Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Writer's Angst and Trusting Yourself

I love my critique group. Except when I don't. (And when I don't, it's because they've found something I've missed, not because I don't like or appreciate them!)

I have been running the end of Schumaker through them and all those things that I thought were so fun to write and so cool are coming back as "what???"

My critique partners are tough. I don't usually get the "great writing" comments, because we all assume that we know how to write great. What I get from the group are the holes. The "did you realize you used this word four times in five paragraphs?" The mistakes. The "I'm sure you see this in your head, but I'm not seeing it on the page." There are times those comments frustrate the life out of me, but that's what they're there for. To clunk me over the head when I'm not paying attention.

A delicate balance must be achieved when the comments are in contrast to my vision. Here is a very minor point that has been debated - the designation of a croissant. Is it a roll or is it a pastry? My critique group and I have opposing views on this topic, and I'm sorry guys, but I'm sticking with MY definition of a croissant (as opposed to what they think it should be). Ultimately, it isn't going to make a reader love or hate the story because I referred to a croissant one way instead of the other.

During the course of critiques of my work, it is important for me to know when they are making a valid point and when it is a matter of personal preference. Some of those comments can throw me into a fit of writer's angst (or fan the flames of said writer's angst). My group crosses genres, so some of the rules that apply to one genre don't apply to another. When I review critiques of the writing, it's important for ME to know what I want to convey, how I want it to come across and where I'm taking it, regardless of what anybody else thinks. If the group raises questions, it's worth taking a second look and weighing the validity, but that doesn't mean I have to make the change. Ultimately, that's between me and my editor. There comes a point where you have to trust yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I am in agreement that I have not presented everything as clearly or as cleanly as possible, so as I finish editing, I have to determine what needs to be sharpened. We live in a day and age where book critics are tough. They'll tell you an author needs to jump into the action sooner. I had a thread in the story that I was introducing slowly and have heard from various and sundry critics that they want to know that information sooner rather than later (counterbalanced by people who prefer a slower reveal). What's an author to do? Everyone has an opinion.

And that's when you have to trust yourself. If I was reading this book, would I want that information up front? or are bread crumbs enough to lead me to the whole piece of bread? Reading is a very subjective thing. What one person likes, another person hates. So as I go through my final edits, I'm worried that the story is falling apart (that's fairly typical of most authors - that writer's angst part), but before I go changing EVERYTHING, I need to take a step back and remember this is my story to write. The one I want to tell. I can't please everyone (although I hope to please a lot of people!) When a ghost shows up, someone's going to be unhappy because ghosts don't exist. When I throw in a red herring, someone else will be unhappy because they'd rather see that red herring than the plot thread I've chosen.

The takeaway message for me as I struggle with whether a croissant is a roll or a pastry (actually I didn't struggle with that one, but I can't tell you everything about the book. Then why would you read it?) is to weigh the critic comments carefully. To understand when they have a valid point and to know when their comments don't reflect what I'm trying to write.

The only cure for writer's angst is confidence in your work. Easy, right?


  1. I learned something new again today. I can see how it could be very confusing to the author when their work is being critiqued because everyone's taste in a book isn't going to register the same. You do seem to have it figured out tho and weight those comments against your personal beliefs. It is your book.

    1. It is a slippery slope, but I'm at the point where I am taking ownership of this next story, good or bad (pending the editor's input). The working title for Schumaker as of today is Heart for Rent, with an Option.