths-based approach. I rarely word things in the negative. For example, I might hear a client say “I want my child to stop being so stubborn,” and I would rephrase it to “You want your child to be more cooperative”. The second version is much more palatable to the child, and is more likely to incite cooperation rather than defensiveness. Clearly, in the world of manuscript evaluation there is no such concern about using a strengths-based approach. When I saw the word “ludicrous” on that page, I knew that the feedback was going to be brutally honest.
I pride myself on a fairly solid ego-strength, but reading through my evaluation definitely put that strength to the test. Getting criticism about my writing made me feel kind of like someone telling me my newborn baby was hideously ugly. I had just gone through nine months of creating it, breathing life into it and giving up my personal life for it; just to be told it was so far from perfect it could probably be diagnosed with Pervasive Ludicrous Disorder.
I was righteously indignant and mortified to the marrow of my existence. I searched the pages for the identity of my evaluator so that I could write them an equally scathing feedback. (Of course it’s anonymous – obviously for good reason). I threw the paper copy of my novel into the recycling bin, relishing in the palpable loud thud. I cursed at it, and told it how bad of a baby it was. Then I opened my laptop and I used the cut feature like I was wielding a machete.
That night, my first novel, my pride and joy, went from a 100,000 word document down to a mere 32,000 words. It was admittedly “flabby” before, but it certainly wasn’t anymore, rendered down to the bare bones. Then I took the little skeleton that had once been a novel and completely re-wrote it, my anger causing me to write with a newfound maniacal fervor. I have no doubt it is a better product now than it was before the evaluation. I took my ugly baby duckling, cut it to shreds, and turned it into a beautiful swan; something (I hope) no longer hurts the eyes, or insults the mind.
I’m still righteously indignant, and if my evaluator is out there and reading this, I dare you - stand up and identify yourself! But in reality, the truth hurts. I’m happy I went through the process for a number of reasons: It prepared me for the harsh realities of the publishing industry, it helped open my eye to my blind spots, and it forced me to exercise my resilience muscles. In the long run, it was well worth every penny - even if I did have to go through a hysterical meltdown, curse the heavens and cry myself to sleep for a few nights!