I’ve written before on the topic of writers and validation.
That previous post was related to which form of publishing one might chose to pursue (self-publishing vs. traditional), and what that choice may or may not say about one’s need for acknowledgement by writing industry professionals, which in turn may or may not relate to the strength of one’s self esteem.
This time, I’m talking about validation before one even has a finished product to consider having published. For this too is an important topic, the matter of validation during the writing process itself.
It’s one in which I’ve had recent personal experience, most notably through my having entered Pitch Wars.
Pitch Wars, as I’ve previously written, is an annual writing mentorship program wherein un-agented writers pitch their completed novels to up to four volunteer mentors in hopes of being chosen as a mentee.
Approximately 3500 writers entered this year, and each of the four mentors I submitted to received between 150 to 200 submissions.
Pitch Wars is a fascinating study in validation. While most people recognize that their chances of being selected by a mentor are slim, getting a request to read more of one’s submission (either a partial or the full manuscript) is much more feasible, and thus something every entrant desires to have happen. Myself included.
I sent in my submission package at the end of August and settled in for the six-week review period.
Anxiously I waited to hear something. And waited. And waited some more.
Even before I’d clicked “Submit”, I’d begun having doubts. After spending all of August getting a workable draft of my WIP together, my head was fairly swirling with words and plot lines and the premise of my WIP, all of which, frankly, were starting to sound like crap.
Hopelessly pedestrian and painfully juvenile, so it seemed. At one point, I tweeted that only a smidge of difference lie between my either submitting to Pitch Wars or tossing the whole manuscript in the fire.
At this point, subbing my manuscript to #PitchWars is only an arm’s length in the lead ahead of burning it #amrevising pic.twitter.com/mhtMQUMkMq
— Janna Hound of Hell 🔥🐕🎃 (@jgnoelle) August 26, 2018
A light in the darkness
As the wait wore on, I oscillated between disappointment at receiving no requests and vindication that of course no one would want to read more. I didn’t hate my novel enough to stop working on my revisions, but I was seriously lacking in perspective at this point.
I needed a second opinion—one from beyond my immediate circle of family, friends and critique partners.
The timing couldn’t have been better. An online friend whom I correspond with at intervals happened to email me, ending the message with the following:
If you ever want some feedback on your project or anything, let me know.
Well now that you mention it…. My online friend is not only a published writer and an editor, but also a man, and thus completely outside of my target audience demographic. This was exactly the kind of impartial feedback I needed.
He graciously agreed to read a whopping 28,000 words, the first six chapters, while I repeatedly reminded myself that whatever his feedback ended up being, it would be better for me to know the truth.
And amidst his week of daily emails featuring increasingly positive feedback the further he read, that which I’d all but given up hope of having happen happened.
I received a request for my novel’s first 50 pages from a Pitch Wars mentor.
The power of doubt
Long story short, I didn’t get into Pitch Wars. But the mentor who made the request was generous enough to offer comments on my partial.
In addition to providing valuable line edits for things that could be cut, she gave me some very positive feedback as well. The words “elegant writing” and “intriguing story” may or may not have been included. As well, the fight scene I’d written and rewritten to the point of utterly despising it may or may not have been called “great”.
And just like that, thanks to the concurrence of the Pitch Wars mentor and my online friend, my confidence in my work, and my determination to get through the rest of my revisions, has been restored.
But that is not the end of this story.
In the midst of receiving my online friend’s feedback, and the day after my Pitch Wars request, I found myself in a text chat with a member of my critique group.
She lamented to me how the process of receiving feedback on her chapters week after week was wearing on her.
This is nothing I haven’t myself experienced (and blogged about), so I could empathize. But then she expressed how she just wanted someone to tell her her story was good.
That way, she said, she could go forward in her revisions with confidence, instead of second-guessing everything she writes and has written.
To this, I replied that the ability to confidently go forward really has to come from within—that every writer needs to commit to their story and to believe in it in order to apply or reject critique as necessary.
All of this is true.
