YOU’RE WORK MAY BE BETTER THAN YOU THINK. OR WORSE. YOU CAN’T TELL.
Recently I wrote a novel that I had an idea for and only one or two characters in my mind but the rest I made up as I went along. The way I was doing it made me a bit uncertain. I was listening to the story, rather than driving it. I was pretty sure it was a mish mash and not that good. (I may still be right.) But there was something honest, important to me, and artistic about it all. I kept going with what the voice of the story wanted to do.
Eventually I finished enough drafts and thought, Okay, let me send this to my agent. She could be rough on me so I was a bit nervous. But she’ll tell me what is wrong with it.
I gave it to a friend of mine and she told me it was “funny and sly and charming.” It was? I had no idea. Maybe she doesn’t know what she is talking about.
My agent finally wrote back. I dreaded opening the email. She’s going to see through my uncertainty, my risks that didn’t work. In short, she approved it quicker than she had other work and says she will sell it. We’ll see if she does. There are no guarantees. But I write this because I was confirmed in something that writers go through.
We don’t know. We think it’s good. We’re off. We think it’s bad. We’re off. We can’t tell. Students often come in and tell me their work is not good and it is. Students often think they have something wonderful and it isn’t. I have learned the hard way now, many times, that authors are not great judges of their own work. How often have I seen famous authors say in an interview that a certain book of theirs is their favorite and it’s usually the one no one knows about?
Our own taste is made up of our own personal demons and personal hopes and projections. It’s the reader who really knows and that is as it should be.
Lesson here? Get readers or a coach you trust. We’re not always the best judge of our own work. And what we think is not good may just be the nakedness of our vulnerability in having told the emotional truth.