Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Am Greedy

As I work to improve my stories (always, always they can be better) I find that I'm greedy for advice and suggestions. Sometimes this comes in the form of a manuscript critique, or notes on a shared draft, and even a rejection letter.

You didn't like it, you say? Why not? In fact, skewer me: tell me what didn't work, what you found stupid or boring or weak or almost-but-not-quite-good-enough. Run me right through and leave me gasping on the floor as the dry fragments of my dream flutter down around around me.

Because even as I'm reeling, even as the child in me punches its little fists at the unfairness of it all (how dare they? it's perfect!), I am salivating because here and there I see how to fix the story. There are gems gleaming in the wreckage of my ego.

Look over there! That advice stung at the time but it's spot on. Gimme!

There, in the corner, that incisive and almost cruel comment: it can help make the story better. Mine, all mine! And that question, give it! And all those bigger thematic ideas that I didn't want to hear: mine, mine MINE!

My ego will recover. I'm interested only in the story. And I'm quite merciless in my pursuit of anything that will make it better, even if it's painful to hear.

Story first.


Stina Lindenblatt said...

Every writer should have these words printed above their computer screen. Or maybe the article should be handed out before the SCBWI critique. Maybe then there wouldn't be so many irrate authors who didn't hear the gushing words they had expected to hear.

Thanks Seth for the reminder.

Peter S said...

This does bear the caveat that not all advice is good.

Ultimately, some people will just hate your work and no amount of rewriting will fix that.

Subjectivity is the enemy of usable critique. Ultimately, ULTIMATELY, you have to judge for yourself. Do you enjoy reading every passage? Does your mind wander in certain sections? Personally, I would tend to value the critique of a writer I respected over an unknown. Maybe your reader only likes grocery-store romances, but don't rewrite to please that reader if it isn't true to your vision. (But if your vision IS grocery-store bodice-rippers, go right ahead.)

As writers, really, we write to please ourselves. Good advice is valuable, but you have to select carefully, picking flashes of silver out of the mud of your dredge net.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

So there you go...ignore my comments and listen to Jane's. There's no bodice-ripping in her novels...at least not in any of her picture books!

S R Wood said...

I'll take feedback from wherever I can get it. The only barometer I use is whether it makes the story better, regardless of who provided it or how my poor little ego feels. That's what I meant by "story first." Everything else is just noise.

The tricky part, as Peter points out, is the judgment to know when a suggestion improves the story and when it does not. Sometimes I think you just have to try something. Thus: Draft 1.doc. Draft 1b.doc. Draft 1c.doc. Draft 2.doc. Etc.!

Peter S said...

I think you hit on something important. When is a written piece done? I've found with other design work that I often reach a point where everyone in the vicinity has been able to put in an opinion, roads have been explored to no avail, and all modifications seem like lateral moves. At some point change does not reveal, explore, or open up possibility, it just exists for its own sake. Then I realize I'm done.

PS, this hardly ever happens. I usually run out of steam or interest before EVERY possibility has been explored. Honestly, who has the time?