And yet, I get what she was saying. Actually, I got it as she was saying it. But I’d since entered a much better mental state regarding my own writing when I responded the way I did.
Even though I didn’t get into Pitch Wars, in retrospect I feel I got from it what I really wanted all along. Not someone to tell me how to fix my WIP, which I’m fairly certain I can do on my own with the tools already at my disposal.
Rather, I wanted someone to recognize my potential—to tell me that my storytelling instincts are sound.
We all want to be good writers and we’re all doing the best that we can. But it’s difficult to know on our own if our best is truly good enough.
Add to that the fact that writing comes from such a personal, intimate place inside of us and it can make believing in our abilities downright impossible.
A word of encouragement from an industry professional—someone to verify that yes, you do have some skill at writing; that yes, you are on the right track—can mean the world to a writer.
It can make the writing process that much easier, the way that things are always easier when you already believe you can complete the task effectively.
I realize now that not every writer has the benefit of what I was so fortunate to receive. Not everyone (or even most people) who entered Pitch Wars will have received feedback. Not every writer has an editor for a friend that they can turn to.
For those that don’t, and those who didn’t, the silence regarding their work may indeed prove deafening.
Some of them could quit writing for a very long time for lack of external validation.
I’m not sure what the answer is for these writers still left yearning for some sign of their emerging skill. All I know is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them for wanting to receive one.
Have you ever received external validation of your writing skill?
(Image source #1 and #2)
3 thoughts on “On Validation During the Writing Process (and why it’s okay for writers to want that too)”
Get it finished. Get it published. When a review is long and good, you will have your external validation – and the process of getting your writing to where you would consider it ready for publishing supplies internal validation in baskets-full.
Meanwhile, congratulations! Even getting a request for a partial in Pitch Wars is great. Hard work shows. Competence shows. Now go to work on what you perceive to be the pieces that need it.
You’ve bitten off a huge task, but I think you have what it takes to finish it properly. And stop talking about tossing things into the fire. Go read Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro (and his other books about Resistance) – you can’t let your fears get in your way. You’re too intelligent to let this particular kind of doubt keep you from working.
I’m definitely still working. Even when I feel doubt, I keep working because even if doubts were founded, continuing to work means continuing to improve, which is the only real solution other than quitting altogether (which I did once before years ago – although not due to doubt – and it didn’t end up taking).
I’m already a fan of Steven Pressfield and know that Resistance is real. I don’t give into it, but lots of other do. The point I’m making is that I don’t fault them for that. It’s very difficult to press on in a task – any task – without some sort of encouragement that you’re doing well, be it from a teacher, mentor, peer, or fan. It’s always easier to undertake something new when you already believe that you know how. A lot of that belief will come from within. But no man is an island. I believe that all writers who have gone the distance received external validation long before the finish line, and that it’s important to acknowledge the powerful positive influence of this.
I got some very critical validation on Wattpad, of all places, from an Irish literary – and traditionally published – Irish author who was kind enough to say some very startling good things about what I had posted. Several other people whose opinion I respected did the same – and I had the sense to save those comments where I can view them when I need to.
That, plus many of the reviews, especially the longer ones, when I published, allowed me to talk back to the doubt: if I DO the work until I’m satisfied, other people like the results.
You have to trust the source – or you can’t believe the feedback.
The extra validation comes from odd places: an editor who asked if PC was edited (I didn’t tell her it was SELF-edited, and her review pointed out to readers that it WAS edited); people I wouldn’t expect to react the way they did; comparisons to writers I consider good. I take it where I find it, as my marketing is still way sub-par, and I barely have energy to try to get back to where I was, much less do any marketing right now.
I agree, external validation is powerful; I don’t know if, in this day of internet access, I would have been able to be self-contained.
But it has taken me a long time to get to this place, and I hope I haven’t lost it. That would be the definition of ironic, as the reason I moved was to be in better physical and mental shape, and to have the time to write. Even a lessening of the burdens of the previous life is welcome, but if I can’t write, and write as well as I want to, it’s all for naught.