I love to edit my work, I'm always tightening pieces and trying to bring out their best. In the rewriting stage especially, I take on reader's feedback and consider it when working on my novels or poetry. So it's not unexpected that after a big rejection like I had last week that I’ve been looking at my first novel with new eyes.
Or maybe clearer eyes. I often know when a piece of writing isn't working, but finding a way to fix it is more difficult. I was partially aware that my first novel had some problems. It's not a mainstream novel and my unusual style is difficult for readers to become comfortable with: too poetic, too disjointed, the main character in too many pieces at the beginning to connect with. For years, I have been unable to find a way to approach this without losing how I saw the novel.
I spent a lot of time last week pondering this. I did some simpler editing based around the problem of using a first-person narrative, too many I's, the sentence structure too similar, but the bigger issues continued to haunt me. How to make the beginning of the novel more approachable, but not lose my poetic sense of the novel?
I'm not sure if it's going to fix the problem, but I've decided to give it a go. I'm taking a person from the main character's past who is referred to in flashback scenes and bringing him forward and building a foundation from which the main character can fall into her disjointed state. I'll try to reduce the scenes from what is now the beginning, so that they are shorter and hopefully by embedding them in the foundation it will feel less of a jump for the reader.
It will involve writing a substantial new chunk for the beginning and doing a lot of rewriting to make everything mesh.
I'm not totally chucking my original. It might still find a home at one of the other publishers where it languishes in a slush pile. And I might hate the rewrite, so will want to go back to the original or start again from there.
When the feedback is negative, it's not necessary to immediately jump to rewriting. Sometimes you have to valiantly cling onto your novel or poem with all your might until you find the right magazine or publisher. But if there's a niggling feeling that they might be right, it's worth exploring other options. Or if the same feedback comes back time and time again, you might need to admit it's a problem that needs to be fixed.
Sit back and let the readers' comments and criticism sink in. Some questions to ask yourself.
Is there a basis for their comments? Can they back it up with examples?
How will it improve the piece: help the readers' understanding, improve the saleability, etc?
How much does it change the original concept?
Is it a fix-it from the reader?
How dramatic and time-consuming is the change?
How do you feel about changing this?
I've mentioned 'fix-its' before when I was writing about criticism from writers' groups. It is when a reader suggests how you should 'fix' a problem your piece of writing. I am wary of these because the reader makes it personal, fixing the story to their needs. Sometimes the suggestion is good, but I prefer when the criticism is more about what they feel doesn't work, rather than how to fix it. I want to figure out my own way, do it in my style. Point out my story needs more suspense or hooks, don't suggest I should have my character get pregnant or have her mother abuse her. These are real life suggestions I've received for my current novel. Comments from readers can sometimes be very blunt.
I've been sitting on this finished novel for ten years with the feeling that it wasn't quite right and that it wouldn't find a market as is. I'm at the stage where I'm happy to consider playing around with other ideas.
In the end, it's your story or poem, you have to be proud to send it out, to see it with your name on it.
Well, back to the rewriting. Best of luck.