Following Your Heart

As writers we’re taught to take critique.  Forget that, as humans we’re taught to take critique.  From a very young age, most of us were taught that we’re not perfect.  That adults know what’s best.  The more and more we learn this, we teach this, the more and more we create this society that is taught to seek out help rather than to search first within themselves.

There’s this very good Ira Glass series “On Storytelling”, (part 3/4 being “the best”).  In which he talks about how we as creative types have this sense where we know what good, what great is because we have damn good taste.  However there’s this disconnect because we’re not to the point where we can create that good/greatness.

As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety (still dealing with this one)–btw, if this is you, authors Veronica Roth & Claire Legrand have some amazing posts on this, you should read their entire blog (no, seriously)–it seems even harder.  There are times when I want to follow Neil Gaiman’s timeless words of wisdom “Make Good Art” as well as the Nike slogan (& one of my mottos) “Just Do It”.  However, it’s like there’s this mountain, no, maybe like a barbed wire, electrical fence blocking me.  So naturally, as Veronica Roth talks about, we’re drawn to listen to others to help us dig ourselves out.  Critiques become more than just that, they become words we live by.  We live to please, we want to please, and opening ourselves up like that can end up shattering every mental defense we’ve built up over the years.  Which is why, though I love WriteOnCon, I made the conscious decision to only put my WIP up, not my finished stuff, and even that though amazingly helpful, was a bit detrimental.

Why I am saying all this?  (Don’t I know blog posts are supposed to be short & sweet…haha, if that’s what you’re looking for you should probably stop following my blog ;))

I’m saying this because no matter how helpful people are, they’re not you.  It honestly doesn’t matter if they’re a professional.  (Although, if it’s your agent or editor and you trust their opinion (which you should), it might do to put their comments aside for a while and re-review them later when your head is clearer.)

I’m saying this because I recently had a little twitter chat with writer Adrianne Russell where we talked a bit about how a project can become overedited.  And, if you’ve been following this blog for a while you might know that HEIR OF ISIS (formally BLOOD OF ISIS) has been through a lot of editing & revising, even when I probably should’ve just put it down and let it rest.  At the suggestion of an agent I admire, I hired a freelance editor who while amazing, had some changes I tried to make work yet they weren’t what I wanted & what my story needed.  Well, it took me until now to realize that.  Her suggestions were great, just not right for my story.

However some of her pointers were spot on, as were the pointers of a few people who beta read the MS after another round of revisions.  I don’t know who I’ve been trying to write for, “the market”, agents, editors, readers, I really can’t say (combination most likely) but what everyone picked up on was what I knew all along, some things seemed forced.  So what I’m trying to say is that you HAVE  to follow your heart.  Had I, I might’ve saved myself all of this.  (However I’m trying this no regret thing so I’ll just say, my experiences have helped shaped my present, and I might not be where I am without them :))

Listen to others, but stay true to yourself.  If someone else wants you to write a Paranormal Romance when what you really want is a Contemporary then stick with it.  Who cares if Vampires are hot (which, btw, they’re not).  It’s important to get feedback on your work, but it’s equally important to be careful who you send your work to for feedback and of how much you digest without first evaluating its worth, its need, in terms of your story.

Funny thing is, I have requests currently out for that manuscript so I guess I’ll be waiting to see what happens.  For right now, I’ll focus on the MG.  But when the time’s right, I plan on revisiting HEIR/BLOOD OF ISIS, and writing for myself, the damn good story I want to write.  It’s going to be a challenge, yes, but in the end, it’ll make me happier and truthfully (especially with nerves like mine) that’s all that matters (or should).  Give readers the story you can’t live without, and that’s how you’ll gain them.  Don’t let yourself think for a minute we all want what’s hot.  If anything, we’re probably tired of it, but, since no one (or barely anyone) is writing anything else, we’re stuck with it.  And it sucks.  By doing yourself a favor, in the long run, you’re treasuring your readers’ time.  I can’t speak for everyone but I read books to experience new things, worlds, etc…if the books available all start to sound the same, why would I read them?  (This is why I rarely pick up books from the YA “what’s hot” (or whatever it’s called) shelf, I don’t want what B&N says is popular I want damn good books, books I usually find out from my Twitter peeps (writers, agents, etc…who have some pretty good taste).  This is also why there are ongoing series I’ve been reading for years even though they’re not “hot” anymore…the good shit wins, always. (in my book))

You become a trendsetter by breaking the current one, not by following it.  So when in doubt, remember that & always follow your heart 🙂

Have you struggled with following your heart?  How have you overcome your doubts?

Whimsically Yours,

PnC

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20 thoughts on “Following Your Heart

  1. I think your conclusion is right-on. Critical feedback is important—if someone tells you they love everything you’ve ever written and every word is perfect, you should say thanks, Mom, and find someone else to critique your work. Without some feedback, we never improve. The key is to evaluate all suggestions and use your own judgement as to which to follow. You know best the story you’re trying to tell and no one else can write in your voice. But having an outside perspective can also be helpful, as long as someone is not imposing their agenda onto you. Someone telling you to change your story completely is a good sign they don’t “get” you. Glad you stood strong.

