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!