Too Many “Cooks” In Our Fiction: The Biggest Lesson I Learned From Book One

Ever try to cook with a group? As you chit chat away, it’s easy to get sidetracked. And dang it, salt looks a lot like sugar…

As some of you know, I’m working on my second novel while my agent markets my first. It’s an interesting position to be in. I’m no longer in agent-seek mode, don’t yet have a publishing editor to bounce ideas around with and have no deadlines looming. (I’m doing my best to savor that fact. From what I’ve heard, this can change quickly.) Gone is the blissful ignorance of writing book-one, when I had little clue as to what I was writing, much less how much improvement I lacked. But of the many lessons I learned from writing book one, this trumps all:

Trusting our instincts is as important as the writing itself.

Here’s an example.

As I finished my first-ever draft, I sought feedback from others—not just anyone, but reputable industry folk. And wouldn’t you know, I gained a slew of diverse opinions. I absorbed the information and did my best to stay true to my story while incorporating insight from trusted pros. One suggested I add a work crisis, another a bit of humor. Several suggested I switch to past tense. They’re experienced, I figured. Best I listen.

What I didn’t recognize then was that even brand-spanking new rookie authors know more about their stories than seasoned professionals. How can we write authentically if we’re peering through another’s lenses?

“Too many cooks in the kitchen” isn’t the pathway to success, but to a chaotic, if flavorful, mess.

Fast forward to last year. After signing with my agent, we discussed my draft in depth. He asked many questions, pointed out aspects he felt were strong or needed work, and which characters and plot points were necessary. The ending, he felt, was too abrupt. In order to flesh it out more (there’s a pun there you may get someday… ;)) I’d have to make some significant cuts.

Once back at my drawing board, I was struck by the fact that nearly every change I made brought my novel closer to my original story. Scenes and characters I’d added based on others’ feedback were cut. My original ending had been longer. Even my original tense returned. This isn’t to say that my first draft was awesome and publisher ready; it was far from it. But the story born of my initial thoughts materialized, making for a stronger, more confident work. Finally I felt I was finding my voice.

Going forward, I’m committed to listening to and honoring my instincts. Only once I have a full draft I’m confident about will I consider seeking input. Even then, I won’t trust others more than myself. It’s not always an easy task, particularly when we’re newish to the game. But take it from one who learned the tough way: Your instincts are probably wiser than your realize.

There can be great value in beta-readers and feedback from trusted friends and colleagues. But the moment we put decisions in someone else’s court or go against our intuition, we run the risk of telling a weaker story. And it’s not the critic’s fault if we abide by his or her feedback and it doesn’t work out, but ours. The best beta-readers and editors will tell us this. Then it’s up to us to listen. As gifted editor and author Mike Sirota once told me, “You are the goddess (or god) of your book.” 😉

Do you rely on others’ feedback during the writing process? Have you learned to trust your instincts? What did writing your first book teach you?

Leave a comment

76 Comments

  1. That is a very important lesson to learn. When I was writing my first novel, I was in a critique class that met once a week, so I was used to constant feedback throughout the process. I also learned that I did a lot less editing during a draft than pretty much everyone else in the group. That taught me that I should just write the first draft and then put it away for a while before asking for feedback. So that is what I am doing with my WIP. And when I am done with the first draft, I have one friend who is also a trusted editor whom I will send it to. I think asking too many people will get too many opinions, as you found. Until we have an actual editor, ours is the opinion that counts! Thanks for sharing your lesson. 🙂

    Reply
    • Sounds like you have a smart system in place, Emma. Critique groups can really confuse us, if we let them. I was in one for a while, and quickly discovered that the runner of the group did not take kindly to members not using his feedback. Geesh. Whenever a technique or habit stops working for us, best we move on. 🙂

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  2. I did this with my memoir. I had too much input early, I couldn’t write my story. When I sat down earlier this year and wrote my vomit draft, it felt great to write my story. Still revising, so I haven’t broke it out for feedback yet this time around.

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  3. Thank you for writing this, August. I’ve had writer friends who told me about changes/criticisms that others suggested (or told them they MUST make to have a good book) and watched them stress as their story changed with each change they incorporated.

    Just because the person giving advice may have industry experience, or even a published work, does not make them an expert in your story. Or anyone’s for that matter.

