One of the officers who worked for me until recently was fond of telling the new analysts in her charge to “just put on your big boy/big girl pants” whenever they needed to stop dithering and do something they didn’t necessarily want to do. This was especially true when she’d given them feedback on their work and they didn’t like being told that they were anything less than perfect.
Well, one of the “big boy/big girl pants” things for any writer–and especially for those of us who are aspiring writers–is to take a deep breath and get your work out there for feedback and critiquing (called “critting” in writing circles, such as on Absolute Write). But that can be hard to do, especially when the feedback is that what you’ve written doesn’t quite measure up. It’s especially hard when you worked hard to polish it, and it still doesn’t quite hit the mark for your beta readers.
For me, the tough part isn’t so much getting the feedback. Nope. Instead, the “big girl pants” moment is being ready to feel kind of embarrassed when what I’ve written doesn’t measure up. Especially when the people who’ve graciously agreed to beta-read for me are people I know. I really hate thinking that maybe they think I’m not very good. But maybe that discomfort really is a good thing, in the long run.
A good thing, because it can help me do a better job at reaching my readers as effectively as possible. As painful as it can be to hear that what I’ve written isn’t quite ready for prime time, I really want and need to know that. Do my beta readers find the passage or chapter engaging and interesting? Do they want to keep reading?
Sometimes the answer has been yes, and sometimes it’s been no. Lately, I’ve been sending around possible new first chapters for my book. And this has been a struggle because I’m truly not quite sure where, exactly, this book should start. Not how the plot will evolve or what the ending will be. That part is easier.
No. It’s how to kick off the book and pull readers in. So far, the first Chapter One draft bombed. Just didn’t work at all. And not with one or two folks, but with everyone who read it. The second Chapter One draft went over better but still wasn’t ideal. Then I worked on a third version that I didn’t show anyone.
But I know I need to toughen up and just share my work with more people. And I’ve decided that I should start posting at least some excerpts here on this blog. If you read it and hate it, let me know. If you read it and kind of like it, please also let me know that. And, whether you hate it or like it, why you do. I really would appreciate it.
So, here goes. This is actually the fourth version of the start of Chapter One. What do you think? Blech, or “Maybe I could keep reading this”?
The last day of Charlie Cooper’s life began, as his days always did, at 5:30 a.m., the music from his clock alarm playing softly on the nightstand to the left of his bed. He rolled onto his back, then reached out in the darkness to turn the music off, a gesture he’d made so many times over the years that he didn’t have to open his eyes to find the right button. He rubbed his face with his palms and yawned, sucking in the cold air and letting it out in one long breath. He slid his hands up into his hair and then kept them there, arms bent and elbows pointed toward the ceiling.
At last, he opened his eyes and looked up into the darkness. Six days into Daylight Savings Time and he still hadn’t adjusted to getting up an hour earlier, to getting up in the dark again. He sighed, untangled his legs from the sheets, and swung them over the side of the bed where he sat for a moment, yawned again, and stretched his toes out across the rug that protected his feet from the chill of the hardwood floor.
From the other side of the bed, he could hear Ingrid stirring. He turned toward her as she snaked her hand through the covers, reaching for him, her hair covering her face.
“Charlie,” she mumbled. “What time is it?”
He leaned over and gently pulled her hair back, stroking her forehead with his thumb. “Go back to sleep,” he whispered. “You’ve got another hour. Go back to sleep.” He pulled the blankets up and tucked them around her bare shoulders, then kissed her cheek. After a moment, he could her breathing deepen and knew she’d drifted off again.