Want to be a writer? Then start by leaving your ego behind before your fingers touch the keyboard. Because if you don’t, you might just spend most of your writing career curled up in a foetal position in a drafty corner of your house (because you’ll be too heartbroken to make it to your bedroom), sobbing your heart out. This is especially true of fiction writing which is basically the equivalent of putting your soul on a page and leaving it there all alone for someone else to trample into extinction.
The unfortunate thing is, soul-trampling in the form of constructive feedback is just the thing us writers need to hone our craft. No novel has ever been published on the basis of a first draft, and feedback from the professionals is exactly what we need to make us produce our best work. In fact, writing the first draft is just the beginning. If your novel has legs, it will be commissioned by a publisher, and then the real work begins. Editors, assistant editors, copy-editors and proofreaders will be pulled in to work on your lovingly-crafted 80,000-word manuscript which took two torturous years to write – and a few of them will have something to say.
For instance, someone might suggest that a character is superfluous and should be eliminated; another could tell you to get rid of the first 10,000 words ‘because they add nothing to the story”; and somebody else could suggest an entirely different ending to the one you had imagined. If you’re reading this and already bristling at the thought of other people daring to judge your work of art, then it’s probably worth having a quick word with your ego.
However, there is a difference between your ego and your writer’s instinct, which is why it is important to separate the two. If your immediate instinct is to keep a certain character, or hang on to the first 10,000 words, or leave the ending as it is, then make sure you explain the reasons why. A good editor will always listen. Having revised my first novel five times on the basis of excellent advice, there was one point suggested by my agent that I instinctively felt would be wrong to change. Once I explained my (non-ego driven!) reasons to her, she agreed and the section remained the same.
So if you have written a novel, and you’re not sure what do with it, drop the ego, and find a professional to give you some constructive feedback. Similarly, always chase for feedback if your book is rejected by an agent or publisher – you may not always get it, but it can be invaluable for refining your novel and getting it in the best position for publication. Being a writer is all about continuous learning, and feedback is the best tool for helping us produce better manuscripts than we would have ever thought possible. There’s just a small matter of getting rid of that pesky ego first…