Does all the advice on your manuscript in progress begin to sound like noise? Does it ever feel like your writer friends are taking over your story? Do you attend several writing workshops each year, and each instructor gives you different input. You have six other writers in your critique group. Three love your protagonist; three hate him.
What is a writer to do?
There comes a point when you have to take charge of your own novel. It’s your vision. You are responsible for it. I’ve never encountered an extraordinary novel that was written by a committee.
Critique groups and writing instructors can be helpful. I have my own collection of trusted writer friends, and I have attended numerous workshops and conferences in my twenty years of creating and teaching fiction. And, like many others, I received advice that was so valuable I couldn’t wait to get back to my writing. At times like those, recommendations from the critiques resonated. They pushed me outside the box and offered ideas that simply hadn’t occurred to me. Often, they were offhand comments that settled in my brain and grew into entire scenes that were among the best I’ve ever written.
I believe brainstorming can be absolute magic when the writer welcomes suggestions but feels no pressure to use them. I recall that surge of excitement when something clicked.
But, in my early days of writing fiction, I encountered some instructors and critiquers who were so adamant and intransigent that I felt obligated to change my plot or my characters, even though I had the niggling feeling that those changes might not benefit my novel.
And the confusion? Sometimes, I was so bewildered I was completely immobilized. I was a sailboat without a rudder. Writer’s block wasn’t just a small cube; it was Mt. Rainier.
Often, when the person was an instructor who had published both novels and books on the writing craft, I simply didn’t have the confidence to believe in my own work. Fortunately, at the time, I had such an amazingly supportive, intelligent and insightful critique group that I was able to write my first novel, The Starlite Drive-in, before I ever attended a class or workshop that stopped me. Yes, other writers helped, but despite my lack of belief in my abilities, I relied mostly on my own gifts.
I recall my first writing instructor saying, “I wish I had your talent and you had my confidence.” I’m fairly sure her remark wasn’t intended to be flattering.
If you’ve studied the craft for several years, you should know the basics by now. You know you need to have a compelling story. You know you need conflict. You know you need to emotionally engage your reader. If you need a refresher, consult some of the hundreds of books available on writing fiction.
If you’re still in a group, listen to the critiques. Take notes on advice. Consider them carefully, especially if you hear them from more than one person. Make changes if they feel right, but don’t ever let someone else control your novel. Don’t ever let an instructor or another writer discourage you or stop you. The book is yours, no one else’s. Own it.