    Critique should always be taken with an open mind, but instincts shouldn’t be ignored. I firmly believe that solid writers are good at what they do because of their instincts, not due to someone else’s.

    So glad you were able to receive confirmation of that!

    Reply
    • Well said, Amber. And thanks for the encouragement. 🙂 Professionals may be smart and experienced to boot, but that doesn’t make them expert regarding our stories.

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  4. I agree August; I had the opportunity to do something big once and ruined it by bringing way too many cooks into the kitchen! One of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made which was a great learning experience that I paid dearly for a long time.

    That being said though, I have a friend that is super smart with a great understanding of most anything that helps me tremendously on design projects but he is the only one that I know that helps and doesn’t hinder.

    Great post August!

    Reply
    • So sorry you had to learn this the hard way, too. Good thing we learned though, right?? 🙂

      People we can trust and work well with are golden. My agent doesn’t put thoughts in my head, but asks questions, and I end up feeling in my comfort zone and more connected to my voice, rather than confused. Feeling freer to be ourselves and move forward are great signs.

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  5. Great post, August and one near to my heart! I did weigh much input from peers and professionals on my my first novel. I made the changes I believed in that was true to the story. Agents didnt want it. It was too “this” or “that”. An editor wanted me to start the story “here” but I didnt feel it was right.

    I trusted my instincts. Bottom line: I went with a small press who loved it and guess what? Others love it too. 4.7 stars with 40 reviews of em’ so far on Amazon. I am so glad I sent it out there how I did – even though I didnt get agented. I am seeking an agent now for my middle grade (4 have the full MS! eek!) and excited that I may become part of the pub revolution of publishing many different ways! And if I dont get agented for the MG – guess what…I will try another route. I will listen to my editor, my peers, and agent feedback…and I will make it the best book I can, but ultimately I have to believe its MY story to tell and live with myself and what I put out there to readers. This is not to say we should not improve our story telling craft – we should learn all the techniques we can. We can keep learning and writing better books.

    As authors – that’s all we can do. Do our best and be proud of our tales – and trust our instincts too. We have a story inside us for a reason – no one else has that story. It’s all ours.

    In order to not get overwhelmed with too much advice my 4 steps work for me. Others may work for you:
    1. I swap chapters with critique partner as we write our drafts. YES! rough drafts. very freeing to trust in someone to do this
    2. When done, use a professional development/line editor and incorporate the changes I believe in.
    3. Print and bind 5-7 copies to beta readers across demographics and incorporate any of their feedback.
    4. Send out to agents. If I get feedback from a full MS request I decided if I want to make the changes to the story.
    Last – keep moving forward until my book finds a home!

    Good luck all!

    Reply
    • What an inspiring story, Donna. Good for you for having the wherewithal to stick with your gut from the get-go. Huge congrats on your ongoing success. 🙂

      It’s nice to hear that critique partner swapping works well for you. Having encouragement along the way is something many of long for and lack, I imagine. And I love your practice of gaining feedback from a line editor/story developer, while maintaining your “I’ll take what resonates with me” values. Great stuff! Thanks so much for sharing.

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  6. I’ve definitely learned to trust my instincts. Usually when I get a critique (especially a bad one), I’ll sit on it for a while. Whatever sticks in my brain and won’t leave is probably something that I knew deep down wasn’t working in the first place. If I forget the critque though, it probably wasn’t worth listening to.

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  7. When I first heard about beta readers, I groaned. As an artist, I went through college having my artwork critiqued by others. Being the only illustrator in the group, it was like comparing apples and oranges.

    When I think of the differing opinions in my book club, I would think each one of them would rewrite parts of every book we have read. SCARY!

    I have a couple of people (some professional) in mind to read it when it is finished. They will be honest. My family will give me an honest opinion. Danny has already read 100 pages. He is a very good critic. #1 He is a guy, so sees things from a different perspective.
    #2 He doesn’t always make the leaps (in my flash fictions) I expect my readers to make, so I rewrite to make it more clear.

    Ultimately, I want a great product so I want them to fire away! In the end it will be my decision whether to take their advice.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you’ve had your fill of critiques, Susie. I bet that experience will serve you well—particularly knowing that every decision is ultimately yours.

      I much prefer mentorship, or one-on-one feedback, versus group responses or many varying opinions. I think some of that comes down to personal style. Good luck!

