I’m at the point in my current story where I’m almost ready to turn it over to let some folks read it. Some folks who aren’t me.
And I’m shaking in my boots. (Rain boots, as it were, since I’m pretty sure The Ark is going to float by my window any moment…)
I always get really nervous at this point in crafting a novel. Why? Because I know the opinions are about to come flying at me at 900 miles an hour. But I’ve learned a thing or two over the past few years, so no matter what, I’m ready.
The art of crafting a story is definitely just that–art. And art is subjective.
20 people read the same book: 5 will think it’s the best book they’ve ever read, 5 will think it was “okaaaaay, but…”, 5 will say they didn’t even finish, and the last 5 will rip it to shreds and find every single reason to hate it–just because.
Subjectivity at its finest.
Subjectivity is the combination of someone’s opinion with their circumstances (are they in a good mood or did their cat just die?). It’s their own preference combined with their life experience.
No two people are ever going to look at art the same way–whether it’s a book, a painting, a song, or one of those weird statues made of garbage. Some will love, some will hate. That’s just the way it goes.
So when you turn your manuscript over to inquiring eyes you’ve asked to read it, consider the following: you will get what you’re asking for.
So what do you do when you have opinions flying at you from all different directions? How do you weed out the opinions that might help and kill the opinions that might hurt? How do you stop the white noise from destroying your story?
Tuning Out the Subjective White Noise
1. It all starts with the eyes–and the eyes you choose matter. When you are an unpublished writer who doesn’t have an editor on speed-dial and your story is in the pre-published stage, it’s very important to get feedback on it. You need to know what you’re doing right and where you need some work. So the most important thing you can do is choose valued readers who can help. Valued readers are the ones who have knowledge you need: Critique partners, writer-friends, people who are familiar with your genre of writing, your agent, paid critiques, etc.
Notice who I didn’t put on that list? Mom. Not that I don’t think Mom should read it–she should. But her opinion is less valuable to you because, let’s face it, she’s going to tell you it’s wonderful no matter what. And her opinion, while good for your spirit, should be considered part of the “white noise.” Also in the white noise category? Your best friend. Your buddy at the gym. Your spouse. The chic in the Mommy&Me group who doesn’t really read but promised that she’d read yours. The point is, when picking readers, be picky. Choose people who have opinions that will add value to your story. And remember that your story is in the early stages so keep the number of readers at a reasonable level–do you really want the whole world reading it before it’s been tweaked and polished to perfection?
2. Prepare yourself. A story is like a child to an author. You’ve named it. You’ve nurtured it. You’ve loved it through good times and bad. So when someone offers an opinion (good or bad), it’s very easy to take it personally. Before your turn your story over to be read, prepare your heart. Pray about your receptiveness to what is being said. If you’ve chosen quality readers, the opinions you get will hold more weight, so you need to be ready to hear them with an open mind and an open heart.
3. Swallow your pride. Although your story is like a baby and you think it’s perfect–it’s not. There will always be opinions that will say you should change or work on certain things about your story. Subjective, yes, but be willing to make changes if they need to be made. There’s no point in soliciting opinions if you aren’t willing to make changes.
4. You are the author of your story–why is this an easy thing to forget? There are some who love nothing more than to put their own touches on your work. At this stage of your writing game, that’s not their job. They may make suggestions about things you should change, but be confident enough in your story and its lesson/point/essence and your own writing ability to know what to change and what to keep. If you aren’t careful, you can let someone else makeover your story until it’s not yours anymore.
5. In order to be strong with #4 above, you have to know the essence of your story. You have to be connected with your own message and voice. In his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain talks about the importance of understanding the “feeling” of your story. The feeling is yours. The feeling is what drives your characters and your plot. And the feeling is what shapes the writing rules you use. If you are in tune with that feeling, you’ll know what suggestions will work for your story and what won’t.
6. Be strong enough to say no. Just because someone suggests changes to your story doesn’t mean you have to make them. However, keep in mind that if you’ve chosen the right readers, suggestions they make should be worth looking at because hopefully they will only improve your work. Learn to balance suggestions and your story’s feeling.
7. No one has power over your story but you. You are the only one who can make the changes you need to make and you are the only one who understands the feeling of your story. Therefore, you are the only one who can decide what works for your story and what doesn’t. Anything that doesn’t work for your story is white noise. Any opinion that removes the essence of what you are trying to convey is white noise. Any person who tries to make your story into theirs–white noise. Anyone who takes away your unique voice–white noise. Value those opinions that begin by valuing what you are doing with your work.
We’ve all gotten good & bad feedback on our writing. It’s what we do with that feedback–how we react to it and what we change within our writing that crafts our stories and molds us as an author.
Get ready. It’s coming. But you and your story can both make it through.
Share with me: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in a critique? What’s the worst?