Thursday, July 27, 2006

Trusting Your Gut

I envy you for being able to trust your gut about your second book and to walk away from an agent who didn't believe in it. How do you KNOW, when your manuscript is good, and to keep going with it in spite of the nonbelievers?

First off, I'm really, really tired today, so apologies for only answering one question. I have neighbors who seem not to understand that allowing their kids to run around and jump off the bed and do various such activities that create loud thumps and bumps and lumps at, oh, 12:35 in the morning might disturb those sleeping below...despite repeated notes under their door. So I'm f-ing tired. Sorry. Sometimes I just hate living in NYC. Fortunately, we're moving to a new apt in a few months, and I can only pray that we have more considerate neighbors. Or at least that I can drink a fully caffeinated cup of coffee by then. (Until that time, two words: Stila concealor.)

Back to the question: how did I know? Hmmm, I've thought a lot about this. First of all, I think that some of it certainly had to do with writing a previous book that wasn't as strong. As I wrote TDLF, I was really able to hone in on where I'd made a lot of mistakes with #1 and knew that I wasn't making them this time around. So that, just in and of itself, definitely boosted my confidence.

The second factor was the feedback that I was getting from objective readers, readers who had liked #1 well-enough (or in my brother's case, had tried to say something positive but really struggled to come up with anything remotely praise-worthy - ha!), but who went bananas over this one. I mean, really went nuts. Who are these objective readers? Well, usually it's not recommended that family members be considered "objective readers," since they'll praise just about any drivel that you whip up, but in my brother's case, I knew that wasn't true. He's the most rabid reader I know, as well as one of the smartest people I know, and I trusted him to be critical and offer feedback...and he was. I also farmed it out to a friend who professional edits books: she sees all sorts of crap for a living, and I knew she'd give me the straight skinny. She flipped for it, suggesting a few minor tweaks here and there, but mostly just really loved it.

So it wasn't as if I were totally flying blind when I say that I suspected that it was good. But really, what a lot of it came down to was something inherent that's very hard to explain. I just *knew* that I'd written a book that flowed well, that told an engaging story, that had interesting and sympathetic characters, and that would also be commercially appealing. I think the harder question might be, how do you know when you haven't achieved these things? Certainly, I didn't know that I hadn't with #1, and I suspect that some aspiring writers can't see this with their own work that they're currently shopping around. Which isn't a dig. Hey, I've been there. It's just that sometimes we get too attached to our work to step back and view it objectively, right? If you're really, really not having luck getting representation and exhausted most of your options, maybe one solution is to set the ms aside and start fresh. I never would have seen the flaws in #1 if I hadn't written #2. Never. And there's no shame in admitting that. (Please no that I'm not advocating that anyone throw in the towel...writing a new book is just another options, that's all. I'm a firm believer in persistence, so I'd never tell you to abandon that. God knows that half of the battle of being a successful writer is being determined, but there just might reach a point when you have to surrender some of that.)

Oh, one final note that really just pertains to my personal situation. Remember that my first agent had already told me that she was happy with the ms, and it wasn't until an assistant in her office was ho-hum about it that my former agent wavered. This instinctively told me that it wasn't so much an issue with the ms as it was with my agent being gun-shy about submitting me again, especially with a perhaps less-than-perfect (in her mind) ms. She'd been burned once, and didn't want it to happen again. Screw that. In my mind, I was burned once too, and certainly had no interest in repeating history either.

So...anyone else out there ever trusted their gut? What sort of results did it get you? And when do you know to throw in the towel and start fresh?


Anonymous said...

Don't know if it's been my gut talking back to me, Allison, but I've always had an unwavering sense of knowing since childhood. OH MY, the stories I could tell; have I just thought of Novel #3? *bg*

As I've explained to you -- as well as touched upon in my post to thatgirl --, leaving Novel #1 behind and moving on to embrace Novel #2 (complete with its inevitable personal ramifications) was brought about by my knowing that now is the right time and place to do so.

For those who believe they've never had this experience, consider how you feel when knowing that you love someone. It may not be exactly the same, yet it's still knowledge that cannot be denied!

Hope you and your family sleep/slept well, Allison. NYC is my favorite city to visit, but I know living there wouldn't work for me.

Sara Hantz said...

I think it's really hard to know without an outside opinion. One thing I'm always saying is we are not the best judge of our own work, whatever it is.

A totaly off topic example: how often have you walked out of an exam to be met by someone telling you how easy it was, and then they proceed to tell you their answers - which were totally different from yours (and of course you then panic). They were convinced they'd done well. And how often did that person do badly????

Or what about the friend/daughter/ whoever who comes out the exam sobbing because they did so badly, and it was the worst exam ever -and they then get an A or a First.

I seriously cannot judge my own work. I rely totally on my CPs/Agent/Contest judges. That doesn't mean I can't recognise areas of weakness. But judging the whole thing (the sum is greater than the parts), forget it!

Amie Stuart said...

Great post! I totally trust my gut as to whether something is working or not (and frankly, wish I'd learn to listen to it more and doubt myself less!). If I get off kilter feedback from someone I take it to someone else for a second opinion and go from there.

Remodeling Repartee said...


Thanks so much for answering my question and for your suggestions.


Allison Winn Scotch said...

My pleasure! I hope it was helpful. :)

Feel free to ask anything else too.