In 2007, I set out to prove to myself that I could write a novel. I gave myself a deadline of one year. I finished it with time to spare. After a period of sitting on it, I decided to make some small edits and start the process of refinement, so I might submit the manuscript to agents and publishers.
Now, as I began this process, I went overseas to visit a friend of mine. They were a bibliophile and well educated. Their opinion mattered very much to me.
So, I handed over the standard first three chapters and waited. Turns out, I didn’t have long to wait. They read the first chapter on their tablet, put it down, and sighed the type of sigh we all know means nothing good is about to be said.
“You’re telling, not showing. You’re being overly wordy and there isn’t a reason for you to be. I wouldn’t buy your book.”
I was shaken to my core. This called into question every positive piece of feedback that my early beta readers had given me. Clearly, I was not nearly as good of an author as I had been led to believe. Never mind that I’d had poetry published (it was a local newspaper, but it was still published). Never mind that I’d even had interest about this novel from a small press.
Right then, something inside me broke. I had spent most of my life dealing with bullies; I just never expected them to be among the folks whose opinions I valued most. Since then I’ve found that bullies are more often in your family and “friends” than among your enemies. Your enemies make themselves much clearer, and you can see them coming.
Imposter syndrome took hold, and it took hold hard. It wasn’t helped by the fact that the medication I was on at that time caused me to have absence seizures. Since that fateful trip, I struggled to rewrite my novel. I had stopped any progress on the second book, or the second trilogy. Many years later, that same “critic” tried to walk back those comments, but the damage had been done—irreversibly, I thought.
Fast forward to this year. My editor asked for the first draft of that same novel, knowing I’d been working on it for nearly a decade. I’d been trying to change it so that the story would fit the criteria that my critic told me would be better. I don’t think that person, even to this day, realized how much they destroyed me with that critique.
So, I reluctantly handed over the manuscript. You want to talk about crapping bullets? Yeah, that was me. I warned my editor it wasn’t any good, according to the terms that were barked at me. She affectionately told me to shut up and sit down so she could form her own opinion.
If you follow her on any social media, you’ll see her progression with it. She’s had me laugh with her reactions to some of the things, and she’s determined that when the book is published, the back blurb must include this one line I wrote about karma and balls, which she found hysterical.
I don’t remember exactly what my editor said to me during that pep talk, but I do remember it changed my feelings about writing and my writing in particular. I could probably look it up, but it’s not vital to what I’m talking about here today.
Here’s what happened to me, in a nutshell:
One person’s words hurt me to my core.
One person’s words began the healing process.
One person who isn’t an expert cost me nearly a decade of time that I could have used.
One person who is an expert gave me constructive feedback that allowed me to come out of—as Anne Shirley would say—the “Depths of Despair,” and go back into writing.
I have written a bit each day. Doesn’t matter if it’s “good” or not. Putting it on the paper is the important thing—getting it from my head, to my hands, and onto paper.
I still have imposter syndrome. I still feel that I’m going to be exposed as a fraud who can’t bloody well write a shopping list, let alone a full-length novel and sequels. I fight hard against it every day. I try to remember that my editor never thought she’d get her book published either, and that people wouldn’t want to read about a green alien who loves desserts.
You know what? It helps. I am blessed to have her as a friend. I am blessed to have her as an editor. She has given me feedback that I can use. Her responses to situations in my writing make me feel that maybe, just maybe, I did something worthwhile.
And that other person who tore me down without a second thought? They’re not in my life anymore. I wish them well, and when it comes time for that book— that they so carelessly provided their opinion of— to be published, I couldn’t care less if they buy it.
Amy M. Young is the author of the upcoming novel, A Desert Song. She lives in the National Capital Region with her husband, her daughter, and a bunch of fur babies. She primarily writes rock fiction and her work can be currently found on her website. You can also follow Amy on Facebook and Twitter.