Thursday, October 20, 2011

No, You're Wrong OR Agreeing to Disagree

Before I wrote my book I wondered how the hell I'd ever survive a critique.

I mean, I was the kid in elementary school paralyzed by scrutiny. Standing at the blackboard, 46 eyeballs burning into my back, my sweaty hand clutching a stick of chalk. I'd pray for the answer to the math problem to pop into my head or the bell to ring early, or the earth to swallow me up. Then there was college where I'd sit through excruciating art critiques, convinced that I must be bleeding somewhere from the verbal savaging I'd just gotten.

I'm not good at critique.

For sensitive people like me, critique can feel like wearing all your organs on the outside of your skin.

But I'm (pleasantly) surprised that a) all the feedback I've received on my writing has been respectful and b) that I can say, "No you're wrong."

I guess I was afraid I'd be swayed by opinion. If someone (or worse, sometwo) says "You know, this is a middle grade book." I think about it (a lot) and come back with "No." From some magical font or just from bloody mindedness, I've gotten the strength of conviction.

That doesn't mean that I disagree with all feedback, of course not. But, dammit, I've got a bell in me  that I can sound. And if it rings true, I know it. Even if I don't want it to be true, I know. Same with feedback that doesn't ring true. What the hell is this bell thing anyway? Is it confidence? Authority? Stubbornness? I don't know. But it's my frigging bell.

This is a very long way of saying that, I've learned to not be reduced to jelly by feedback. I've learned how to rely on my vision for the book and not be sabotaged by others opinions.

Can you tell I'm in deep revising again? But it's good! I am understanding things I didn't fully understand before. And the story is getting tighter and tighter.

So, how do you stand by your convictions in the face of critique? How do you say "No, I won't change that." to crit partners, beta readers, your mom?


  1. Well, I don't know if I actually say it to their face. There are times when I know I liked something or believed something I just keep it. That's the other part of the critique. The ones providing feedback need to remember it's their opinion, although well thought out, it's still an opinion. The writer is the one who holds the ultimate power to make decisions about what stays and what goes.

    Congrats on getting the confidence to say, "No."

  2. @laura - yeah the 'no' is a silent no ;) - I don't need to say it outloud, I just have to value my own opinion more than the opinion of others. That sounds stupidly simple, but it's always been really hard for me!

  3. I've always planned to take what I need and leave the rest, with a polite thank-you. What worries me is whether I'll be able to tell which is which :-)

  4. This if very well put. The frequency of comments also helps. If I keep hearing the same thing over and over, even if I don't agree, I have to take a long, hard look at it.

  5. Great post! If you feel it in your gut, than sticking with it is a must. I guess it is just learning to dechiper what is your gut speaking or plain old stubborness. That is the case with me:)

  6. @sarah - I think the ability to tell which advice to follow comes from knowing your work, at least for me it has. I still fear I'll be catastrophically wrong, but I've decided to go with gut regardless!
    @angelina - so true. If I keep hearing the same thing - from different people and in different ways - I do listen. that's part of figuring out what rings true. Also (I've said this before) consider the source of the critique - every writer, no matter how smart and kind, has their own POV and it might not jibe with what you're trying to create.
    @deana - I need a t-shirt that says 'GO GUT!'

  7. Oh, I've been there, too. I don't technically tell people no. I just read their suggests and implement the ones that resonate with me. The ones I think fit the story best. Normally, I don't have the same person read a book twice cause I feel bad enough asking them to read it once...


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