I’m posting this because I love to talk about writing! It’s one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place. What follows is an edited version of a discussion I had with fellow writer TA Miles in response to one of my blog posts on critiquing. ‘Edited’ because at 8 pages it’s just too long to post it all! Still, I hope to post the rest at some point because I find the discussions on the other topics, character development, publishing and writing in general, to be equally worth sharing. To me, this was one of the most honest and deep conversations I’d had with someone on the subject, to the point where months later I still think about it. So here it is! (It might help to click on the link above to read the original post first. Oh, and maybe picture us ladies in a cafe, sipping giant coffees while chatting it up . 🙂 )
Me: Hi TA! …Since I’ve been posting about critiquing you’re the first person I’ve come across who has shed a personal and entirely relatable perspective of why they prefer NOT to accept other people’s opinions. I agree that everyone has their own way of doing things and I can’t and won’t judge anyone for how they choose to work. When I came back to writing, I was so lost and fragile in many ways it took the combined effort of sheer determination and a community to get my feet planted straight. What I was expressing above is my appreciation of that experience. I guess what I’m saying to you is that coming from that place of personal experience, I can now see and understand why someone wouldn’t need it. 🙂 And now that I have gained that understanding, I feel as though I have truly communicated. 🙂 Does that make sense? (Thanks so much for sharing, btw)
TA: It makes perfect sense. 🙂 I respect the fact that you’ve had experiences that have helped you come to your own method and that you choose to share in a positive and constructive light (versus telling everyone what the best method is). In other words, you’re not just doing what everyone has told you is the right and/or only way, and then telling everyone else the same thing (it gets to be a vicious chain). It drives me nuts when people use that ‘serious writer’ line. No one can gauge or understand how serious someone is about their craft without knowing them personally. But anyway…staying on topic…probably one of the main reasons no one hears much from the solitary writers, working alone in their dark places is because…they’re working alone in their dark places, lol. Also whenever we come out and let everyone know we do things differently, we tend to get told we’re not serious about the craft. Thanks for being open to all sides of it.
A great piece of literature can come from anywhere, from anyone. Some of the best stories are told by many voices, as in many voices having contributed to its growth, whether through encouragement, criticism, etc. Conversely, some of the best stories are also told by an isolated voice that projects from a lesser visited place. The variance of humanity is what makes it so fascinating and what keeps it going, and what keeps creativity on the whole fresh and meaningful.
Me: 🙂 So well put as usual. The thing is that at this point, after having gone through a ‘revival’ of sorts, I have come to a place where I rely less on others than before. I no longer rewrite my drafts a billion times, or second guess every other word. By the end of the chapter or story, I usually know if it’s good or not, and if its not, I know what I need to fix. So perhaps I’ve evolved to a point where you and I aren’t so different after all. 🙂
TA: Thanks! 🙂 And I think that you and I are not very different at all. In fact, one of the reasons I’m stalking your upcoming book is because I see our similarities, particularly regarding emotion. I could tell before you ever mentioned how emotional you are about writing that you’re an emotional writer. It bleeds into your characters (whom I therefore want to meet). I think that the only times they stumble are the times you second guess them, not because there’s a genuine problem. And for me that’s another reason why I don’t seek input. It would open up the greater possibility to second guess…it would create a clutter and I would be unable to function. But I think our largest difference, which galvanises our similarities, is that when you slipped into your dark place you found a better time having hands to lift you out. I stayed in the darkness and made it my own (I’ve always been especially curious about dark places anyway, lol). Having seen that darkness, you’re stronger, less afraid of it, and regaining that confidence. That ‘darkness’ (since I’m on that metaphor) became a strength for both of us. 🙂
Me: Yes, I have to agree with your assessment. And you have a point about letting voices get in and mess up your work. It happened to me and totally discouraged me from my first book. I didn’t know who I was as a writer, I had no confidence in my skills and listened to everybody. So I put it aside and wrote Morrow because I couldn’t look at the other one anymore. That is a pitfall of bring critiqued; it’s easy to be swayed if you don’t know who you are. But as I wrote Morrow and asked for crits, I learned to be more discerning about what feedback I did get. Finally, at one point I said, ‘To hell with this! I’m doing what I want.’ And it was pure freedom. I still asked for beta readers but because I was more certain of myself I could field through the comments better. Wolf’s Bane, the sequel, has had the least amount of feedback but I think it’s the strongest book yet. But then again, I worked myself up to being able to write it with less help.
TA: “It’s easy to be swayed if you don’t know who you are.” That is precisely true. That is what has me emerge from the depths to (occasionally) breathe fire at the masses who think they know it all. I can’t stand to watch people and their dreams get beaten down and pinned to the ground before they’ve even begun to discover themselves. When I see that happening…well, first I make sure to get myself mostly in check…and then I let them have it. I’m glad you strengthened yourself against that and decided to do things your way. Feedback is optional on the giving and taking (as you tend to point out when you offer it).
To me, even if it’s considered feedback, if it’s to do with content or characters (the cutting of a character or rearranging your plot or something), really how far can that go? It has the potential to become a mess, because what one person suggests as a weakness another might see as a strength. How do you decide whose suggestion is more or less viable? There’s no such thing as a unanimously agreed audience and that’s why you have to write for you/your characters first, in my opinion. Also in my opinion, character and content suggestions are not helpful. My answer to ‘I think character A and character E are too alike, lose one of them.’ would always be, ‘Yeah…no. People can be similar in life, and it’s their story. I’m telling it how they want it.’ I also would be wary of putting my work up for that sort of critiquing from people equipped mainly with ‘writing community’ trends and mentality. Definitely, as you said, important to discern just who you’d have critique your story. Of course, if the writer just has misgivings and can’t pin down what it is, someone may help them see what the issue is, but it should be someone familiar with you/your style, who won’t have their checklist of standard ‘do’s and don’ts’ ready just to let you know you’re not perfect.
Me: …It was a tough road and I went through lots of insecure moments trying to find my identity as a writer. But that’s the process I need to go through. In the end I figured out the people I could trust to be real with me with both good and bad comments and tend to stick with them. But you’re right. No one can really tell you how a book should be because they didn’t write it. They don’t know my endgame. I don’t tend to get into discussions about cutting characters and such but I do listen if people say a section was slow or if plot points don’t add up. That’s usually the kind of stuff I’m looking for because it’s easy to miss those things. If people don’t like my style, well that’s personal preference so I don’t pay that too much mind…
Ach, I hate to end it here. There’s so much more good stuff to read! But I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. What would you like to add to the discussion? Join in!