The Moment that Matters in Novel Writing
“Most writers spend 100 hours alone with their manuscripts for every one hour of feedback.”
You probably couldn't be a writer if you didn't enjoy the solitary process of novel writing. My own writing ritual starts early in the morning with a dirty laptop keyboard and a cup of steaming coffee. Particularly with longer manuscripts, these solitary hours quickly add up to days and weeks or even years, alone with those words on the screen.
It's the moments when you aren't alone with your words--moments when you’re receiving feedback on your work--that are actually pretty unusual. I've never seen the calculation, but I bet it's safe to say that most writers spend 100 hours alone with their manuscripts for every one hour of feedback. Maybe it's closer to 1,000. Whatever the number, one thing is certain. These moments of feedback have a disproportionate impact on your creative process as a writer. In IDEO designer language, we would call them "moments that matter.” Even if a manuscript took 1,000 hours to write and revise, that one hour of feedback has a disproportionate impact, on the manuscript itself, but also on the author's emotional well-being.
Let's face it. Writing a novel is a highly emotional experience. There is the honeymoon phase when the words are flowing. There's the "like the dentist phase" when a writer ploughs through revision after revision. Then there’s the ‘walking on eggshells’ trepidation as query letters or contest submissions get sent. And then of course, there are the crushing rejections or often worse for me, the roaring silence of just being ignored. So many manuscripts never actually get any attention at all. They don't get any real feedback. Instead, they suffer a slow ignominious death in a solitary confinement of endless unexamined slush piles before eventually being ushered into top drawer purgatory, never to be heard from again.
True, lots of manuscripts aren't great. But so many other manuscripts with fantastic potential never actually reach this potential, not because the book is bad, but because the feedback system is broken. That feedback "moment that matters" doesn't happen correctly or occur at all. Many a jaded literary agent will tell you that there is a serious supply and demand problem in the industry. There are WAY TOO MANY authors who have written manuscripts and FAR TOO FEW actual publishers with actual budgets extending actual publishing contracts to actual writers. I totally get this state of affairs. But that's just an explanation for why that “moment that matters” is missing in so many cases. It’s certainly not how feedback needs to work in the future.
With The Spun Yarn, we've created a new way to get feedback on a manuscript in a format that is enormously useful for the author AND which doesn't cost an arm and a leg (right now, it's about $300). Put differently, we've redesigned that feedback "moment that matters" to be as useful as possible. It's worked for me personally.
I have one YA novel in particular that I've been working on for years and years. It's the writing project I always come back to. Except, I stopped coming back. I'd finally gotten the manuscript to a place where I thought it was really strong. I'd revised and revised and then I put it out into my agent network. Based upon connections with agents I'd made over the years, I was actually quite optimistic. I got crickets. And rejections. After a couple of months of query gymnastics, I packed it in. The feedback I was getting from this process seemed to be telling me that the manuscript wasn't any good. I put it in the top drawer. I moved on with life. In fact I got really distracted by starting and launching the Spun Yarn.
Fast forward about a year, and our Chief Operating Officer (Sarah) talked me into putting The Clocktower through our own Spun Yarn process. I pulled the manuscript out of the drawer, dusted it off, and nervously sent it along to Sarah’s team. We matched it up with three readers (two teenagers and an adult who likes YA). About three weeks later, the results were in. I had my feedback report, thirty pages of in-depth feedback from people who care and who had read every single word I wrote. And you know what? They didn't hate it! In fact, all three of them seemed to really enjoy the read. I definitely didn't get perfect scores and there was a lot that needed to be fixed in the next revision. But it felt so darn good to know that my novel didn't suck. Real readers had read it and real readers had given me feedback and real readers wanted to see that book out on the shelves of a bookstore some day.
This was the sort of feedback that I needed. This was a feedback moment that mattered. Over the next six months, I found time to dive back into that manuscript. And I used a lot of the suggestions and feedback from the Spun Yarn feedback report to make my book better. Even more importantly, I was emotionally reinvigorated. I'd fallen back in love with the manuscript. I had the energy to soldier through all of those solitary hours of creativity, with my coffee and my dirty laptop keyboard and those little words marching across the screen. Some moments really matter. Thanks to the Spun Yarn, I'd bought myself at least another 1,000 solitary hours to push my manuscript to the next level. And now I’m confident that when my book is ready to go back out into the world for its next “moment that matters”, that it's actually a damn good book.
--Sean Hewens, Co-Founder of the Spun Yarn