Thursday, December 13, 2007

Now You're Getting Somewhere

I just sent off an email to someone, thanking them for their thorough critique. Their critique was not a positive assessment of my book proposal. It pointed out several weak points. It was specific and detailed. Initially I felt defeated and deflated. Then a strange sense of delight came over me as the day went on.

Someone took the time to inform me of their valuable judgment and their seasoned viewpoint. I was amazed at how much time this agent took to explain to me what he saw lacking in my proposal. If someone takes the time, a full page at that, to go through your proposal and point out all the things that are wrong, that's a good thing. It's called feedback. Now I know what's wrong with that particular proposal.

Makes me remember a relationship I had in my dating days. I had dated this guy, a generous soul, but had not invested much of myself in the relationship. I broke up with him without giving him much of a reason. But then a year or so later, I was at a low point in my life, floundering and falling, and reconsidering the type of person I should be drawn to. He came back into my life all of a sudden, visiting me one day as I was recovering from an illness. I think he brought me flowers. I don't remember because all I cared about was seeing his smiling face when he came into the room. But the smile eventually turned to a look of pain and confusion. He stood there awkwardly, chatting with me, his eyes looking around the room and then coming back to rest on me. Then he would look down.

I don't remember how he had gotten in touch with me again. All I know was that he was in the room, and yet I could tell he suddenly didn't want to be there, after all. We spoke of nothing and of everything. I didn't say a word about my own conflicted feelings. When I did not see him again after that, all I could remember feeling was...confused. Our relationship had already been over before he came back again, briefly, into my life. Did he come back out of concern for me? Guilt? Regret that we had ended things? In hope of resurrecting our relationship?

This book proposal of mine that got thoroughly critiqued received something that my relationship with this guy never did- an answer, painful as it may be. I obviously knew this relationship was completely over when he never called again. But I would have liked to know what went wrong, where I failed, or when his feelings died and why. Maybe he sensed my instability and my inability to focus on anything and anyone but myself. I would have benefited if he had spoken the plain, ugly truth to me.

Since this agent did just that, I was able to put death a particular proposal without putting to death my dream of writing a book. After I read his critique, nodding my head up and down in sad agreement, I mentally closed up shop on that proposal. I already knew that it was not right. Now I had confirmation.

Sometimes the best thing you can do feels the worst while you are letting it go. But then a feeling of lightness and truth comes in and sweeps out the decaying matter, leaving you with a sense of relief and mysterious happiness. You are done with something that was going nowhere. Now that you're done with that, the things in your life that are going somewhere have their chance at taking a deep breath and getting infused with life instead of receiving leftover small puffs of air. It's better to know the final end of a matter than to be busily en route to Nowhere.

That relationship, that struggling business that you launched for the wrong reasons, or in my case, that particular book proposal, needs feedback. It's tortured, flailing, floundering existence should have already signaled to us its demise. The problem is you and I did not like the signal it was giving us. We wanted to see a green light where instead it was red. We can go ahead, press on the gas and keep trying to make that red light become green, but any crash that ultimately results is a needless occurrence. Instead of a crash, we could have had a quiet, dignified funeral of that faulty particular dream.

There's a time to search, and a time to give up, according to the book of Ecclesiastes. That's what a critique will help you discern- what season you're in, what the quality of your dream is, or what its prospects are. It is not getting negative feedback that determines whether we let something go. It is, rather, the honest, at cost, feedback from someone who has rather distinct insight into your situation or dream. They're not God, they don't know the future, and they're not dream killers. They are just people who decide to tell you what you have asked to hear- an evaluation, a critique, an honest summary of what you have presented to them.

Give me a truthful No, give me a detailed explanation of what went wrong, tell me why this relationship or project is flawed, and strangely, I have something to go on. You can go onward after a negative assessment, after a No.

It's an odd appreciation, not of the Affirmative,but of the Negative. My mother would always sing this song to us, admonishing us to look for the positive: "You've got to accent-u-ate the positive, elim-in-ate the Negative, and latch on to the Affirmative, Don't mess with Mister In Between".

But that song is wrong. I know too many people ignoring the No's, throwing out any negative feedback or any critique that hurts. Eliminate the negative? That's impossible. And it's not needed, anyhow.

You want the negative feedback and the truthful reality of where you are. Just receive a failing grade in a class you thought reflected your future? You want to look at that feedback. A boyfriend that haltingly tells you where you don't fit into his life? You want to listen to his words, however painful they are. Have a friend that is telling you that you are selfishly throwing away your marriage vows? Listen to that person's description of how you are acting. Listen to that negative critique. Assess what it is saying to you. You don't have to swallow it whole. But do check out whether there are some valid points there.

I see some Yes's and some No's in my life right now. I am listening to the No's- not welcoming them artificially with open arms but accepting them; accepting that they are there and they have something to say to me. To consider the negative critique means to hear and see something that will impact your life. It won't be necessarily straightforward in application. You may have to find the hidden gold in that No.

My natural, initial response is "I don't want to hear it." But if I determine that I must not ignore what I so desperately need, I resolve to not only hear it out, but to actually benefit, yes, from the painful critique that I hear.


Angela @ Refresh My Soul Blog said...

This is so true. My biggest disappointment with the publishing industry so far is the promises from people who do not even follow up. That is not a good way to treat people. That is a HUGE blessing you got out of that. That is all I am looking for in mine. Instead I get a green light when they are interested then SILENCE. Dreaded silence. No more answering my emails. Like I am not invisible. I am visible when they are initially interested then somewhere along the way I turn invisible-no consideration for me as a person. That is not a good thing in the Christian market.
Thanks for this post. It was encouraging.

LAUREN at Faith Fuel- said...

When you finally get feedback from a publisher or agent, even if it's not positive, it's like someone telling you at the end of a day that you've had parsley in your teeth. Now you know why people reacted the way they did every time you smiled at them!

Feedback, criticism, thorough critiques- we don't really want it, .. but then again, we do!