TT's Rules of Writing #8 (Writing Tip #79)

A long time ago I learned to stop asking my wife for input about my fiction.

No, my 8th rule for writing is not to ignore your spouse's input.

It's this:

Figure out who to listen to.

There are a lot (and I mean a lot) of people out there with opinions. It's so much easier having an opinion on a work of art rather than trying to make one. Everybody loves giving his or her two cents on movies, books, albums. That's just the world we live in today.

When you're a writer, you have to have input from somebody. Otherwise there's no way you can learn about the bad things you're doing (along with hearing about the good things). Getting input sometimes isn't the hard part. It's learning which input to trust.

I've shared this story often. When I first started working at a publisher, I got a writer's group to meet for lunch every week. The idea was that we'd all bring our writing for others to critique. Most of the people in this group were editors. That meant they were paid to give input. They were "experts" on writing.

What eventually ended up happening was that I was the only one bringing material to critique. I'm sure most of the material I showed was quite bad. Being the kind editors that they were, they helped me understand how bad that writing truly was.

I eventually dropped out of the writing group because it was too discouraging. Were they being honest? Yes. Were they bringing their work in for critique? No. Did I listen to their input? For the most part, yes. Did I need to get out of that group? Absolutely.

It wasn't their input that stung but the way they did it. I had invited them to bring it on--"I have thick skin" I told them. Well, my skin wasn't as tough back then. I really began to question my writing abilities.

At the same time, I used to also give some of my works-in-progress to my wife for input. Sharon is not much of a fiction reader, so it was a bit unfair to ask her. She would come back to me with comments that didn't quite match what I was looking for. "Why is this character named Mitch?" "You can't call a book that." "Who's this character supposed to be? Is this based on me?" Stuff like that. I'd always tell her that she was missing the point, that I wanted input on the story and whether it worked.

What I realized is that I shouldn't be asking her. It was unfair of me. And it usually only ended up discouraging and frustrating me.

Some novelists have spouses that are invaluable to their writing and publishing process. Some have friends or family members. Some trust their agent or long-time editor.

For me, I've worked with both my agent and an editor long enough to trust both of them. I've gotten a lot of input over the years by working with a variety of publishers, editors and even collaborators. I'm still learning.

Be careful who you ask to give you input. It might discourage or dishearten. But don't let it discontinue the writing. Be able to get input from someone who cares about you. Okay, maybe not your mother--she cares too much--but from someone who will be gentle. You might think that your skin is thick, but then a month later be in the doldrums not knowing why. That's what happened to me with that writer's group.

The thing I've always had going for myself is that I'm stubborn and hard-headed. And usually, if someone tells me something I don't like--well, deep down, there's a part of me that says I'll show you.

I've recognized this about myself and I'm learning. When an editor or someone in publishing gives me input, even if it's something I don't like to hear, I'm learning to not respond right away. To not take it personally. To then figure out exactly what they're saying and to see which points I actually think are correct. Then to get back to work since this is work we're talking about.

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