Sunday, July 27, 2014

Listen to that Little Voice

Some therapists believe that clients already know everything they need to, requiring only a small nudge or gentle reminder to uncover what they understand but conveniently prefer to disregard. For writers also, this holds true approximately 95.68743 of the time. Or so.

Actually, that’s what feedback’s for: less to reveal mysterious, unimagined issues than to help you admit what you secretly suspected all along. So you can fix it.

Tip: Listen carefully and honestly, and you’re your own best critic.

Easier said than done. Mark Twain railed about killing his conscience. Jiminy Cricket applauded exactly the opposite. Mark Twain was the genius of the pair, but in this case the insect had the right idea. If something inside you says, “Well, that’s a hideous sentence,” or “This scene doesn’t even hint at a goal,” or “When’s the last time the protagonist worried about something,” the same command solves all of those—and a whole lot more. Listen. You’ll know what’s true. Admitting a problem is the first step toward fixing it.

Tools to Empower Your Listening

~ Surround yourself with critiquers you respect.

If you kind of know that someone doesn’t read your genre, write that well, or offer anything but negatives, you can blissfully dismiss everything they say. Don’t facilitate rationalization! But do remember that even weak critiquers occasionally offer brilliant observations. If you listen, you can get a little something from most suggestions.

~ Grant yourself a defensiveness period.

But set a time limit. Perhaps five minutes, an hour, or twenty-four of them. Then? Obey your writing conscience. It warns against clutching that overwrought verb, superfluous character, or confusion stemming from inexplicable time shifts or inconsistent details.

~ Avoid explaining—to yourself or anyone else.

Good writers usually have good reasons for the choices they make. You wanted that impossibly long sentence to set up the taut ones that follow. You wanted to review what led to the pressure point, just in case readers forgot. You wanted to introduce a sentimental memory for motivation. Theoretically, these are all good choices. That doesn’t matter! If it doesn’t work, change, fix, or omit it. Minus the arguments.

~ Conserve your energy for improving, not defending.

Are you furious because the scene that consumed an entire weekend is apparently most useful as tinder for the woodstove? Use that surge of energy to revise rather than justify.

Listening to feedback is an art. It takes humility, courage, and perseverance. But to be the best writer you can be? What a small price to pay. Don’t you think?

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