The Country Bumpkin

When I first read the topic this week, I had a similar reaction to Katherine. "What? Inner voices, again?" Who scheduled THAT topic. Then I remembered that someone was me and I slapped myself hard. After the sting dissipated and I saw what the other Muses did with the topic for the ump-teeth time, I apologized to myself because their posts were awesome and fresh despite the deja vu. Well, no promises, but I'll do my best.

Many new writers have the "I poop diamond encrusted caviar" mentality. Any criticism they get, they're ready with a retort of why x-y-z plot point has to be in their manuscript for a pivotal moment of an unwritten book 8 of theoretical series. And while that may have worked for Jo (that's JK Rowling for those of you not BFFs with her), it's extremely unlikely for the rest of us. So when I was new, I wasn't going to be that writer. I was going to take all criticism and use it. I was going to listen and follow and learn. No matter what. 

And that's what I did. All the feedback I received was logged in a spreadsheet or notebook and incorporated into my manuscript...or my writing in general (if it was a stylistic in nature). I absorbed and changed and those voices--all of those voices--became my own.

I'm sure you can see where I'm heading...with so many voices, there were bound to be conflicting ones and unhelpful ones and careless ones. The bad advice mixed with the good and it made my brain a muddled mess. I A-bombed entire manuscripts (that's manuscripts, with an 's'), starting from scratch over and over again, because of a handful of comments. I trusted people I shouldn't have (but they had agents...they were agents...they had book deals...shoot, some were editors I had hired). I was that naive country bumpkin in the big city for the first time lured into the dark ally with the promise of candy bars and mugged. Time and time again.  

Years (and many manuscripts later), I began to realize that maybe all these external voices in my head weren't really helping me become a better writer. Slowly, I began to cut them out. I only traded writing with people I trusted with my own life. No more critiques with complete strangers. No more round tables discussion of my books with the local B&N writing group. Note: There's nothing wrong with those things, but for my personality, it's unhealthy right now. 

The other voices have faded, though they're still there. My confidence in my own judgement increases every day, though I still seek feedback from a limited few. My goal is when I hear those whispers coming from the ally I'll keep on my bearing. Though I'll still probably glace down them just to make sure there's not really candy involved. 


This is such an important lesson, Bret! I learned it the hard way, too, trusting everyone BUT myself in the first draft of my first (shelved) novel. But it's a good lesson, too--knowing who to trust, but also when to ask for feedback. And I'm still learning the when--it's all a process, right?

Great point, Bret. Sorry you had to learn the hard way. I'm still struggling with this balance!

Love this! There is another side to the critique cycle. You do have to learn to work collaboratively and listen to constructive feedback, but only you can decide whether something rings true to you, or how you might address it. Writing is all about finding your own unique voice, not trying to mimic someone else's.

A never ending process at that!

I guess we all have to learn some lessons the hard way. Hope you find the balance...and when you do, can you let me know how to do it?

Thanks, Talia. And great point about finding a unique voice vs. mimicking.

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