Feedback Anxiety

by rossnewberry

Red Snow, the novella I’m trying to wrap up right now, is my first shot at long-form writing. It started as an idea that I couldn’t get out of my head, and gestated for about a year before I finally decided to use the excuse of NaNoWriMo 2012 to excise it.

When I began writing the story down, I encountered a few of the anxieties I’d heard other authors describe. First was the worry that I wouldn’t be able to adequately tell the story. Next was the fear that I wasn’t writing quickly enough to finish my 50,000 words in time to “win” NaNoWriMo (I wasn’t. My story, as it stands, is 41,000 words, and I’ve decided that’s perfectly OK). I got over those worries pretty quickly, but was startled to discover two others that I hadn’t really been prepared for.

First was what I’ll call the Sharing Imperative. This thing I was writing wasn’t like anything else I’d ever read before. I’d woven it from nothing and, like a proud papa, I wanted to show it off. My first mental recalibration came when many of my friends (in their late thirties, all with kids or careers taking up giant swaths of their lives) couldn’t really find time to read it. I’d made a new thing, and they didn’t want to look at it, and it hurt a little. I cured this issue by blaming it on my giving nature. I understand that people don’t have a lot of spare time, but I keep telling myself that I would totally make time to read this if the roles were reversed. And so, the problem isn’t that people don’t care. The problem is that I’m so much better than other people that I can’t help but be disappointed. Victory through ego. I feel more like an author already! (Is joke. Sort of. Deal with it.)

The second issue I was facing was the tougher one. Of the many who agreed to read the book, some started it and then just sort of… stopped. I took a leadership training course through the Boy Scouts of America called Wood Badge, and the primary lesson was this: Feedback is a gift. Positive feedback tells you what you’re doing well. Negative feedback tells you where you need to do better. I’m totally fine with someone telling me the story doesn’t work for them. Maybe that person isn’t my target audience. Maybe I really do need to fix things. But at least I know. Not knowing what people thought was killing me.

I understand, empirically, that basically everyone who started and hasn’t found time to finish is just facing the same lack of free time as those who never started, but it means something else to me. It means they were able to put it down. They were able to walk away from the story before they got to the end. So, today I discovered the cure to feedback anxiety. My story needs to be better. Time to get back to work.