Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Art of Letting Go

If you haven’t heard me screaming it from every social media platform, I have completed the first draft of my latest YA Contemporary. Now comes the hard part: letting it go. What I mean by this is letting others into my writing world and having them point out things they really like and…things they think aren't working well. This is a necessary step in any writer's journey if publication is the goal.

The Art of Letting Go

But it’s scary to give other people the work I've been putting together for literally 11 months. What if they say it’s horrible?? What if they say there’s no saving it? What if my characters are flat and my setting is flat and everything is just so boringly FLAT?

Well, it’s better to know that now than being rejected by an agent and losing your chance with that manuscript for good, right?

But even as I say that, I’m scared. Really I am. Who wants to hear all the things that are wrong with something they've been working on for almost a year? No one, that’s who. But it has to happen to move on to the next step, and I really want to move on to the next step. Like, REALLY. So I have to let it go. Hopefully you have acquired some good, trustworthy CPs (critique partners). If not check here or here or here or here. (Or there is a CP match up going on January 20th - see here for details)

What I've Learned Helps

Listen, I’m still working on that thick skin that all writers are supposed to develop. I’m still sensitive to critiques and don’t do well with ones that are overly judgmental or cold and mechanical. However, I know if I want to do this for the long run I better get used to it. So what happens when I get a critique back and it makes me panic and think that I’m the worst writer known to man?

Do something completely not related to writing: When I get a critique, I can’t just jump right into my manuscript because all the suggestions and opinions of other people cloud over what I want to get out of my book. Also, doing something non-writing related helps me to keep my thoughts OFF of my story for a while.

Let those critiques simmer: Even when I have given myself some time away, I still need to let the critiques and suggestions simmer for a while. Yes, think about how you could adjust things in your manuscript to coincide with the advice given, but don’t do it yet. Let it soak in for at least a few days while you ponder over how your manuscript will change because of this.

Remember – the story belongs to you: When people give you advice, know this. You don’t have to take it! Now, if you give your story to five people to read and they all suggest a certain scene is just not working, chances are you should change it. They aren't saying it because your writing sucks, they are saying it because as first time readers, it is easier to pick out things like that than for someone who is as intimately involved in it as you. But if someone wants you to change something vital in your story that you really think needs to be in it, you can leave it. What they are giving you is advice, not an ultimatum. Trust your own heart to know what suggestions are best for the book and which ones are opinions that you don’t agree with.

For more from Jessica, visit her blog J.A. Ward Writes and follow @jawardwrites on Twitter!


  1. Over the last year I gave my first couple of chapters out to about 20 different people (half of them being a part of one group, the other half each being independent from each other.) There was very little consistency in their responses, and when there were several people agreeing on the same change, it tended to be one of the sillier pieces of advice. (I wrote, "He clamped his mouth shut," and about four people said, "With what?")

    What I did find, however, was there WAS consistency in the bigger picture. One person told me to add more description, another told me to simplify everything. Few even hinted at the concerns of the others. When I finally sat down and asked myself, "Why do they want me to make these changes?" the correlation became clear. Most were confused on what was happening, having a hard time picturing the images I was giving them. So I went through with the idea to make it clearer, not to "add more description" not to "simplify." What ended up happening is I DID add a little more and simplify a little more, and the problem was fixed. If I had taken their advice in the way they suggested it, it wouldn't have been a good fit, or even solved the problem. (Just because my sentences were less complex didn't mean the reader would be clear on the placement of the room.)

    The author is looking for is a problem the readers are trying to solve. Just because ten people say they don't like blank doesn't necessarily mean blank's bad. In fact, it often just means it's obvious, less arguable, and easy to separate out. The criticisms that I get the most ("You shouldn't start writing until you're thirty." "I just haven't seen it done this way before." "Why don't you just write contemporary work?") tend to be less useful than the unique ones I've gotten once. ("I have a hard time connecting which character goes with which name.")

    When I looked through all my drafts of those chapters, everyone had an opinion on what words I should and should not be using, but no one agreed on which ones, or even the general location of the issue. When I did find a phrase that had more than one comment, it rarely was something I found important or problematic. What it was, however, was less arguable and more obvious. Some advisers will criticize the choices that make you different rather than the mistakes that cause problems.

    I don't think that whether or not you should take advice is about quantity of people suggesting it. Rather, it's about, "Why do they think it's a mistake?" More commonly, the most useful advice I hear is something said ONCE. It's generally about a problem, at best hinted at many times inside solutions. Manuscripts that take advice because of a lot of balking are at risk of becoming safe and homogenized. Focus on determining the problem, determining if it actually is a problem for you (which it might not be), and then solving the problem in the most desired way, not in the way that most people suggest you solve the problem.

    1. Great points here! I guess when I first put my manuscript out there, I have a few trusted CPs. I have two currently but looking for possibly one more. They know my work and the goal of my story and they never try to change my writing, only find different ways to look at it that maybe I can't see from being intimately involved in the manuscript for so long. When I give it out to CPs, a lot of their comments will align on things like, "this is a pretty important scene but it is so short?" or "there is a lot of backstory in this chapter that drags the pace down." I never have to take their advice, but I trust what they have to say and when they are both pointing out the same things to me, it helps me focus on that point and see if I can agree with what they are saying.

      Thanks for your reply!