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  8. Whoo-hoo for following your instincts! That was something a close friend nagged at me with the entire time I wrote Dark, and it paid off. While you have to consider reader reactions, writing rules etc., I still think the best advice is to write the book YOU want to read. If not, you won’t love it and that will show.

    Too many cooks in the kitchen is an enormous fear of mine. That’s why I hesitate to join any critique group. I’m lucky to have a good friend who will be blatantly honest about anything and everything and is a grammar ace (that’s honestly not an exaggeration, she teaches reading/writing at a college level) plus an awesome critique partner. I trust both of these people with my work, and that’s a hard thing to find. I’m just really nervous about branching out farther unless it’s with a developmental editor.

    Anyway, so glad you’ve come to this point, and good luck on the second book!

    Reply
    • Sounds like a great friend to have, Stacy. And I agree with you 100%. If we write books we’d love to read, we’ll love writing them. That’s gotta make our work stronger. Thanks for the cheers! 🙂

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  9. You would be amazed at how many writers I’ve encountered that try to go it alone, or with input solely from their sisters-in-law. Good thoughts, o’ Goddess of the Book! 🙂

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    • I can imagine! I ask my mom for feedback when I want all positive, no matter what. For anything else, I seek out the Simon Cowells of books. 😉

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  10. One thing I miss desperately is the writing critique group I used to be a part of in college. Not only did the other members in the group offer valuable feedback to improve each other’s work, but it also gave us the opportunity to really learn that even like-minded people can have wildly different opinions on how to craft a story, and so that every bit of advice needed to be taken into careful consideration, right alongside your own sense of gut feeling. I like to think that group did a good job of honing my ability to sort through the advice, pick out what will work for me and sort out what won’t. Beta-readers are invaluable; I can’t even say how many stupid little mistakes they helped prevent me from making, but, with other things, nothing beats your intuition.

    It’s kind of funny, it’s a lot like cooking. Sometimes, you gotta stick to the recipe, but, other times, people have different interpretations on how to make a dish. None of them are wrong, but not all of them may be right for you.

    And now I’m kind of hungry. Hee.

    Reply
    • What a terrific experience you had. Differing opinions really can help, if even to show us what we don’t want to do. 😉 And alas, I’m hungry, too!

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  11. Fabulous post and so very true August. I’ve had this reiterated to me time and time again in my professional life. Times when I second guess myself only to find out that my first instincts were true and in line. I’ve learned over and over again that…I really do know what I’m doing and I can trust in that!

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  12. This is a great lesson. Sometimes we get so blinded by the desire for affirmation from the gate-keepers that we twist and cosmetically change our stories until they no longer resemble what we set out to write – and still can’t find representation. I’ve heard so many writers credited with writing classics say they never intended to do that at all – they just wrote the story on their hearts. That’s telling, isn’t it. Great post.

    Reply
    • Well said, Lisa. I’m sure my desire for affirmation played a huge role in all of this. And I love what you’ve heard about classics. Setting out to tell stories we’re passionate to tell trumps all. 😉

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  13. Wow. What a fascinating process! I think you made such a great point that the pros really don’t know anything except what works for THEM which is why it’s so hard to be a good editor and a good writer at the same time. Anyway, great post, August.

    By the way, to speak to your opening analogy, I have a friend who baked a cake without realizing she was using powdered sugar instead of flour. Needless to say it didn’t turn out right.

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  14. thank you for this August. I am doing my final edits today on my third novel, and I have thorough feedback from four great beta-readers. NONE of them say the same thing. It’s amazing! I have to consider everything they are saying, but in the end, I will only make the changes that will work, and absolutely will NOT make the changes that aren’t right according to MY story. I will not wreck my own story because some “editor” wants it to be their story. I know which input is to help my story, and which input is an attempt to do something my story doesn’t do.
    I really try hard to take everything into account, but in the end, I do it my way.

    I know what I’m doing, and I know what I want. We’ll see, very shortly, the merits of my approach.

    BTW is is your birthday all month, August? I know a dear writer friend named December too =)

    Reply
    • Good for you, Samuel. When we request feedback from friends and editors, they are seeking out the need for changes. It’s always wise to weigh the insight against our original thoughts, and in some cases, to try to see where they’re coming from. Publishing editors and agents, for example, know what sells. But even they generally give final say to us.

