Monday, June 21, 2010

Keep an Open Mind

I'm blessed to have a handful of people in my life who ask to read my novels. And when they do, I ask their opinions. Sure, part of me wants to hear nothing but praise and glory, someone to tell me how brilliant and perfect my writing is (ha!). But another part of me TRULY does want an honest critique. Because that's the way to make the writing better.

I've come across this lesson today, in fact. My mother (I call her my "personal editor") read an entire book of mine last week, bless her. She liked it very much - but - had some issues with certain plot points and characters. She carefully made her points, and I carefully listened, fighting that innate sensitivity that wants to hear nothing but praise. :-)

And here's the thing: every time she has a critique, I have to listen. Because if I don't, I risk her being right, and me being too stubborn to change my writing. It's ultimately the writing that suffers, not me. And, she, as an experienced reader, sees things that I, as the writer, cannot see. In my mind, in my head, the characters and plot look a very certain way. But if I fail to translate that to the page adequately enough, then something has gone wrong. That's why it's so important to get an outside opinion of your work - whether a close friend or writer's group. It's not that you should blindly take EVERY suggestion and immediately change it to fit your reader's opinion. Because critiquing writing is frighteningly subjective. What one person may love, another may hate.

The flip side of this coin, of course, is also that, after careful consideration of the critique, you might completely disagree with it. And that's okay, too. The most important thing is that you CONSIDERED someone else's opinion, and then came to the conclusion that your initial gut feeling was, in your mind, correct.

So, the best way to approach critiques, I think, is to listen, be open-minded, and ask yourself: "Is this person RIGHT? Does what he/she says make sense? And, will it improve the work?"

If you can answer "yes" to even one of those questions, then that passage, those characters, that weak plot, are worth a second look. But if you know in your heart of writer's hearts that the answer is "no," then you must stick to your gut, in the end.

Being critiqued is such an integral-but-difficult part of the process. In the end, listening to your gut trumps everything else. But - if you're unwilling even to HEAR another person's opinion of your story, then perhaps your writer's ego is getting in the way. And your writing, sadly, will suffer for it.


  1. Great post and very true, every word of it. I envy you that you can have your mom read it. I can't have my mom read my stuff...I don't think she'd approve of some of it. It's also always been harder taking criticizim from her. Anyone else, I can take it. For some reason though, not my mom.

    But your point is made, and I think it's something all writers have to learn - to get over themselves and allow room for changes that might just improve the story for the readers. We have too much in our head. The characters we understand. We know all their background. Readers don't, so often, their suggestions are valid.

  2. You are author must be open to criticism....whether he/she agrees with the remarks or not. You will be the only author of your works but there will be TONS of readers...with different tastes and opinions.
    And it is those readers who determine whether novels sell.