As Oprah would say…
As Oprah would say, I had an Aha moment!
I recently sent out a novel to a publisher in America. It’s a novel that I wrote several years ago about an issue that has recently become topical again. The publisher in question requested a couple of chapters in an email exchange that is on a first name basis. I was assured therefore that the work would not land on the slush pile and that it would in fact be read.
A couple of weeks later, I received an email rejection. But a rejection with a difference. It contained constructive criticism and pointed out why, in this publisher’s opinion, the novel was not strong enough to be published.
I quote “This kind of fiction demands a deeper exploration of the characters…”
Now, I always considered myself quite astute when it comes to figuring people out. My gut feelings are usually spot on. So this remark got me thinking that maybe I am not as good at sussing people out as I thought.
Then I remembered an article I read on Oprah, called ‘Do you know your emotional blind spots?’ by Martha Beck.
It asked the following three questions
– What am I afraid to know?
– What’s the one thing I least want to accept?
– What do I sense without knowing?
Even reading these questions without doing the self-examination was enough to give me hot flushes.
That, and the publisher’s remarks about the book, written several years ago, spurred me to look at my current work more critically. In light of what I say in The Writing Process about not only writing what you know, but actually learning new things along the way, during that process, I realised that what happens is that on a subconscious level we are perhaps attempting to uncover our blind spots.
Clearly I had not gone the whole nine yards in my previous work. But I do want to in this current project. I looked at the work and asked myself the three questions above, again, only now I was prepared to let thoughts and insights come to the surface.
But remember, these are blind spots, and have been put under lock and key for a reason. Maybe what you allow to rise to the surface is still not the whole picture. So, ask a friend for feedback. Pick someone who
– knows you well
– is secure in your friendship
– is not afraid to speak the truth
and share your insights.
On the basis of my discovery and the confirmation by my friend, I looked at my work again. What I discovered was that despite my extensive writing experience and my ability to figure people out, it was obvious in my characters that there were certain traits I was too scared to investigate. The result, at least in the book that had recently been rejected, was that the characters did indeed lack something.
Funnily, it was the same trait that was an even stronger driving force in my current work. Obviously, this blind spot was an issue that I sensed needed investigation and these two novels were my attempt at bringing it out of the shadow and into the light. However, my fear was still getting in the way of fully investigating, understanding and writing about this characteristic.
Sharing with friend who was not afraid to acknowledge this gave me the courage to examine the issue. It liberated me sufficiently and had me checking the internet for information. I am now in a position to re-examine my characters, make them more rounded and less ‘socially acceptable’.
Do you feel that your characters lack something?
It might be useful to ask yourself the three questions above. You might be surprised at what you discover.
Talk over your discovery with a friend and bring your blind spot into the light.
How do you feel? Liberated? Inspired?
Share your discovery in the comment box below.
Remember, when it comes to writing: If I can do it, so can you