      My birthday is in December. 😉 I could probably get away with claiming another one now. Presents can be sent to… Kidding!

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  15. I’m one of those writers that readers – critique partners, beta readers, or otherwise – either love or…don’t love so much, and I’ve learned over the years – like you, August, only I didn’t understand it as clearly, or as quickly; yay you! – to go with my gut. These days I have two, sometimes three beta readers, and the rest is on my shoulders. I also don’t give it to the readers until just before the final polish. Susan Elizabeth Phillips says, “protect the writing”. It was a long time before I got what she meant 🙂

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  16. Really thought provoking. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ll be cautious when implementing feedback in the future. I hope the process with your second book is easier.

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  17. GREAT advice, August! All I can say is that there are going to be three groups of people looking at any kind of art…those that fall on the like/love side of the fence, those that fall on the dislike/hate side of the fence…and those that are using the fence for a balance beam (okay, so they’re the ones who really don’t care one way or the other).

    I learned a long time ago that I’m going to write the story I need to tell. I’m not going to be bound by page counts or ‘X’ amount of conflicts (love scenes, or whatever). That’s why I never really pursued an agent or publisher. I wrote purely for the love of writing, and wrote the stories in my head.

    Now that I do have books out there, the only people whose opinions really matter to me are the ones camped out on the like/love side of the fence.

    I think it was John Locke who said to write to your market. Something like that anyway. He is correct about that. But remember that betas, critique partners, and anyone else you may be seeking an opinion from, all fall into someone’s market. And it might not be yours. If it isn’t, you won’t get advice you can trust.

    Even more importantly, if you’re getting feedback that makes you consider changing your story so much you won’t recognize it, don’t do anything rash. Put the manuscript away for a while, and then be very honest when you read it again. Does the entire story suck…or do YOU still feel it’s the story you want to tell. If it’s the latter…ignore everyone else. 🙂

    Reply
    • Excellent points, Kristy. And I love the fact that you write for the love of writing, and have such a grasp of your readers’ views, and your own.

      One author who gave me feedback writes in a far different genre than mine (which I didn’t realize yet). Having read part of one of his books since, I can see how different our audiences and tastes are.

      You also brought up another great cooking analogy—the importance of letting feedback marinate. 😉

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  18. Great post. I think trust yourself should be my motto for this decade. It is so easy to question your expertise and knowledge – especially for women, it seems. Thanks for the reminder that we are the experts of our own lives and creativity. 🙂

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    • People often do over-think and even talk themselves out trusting instincts. Gavin de Becker’s book, Gift of Fear, which I’ve raved about many times here ;), makes a great case for listening. Glad this resonated with you. 🙂

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  19. Thanks for a great post, August. I also learned this lesson with my first book, and I developed the habit of saving earlier drafts in case I wanted to change something back to the way it was originally. I use beta readers, but not until the vomit draft (I love that phrase) is done and I’ve self-edited once or twice. And I’ve had mixed experiences with paid editors. Often I rely mainly on feeback from my other misterio press authors (small indie press Shannon Esposito and I started) for final polish. But all changes definitely have to feel right to me.

    My philosophy is that even feedback I end up not agreeing with is helpful, because it has made me rethink that word choice, scene, etc. and make sure it is exactly the way I want it to be. I love watching my story get better and better as I incorporate feedback, but only the stuff that feels right!!

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    • I’ve relied on those early drafts, too, Kassandra. And I agree about the usefulness of feedback we disagree with. Thanks for sharing your expert insight!

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  20. This is a great lesson. It works for me too, but at the same time I welcome the input from my trusted critique partners at every stage. When you develop the mind-meld with your crit partners, they’ll know what you’re trying to say before you do 🙂
    I love when the first draft is complete: that’s when we can have feedback based on the “big picture”–on the whole book. By that time, beta-readers can identify and understand the theme, plot, voice, and make much more pertinent and valuable suggestions.
    Good post, August!

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    • Sounds like you’ve found your critique partner soul mate, Fabio! 😉 Congrats. I think pairing with the right agent, editor, etc., feels the same way.

