The Most Important Thing I've Learned About Writing (So Far)

1:18 AM

There are lots of things we as writers learn as the weeks, months, and years go by. I could likely compile a lengthy list of all the things I've learned as a serious writer in the past 6 years, but right now I'm going to explain the biggest, most important thing I've come to learn.

Subjectivity is alive and well. 

And oh so real.
And painful.
And at times, heartbreaking.

That light-bulb moment when I realized just how painful this thing called subjectivity was, I wanted to throw my computer across the room. (Don't worry, I didn't.) As one of my characters would say, Merriam Webster is a trusty old friend. So I did what she would do and looked it up.

Merriam Webster defines the word subjective like this:

- relating to the way a person experiences things in his or her own mind

- based on feelings or opinions rather than facts

Good old Merriam also defines the word like this:

- lacking in reality or substance

If you combine all of that, my logical explanation of subjectivity is this:

- personal opinions that you do not have to agree with

I'll tell you a short story.

If we jump back two years, before I started querying my latest book, The Heartbeat Hypothesis, I went through at least 4 critique partners and beta readers. (4 is my lucky number, I guess.) Some of my awesome writer friends even read my story more than once. (Thank you, awesome CPs!) Finally, when no one found any big-picture issues with my story, and all my plot holes had been fixed, I decided my precious manuscript was ready to send out into the world. 

So I donned my suit of armor and headed into the query trenches.

This is the third book I've queried, and I had this hope that the third time really would be a charm, so I started by entering writing contests. If nothing else, the feedback and friendship would be a mega bonus. But I was picked (during multiple contests -squee!) and it finally felt like I'd gotten somewhere. I thought this was the book that would land me an agent or a publishing deal. 

As months passed, a handful of agents requested my full MS. I was literally over the moon, as I'd never received so much agent interest. Jumping around like a crazy person who drank too many energy drinks and ate an entire bag of skittles. (I'm glad no one saw.)

But then...the feedback I received was all over the map.

Some rejections came with praise. Lines like: This is excellent writing. An amazing concept. I loved it. You nailed it! Something about your story really stuck with me.

But they were still rejections.

My least favorite rejections usually included lines like: I really enjoyed it, but I'm just not sure I can sell it. It is an NA book after all, and NA is (as I've come to learn) hard to sell.

And sure, rejections always hurt, but I always assume an agent won't say nice things if they don't mean it - because otherwise they'd be sending me a form rejection. (Right? Right.) So I brushed aside the rejections and reminded myself of all the good things people had said about my writing and continued onward.

Six months into querying, I received an R&R from one agent. Revise and resubmit?? She loves it?? Done! Pretty sure I would've jumped through literal hoops. Her suggested changes were fairly simple, and I didn't disagree with them, so I spent a couple months churning out the edits. I then had someone new beta my MS before I sent it back to the agent. It took one year for said agent to get back to me, and while she loved the story, she felt some of the character reactions were off.

Cue the mega disappointment.

And thoughts like this.

No one else had mentioned anything about my characters, so I took her email for what it was  - her subjective opinion - and continued my search for an agent.

A few months later, I got another R&R opportunity. I was asked to make relatively simple edits (let me repeat, relatively). I killed a lot of darlings.

Before sending my newly revised MS, I sent it to yet another new CP. She got back to me in record time. In her notes, she said there were elements she didn't quite believe. The interesting part was that NONE of her suggestions were part of the edits I'd made, and NO ONE had ever mentioned before.

Not going to lie, she kind of broke my heart. It's okay though, because she's still an awesome CP, and I still heart her, and I always want my CPs to be honest. (Besides, her line edits were on point, so her critique was SO HELPFUL.) But in the end I decided to ignore her major concerns. And until someone else says the same thing, I'm not going to make those changes. 

I had lengthy conversations about subjectivity with two of my close CPs. We all agreed that the feedback we'd received about our own stories was all over the freaking map.

You should age this down to YA. 
You should age this up to adult.
This maybe starts in the wrong place.
I wasn't connected to your characters.
I'm not thrilled with your title, are you attached to it?
I LOVE this.
You made me cry! And laugh!
I LOVE your characters.
This is great, so stop fretting.

What's a writer to do with all those different opinions?

First, let's think about this. You could give your manuscript to someone new a million, bazillion times, and every single person will have something they think you should change. (I'm almost positive this is a fact.) I don't know about you, but I read published books all the time and find things that I would change if I were editing their story. And there are some books I flat out couldn't stand. Even books that are praised far and wide. 

There is no perfect story, or poem, or anything.

And if you can't please everyone, you should aim to please yourself. Listen to the feedback you receive, and let it churn in your brain. Scream if you want to. Cry if you have to. But then decide if it's something you agree with. If you don't, then don't do it. It's your brain, your words, your writing. You do you, and the magic of writing will live forever.

And so do you.

(Subjectivity is a cold, cruel bitch, but once you get to know her, she's easier to deal with.)

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