Again, I’m cheating a little, but I liked this topic. I send out a newsletter every Wednesday (which anyone is welcome to receive, if they don’t already!) which tries to lend some mid-week inspiration to my fellow writers. After struggling with the topic myself for sometime, I’ve tackled the concept of taking advice. What follows is what went out on my newsletter–complete with writing prompt!
I had an idea on one of my car rides for what I could write about for this week. One of the things that got me the most when I started seriously dabbling into writing, and really focused once I entered my graduate schooling, was the fact that I was getting feedback on my work…and some of it, I didn’t agree with. Some times it was from fellow students, and that I could justify saying that I didn’t need to follow it. But my professors…?
That was a grey area. My summer residency in Dublin this past year was a prime example. My mentor and I had dramatically different ideas about what my book should be, and where it should go. I agreed on some points, and vehemently disagreed on others. I wasn’t sure what exactly the protocol was on this. Did I listen to my teacher, and assume that he knew best? Or did I follow my heart, and disregard the teacher’s advice?
In the end, it’s really a balance of both, I believe. My mentor did have some good advice for what I could do with my novel, and where I should take it. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s the expert on my book. No one is the expert on my book but me. I know it the best; it’s from my mind. And who cares if it doesn’t match “the way books like this are written”? My book isn’t any other book! Only I can know what will do it best.
It’s an important thing to keep in mind when listening to advice of any kind. Several of my writer friends and I had a long discussion over an article of advice from Stephen King. Now, if anyone knows writing, he’s certainly one of them. However, there were several things in there that I disagreed with. Some perhaps only because of wording, but others I simply did not agree with in the slightest. And that’s okay. I don’t have to agree with Stephen King—and we both get to be right. Because he’s not me, and I’m certainly not him, and neither of us are anyone else. (Koo koo ka-choo.)
So the next time you get something back from your beta readers, or your editors, or anyone else you’ve asked for input, and they say “well this is nice, but I’d change X, Y, and Z” and you just really don’t want to change Z…it’s okay. You don’t have to. For better or worse, it is your work, and it is more important that you be happy than your editors. (Maybe once you’re in traditionally published works, that may change! But I’d stand by your guns in the end. We’ve all seen what can get pushed through editors…)
Ready for some writing? I promise I won’t tell you to change anything. 😉 Your prompt for this week: Take a drive. Describe one of your favorite characters going somewhere. It can either be somewhere you know, or somewhere they know. Ever wondered what your protagonist would think about walking around your city? Or have you always been looking for an excuse to send the antagonist into the dark alleyway that never seems to have enough plot merit to investigate? Now’s your chance. Try to keep as much dialogue out of the scene as possible. Focus only on what they sense, and to some extent, what they think. For an added challenge, try to use all five senses!
Think you can do it? I bet you can.
If you are interested in receiving this newsletter yourself, feel free to leave a comment either here on the blog post with your desired name/handle, and an email address, and also whether or not you would like to receive the backlog of messages. At the time of this posting (April 3rd, 2014) there have been eleven previous emails. You can also simply send an email to me at email@example.com with the same information.
Also, if you use my prompt, I’d love to read it! Feel free to link me to your stories. I promise to try and remember to comment!
4 thoughts on “Don’t Tell Me What to Think”
For me it’s a comfort zone thing. There’s ‘this criticism is fair,’ ‘this criticism is stupid’ and ‘this criticism pushes me places I’m uncomfortable with but I have the sinking feeling the story would be stronger and I doubt whether or not I could pull that off.’
The other thing I try to pull out from con/crit is why people think something should be changed. If the only backup reason is ‘because it’s done this way’ then that’s silly, but if the reason is ‘your story needs more power on the climax’ then you can go ‘I hate your way of adding power to the climax, but I could do this other thing to add power to the climax.’
For comparison, my teacher’s comment was along the lines of “You are writing a dystopic novel, and this is how dystopic novels work.” It is a fair criticism, if I want to follow conventional guidelines of a dystopic novel. But whether or not I want to is a different story. (He is of the belief that there cannot be an optimistic/happy ending, and that essentially all my characters have to die. Needless to say, I disagree with him. He also insists I need to have a sex scene. Sigh.)
Interesting. I’ve had a teacher do that to me with an epic poem, but it was… how do I put this… I was specifically learning the form of the epic poem, so following the rules made sense even if they were arbitrary and capricious. If the assignment was ‘write a dystopic novel with these specifications’ that’s one thing, but if it’s just ‘write a novel, oh your novel is dystopic, now you must write sexy bits’ well. Uh. o_o Sounds like a job for outtakes that can come right back out of the novel after the teacher reads it. o.0
Is it still a dystopic novel with a happy ending, or is it a novel set someplace really depressing? *ponders this as she heads to dinner*