Monday, July 26, 2010

Mandelo on How To Take Advice

Brit Mandelo blogs about how to take advice on your writing over at Excerpts:
Some people refute all criticism of their work or refuse to acknowledge it. They're very sure that they're right and that their work is perfect. The thing is -- that's a crap way to ever improve your craft. That theory of criticism ("I'm so awesome, you're so dumb") seems to lurk around the outskirts of the writing community, on blogs that revolve around spewing vitriol about rejections and critiques, or some of the more tricksy arguments for self-publishing.

Alternately, look at the acknowledgments page of any given book. There are a lot of people to thank: partners, kids, and friends, but also the writer's editor, their agent, their critique groups and their beta readers. I'd say there's a good reason for that. Stories don't grow in a void. One of the most important things I've learned in my writing career is that other people can see things I can't in my work. The value of a fresh pair of eyes on a text is immeasurable, especially when those eyes belong to someone who makes their living finding good stories and making them better.

Why waste that help, that awesome resource?
Read the whole thing. Mandelo proceeds to explain why she thinks people reject that resource: In order to take advice, "you have to acknowledge your mistakes." That's a bullseye quote, as far as I'm concerned. I don't know what it is about writing that makes you so sensitive to criticism, but one of my most painful memories comes from being told that my professional writing efforts really hadn't ever been up to snuff. Never mind that the evaluation was more true than not. It still stung and made withdraw from others' opinions for nearly two years afterward. Now it's that reaction which makes me cringe. How much improvement did I barter away for the dubious luxury of twenty-four months of hurt feelings?

(Picture: CC 2010 by


Michelle D. Argyle said...

"Stories don't grow in a void"

Ain't that the TRUTH. Wow. And yes, I think it takes courage and honest for a writer to let others help them with their writing. For my novel coming out soon the acknowledgements page definitely contains lots of people who made the book possible. I couldn't do it alone, no way.

Loren Eaton said...

Amen and amen. Although stories come from authors, authors don't live in a vacuum. And since all of us are fallible, it's good to have people who (gently) point out our writerly flaws.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My problem is often whose advice to take.

Deka Black said...

Your problem, mine, and, i blieve the problem is universal, really. how to know which is good, bad, or simply helping or not?

Loren Eaton said...

Patti and Deka,

Yup, that's a hard one. The best advice I've gotten is to construct a small group full of people whose writing you respect. What do you all think?

AidanF said...

I really hope they didn't say "professional writing efforts really hadn't ever been up to snuff"; that seems harsh and unproductive. When receiving critique, I try to focus on specific craft things to identify and work on and less on their general critique. At least it helps me deal a little.

Loren Eaton said...

The money quote from the associate editor was "writing is a problem for you." He was probably correct; I likely wasn't ready to write professionally at that time. But it sure didn't help my motivation.

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