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  21. This is one of the reasons I tend to shy away from feedback until I have a first draft down. In the initial writing stage, my courage is low, and I can be too easily swung away from what I want to do with the book. Once I have it all down, then it’s about making it better and I feel like I’m more able to judge what suggestions will do that and what suggestions won’t. I also try to look for patterns. If I give the book to three different people and they all say the same thing, then I can be fairly certain they’ve spotted a problem I need to fix.

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    • That’s the route I’m taking this time around. It’s encouraging to hear that it’s worked well for you, Marcy. And observing common responses can really highlight issues that need addressing.

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  22. I learned early on that getting critiques while writing the first draft is great for some writers, but it’s a disaster for me. I have to write the first draft – and the second – with the door closed, then invite the beta readers in. Figuring out this part of my process was a big accomplishment for me – congrats on yours!

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  23. I’ve had such a hard time with this! It’s hard to know when the feedback is good and when it’s just “book by committee”. Nobody likes committees…just sayin’.

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  24. Coleen Patrick

     /  August 20, 2012

    Love this August. As much as I need feedback on my work, I also have an instinct about my story–even though there are days when I feel completely disconnected from it. I love what you say about the changes bringing you closer to your original story. 🙂

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  25. Thank you August for the timely post. I recently sent my first novel to seven BETA readers. The results have been confusing to say the least. Each reader made different comments, but no two were the same. I love the feedback and critiques, but listening to too many voices has been a hair pulling experience. The whole process has been eye-opening to say the least. It has even turned into a nightmare. The US Postal Service has lost my ms from one of the BETA readers I was most looking forward to her insights. As of now, no one knows where the package was delivered. Going forward in this process, and after much debate (prologue vs no prologue, etc) I think I will take your advice and stick with the one voice in my head that I understand and trust my own instinct.

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    • Ooh, how frustrating, Tim. I hope that manuscript is found soon! Or landed by mistake on an awesome agent or publisher’s doorstep. 😉 If I were to choose beta-readers, I’d be veeery picky. I think choosing writers/editors who specialize in our genre and whose work we admire can help. But if you’re seeking an agent, that agent will see your talent and potential (or even love your work as-is) and lead you toward any changes required.

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  26. Another really fine post, August! There are many reasons that my first novel got away from me but among those is having it read before it was ready. I know I lost some of the heart of the story but it was a lesson I have only had to learn once. Just recently I was asked for some pages of my current manuscript but that’s not happening. We all fall in love with our stories but staying in love requires commitment.

    Karen

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    • I’ve fallen out of love with stories, too, Karen, after getting too much feedback on my idea or pages. For what it’s worth, setting our stories aside can help. Timing is another factor… and falling back in love sometimes takes a break and some changes. I recently set one book aside to start and finish another—thanks to following my gut feelings—and am so glad I did. Whoever requested your pages may love your next tale even more. 😉

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  27. prudencemacleod

     /  August 20, 2012

    Hey August, for me, I write first, then let a few select folks read. If they suggest a change they’d better be able to explain why and how it would improve things. I finally have a editor I trust and that is a big bonus too, but she always backs up her suggestions with the reasoning.
    Great post, very thought provoking.

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  28. August, this may be the most important post I’ve read this year. I actually quit writing for over a year because the “critiques” and “suggestions” had me so confused I decided I didn’t know how to write.

    Thanks to encouragement from successful author Jillian Dodd, I got back with it and now am about to publish my second book – the first in a series of novellas developed from an older novel I’d been told wouldn’t work.

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    • Excessive or confusing feedback can surely zap our confidence. I’ve never understood feedback that involves “Your story won’t work.” How can anyone know that?? I’m so happy to hear that you’ve regained faith and are moving forward, David. Congrats. 🙂

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  29. Hi August – I’ve only recently stumbled onto your blog and am so glad I did! Thanks for the really great, positive, and practical advice. I’m still writing a first draft, but I find I do best with critique at this stage if I’m really clear what I’m after -ie. Does this make sense? Is the writing tight? Because if I can’t trust my instincts with the story at this stage, there’s probably no point in writing it.

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  30. August, I gave you an award from my site, http://www.writingstraight.com

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  31. Great post, August. I’ve learned that much of the feedback I receive reflects how different people would tackle the same story differently. But when the feedback does hit on a flaw in the work I usually know it in my gut. I’m fortunate to attend a great workshop which emphasizes asking questions about the work. I find that I learn a lot from how others see the story, even from the suggestions I don’t end up using. Good luck with book number two!

