The feedback from my first round of beta-readers is in and boy, am I overwhelmed. Not about the work ahead, exactly (though if I think about the mountain of edits ahead for too long I start to get sweaty). But I’m mostly overwhelmed by the heaps of positive feedback. I had feared it was a mess, unclear to anyone but me what I was trying to say and do with this story, with these characters.
What a pleasant surprise that, in general, each of the readers loved the story, the characters, the rise and fall of the plot. Yes, there is a lot of work to be done, but the essence of it is there. My book is in there somewhere!
Having never finished a book before, I hadn’t before dealt with this stage of the writing process. The stage of requesting, waiting, sifting, and integrating feedback. It’s simultaneously daunting and thrilling.
The thrilling part? Hearing about all the parts that actually work. The feedback that they laughed and cried (yes cried! Real tears!). The feedback that the humiliations were painful to read, the romance was swoony, the family stuff was heartbreaking. Every section where I felt something, the reader did, too. This is the magic of storytelling.
Even in all of that, the biggest thrill of all came in the form of one word that each reader used in their feedback: authentic. That this book, my book, is authentic to the angst, high stakes, and utter highs and lows of adolescence. This was my goal without even realizing it was my goal, so to have achieved a version of it is…WOW.
I now understand why I’ve been on this nostalgia tour the past year. Why I dug out the boxes. Those boxes. You know the ones; I suspect we all have them. The boxes that contain memories near and far, the boxes that hold the most precious of treasures, even if you can only barely remember why they mattered.
The boxes that are full of old notes between best friends, journals and diaries exploding with the adolescent world. The emotion, confusion, milestones (first kiss! driver’s license! heartbreak!). The boxes with all those photos of impossibly unfortunate fashion moments, the photos that immediately transport you back to that day, that time, that place. The boxes with medals & certificates and favorite essays (or am I the only nerd who saved her own homework?).
Digging through all of these memories, touring my own history this past year, it’s all been in an attempt to write honestly. To write from a place of reliving rather than remembering.
If I achieved authenticity, it’s only because in those boxes I found a girl I wouldn’t have remembered so vividly on my own. A girl who was so confused, angry, boy crazy, it was a wonder I survived adolescence at all. I found a girl who was so hard on herself. So insecure. So baffled by the world outside her that she couldn’t yet make sense of the emerging world inside her.
I found a girl teeming with potential and interest and curiosity. A girl who held herself back for fear of seeming like she wanted too much, tried too hard, cared too much. A girl who stood out, even though she was desperate to blend in. A girl who had a hell of a lot of fun, and a hell of a lot to say.
I wrote my first draft from that place. Whenever that girl slipped away from me, I returned to the boxes. I needed to bring her with me, keep her in mind and never lose site of her. She is both who this book is from, and who this book is for.
The thrill and real benefit of feedback so far for me is the mirror it holds up to all this work I’ve put in. That the work has absolutely built something, and the work I will have to put in to the next phase will, too. I know it can be better. It deserves to be better.
Because if I focus only on the daunting part? The part that’s filled with all the elements I have to cut, all the scenes that don’t quite work, all that work I still have to do on the draft before it is ever even anything? Yeah, that could prevent me from ever getting this story out to the world. I owe that girl so much more than that.
I owe her the benefit of adulthood, the power in looking back while staying firmly rooted in place, and the assurance that no matter what, I’ll never be the one to hold us back again.