Calm Down! It’s Just a Draft

I remember myself proudly, even smugly, slipping my draft into a 9” x 13” manila envelope addressed to an editor for her feedback. I expected a few corrected semi-colons.

Instead, the editor wrote that my story didn’t go anywhere, and that a word I had used wasn’t even a word. I could send it back to her after I’d vigorously revised it. Okay, maybe she didn’t use the word, “vigorously,” but that’s what it felt like to me.

I felt trashed. I was so shocked and paralyzed I couldn’t write anything for months afterwards.

Decades since that experience, I realize that I wasn’t prepared for negative feedback. I just wanted my work praised.

Now that I teach creative writing, I see that a lot. The startled look on a student’s face when classmates ask gentle questions after the student’s read an excerpt, or when I say, “I’m a little confused by . . . .”

The fact is, new writers ask for, but don’t welcome comments that challenge their efforts. It can be difficult for them to accept that their writing falls short of perfection.

I’m thinking of one of my students who began by calling me “a jewel,” and praising me for giving her guidance she’d never gotten before on her writing. Months later, she let me know that she really only wants to be told that everything she writes is fine, as is.

Now that I’m an editor (as well as a writer and instructor), I sympathize with the professional who edited my early writing. It’s awkward for me to tell a client who’s asked which publishers he should send his writing to that the work is nowhere near ready. (As I fretted over this one day, my husband said bluntly, “It’s your job to deliver the bad news.”) You see weak writing all over the Internet: rambling, pieced-together narratives with no story line, laden with unrelated digressions, undeveloped characters, and poor punctuation.

It might help aspiring writers to know that experienced writers’ work suffers from some of those weaknesses, too. But we call them what they are: early drafts. We know there’ll be a dozen more revisions and drafts, and that we’ll feel as tattered as the drafts look by the time the work is presentable or publishable. But we soldier on, seeing our drafts improve with each rewriting.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to read Reasons Writing Gets Rejected.

If you’d like some help with your drafts, check out my Testimonials, then use the Contact tab to get in touch. I’m experienced and easy to work with, and my references are superb.

Twitter: @lynettebenton

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10 thoughts on “Calm Down! It’s Just a Draft

  1. Excellent point, Lynette – especially about more experienced writers making just the same mistakes as first-timers. I’m an editor as well as a writer and I well know the baffled horror on a client’s face, no matter how supportively I make my comments! I also well remember the first time I read a manuscript to my crit group – I had laboured long and rewritten it several times and yet they raised problems I’d never dreamed might exist! But we can only see so much by ourselves.
    As we mature as writers we are far more willing to see a manuscript as what it is – a real work in progress that can be changed, tweaked or maybe completely rewritten in order to make it work.

  2. Love this post. Really – it’s a lesson that applies to any kind of feedback that we get. And it’s so helpful to hear it in regards to our writing. It has happened to me too. I allowed myself to feel insulted for a little while, and then when I realized that I really liked the suggestions the editor was making – I decided (finally) to accept that I have a LOT to learn and need to keep plugging. Thanks for the great reminder.

  3. If you do not mind me asking, what are you using to prevent junk comments? I noticed your blog is good and free from all the spam bots leaving comments. I have another blog myself, and I like to keep comments open so I do not have to come on and approve them all the time, but the spam plugins I’ve experimented with are generally failing to prevent even the most obvious and simple spam comments. Is there anything at all good out there that does a good job or is my only hope to keep them moderated or just simply close them all together? Thanks, Marianna Hentze

  4. I agree with Terry. It hurts to hear the truth sometimes, but once we “get over own egos,” we can really learn from those more experienced and learned than ourselves. Thanks, again Lynette for reminding us that we all go through it–even professionals like yourself.

  5. Thanks for your comment—and wisdom and sympathy, DWC! My misery *really* loves company, so I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with decent writing skills who was floored by her first critique. And that I’m not the only editor who has seen that “baffled horror on a client’s face.” It feels brutal to the editor, too.

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