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  32. Great post, August. Right now, I’m at “Put down the Duckie.” I just need a break from my mess. As I’ve worked on edits from Draft 1, it just feels like a disaster. Yes, there are good parts, but there is a lot to hack — and frankly, a lot of it is not what I was trying to say. I allowed someone else to change a lot of my ideas. I think it is time for me to put down this WIP and just blog for a while. When you wake up dreading the day, something has gone horribly wrong.

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  33. Great advice, August. Congratulations on the progress you’ve made! I have several beta readers (including a couple who read it out loud) who were incredibly helpful on my first novel. Lot to clean up now that I’ve let it rest for a few weeks. 🙂

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  34. charitykountz

     /  August 20, 2012

    Great post! I am currently revising my first children’s novel Jason Lizzy and the Snowman Village. It’s AMAZING how many things people notice or point out and make suggestions on. At this point I am basically looking for anything that rings true with my opinions or concerns. For example, the ending feels a little wrong to me – too short, so I pay special attention to comments about that or about some of my characters. I have weaknesses and I look for feedback on those. Ultimately I don’t make any changes just because someone suggests I should – unless I see and agree with their reasoning. If I get that feeling of “You know, why didn’t I think of that? That’s a great idea”, then I know I’m on to something worthwhile. If instead I hesitate – that’s a red flag for me of “should I really make this change? Am I staying true to myself, my voice, and my story?” Editing is a gift – not everyone has it. I’ve been fortunate to find others who have helped me improve the work as it is – rather than editing it to change it. My short story Seeking Redemption was a perfect example of a successful author/editor collaboration. I had rewritten and revised this story so many times in two years I was sick of the story. But when the editor came back to me with suggestions, because I knew that story inside and out, I knew his changes were a good fit right away. And he helped me see a few subtle areas that with minor changes solved problems I’d been struggling with for ages. Now I am confident the work is as polished as it can get and no longer even think of making changes to it. It’s done. I just wish I could say that about some of my other works!

    Great advice!

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  35. I agree. When it comes right down to it you have to trust your instinct. I recently learned that and I will hold true to that moving forward. Critiques and betas can be wonderful, but they can also confuse the process if you don’t know when to let the advice roll by. Ultimately the story must be your own and no one elses. Wonderful post, August!

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  36. I’m so grateful for you sharing this. I’ve workshopped my book and a lot of the info. you get is helpful, but at the same time, some suggestions just turn me off to where I wouldn’t want to write the book anymore. It can be good or bad. Sometimes, those conversations make you stop, think, and change the work into something different but wonderful. Other times, you lose sight of the story you began with.

    But basically you said it better above! 😉

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  37. I think it’s very important to get feedback from people who read your genre. If you are asking a hard-core thriller reader to beta a cozy mystery, then you’ll get confusing feedback. Also, I won’t let anyone read my MS until it’s been edited to where I think it’s polished enough to send out. Only then do I want people to give me feedback. Until then (and I learned this the super hard way) do you have a clear idea of who your characters are, what the story is, and how it’s all going to come together. I’d be afraid of letting others read a first draft because, for me, sometimes I’m just not sure where the characters and/or story is going.

    Hindsight, it truly does kick us in the butt. Trusting out instincts though, that’s 100% pure awesome.

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  38. Kourtney Heintz

     /  August 20, 2012

    I think the problem with feedback is people are too caught up in telling writers how to “fix their books” instead of identifying the issue or the problem they had when reading it. The “what” is so much more important than the “how” in feedback. Only a writer knows how to fix their book. But a reader can point to problem areas and explain what didn’t work for them.

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    • Hey, Kourtney, I think you have hit a very important nail on it’s proverbial head here. Don’t tell me how to fix it, because that’s probably going to be your style and voice, not mine. Just tell me what you see as a problem. If I agree that it’s a problem, I’ll figure out how to fix it. Now, having said that, if one of my betas or critique partners offers a potential fix after they’ve told me what bothered them, that’s fine. If that solution works for me, I’ll run with it. If not, it may give me other ideas. But don’t start with, “You need to change such and such to such and such.”

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  39. Agree. Getting ‘beta reader’ feedback is essential, if you can find anybody to do it…but I think their comments have to be filtered.

