Feedback is rolling in for Goodnight Sunshine. I’m trying to absorb it as a whole without focusing too much on the details. Trying to give my writer’s mind the time and space required to sort through the dozens of messages it is receiving, to reconcile conflicting views and recognize consistent patterns.
Once we release a work of fiction, there is no taking back what we’ve said. No factory recalls or upgrades, no bringing our creation back into the shop for repairs. Minor corrections aside, there are no do-overs for a novel. Once it is out there in the wild, it takes on a life of its own.
If I were to re-write Goodnight Sunshine knowing what I’ve learned over the past four years, it would be a different novel than it is. How different? I’m not sure. It might have become a masterpiece — or perhaps it would still be in progress, never quite good enough to meet my own exacting standards. I am no stranger to the curse of perfectionism; I am well aware of the fine line that exists between being an artist and being an author. I have chosen to be the latter, while recognizing the former as a lifelong journey.
One of the most consistent messages I’ve heard, from both critics and fans alike, is respect for completing a novel. For every novelist, there are countless writers who will never publish their work. Not everyone wants to share their words; writing is often a purely introspective process, an internal expression of feelings and thoughts. And for those who do want to share, completing and publishing a novel is a daunting task that requires a great deal of perseverance and self-motivation. But for all the challenges that hold writers back from publishing our works, I believe our greatest roadblock is ego.
Allowing our words to be read — by family, friends and complete strangers — opens us up to a great deal of vulnerability. As authors, the more we allow ourselves to convey emotional honesty — to write those things that make us uncomfortable, allowing readers a window into our deepest thoughts and feelings — the more we expose ourselves. It is tempting to combat this vulnerability by sanding off the edges of our words, making our work more palatable for sensitive readers, and losing a bit of ourselves in the process. Or we bury our work, refusing to bare our souls for all to see. The truest and boldest art is that which speaks from our soul, with no apologies or disclaimers. Releasing such work is an act of bravery.
I am somewhere on the path to artistic bravery. I expressed a great deal of emotional honesty in Goodnight Sunshine, and I have experienced the raw exposure of vulnerability. I am welcoming feedback of all sorts — positive, negative, and everything in between — and trying to receive it all with an open mind. Taking in both rave reviews and constructive criticism, recognizing that each reader views the story I have written through their own unique lens. When I hear that a plot thread delights one reader, then learn that another person sees the same thread as a weakness, I realize that I cannot please everyone. When one reader loves a character who is despised by others, I understand that relatability is, by definition, relative to one’s own perspective. And when I re-read a passage that I slogged through writing, one of those passages that never quite felt right to me, I recognize that there is always room for improvement.
I couldn’t ask for better feedback than I’ve received. I’ve had many positive reviews, which act as motivational fuel for continuing my journey as a writer. The criticisms I have heard are fair and specific — whether or not I agree with them, I acknowledge them as valid. Rather than justify or defend the decisions I made, I recognize that my connection to some readers is not complete; that I have missed the mark from their perspective; that I have failed them on some level. That does not mean that I have failed myself. As a wise aunt said recently when discussing the varied nature of feedback: “It took therapy for me to accept that some people just don’t like me.”
There are times when I feel great about my writing, and times when I wish I could go back in time and re-write my first novel. I know that I can do better, but I had to start somewhere. All things considered, I’m happy with my first book … and I’m already halfway through writing my second. One step at a time, I’m pushing myself forward, establishing myself as a working writer. This author’s life is a marathon, not a sprint.