Write Your Story
If there’s any one, core piece of advice I can give to new writers—or any writer for that matter—is to be true to yourself and write your own story. And though that sounds trite and obvious, it is not always so, particularly when other authors are asked for feedback.
A great source of both mentorship and instruction is through participation in a writer’s circle or critique group. More experienced writers can be a wellspring of knowledge on the basics of creating an entertaining and compelling story.
Critique groups are invaluable for receiving feedback on adverb overuse, POV slips, extensive passive voice, or repetitive word use to name just a few common issues. Pacing, tension, consistent character behaviors, and scenes that either develop characters or further advance the plot are all writing areas that can be improved.
Critiquers can also provide broader comments that dig into the very essence of a story. Plot changes, reordering events, adding characters, eliminating entire chapters, and even changing the underlying genre are all examples of suggestions I’ve seen provided to new/beginning writers.
Receiving this extreme level of feedback is not necessarily enjoyable, and if the writer isn’t prepared, it can trigger feelings that they are being attacked. All writers pour themselves into their stories through the creation of ideas as well as endless iterations editing and improving them. With so much invested, new writers in particular can become protective, even defensive about their work. I’ve seen detailed feedback shake new writers to their core, even making some re-evaluate their futures as authors.
There are two common and related responses to this overwhelming feedback. First, a writer might shut down, pull back, and possibly even drop out of the group due to anxiety and self-doubt about their abilities. This is a loss both for the writer and the group. (And this stresses the importance of having a friendly, support environment within a critique group.) Second, a writer might view this feedback as ‘gospel’, thinking that implementing those changes is the key to success. The issue with this response is that these critiquers don’t really know the story—not like the author does—and it can be inadvertently changed in implementing their suggestions.
There are valid feelings in both responses, which brings me back to my original point that a writer should be true to themselves and what they are trying to communicate in their story. All feedback, even from the most seasoned of authors, needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Dig into the comments and discover what the key lesson is, and then decide if that applies to your story. In some cases it will, and in other cases it may not.
Writers should not hesitate to take a step back and thoroughly examine all comments on their writing and then decide for themselves if they want to follow it. And though decisions on making changes to improve fundamental writing techniques might be obvious and easy to make, writers should be more circumspect in changing the plot, altering characters, or modifying the tone. Writers should always feel a connection, an ownership of the story, so it is critical not to pass that ownership to others providing feedback.
It is nobody’s story but the author’s.