Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Handling feedback – and some thoughts on perspective

The wait is over. I've received back four marked-up manuscripts from the members of my writing group. They put loads of ticks all over the pages. Used phrases like fully realised …. couldn't put it down …. great historical detail … holds together well, good pacing … written beautifully. But I didn't see any of that. At least, not on my first frenzied read through their comments. All I saw were the words:

Main character's story arc isn't working.

Not working. I went into a tail spin. Had a small (cough, spectacular) meltdown down. Shoved the manuscripts in a drawer. Decided never to speak to my writing buddies again. Somehow got through my Welsh class without weeping. Went to work, trembling. Sick to the stomach. Found it hard to concentrate. Tried to be philosophical.

'It's only a novel,' I told my friend Glen on our late afternoon desk shift. 'I shouldn't get so upset. I mean there are people without fresh food or water, living in war zones, facing death daily.'

'And this is much worse,' he replied, grinning.

'Yes!' I said. 'It is!'

'I'm giving up.' I told my husband that evening. 'No one else has this much trouble writing a novel. Maybe, I'm just not good enough.'

'Really?' He said. 'That's not my understanding.'

'And what do you mean by that?'

He shrugged. 'All those writers I read about in the newspaper struggle to get it right and have crises of confidence. I get the impression it's all part of the process.'

He was right, of course. I'd come so far. And two of the characters' were definitely working. I only needed to re-work one of them – albeit the main one. Maybe I was over reacting? I decided to do some cognitive work on things. Found myself writing down words like, failurefool to try and … wasted ten years of my life. I took these thoughts to my man in a cardigan. 'That's pretty black and white view, he said. 'What else have you done in the last ten years.

Actually…when I thought about it. Quite a few things. He made me name them. I include the list for your edification.

  • I started writing with four teenage kids in the house.
  • Add in the three, consecutive year long AFS exchange students and we were a household of seven for a few years
  • We had a serious back injury in those years
  • Watched four young adults turn into adults
  • Lived through three sets of engagements and weddings
  • Had a seriously sad teenager who kind of made her presence felt
  • This involved multiple medical personnel in cardigan appointments
  • Did three long overseas holidays
  • Worked part time
  • Took my Welsh language skills from lacklustre to proficient
  • Started teaching Welsh
  • Sold the family home and moved house
  • Adjusted to living in a new suburb
  • Learned a great deal about writing… and life

See what I mean? Written like that it was a pretty black and white to call those years wasted.

Now, in addition to asking my writing buddies to look at my manuscript I'd also contacted a paid manuscript assessor. She was having knee surgery so was unable to give me a quote straight away. By the time she was able to get back to me I'd already received my writing buddies' feedback. We decided it was a waste of money to have her fully assess this draft. I would make the necessary changes and send her the next draft.

Next draft? Note the shift in my thinking.

I pulled the multiple copies of my manuscript out of my drawer. Read the notes and markups again. There were huge sections that needed very little change. Small sections that needed huge changes. I transcribed each comment onto one manuscript. Went on retreat. Came home more grounded. Started summoning the strength. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to write a novel and there are absolutely no guarantees at the end of the process, apart from personal satisfaction and the knowledge that you have grown as a writer and as a person. Starting out, each fresh change will be a battle as I undo what I'd hoped was permanent. But re-drafting is part of writing, I'm learning, and, if I take it slow and keep the Little Red Engine in mind, I can do it.

At least … I think I can.



Leap the Wild Water – how I caved into Twitter spam


Some thoughts on language, loss and identity


  1. Yes, of course, you can do it, Liz.
    Now that you can see the positives as well as the work to be done, you’ll be fine. It can be a horrid shock when we think we’re almost there to realise that we have to face down another draft.
    Your novel is absolutely worth it though. And you’ll both be singing by the time you’re done. Hugs and happy writing/rewriting. xxx
    And she chuffed right over the hill. 🙂

  2. It’s always so crushing to hear others you respect don’t think your beautiful words are perfect. But what I’ve learned is they are never going to be perfect to everyone anyway – they can just be as good as we can make them. And do you know hwat, for a writer as good as you, as good as you can make them is a wonderful, beautiful thing. I now you can do this and I can’t wait to see what you make of our ideas.

    • Thanks, Leisl. Yes, it is my story and I have to work out how to tell it. With help, certainly. But ultimately it’s a solitary process and you are right. I won’the please everyone.

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