Guest Blog by Doreen McGettigan – “Criticism – The Pill That Must Be Swallowed”

Criticism – The Pill That Must Be Swallowed

by

Doreen McGettigan

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The best rejection letter I received also happened to include the best advice I received on editing my manuscript. I was writing the true story of my brother’s random road rage murder but I started the story from ‘I was born in Jacksonville, Florida to a Navy blah blah etc…’The manuscript was literally hundreds of pages long.

The agent suggested I concentrate on the three-year period just prior to and surrounding my brother’s death.  A minimal amount of back stories, some after story but concentrating the bulk of the manuscript on the murder and the trial.

My feelings were hurt and of course, I thought that agent didn’t know what he was talking about.  If I didn’t include the story of my first day in kindergarten, first grade, middle school, high school so on and so on how would the readers know who I am? How would they feel who I am?

When the editor from my publishing company suggested chopping seven chapters from the book and rewriting the remaining chapters I could not believe my ears. Why would they take my book and then want to change the story?

The editor asked me to trust her. She said if I wasn’t happy with the way it turned out, we could start over and go in a different direction. She asked me to pretend I was a reader and imagine I took a walk and happened upon a house. The house was my house the day my brother died. She asked me to write what that reader would have seen if she looked in the front window that day, the day before and what the reader would have seen in the hospital waiting room, the courtroom and so on. Before I realized what was happening I revised the entire book.

The readers know who I am because I let go of trying to tell them who I was and instead showed them who I was by letting them look through the window on the saddest day of my life.

If I would have listened to some of my beta readers, editors and other agents earlier on and changed the voice and direction of my book I could have been published much sooner.

As crazy as it seems I am grateful it worked out the way it all worked out. I believe everything happens for a reason and the people we need in our lives cross our paths at just the right time. That editor came into my life when my way wasn’t working anymore. I was ready to trust and listen to a professional. In return, I have a book I am proud to call my own and I know my brother is proud too.

If I continued to be stubborn and decided to self-publish my book the way I wanted to publish my book I would be mortified right now, it is that terrible.

Criticism is not easy for any one to take no matter where we are in our careers or lives. We should however, learn to take criticism from professionals gracefully, especially our book and our conceptual editors.  It is their job to make our words come together sensibly and correctly and for the story to flow.

Doreen McGettigan is the author of “Bristol boyz Stomp” (2011), “Sophie” which will be released late 2013 and “The Fathers Pain”, 2014.  She has written for several Philadelphia area newspapers and magazines and is an active member of the Press Club. Doreen also works with the elderly most of whom, are on hospice. In her spare time, insert sarcastic laugh here, she does some ghost writing, manages social media for [she can’t say] but will say it’s sometimes fun to pretend to be someone else. Her and husband John live just south of Philadelphia with their terrorist  sweet terriers, Lance and Louie and enjoy frequent visits from any or all thirteen grandkids.

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http://www.doreenmcgettigan.com

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HIGH RESOLUTION    PhillySnaps3


8 Comments

  1. Sharon Ann

    Lovely write, Doreen.

  2. Great article Doreen. I too had a similar experience, only instead of editors and agents, I asked my wife, Denise to read the short story I had just finished. When she was finished the paper was full of scratches, re-wording, and so forth. My ego was bruised. I took her comments, went back to the computer and made all of the changes she suggested. Once I got past that “hurt” feeling associated with criticism and read the story with the changes, I was shocked that someone else could improve my writing. I will never be that arrogant again. Criticism is my friend. Thanks for reminding us!

  3. Doreen … I agree that we learn the most from thoughtful criticism.

    I had a group of beta readers for the 2nd draft of my upcoming novel, and their suggestions were amazingly helpful. As Richard Sutton notes in my blog site this week, the writer needs to provide the inspiration and the story, but without the “reader sitting on your shoulder,” the story may miss the mark in terms of your audience.

  4. Great post, Doreen,

    What sage advice that editor gave you. I love the idea of taking a walk and looking into the window of your own house on the day everything changed. We writers can all learn from this advice, harness its power, and make it work for us.

    So proud of you,

    Kathleen

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