I’ve heard a lot of people say, “You have to be open to criticism if you want to write.” By this they sometimes mean, “Please, please, just tell me what to do so I can get published.”
I’ve also heard people say, “You really just have to listen to yourself if you want to write.” By this they sometimes mean, “Nobody tells me what to do. They just don’t understand my genius.”
And here’s the thing. In my lifetime (and I do mean lifetime) of workshops and conferences and editorial letters and so on… I have been on both ends of the spectrum. I’m a firm believer in input, in objective (or as close as you can get) readers. I think mentorship is great, and that a crit group can realy work wonders.
But here’s what people miss a lot of the time. BOTH statements are true, simultaneously, You need to be sure to listen to yourself, to keep track of what you mean to write. You need to check in with yourself, not follow others blindly. You should trust nobody more than yourself. At the same time, you need to be able to bear the most brutal comments a reader will do you the favor of offering. And it is a favor.
Because the alchemy, the magic, is in the combined effect of what they think, and what you think about what they think.
You are not listening to the comments . You are not listening to your inner voice. You are listening to what your inner voice says to the comments of others. You are listening to see if the comments resonate, or if they do battle, with what you feel inside.
Often it takes days to work through the process.
Just recently, my agent read my WIP, and offered some notes. And for the first time (I think) since we started working together, I resisted strongly. I felt about fifteen years old, like I was back in my high school poetry workshop. “No,” I wanted to say, “You just don’t get it. You just aren’t reading it right. See! Listen!”
And when I felt myself pushing like that. When I felt my anger, my frustration, and could not figure out an easy fix to the problem–something logistical– a way to clear up her confusion… I knew she was probably right. Two days later I was back at work.
So that’s what I mean. That you have to keep track of your compass. You don’t want to try and please every idiot who offers a stray comment. But when someone says something, and your compass goes haywire, or points immediately to true north, you should probably listen.
At the end of the day, it’s MY book. But first, it’s a long damn day.