Trust Your Writing Instincts, but Know When They are Truly Yours

A writer can be something of a sponge, soaking up the ideas and personalities of others and regurgitate them on the page. However, while waiting for the right moment, those bits mingle with the thoughts of the author and sometimes they take on a life of their own. This can steer the writer in the wrong direction on a story, but it can also push you in the wrong direction on a macro scale.

Quite naturally the novice rejoices at even the smallest morsel of feedback. They hold it close and nurture it until they finally absorb it into their being. This is where bad things tend to happen.

Still, you are responsible for your own fate. A word of positive encouragement cannot steer you down the wrong path unless you let it.

Now before you assume that I’ve got this all figured out, let me explain that I’m probably the worst offender.

At heart, I’m a pleaser and so I want to sing and dance for all the world. As a result, I tend to shift with the breeze, following this idea or that.

I’ve had the good fortune to have some wonderful friends. People of such grace and kindness as to read most everything I send their way – even when they are clearly the characters being portrayed. [How painful it must be at times to be the friend of a writer!]

I treasure their insight and comments, but I tend to take them to heart too quickly. I’ve gotten better over the years, but it’s still a hard thing for me to deal with. Here are a couple of tips that seem to help me keep feedback separated from my own thoughts, which has the benefit of making said feedback useful too:

Put some distance between the work and the feedback.

Nothing is worse than getting feedback on a story you just “finished”. First, you’re all amped up about it, so you’re likely to be overly emotional about the feedback (good or bad). Second, you’re probably tired of working on the story so any changes that should or could be made will be discounted by your writer’s brain.

Try to get feedback in person.

I find that discussing a work in person is generally more productive than getting an email. Most people (even writers) won’t take the time to tear it apart properly. In addition, feedback received in person is easier to forget, which sounds a little strange but think of all the old emails or redlined drafts you’ve read over and over again.

Know what you were trying to write in the first place.

You get an idea for a story (maybe it’s just a character or a scene) and you get to scribbling. You work at it for a long while and then, “Whee! It’s done!”

Oh, but wait, what the hell is the story about? What did you want the reader to get from the story? Even if you work on a story for two-thousand years, it will be open to interpretation, but when you get feedback it’s really helpful to know what you were trying to write in the first place. How else can you gauge success?

Just so you know, I forget this advice every time I finish a story. Maybe I should tack it up on the wall.

9 thoughts on “Trust Your Writing Instincts, but Know When They are Truly Yours

  1. “What did you want the reader to get from the story?”
    What? damn. You mean I am supposed to be writing for the reader? That explains alot.

    At first I thought you were writing about how bits of other writers styles get caught up in our own, and I was prepared to defend that as a natural process/progression to finding one’s own voice…then I realized that you meant trying not to let other’s feedback, pos or neg, affect your actual writing. (of course, this realization came after actually reading what you read. My prejudice, not a reflection on your writing)

    I haven’t written for a while..but I well remember how any negative comments or lack of “getting the point” hit like a kick to the gut. It did influence me. I stopped showing people, unless I was in the mood to pick a fight. 🙂

    I’ll have to remember that “writing for an audience” thing. Sort of helps, hmm.

    Can’t help you with listening to one’s own advice , I don’t listen to me either.
    Contrary I am, -whatever I suggest to myself, I deliberately do the opposite.

  2. “Put some distance between the work and the feedback.”

    You know, I’ve been writing for about sixteen years now, and this is one thing I just started figuring out in the past several months. I think perhaps this is both the best and worst thing about writer’s groups. There’s the push to finish up one WIP instead of jumping from one story to the other and back again, but you’re right, getting feedback immediately after “finishing off” a story or chapter leads to taking it all far too personally. There were several cases of hurt feelings in the writer’s group I left about a month ago for this very reason. (It was a YA writer’s group, and I recently accepted the fact all my really good ideas are generally way to dark for children and teen markets.)

    Don’t even get me started on publishing a novel serially in a magazine. It’s just not a good idea.

  3. @isle Learning how to use negative feedback is a challenge. In my case, I find that if I spend a lot of time explaining a particular part to someone after the fact, I either need to cut it or rework it substantially. Of course, fighting can be fun too. 🙂

    @TL Not to open old wounds, but I’ve written some pretty dark stuff for my kids. They seem to like it and ask for more. I also did a folklore session for a large group of kids last year. Seems like all they wanted was to hear more bloody pirate tales. Could be that they’re wrong and you’re right! 🙂

  4. @ Editor This is why I’ve given up trying to classify my writing beyond genre. I’ll send it out to agents and publishers who cover the genres I write in, and I figure they can decide which age group to market it toward should they buy it. I know I was into dark stuff on deep topics as a preteen and teenager, but I also know that’s not necessarily the market norm, especially when it’s parents and grandparents buying or approving the books for a large segment of the younger end of the spectrum. Not that I write trashy or overly graphic stuff, mind you, the topics are usually just a touch on the heavy side.

    I think your last comment might have given me an idea for a blog post. 🙂

  5. I wonder if we every truly overcome this or if it is the writer’s thorn in the side. When I write for business, I write it and let it go. If the client wants changes, I am never offended. I thought I was cured but apparently that laissez faire attitude does not transfer to my own writing. I have gotten better about separating but certainly have not mastered the art. Thanks for digging into this and offering tips.

  6. @Karen I think you’re right. I know I never have any problem changing client-type stuff either. It all pays the same. Perhaps therein lies the crux… When you’re getting paid, it’s easier to let go?

  7. Hmmm, that is a good point. I think it’s not necessarily the financial but maybe the mindset that it is “work for hire.” Also, my client work is not “my voice.” I am writing for their audience, their tone, their style and often it’s the polar opposite of my own personal style. So perhaps it depersonalizes it in a way that you cannot disconnect from what emanated from you. Perhaps the cure is to write ourselves a check when we write something. LOL!

  8. Perhaps the cure is to write ourselves a check when we write something. LOL!

    Ooh, blog post idea forming! 🙂

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