It is one thing to spend a year laboring in secret over a manuscript. I've very diligently followed the advice of Dean Wesley Smith and not talked much about my work in progress, especially with other writers. I think that's sound advice for my process, since it tends to be a very internal experience. At times I've really wanted to share my story and I've made coy allusions to it in conversation: It's fantasy. It follows the separate stories of three characters that intersect. I share my word count when people ask how it's going.
The benefit of this is that I reveal nothing of my project to the outside world and I limit my exposure to unhelpful or speculative advice from well-meaning but under-qualified sources. ("You should write a book about...")
The dynamic changes when the manuscript is finished. Suddenly the lonely process of writing becomes an event. People are congratulating me on finishing, asking when they can read it. People want to know what it's about and I find myself wishing I'd given myself more practice summarizing the material. "It's um... a fantasy book about three people that do a lot of stuff?"
People are clamoring for a look at the first draft. (I tell people reading a first draft is like finding out how hot dogs are made. You never want to eat one again.)
So my book is currently being looked at by my b-readers and will shortly go through line editing with my publisher. I am absolutely terrified. I have been on the reading end of a terrible debut novel and it is awkward. I do not envy the friends who've volunteered to b-read.
As the author I love my ideas, my characters, and the world I created. I know what good writing is, and I know what bad writing is-- it's derivative, the characters are flat, the premise is acrobatically contrived, and the prose has the cadence of tennis shoes in a washing machine. I am however, never sure where my writing measures up. I probably take my strengths for granted, and exaggerate my weaknesses. But I may also exaggerate my strengths while ignoring my weaknesses. It is nearly impossible to tell with something you work that closely with, especially if you're debuting. I've heard some writers put their manuscripts in a drawer before revisiting them. I also know this is a common feeling even among successful writers (in fact it might be more common for them than the bad ones).
I fear both honest and dishonest feedback. No one wants to say your baby is ugly even when it is. Even when it's clear that the child is so hideous and unholy that you should abandon any hopes of ever procreating. And some people are just not cut out to be parents. A lot of people write for the wrong reasons-- I certainly know that I did when I was a dewey eyed college freshman intent on commercial success, because it seemed like getting rich writing books was more fun than having a 9-5. It shows in the work who wants to write vs. who wants to be a writer. (Plus this shit's just hard and it takes a lot of talent and practice to do it well.)
That didn't happen this time, thank god. I did not try to please anybody with this work, aside from maybe the people I asked to b-read. Self publishing is a godsend in that arena. Whereas I would have struggled with making two out of four main characters gay back in 1994, I didn't give it a second thought in 2014.
I make good money, better than I likely ever will from writing... so it was a labor of love. I never needed it to be a success. I wrote mostly for myself, with the initial intention of publishing my book for free. I just wanted to share a story with people.
Until I finished. They say becoming a parent changes you. So does finishing a book.
I am going to take my feedback like a man, but I am not giving up this baby. I will make sure it's ready for market and it will be awesome.