ADVICE—TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
How do you feel when someone gives you writing advice? Are you open to all of the suggestions and revise your entire manuscript? Do you accept a few ideas and edit those parts? Or do you shun all ideas that aren't your own?
I usually resist making changes to my work. (Some might call this being stubborn.) But if my first reader or critique partners feel something is not working, I will consider the advice. I'll look at the section in question, rewrite it, and weigh both versions. There's a chance the revision could work. However, if there's a portion of my story I deeply love and others have issues with, it's unlikely that part will be rewritten. When the original version represents my vision, change is not going to happen.
Usually, I know in advance when I'll get advice. I either hand my work to my first reader or schedule a critique with my writing group. Knowing ahead of time prepares me for the criticism. But one time, a piece of advice came my way out of the blue. Recently, my physical therapist asked about one of my manuscripts and I gave him the gist of it. Andrew, who is also a writer, said, "Let me play devil's advocate."
I braced myself. He was going to challenge me. And I wasn't prepared.
"While this subject matter is important, you still have to handle it sensitively. Otherwise, parents may not want to read it to their kids. It has the potential to be scary and send an unsafe message."
It was good advice. I never thought about it that way and I agreed with his analysis. What surprised me was how blind I had been to this part of the story, taking for granted that others would perceive the climax as innocuous as I did. This turning point could be perceived as a dangerous.
After speaking with Andrew, I examined the story again. The problem was, this part was critical to the plot. It could not be cut. When I looked at the scene from his perspective however, I could see how it might make parents feel uneasy—a child interacts with a homeless person. I had to figure out how to retain this part of the story. Realizing the scene needed to be handled more delicately, I made a slight adjustment by reinforcing the fact that the child was safe and with her mother.
Andrew expressed interest in another story I was writing. When I told him my picture book was an allegory, a story with a hidden meaning usually political or moral, he thought children wouldn't understand. Naturally, I got a little defensive. And as we chatted, I began to have some doubts about this piece. I wondered if it would be suitable as a children's book.
But as we talked about the messages of children's books, in particular those written by Dr. Seuss, my fears quickly evaporated. Seuss had intertwined messages flawlessly in his stories. Though I could never compare my work to Seuss', my book subtly conveys a powerful message. Basically, the plot of the story embraces truthfulness and bravery, and on a deeper level, it tackles politics, religion, and antisemitism. Heavy topics.
I remembered what author and Medium contributing writer Brooke Meredith had to say about difficult subjects: "We need stories that make us uncomfortable because reading stories about topics with which you are unfamiliar, which unsettle or even upset, which challenge your beliefs or make you think, can be the most important things you read."
Meredith's words restored my confidence and faith in my story.
On the whole, I love hearing what other people have to say about my work. It helps me think about it differently, to step into their shoes, and understand what it is they may be interpreting. It helps me to work out problems with my manuscripts. I may not incorporate all or even some of the suggestions from others, but I'll consider new ideas and be open to sound advice.
✌ and ♥