Advice Overload Pending

I’m a sucker for just one more opinion and probably don’t  know when to quit getting/accepting feedback on something. Most of my stuff is in an endless cycle of revision that drives my Husband nuts because I never “finish”.

So, I face the continual flow of different and sometimes conflicting advice. One persona says capitalize this word, then after I change it all, the next says no, don’t do that! I have a couple words that no one seems to agree on how to write – as a compound word, separate words or hyphenated. There’s the unending battle for where to put commas and fluff cutters verses the confused.

For me, most of the little grammar issues above are trivial. True, the back and forth can be annoying and tedious, but with Word’s search and replace, it is doable. However, when the feedback involves far more work and thought, the stakes go up too.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fear revision. I have tackled numerous major overhauls to my worlds and my books. I’m willing to do it – if I’m convinced that it will truly help my story/writing move closer to its potential.

When you get conflicting advice in these realms, it’s harder to have such confidence. And I must admit that I know all too well the frustration of thinking you’re almost “done” only to be told that it’s a “promising start” and keep at it.

I also know the reflex to say, “They just don’t get it.” I’ve seen too many novices use that foolishly and recklessly to justify themselves. So, when I do get a review and that thought comes to me, I’m the first to chide myself for falling in that hole. I know better and I refuse to be one of those arrogant, self-righteous or deluded ones who won’t learn.

Most of the time when I get a serious review, I refrain from responding. Maybe it’s partly because I don’t want to do what one published writer did to me. He had posted some chapters and sought feedback on them and I decided to review a chapter. I put a lot of effort and thought into it so I did have many comments to make.

He promptly replied. I don’t recall all that he said, but I think the gist was basically “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be published?”

The next day he wrote me another e-mail, apologizing and graciously saying that I was right in pretty much all my advice… and please could you continue reviewing my stuff.

I try hard to glean all I can from comments. Detailed feedback can be hard to come by, especially early on in networking, but priceless.

I would never tell a writer to ignore or discount feedback, especially from people who are very familiar with the genre/craft. However, I have to agree with Bill Cosby when he declared:

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

In the end, people are people, no matter their credentials. Different people like different stories and different types of plotlines. Reviewers bring different views, different tastes and expectations.

We, as authors must carefully sift through and weigh the advice given to us. If after analysis and comparing the advice to what you see as the vision for the story, if you like the advice/ideas, then go for it. If not, don’t let guilt or a fear of “not good enough” prompt you to chase their vision of your story.

I don’t believe in a perfect draft so I’ll be one of the first to admit that my stories and writing has plenty of room for improvement, but not always in the same directions that some of my reviewers seem to push for.

If the advice makes sense strive for it as much as you can, but in the end it’s a balancing act. Sometimes it’s opting for the lesser of two evils. In other words, prioritizing the conflicting rules as best I can for me and then accepting that it won’t ever be perfect. We are human and we have weaknesses. Our writing will never be perfect in all things – so find your strengths and emphasize them while trying to ease out the weaknesses so that they don’t trip your readers up and ruin the ride.

For me, I’ve found that readers are far more forgiving than reviewers. The latter look for weaknesses. The former tend to want to enjoy the story unless something grabs them. In a business book my Husband read (which I confess I don’t currently remember the name of) said, “Capture their imagination and you capture their heart.”

Once you suck them into the story, if you can keep the pace lively (through a variety of tensions – emotional and physical) and you don’t have any road humps/dips/potholes to jostle them, they will phase out the little stuff most of the time. Make the story and characters come alive enough and the rest sort of becomes a blur. They won’t be counting your adverbs, cringing at each passive phrase or groaning at word repetition unless it feels like the road is dotted with such potholes.

Reviewers, editors, publishers and agents are watching for those red flags and counting each instance in order to evaluate/sink the story in as quick a time frame as possible – because time costs money and they want to spend their time with the strongest only.

There are a few issues that are quicker to make the reader pause and say, “huh?” and those are where I try to give my first attention. Most of the problems are issues when you use them too much as a crutch that the reader starts to notice it happening a lot.

I’m not saying ignore those problems or weaknesses – but obsessing over them won’t help you capture the imagination of your reader either. If you run into a forest, determined to clean it up by chopping down all the imperfect trees and hacking off flawed branches, eventually you’ll be so good at spotting the flaws that you won’t have much of a forest left when you’re done.

P.S. For those that wonder why I didn’t write the next section of the Renegade Project, two bright  and helpful people left me with a tie vote last time. So, if you want to know what happens next, GO VOTE!

About Ren Black

Part-time novelist. Weekend artist. Full-time Mother. Ex-poet. Perfectionist by training. Compulsive researcher sporadically. Prone to fits of linguistic commentary Unorthodox Renegade occasionally. Sarcastic by habit... Dreamer Always... Consider Yourself Warned

2 comments on “Advice Overload Pending

  1. Sounds like you need to buy a copy of the Chicago manual of style–either that or Kathy Ide’s cliff notes version (Polishing the PUGS) Those will give you definitive answers on where the punctuation goes and what the correct usage, grammar, and spelling is. Caps, too. 🙂

    It may not be a big deal, but being pulled back and forth by every critquer is a waste of your time. So get definitive answers from the style manual most widely used in Fiction.

    Readers are more forgiving than editors because the readers don’t have the knowledge. They don’t know the techniques or how to express what they’re missing. Only thing you’re likely to hear from the reader on the stuff editors gun after the most is “I got bored. It lost tension. I had trouble staying focused on the story and paying attention.”

    While the reader usually makes everything sound like a plot/story problem, the editor can see the author was really telling too much and showing too little, using imprecise, vague word choices, had sentences written with their chronology out of order, and used a dozen other ineffective techniques and poor form that throws the reader out of the story. The reader doesn’t know good technique/form from bad, but they do feel the results.

    So be discerning of who a critique is coming from. Put your trust in the ones with editorial experience and who know the industry’s style standards. Disagreement exists even among professionals, however. That’s where we soak up every technique out there, the principles behind it, and stick them in our reserve for when that one best serves this story. 🙂 Then try to shop that story to the editorial school of thought it used 😉

    Remember, unless you’re planning to upload your book straight to Amazon, to get to your reader, you have to get past the editors first. We don’t all agree, but every technique we advocate or insist on does have the goal of capturing and keeping the reader’s imagination.

    “Be teachable. Stop being teachable.” –Jeff Gerke.

    • I don’t have the Chicago Manual, but I wonder how much it discusses fiction. My problem with all this is the different preferences that fluctuate between publishers, such as using personification, how many descriptors to use per noun, italics/no italics, etc. Your picture of the signs is how I feel too. I guess the only answer is to shoot for the editor/publisher of your favorite content and style.

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