In case you haven’t noticed (and I wasn’t expecting you to), I have taken a bit of a hiatus.
I’m not doing anything on social media and haven’t been working on my manuscripts. I hope this will pass, but I had a conversation today with an author that made me think on the writing process enough to share some thoughts.
The process really is different for everyone.
I know what you’re thinking. ‘Of course it’s different. Obviously. Writers follow many different paths at every stage.’
Yes. It’s something we hear over and over again. But sometimes it’s more subtle than that. Sometimes those different processes come up in ways we don’t notice, especially when it comes to giving or receiving advice and feedback.
I’ll be honest, I sometimes struggle with feedback. It can take a week or two for something to click. And sometimes, more recently in particular, I dig in my heels and don’t want to make certain changes. That has always been part of my process. But I have also jumped on feedback, rushing to make changes because I knew how well the result would be.
Now don’t take this as resistance to feedback or change overall. I have been majorly revising for 2.5 years. I don’t have a social life anymore and I haven’t enjoyed a lot of old hobbies in years.
You’ll never meet the characters I already cut, or read the lines I loved but scrapped, or the chapters and scenes that I held onto for a while but eventually caved and rewrote. You’ll never know some of the embarrassingly-bad structural issues and pacing problems I faced for a few drafts. On the flip side, you won’t hear the well-intentioned advice that I ignored, even though, if I shared it, the book is now in a place where it would be clear why I did ignore it (where it wouldn’t have been clear at the time, because it was still too rough on-page). You won’t see the changes I made and then UNmade because they didn’t work.
So don’t take my comments as being work-shy or not committed, because I didn’t come all this way by sitting on my butt (figuratively– technically, I did because I don’t have a standing desk).
But sometimes there are things you don’t want to change. Things that could alter the core of what you are doing, or sacrifice parts of characters which you want the reader to see. This industry is subjective, but some things are more so than others.
Battling with feedback feels like it could be parenting. You’re wondering if you’re doing a good job. You read lots of books, you speak to your fellow parenting friends, you look online. You try to judge how best to teach, discipline, and show emotion and support while tailoring your approach to the personality, character, and needs of your offspring which are not necessarily the same as other people’s offspring. Some need stricter schedules and more firm boundaries, others flourish with a less hands-on approach. Using the wrong method can have unintended consequences. You’ll get advice everywhere, and sometimes people will push their advice with good intentions because they know it worked for their spawn.
But, like with writing, some stuff is more subjective than others. For example, there are different ways to teach a toddler based on their personality. But you definitely don’t want to feed them cleaning solution because it will 100% kill them. The former is variable, but the latter is fixed. One you can adjust, the other you can’t.
So how do you distinguish between the feedback to implement and the feedback that is safe to ignore? Or the process to use if you’re unsure? We hear about killing darlings all the time, but not about determining which ones to save. If you kill them all, do you still have a book? Which hill do you die on? When is it something that improves your story and when do you stand your ground?
If I find any answers, I’ll be sure to share.