    • Thanks Mariah. Haha, nice example. I think that’s why I always advocate getting at least two people to read your “finished” work. And non family members. Moms are nice but, yeah…no. It’s important like you said to use your own judgement. You can’t be too cocky and think your stuff is perfect but you shouldn’t let people trample over you either 🙂

  2. I’m in the middle of a critiquing process with a CP who is awesome. 🙂 I sometimes have trouble *giving* critiques, because I might want to point something out that didn’t jive well with me (haha, did I really just say “jive”?) but don’t want to phrase it in a way that sounds too negative. I know that I always look at the first critique as “I can’t do ANYTHING right!!!” no matter how positively worded it is, so there’s that too. In the end I just end up saying what I think politely and making sure to comment on what I liked a lot too. I mean, at the end of the day we’re all just people with different opinions, likes, and dislikes, and the writer’s likes and dislikes are the most important b/c they created the story in the first place. 🙂

    I’ve had to balance some pretty differing critiques of my own stuff. I’ve had reactions to the same scene that are as different as “I LOVED this!!!” and “That was really boring.” Someone’s not going to be happy either way…and you can’t make all your readers happy. You have to know what you like, and at this point I’m so used to getting others’ opinions that I am having to rediscover what I liked and didn’t like about the story in the first place.

    • Yeah, it’s a very hard road to travel. I always feel like I’m trying to walk on a tightrope or something. Like you said, some people give very positively worded critiques, that are usually pretty helpful, but I can be like “No, go away.” So you have to learn not to react but to take them time to actually listen to what the person is saying. But you also have to make sure you’re not always following others suggestions. Taste is such a subjective thing that if you always followed others, in the end your book would be nothingness.

      I’m with you on the rediscovering what I like/don’t like. In fact, I’m working on doing that right now 🙂

      • I had a couple of absolutely terrible experiences with critiquers early on. Part of that was that the story wasn’t ready for critique, but in retrospect the rest was them. :/ I freaked out trying to figure out how to handle all their suggestions, and eventually ended up taking none or very, very few of them. Basically, they wanted me to tell a different story, instead of critiquing the one I already had.

      • Oh gosh, that’s the worst. I’m sorry that happened to you. I’ve had the exact thing happen to me. Like you said, part of it was that the story wasn’t ready for critique but the rest was completely them. Like how can you tell someone to tell a different story? I feel like it might be different if you can tell the writer has changed the story they were writing midway through and you think the latter one is the better one. I could listen to your opinion on that. But telling me the story you want to read, um no. Write it yourself. This one’s mine.

      • The critiquer didn’t like my voice and didn’t get my sense of humor. :/ It was not a good match. Still, you can’t just tell someone to change their writing voice. That’s part and parcel of the story. You critique what they give you. I also got another comment about how someone didn’t like angry characters/thought a character was too angry. Now, I might point out a passive character if said passiveness interferes with the plot. Or I might point out something that doesn’t sit well with me in characters’ relationships with others, to make sure the writer knows that that’s what’s coming across…or if a character starts behaving inconsistently or something. Other than that, if you give me an angry/depressed/peppy/psychotic/pathological liar/annoying/sweet/whatever character, I wouldn’t say they’re “too something-or-other” for me. I might note that, but that’s purely an opinion thing and isn’t really useful in a critique.

      • Yeah. Opinion vs. actual useful critique is a hard line to walk. Sometimes everything can be so subjective. I’ve had one beta say great another say take this out. In the end, it’s really up to you. But good CPs & Betas can help you reach the best decision for you, your story, and your characters. As for voice, that’s even trickier. Voice is such an intrinsic thing. I often can tell if the voice is absent, and I might remark so. I also might remark if the voice is too old/young for the age that character is however, in the end, like I’ve said, it’s up to the writer to decide what to do. To make the character younger or whatever, voice isn’t usually something others can help you with especially because you want it to be YOUR voice not theirs.

  3. I thought about our chat too, especially when I was knee-deep in revisions the other day. It’s tempting to try to chase the next big thing, or write for what you think the trends are or will be, or take some formulaic approach. But I learned it’s too hard for me to write that way. It’s usually stilted, sounds terrible, and feels even worse. It’s so much easier for me to write what’s in my heart. The doubts about the quality of the work don’t always go away but the doubts about the intention of the work do.

    • I really like that last bit you said, that’s my hope that the work I put in now will get me to that level of confidence years from now.

      I’m with you about the “stiltedness”. I had this romance subplot in my story & everyone commented saying yes, your story needs work but it’s good but as for the romance…someone even went so far to say I was merely putting it in because YA has it. I felt like a total phony, especially since I’m usually the one complaining about the insertion of romance when it’s unnecessary–well, I guess those opinions showed in my writing. I think you just really have to know what the story you want to write, the intention like you said, is. Thankfully, I’m finally getting to the point where, I don’t care, I just want to tell the story I want to tell.

  4. There’s a fine line between putting too much stake in what others think and ignoring even valid feedback. One must develop reliable intuition as to which it is.

  5. I totally agree. I used to pay attention to what others said and thought about me. As I’ve grown older though, their opinions don’t really matter so much anymore. I write my stories, I follow my heart. After all, we have only one life and we might as well be happy. Great post.

    • Thank you & that’s very true, happiness should be first & foremost. The more I write the more confident I get at staying true to the stories I want to write, I hope that as time progresses I will be able to completely brush it off.

    • That’s just beautiful, Kelly. And though I always say never say never, I will say (just to gush for a minute) that’s what makes your stories so great. That dedication to the story you want to tell really comes though 🙂

  6. This is absolutely true. You’re right, though. If you hadn’t gone to the freelance editor and compared their edits to the book you’re trying to write, then you wouldn’t have the experience of needing to believe in your book when other people want to change it. And now that you do know, you can be aware of people who are trying to make your work what it’s not and you’ll feel more capable of speaking up.

    I love the Jobs quote, too. 🙂

    • Yes, I think gaining the confidence to speak up is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. Just recently someone, though trying to be helpful, suggested since my MG Thriller was a work in progress I should change it completely. I listened to what they had to say, considered it, then was like no thank you. But it took some time for me to get to that level of confidence & bravery.

      Also, Steve Jobs has the most amazing quotes, he was a truly brilliant man. And he followed his dreams so knew what he was talking about.

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