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When To Listen?

In the olden days, when I was writing non-fiction, I never had anybody read what I’d written until it was in print.  My editor, of course, had read it, and made comments, most of which I paid attention to on the grounds they were sensible.  I remember one particular editorial demand that I did not think was sensible, but it was made clear to me that that was the way things were to be.  Our conversation got heated, and I finally said in exasperation, “What I think doesn’t matter.  You hold all the cards,” and he said, “Right.”

I am delighted to say I never had to work with him again.  (He also mentioned to me after publication that he was annoyed I didn’t thank him more fulsomely in my preface.  Jerk.)

That’s not the way it seems to work in my new writing life.  For one thing, all of us seem to lean on each other to some extent.  I suppose this is due to a couple of changes since my non-fiction days:  first of all, editors have less time than they had then, and they expect to get material that is virtually ready to go in many cases.  Agents do part of what used to be the editorial function, now that they function as gate-keepers for the majority of publishing houses, and critique partners do the rest.  Plus which most of us read at least some of the outpouring of how-to-write-better books — I can see 10 of them , quickly glancing around from where I’m currently sitting.  Hopefully, we learn from them.  It would be a terrible waste of money otherwise!

But of course each of them has some particular element of fiction writing as the secret of success.  (Didn’t they have to persuade their publishers that they had something different and unique before a contract was signed?)  So of course I have 10 separate hobby horses see-sawing back and forth all around me.

So who do I listen to?  Well, we’ve established that we have to listen to the editor, should we be fortunate enough to have one, and may they not all be jerks.  We generally choose to listen to an agent, although there is a prevalent line of thought that a bad agent is worse than no agent, and so some critical faculty is needed to sort out what makes sense that they tell us and what doesn’t.  And then the critique partners, beta readers, and all the rest?

Who do you listen to?  Why?  What does it take to make you sit up and say, “Oh, yes”?  Does absorbing someone else’s point of view help when evaluating our own work?  How?  And, in a small voice, why?


6 Responses

  1. I generally listen to myself most. But I double check myself often with critique partners. Don’t have an agent, so there is no buffer between me and my editor. But when it comes down to it, I usually go with what my editor says.

    Yesterday I got my copyedits/revisions in the mail. My editor did it this time – she’s on a time crunch. I look at what she corrects, and with the exception of maybe 5%, I do what she says.


  2. This is the hardest thing for me. I tend to listen to too many people and end up losing my voice in the process. Still learning to trust my own instincts and its one of the hardest things for me in the writing process. But I feel like I’m getting better at it and after several grueling passes through my manuscript I can actually say my story sounds like I wrote it again! LOL

  3. Sensible girl, Liz! I learned a lot from the process of working with editors, and my agent was a help, no doubt about that. Usually I had a good relationship — there was just the one jerk.

    Melissa, I have a similar problem — basically, if CPs have a problem with a manuscript I find it so mortally depressing that I’ve learned just to leave it alone for a bit. (There are few advantages to being unpublished but that’s one of them — you don’t have a deadline!) Then when I come back to it, my response is less emotional and more analytical.

  4. Melissa – good point. (about losing your voice in tons of edits)

    I have a chaptermate I’ve decided to not let read for me anymore. She rewords everything. Not just corrections or typos, but new phrases. By the time she is done, my voice is gone. This ISN”T what one is looking for in a CP

    I remember when I first critiquing, I rewrote stuff all the time…had a problem interjecting my voice into everyone else’s stuff! Now, I try very hard NOT to rewrite or even to suggest word changes. When I read, I try to look “globally” at the product, mark unclear sections, or typos, etc. but I try to leave the author’s voice intact.

    I wish I did have an editor and edits! LOL

  5. I have the same problem, Cyndi, which is why Keri or Connie often say “Don’t switch anything, just tell me what you think.” I found myself wanting to be so helpful that I try and spell out how I think it should sound. Hey, being a critique partner is a learning process like everything else. I think I’ve gotten much better by leaving stuff alone…except a grammar mistake or something. Often I fix that.

    Sometimes critique partners can cripple you, so it’s important so say what you want out of the critique. I’m finally learning to sit on my hands and think “globally” as you so well put it, Cyndi.

  6. Cyndi, I am familiar with your problem — I think we all are. And in critting (particularly for Lethaladies, when I am trying to go through a chapter even if I don’t properly remember the chapter before — or never read it) it’s a big temptation to consider that the words you have in mind are what would produce a needed change — forgetting entirely that they’re YOUR words, and distort, to a greater or lesser extent, the author’s voice. I’m with you, Liz, realizing I need to sit on my hands, after having remarked on what I perceived as a problem, and assuming they see it the same way, let them solve it in their own voice.

    Learn, learn, learn — you know, if mental gymnastics keep your mind young, we should all go into extreme old age wide-eyed and alert. Not only do we have to learn how to write ourselves, we have to learn how to negotiate the publication jungle, AND learn how to assist other people with writing!

    I think I need to lie down and rest.

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