I’ve just sent the first three chapters of my new novel to my writing friend and mentor, so I’m feeling a little unsettled and unstable. I want her to like it, but I don’t necessarily want her to tell me that she does, as I don’t think that would be helpful or constructive. I need her to find fault with it, to pick it apart forensically with her writer’s clinical analysis rather than her friend’s warm heart. I hope she’ll tell me all the ways in which I can make it better and then, after this savaging, I want her to tell me that if I work really hard at it, she thinks it might have some potential.
I’m not sure that praise, when you’re in the early stages of writing fiction, is particularly helpful, although sometimes you need a small amount of sugar to help the medicine go down. David Mitchell put it this way…
“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”
If you’ve had a literary pasting yourself and are in need of balm, you could do worse than reading his excellent novel Black Swan Green (which is where this quotation comes from) – not only will it divert you, it’s an exemplary lesson in how to write.