Do you sign up for emails you wished you didn’t sign up for only to have them barge into your email, despite unsubscribing to them?
When I started writing, I was very open to learning cool techniques and concepts about storytelling. I read magazines, blogs, talked with other writers, read their recommendations on writing books, taken seminars, and gone to conferences. Almost all talked about theory. Very few talked about actual techniques.
As I checked my emails, I saw one come in. And he, a published author, who mentors other writers, interviewed a woman, who is also published and mentors. She said something interesting:
Beginning writers tend to think of themselves as the center of the universe and expect huge successes. They’re often not open to criticisms. Blah blah blah…
I haven’t encountered that, but I don’t mentor other writers. In taking classes, I am asked to read others writing and comment. Whether they listen to me or not doesn’t really matter because it’s not my work. Only they can determine whether the criticisms are justified. I’ve applied many suggestions and criticisms and rejected those that don’t help the story. I don’t make changes from a place of fear. Another words, if I fear that my book won’t sell because I don’t have a certain element, then I’ll probably reject that criticism.
Now going back to the email, here’s an example of taking advice with a grain of salt. The interviewer asked her why she got into writing. She said (her exact words): For me it’s been looking back over my life and seeing all the input I’ve received over the years. Folks told me I could write when I wrote Christmas letters. My teachers saw the gift. And, yes, mentors have helped me hone the gift and encouraged me to continue.
Paraphrasing: Praise the Lord, for He hath layeth on me a gifteth!
Did you read that? She, in her head, is the center of the universe. She thinks she’s special after she just said beginning writers think they’re special. She ain’t no beginner, so does that mean you don’t have the right to feel special unless you’ve acquired a certain level of success?
In every moment of life, people should feel special about themselves. Who else, besides our doting parents, is going to feel that way about us? Everyone has the right to exist. Everyone has the right to follow their passions, to explore their lives in different ways, and to live it as they wish, barring hurting anyone outside of themselves.
And the interviewer went along with it. And this guy is reputable!
There’s some good advice out there. But when it comes to a story that is close to your heart, trust that that story will come out well, use actual writing techniques that will help tell your story (don’t use a flat head screwdriver on a phillips screw), and be clear about where your story and characters are heading. That way when people give you suggestions or criticisms, you’ll know what to implement and what to throw out.
I usually use Steven King’s method. Pay attention to the most common critiques. It’s a good sign you may need to fix it. But I had a friend point out my character’s reaction to a tragedy felt false to her. She explained why and I immediately took her suggestion and made the change. No one else pointed it out, but it matched exactly where the character was headed. This same friend made a similar suggestion farther down the story, but to change it would flatten the overall character arch. So I rejected it.
No one knows your story better than you. So be confident in it. And be open to learn and see what others see. Sometimes we writers are too close to see the forest.