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  40. Over the years, I have definitely changed my writing and voice due to certain critiques, and all of that has led me to become the writer I am now, but it took me a long time to figure out what to listen to and what to ignore.

    I’m so lucky to belong to a close-knit novel-writing critique group. We all were in a weekly crit group together, a number of years ago, so we have similar sensibilities, and we know each other’s voices really well. That helps. It also helps that we read a full manuscript over a few months and then sit and discuss it for several hours. The author hears us agree and disagree–a great reminder that there are many ways of looking at literature, and many different tastes and opinions. If everyone nods and agrees about a particular problem, then it’s likely a real problem and should be addressed. The author gets to pick and choose what she wants to change from the heady mix of conversation, overview letters and margin notes. I learn so much even when my manuscript isn’t the one on the table.

    Reply
  41. Holy cow, August, this was right on time for me. I wrote something for NaNoWriMo and I know it’s got good bones and needs some fattening up and I love it. The thing is, if I listen to everyone, it will never be right. Parts of what I’ve come up with were truly inspired, like my inner writer was doing all the work and my hands were simply hitting the right buttons. I *so* completely appreciate this post. Tweeting it. It’s great and thank you. (I know this sounds over the top effusive, but, well, your post and your commenters have given me a new wind in my sails to keep going with what I started… I actually considered trashing the whole thing, even though it’s mostly good stuff.)

    Reply
    • I’m touched that the post hit a valuable nerve with you, Molly! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Your support and gratitude means more than you know.

      Best of luck as you weigh out input from others, but guide with that inner voice. Sounds like a brilliant talker to me. 😉

      Reply
  42. Hi,
    I like that statement, “Trusting our instincts is more important than writing itself!” So true.
    Following your path means taking responsibility for what you write and your story. The story is given to you, not others.
    Love the article.
    Ciao,
    Patricia

    Reply
  43. Way to go, August! Too many cooks is a good way to describe it. I can only say that ‘attempting’ to write my first book taught me the value in writing your first draft inside the bubble. Other’s voices (or frowns of dismay) in one’s head before the draft is down can be the death knell – at least if you let it. I’ve never been able to go back to that one, but I have moved on to other projects, and I’m never going to forget the lesson learned 🙂

    Reply
  44. Raani York

     /  August 23, 2012

    This is another great post August! Have I ever told you I love your blog? *grin*

    You so describe my first experiences. But then I think: Isn’t it normal to be a little insecure about a first “Master piece?” I thought I had done well – put it aside and re-read it – and finally thought – okay… done well – but you still can do better…

    We’ll see after they’re published. *grin*

    Reply
  45. Sometimes you KNOW you shouldn’t be listening to this piece of advice, but hey, you’re a newbie…what do you really know?
    So hearing you say that – its a huge help. Because sometimes people don’t do what they KNOW they should until someone else validates them for it. The human brain and heart are two strange things. Thanks. 😉

    Reply
  46. When I was a real green newbie awhile back it was overwhelming to receive so many different responses to how to change up my story and characters. (I didnt even know what POV, hopping heads, or character arcs were – ha ha.

    I think trusting our instincts is key but also learning!And this doesnt happen quickly. I am now breathing new life into my middle grade novel (that has been thru developmental edits, 2 early readers, another editor, a few agents) and based on all the feedback I received I made changes along the way too. However, I got 2 responses that were conflicting, both by agents! 1. Speed up the action, too slow & 2. Slow down the scenes, remove plot points as it’s too fast and you’re losing me.

    I decided to keep the plot points but enrich the story by showing us more thru the main character’s eyes thru his reactions involving setting and all the senses. This, I decided would slow down the scenes while keeping things moving and giving us a richer tale and a character to truly care about and follow.

    Would I have known how to do this 2 years ago? NO! So know why? Because I’ve read books on craft, went to workshops, used trusted folks with experience to provide feedback, and continued to write.

    Do I still have much to learn? heck yes! I’m not so green anymore – well maybe “sage” – LOL! Not quite 🙂

    Knowing what to do and who to listen to is something we can grow into knowing over time – as we grow as a writer. Just as you have learned, August. your amazing path has taught you so much too. This is not a fast path, but a long winding road with many dead ends. It’s deciding to back up and re-direct our path that gets us to where we want to be. 🙂

    Reply
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