True to Your Heart

This has been a whirlwind of a week. I finished the revisions for draft four (woohoo!) and printed out my manuscript so I can go through with my trusty red pen and do line edits. I also started drafting my query letter--the thing you send to literary agents to entice them into reading your book--which is a bizarre experience that really deserves its own post (maybe next week). And finally, I had a realization while going through all the comments I'd received on the first three chapters of my MS.

In writing, while critique is great, you have to be true to your heart and true to your story.

When people read your work, they're going to have lots of opinions, advice, and suggestions. Some people are going to hate certain passages while others impress upon how much they love them. If you're writing fantasy, you'll find critiques that say your world building is confusing and lackluster while the person sitting next to them at the table loves it. With all this contradicting advice floating around in your head, it's easy to let yourself get discouraged, get confused, or give up.

It's very important for me to find some perspective while reading critiques of my work. There have been critiques that hurt my feelings, due in part to the readers disinterest in my genre, so many of the suggestions were in conflict with my vision of the story. Other critiques were unnecessarily mean or patronizing. When I get feedback like that, I try to mine the notes for anything that seems helpful, and just discard the rest--after occasionally writing choice words next to the offending notes.

There is a fine line between being stubborn (aka not taking feedback well) and being true to your story. Sometimes you have to sacrifice little bits of your story to increase clarity. For example, I really liked the names I gave my characters. I liked the way I spelled them and I liked how well they all seemed to fit together as part of the same world. But when I got pretty consistent feedback that some of the names were hard to pronounce, and that too many of them (if you included the non-English magical terms I also created) started with the same letters, I spent a lot of time with scrap paper, looking for a solution. While I vehemently disagree that I needed to "dumb them down" for my "YA audience," (teens are so much smarter that many people give them credit for!) I was able to make a few changes that improved clarity without compromising my story.

And that, my fellow writers, is the delicate dance between taking critique and staying true to the heart of your story. It can be incredibly stressful, but if it's done well, your story shines even brighter and you still recognize it as your own.

Coming up this week: I shall be doing line edits this week with special emphasis on the following points:

  • Consistency: Since I added 2 whole chapters and changed some motivations, I need to make sure those changes carry throughout the story
  • Physical descriptions: Some critiques noted that it was hard to "picture" my characters, so I'm going to insert more descriptions throughout
  • Emotional reactions of my MC: One of the best critiques I got pointed out that I needed to spend a little more time focusing on how things make my MC feel and not just "what" she does in the aftermath.

So, those are my big three, along with catching the spelling/grammar issues that sometimes evade me on the screen.

What about you? What are your goals this week? Whatever you're working on, I wish you the best of luck!

-Isabel

P.S.

I want to give a huge shout out to my critique partner (*waves across the "pond"*) and the folks at my Wednesday night critique group. The feedback from these two sources is always immensely helpful and I am incredibly grateful to all of you! You folks make me a better writer, and I thank you.