Listen to the Voices Until You Hear Barking

We're talking voices on the blog this week, and how they affect our writing process. Sometimes the various voices that speak up along the drafting and revision stages can feel confusing and contradictory. Part of my development as a writer has been learning when to say, "tell me more about what you mean," or, "thanks, but that's not in line with what I'm trying to do."

Sounds easy, but it's not. I'm still working on it. Navigating the voices requires:

  • knowing what you're trying to do
  • knowing who can actually help you (you trust them and share similar artistic sensibilities)
  • knowing your process well enough to judge when & how much feedback you need

Getting just one of those elements down is tricky, but all three? Tough. The writing game is unpredictable. This isn't science, after all. Every story is different. Every character. And you. You are also changing all the time--what you admire in writing. What your goals are, as a storyteller. It's a lot of moving parts, and any one wobbling wheel can upset the entire balance. The most seasoned writers, I'm certain, still run the risk of coming away from a critique or editorial letter (or review) feeling black and blue.

The useful voices, I'm learning, are the ones that don't go away. They niggle and nag and taunt, and force you to shop online at 2 AM because you can't sleep. They say:

"Sorry, V, but you just aren't pulling off the first person Golden Retriever POV. It's not believable and it's falling flat, and the narrative is so ponderous and repetitive. I mean... what's with the obsession with tennis balls and squirrels? And what makes you think that you, a human, can pull off a believable retriever mentality? You're just not qualified, and the market saturated with goldens! Everyone's moved onto French Bulldogs. I'm sorry to break this to you, but you're barking up the wrong tree."


What do you say to this kind of feedback? How do you respond to this voice?

Well, you can make your retriever a bulldog, or you can push yourself. Feedback is only negative if you let it be. Almost everything you hear about your work, if it's delivered to you by someone thorough and halfway thoughtful, can be made usable, instructive, or enlightening--even if it's simply by reinforcing what you already know.

Whenever you are told that something seemed off or weak or confusing, you get to decide first and foremost whether you agree. Here's where your gut comes into play. Trust it, but don't be close-minded, either. How can you improve your craft if you aren't willing to see areas that could be strengthened? Honed? Rethought? You get to decide what how you go about dealing with that. But if the feedback doesn't feel right and your Golden Retriever POV actually rocks, then you get to own that, knowing it's stronger because it took some punches, but it's still standing.

My point is that you don't always have to fight the voices. Let them come. Listen to them. You can be stronger and smarter. Why wage war against the very thing that can help you? Trust yourself to single out the ones that matter -- and to put them to use in a way that works for you. Work toward that trust. Practice it so that someday, when someone tells you you're POV isn't working, you can look them in the eye, and smile, and say: woof!


Thanks for the reminder, V! I love this, especially: "Feedback is only negative if you let it be." What does not kill us only makes us stronger, right?

Absolutely, Katy. So easy to loose sight of that simple fact, though. xoxo

WHAT? The market's saturated with Golden Retrievers? Well, dog-doo. I'm always at the tail-end of a trend.

Wonderful piece, V. Passing it along! It's actually been a great week of posts so far. Good on ya, Muses. :-)

Thanks for the timely thoughts, V. It's good to listen to critique buddies and one's own inner critic, and most often the voices, inner or outer, have a good point to be considered. But learning not to let that throw you is hard. In the past I've allowed myself to be buffeted, and have gone off track with my story.

you didn't know that retrievers are passé? Geez, Beth. Wow.

Happens to ALL OF US, Bron. Happens all the time. But we find our footing eventually. All part of the process! And glad this was helpful.

I KNOW. Thank goodness I read this blog!

Timely post for me to read because I was just arguing with some voices. Thanks Veronica!

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