As part of a grant I won recently, I hired an established author to critique the first draft of my novel-in-progress (The Vast Land). This, as it turns out, was worth way more than I paid this person.
I chose an author whose work I admired, who I had met in person, who had academic experience as well as publication in the fiction and creative nonfiction genres, and who had been through rigorous editorial processes himself. I chose an author who I believed understood the importance of place, as place is a large part of this novel. I was very excited about turning my draft over to this person, and scared, too. What if the draft was complete crap? (It felt like crap.) What if I couldn’t get him the draft by the promised deadline? (It was a demanding year with the illness and death of one cat, and ongoing and very busy promotion of Driving with Cats and my other books. There was lots of traveling, for fun, and for business.) It felt like one of the hardest things I’ve done to get this draft to the mentor by the end of August. I pushed.
I turned it in to my mentor during the first few days of September. He agreed to have it back to me with substantive edits and comments by the end of September. I did fret. I was sure it WAS crap, and I had been too close to it for too long (years) to understand how to take the next step. The Vast Land is my first draft of a literary novel. I have completed a cat fantasy novel (The Great Purr, due out June 2014) but the cat fantasy novel came quickly. I struggled with Vast Land.
Of course, I left the mentor alone, and didn’t bother him, but he emailed me sometime in September, told me he was about 1/3 of the way through, and that I had “something of worth.” What a great relief, and what a gift. I began to breathe and give attention to the rest of the stuff on my plate.
At the end of September, I had a substantive editorial letter, and substantive comments throughout the manuscript. I feel like the recipient of a huge gift. I have an understanding of how to proceed. I feel like I can start to fully understand this thing I’ve created, or at least understand how to move forward. I love learning!