Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On Quieting the Voices in My Head

I feel like I'm in a strange place lately with my writing and trying hard to simply focus on getting the work done. Since my last draft of Bodies of Water, I have simultaneously received glowing praise from some folks whose opinions really matter, and some extremely unkind criticism from someone whose assessments I thought did. I am having difficulty reading and revising the latest draft without hearing those words that crushed me. They have changed the way I feel about my own work. It is crippling me as I head into what I hope is the final draft. It's amazing how much louder criticism speaks than praise, regardless of who is offering it.

I have a friend who is going through the submission process right now who also continues to get conflicting messages about her novel (which I have read, which is wonderful)and is grappling with whether or not to make significant changes (to the characters, to the plot) in order to sell the book. I feel strongly (and have told her so) that she needs to stay true to her original intent, to maintain her artistic integrity at all costs. Easy advice to give. Not such an easy pill to swallow myself.

The reality of being a published novelist, is that suddenly other people's voices are in your head - whether it's that idiot reviewer on goodreads or amazon who gives you one star (though they wish they could give zero stars) or an editor who doesn't deem your work worthy of publication. And like some odd ventriloquist act, those voices can begin mimicking your own, as though they are coming from inside you instead of outside.

This is not to say that criticism is always wrong, or that you shouldn't ever listen. My editor's critiques are almost always exactly what I need to hear. But learning how to filter the helpful from the harmful, the valid from the valueless, is a struggle. I feel like so much of my time is spent now quieting those voices. Trying hard to listen to my own. For my friend, whose work is brilliant and beautiful and true, I wish you the necessary silence to listen to your own voice. And for me...I will try to do the same.

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