Finding My Own Way as a Writer

Our blog theme for the month is the worst writing advice I ever received. Maybe I’ve been lucky; but I can’t think of any truly terrible advice I’ve been given.

"Chaos inside" by Hartwig HKD. Some rights reserved.I had a critique partner who frequently suggested that I lengthen my phrases and sentences. If you know me, even a little bit, you know that’s the last thing I need. Instead, I’m working toward crafting tighter, leaner prose and quickening the pace of my passages. So, I mastered the art of the wry smile and gentle head nod whenever he suggested it; letting it go in one ear and out the other.

Yet, there’s the rub when it comes to advice of any kind. A fine balance must be achieved. We must learn to discern between the wheat and the chaff. Not always an easy  task.

The right advice can help us become better writers, gain readers or snag the interest of an agent and get picked up by a traditional publisher (if that’s what we desire). The wrong advice will turn our work into soulless prose devoid of any trace of our own unique voice.

As new, eager writers we are prone to listen to every piece of advice launched our way. Once we feel a little more confident in our skills (or overly attached to our words and characters) we have blinders on that prevent us from listening to sound, beneficial advice. Neither situation is advantage.

So how does one find her own way as a writer despite a whirlwind of advice, good and bad, and our own often misguided egos?

Don’t be afraid to try new things. As a dedicated pantser I’d refused to consider the benefits of plotting my story in advance. Yet, I’d write furiously for about half a book before I’d write myself into a corner and end up abandoning the manuscript. When I decided to try plotting, things changed for me. I completed three manuscripts in a very short time. I’ve followed a hybrid approach, part plotter, part pantser for the past few years with good success. However, after several months of minimal production, I decided that I need to do more plotting.

Feedback by Giulia ForsytheGet lots of reliable feedback. We usually work alone as writers, so we don’t get immediate feedback on our work. Our writing feels so personal and we get so tied up in our characters that it’s easy to overlook or forgive story flaws we wouldn’t in someone else’s story. This is where honest feedback from critique partners, beta readers and editors becomes essential. Whether you love or hate what you hear, be open to it. Give yourself time to ruminate over it before you decide whether the advice is worthwhile.

Listen for echoes. There were times when my critique partners gave me good advice and I just didn’t listen. I was sure I knew my book and my market better than they did. I was wrong. My beta readers posed the same concerns. This caused me to revisit aspects of the story or characters. Then there are book reviews. As authors we debate the value of reading our reviews. I do read them, listening for echoes, similar remarks made repeatedly. I’ve learned more from a constructive DNF than I did from several glowing five-star reviews.

I count myself fortunate because I’ve gotten a treasure trove of beneficial advice from critique partners, beta readers and my editor. I’m finding my own way as a writer by staying open to advice, trying new things, getting honest feedback and listening for echoes, especially from readers. Because of this I’ve improved as a writer. I hope I’ll continue to do so.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not occasionally prone to a diva moment in which I refuse to kill my darlings. Hopefully, though, once I’ve had a glass of wine and a moment of clarity, I’ll will make the choice that improves my story and speaks to the reader.

As a writer, how do you find your way despite conflicting advice?

“Chaos inside” by Hartwig HKD. Some rights reserved.
“Feedback” by Giulia Forsythe. Some rights reserved.


Finding My Own Way as a Writer — 10 Comments

  1. It took me a long time to trust my own writing. If a critique partner said I should change this or that, I usually did. Sometimes that resulted in my manuscript being “critiqued to death”. It didn’t sound like me anymore; my voice was gone.

    I’ve come to trust my instincts a little more. That doesn’t mean I won’t take advice from my critique partners; I’ve received some excellent critiques over the years that have made my work better. But like you said, I’m a little more choosy about the advice I accept. It’s definitely a fine balance.

    • You identified the issue at hand: learning to trust our writing. When we lack that confidence we are susceptible to an advice given. I was going to describe it as an issue that new authors face, but there are still times when my confidence takes a hit and suddenly I’m on shaky ground again. Thanks for your comment, Jana!

  2. Wonderful blog–and I agree with so much of what you say :-) It’s indeed a fine line between what to and what not to listen to. I’m blessed with a wonderful critique partner; still, she and I respect the other’s opinions/suggestions…and go with our guts to decide. She’s a plotter; I’m a pantser (like you :-)), so a lot of interesting interactions. You have to go with your own ‘voice,’ be true to yourself. Thanks for your enjoyable and insightful comments, Reese. Much success!

    • Hi Diane! Thank you for your kind comments and for sharing your experience. You are quite blessed to have a great critique partner. I enjoyed my time in my critique group and I grew a lot as a writer. In the beginning I was more reluctant to refuse someone’s suggestion. By the end I’d learned that balance and how to be completely honest in sharing feedback while also respecting the writer’s voice, style and right to do what was best for him and for his story.

      • Reese, wasn’t sure how to comment on your last response. Hope it’s OK to do so here :-) Thanks for taking a peek at my website (will do the same for you)–and for the very positive feedback. Yes, those are pics of our Upstate SC home. Guess you can see why I love it there! And the people are so warm and genuine. Had the new personal pic replace the one that was taken half a lifetime ago . My webmaster is a former student–great guy and successful artist now. Thanks so much for taking the time to ‘check me out’ :-)

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