A disturbing email from a friend – how would you respond?

keyboardI network with a goodly number of writers and I received the following from one of them:

Jack, I have written a novel that is very loosley drawn from a few experiences of my own. The circumstances are not that happy but I tried to write it so that the protaganist was portrayed as doing the courageous thing, who took an unpopular stand against an evil perpetrator. The protaganist’s stand and his consequential actions cost him his career which he, the protaganist, does not regret.

Being a novice novelist (but not an inexperienced writer, you know how many manuscripts I have sold), I passed the manuscript around to family, friends, and an editor who offered varying degrees of insight and editorial corrections which are fine.

But the moments of truth came when I learned that those readers considered the protaganist to be self-centered, insensitive, inconsiderate, and generally unlikeable. Now some of that I chalk up to my lack of skill as a novelist and to the circumstances in the book in which no one really comes out a winner (much like life don’t you think?). But the perspective is nonetheless troubling because I wrote myself as the protaganist.

If the protaganist in my book is unlikeable, and because so many events in the book and conversations have at least some connection to real life (don’t all authors draw from their experiences and insights about human nature?) that almost certainly means that I am thought of as self-centered, insensitive, inconsiderate, and generally unlikeable.

I do not think I am merely being overly-sensitive to criticism. I did ask for opinions and accept the perspectives of readers when crafting a manuscript. And since others seem to think I am insensitive I fail to see how I can suddenly be oversensitive in this case? 🙂

I am not looking for strokes to soothe a bruised ego. I am writing this because you have proven to be a good friend. There is an expression, now tired and trite from over use, but it says that “It is what it is.”

So, if it is what it is, I frankly do not have the motivation or energy to rewrite this. The assessment of those readers is even more troubling because I wrote the thing and have reread it many times, each time confident that it was a good story well told. Perhaps writing it was merely catharsis, the vent by which I could recount some things and let them out of the bottle. Perhaps that is enough and it is time to move on to other projects. But if I thought it is a good story well-told, then obviously I am insensitive.

So, I am shelving the project and putting the manuscript away, at least for now. In fact I am taking a couple of weeks off from writing anything much at all. There are non-writing projects here that I’ve neglected which I will turn to for a few weeks and I’m simply worn out from staring at a monitor all day, wrestling with video production programs, and trying to keep my WordPress site from crashing.

Thanks for letting me vent. Keep up your good work! I want to read your book when it is released later this month.

That is quite a letter and one I was not expecting to receive, especially from the sender whom I always thought was confident and secure. What would you tell him? I’ll tell you what said in a few days.

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