Wednesday, June 27, 2018

3 Signs You Might Be Ignoring Writing Advice That Can Help You

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

We continue our Critique Connection mini-series ramp up on critiques today, with a look at signs that suggest you could be ignoring the very advice you need to improve your writing.

I couldn’t put an exact figure on the number of critiques I’ve received (or given), but I’ve no doubts it’s broken three figures (and gone over 500 for critiques I’ve given). I’ve been writing a long time, and I’ve been active in multiple critique groups in all those years.

I’ve gotten good critiques and bad. Helpful and useless. Encouraging and downright nasty. I’ve had newbies try to tell me how to write and professionals who trusted I knew what I was doing and let me do it. Some groups have been helpful while others have been terrible. When it comes to critiques and their colorful variety…

Naturally, I’ve made my share of mistakes on both sides of the critique, but it was all part of the learning process (not that it felt that way when I was making them, but time and perspective are a good teachers). One of the mistakes writers make, is ignoring feedback that can help them achieve their publishing dreams.

I get it, and there are plenty of reasons for it. You don’t always want to hear your skills need work. Criticism of any kind can make you feel like a failure. Sometimes you don’t want (or know how) to do the work necessary to improve. Ego can get in the way, and you think you know better than whoever is giving you feedback. It goes on and on.

And to be clear…I’m talking about ignoring feedback that will actually help you, not feedback you just disagree with, or don’t think will be useful, or any of the perfectly legitimate reasons not to heed advice in a critique. I’m talking about the writers who ignore critique after critique, frustrated because they can’t find anyone who knows what they’re doing, or annoyed that nobody gets what they’re trying to do (or any comment that sounds similar to these).

If you’re getting advice, and you keep ignoring the advice for whatever reason, and you’re still getting rejected or not selling books, it’s time to step back and look objectively at the possibility it might be you that’s holding you back.

There’s a fine line between “not right for me” and “I just don’t like this” advice, and it’s not always obvious which side a particular critique falls on. However, there are a few clues to watch out for. Such as:

1. Do you hear the same advice from multiple sources?

One person’s opinion might be an outlier, since everyone has their own preferences. In most cases, ignoring one person’s advice you disagree with isn’t a problem. But if a lot of folks are saying the same things, odds are there's something there that need fixing—especially if it's a larger issue that crops up no matter what project you're working on. That suggests it's a skill problem, not an individual piece problem.

Is this you? Re-read past critiques and look for common feedback issues. Pay attention to that specific manuscript as well as your general writing. Some feedback might apply to the work, while others could suggest larger skill weaknesses. Make a list, or group the feedback so you have a definitive number of times this has come up. It’s easier to face the truth when you have a stack of critiques in front of you that say so (and you’ll have everything you need to fix it right there).

(Here’s more on how to critique a manuscript)

2. Is the amount or quality of feedback you're getting declining?

People don't want to waste time on folks who ignore them and keep making the same mistakes. So if you used to get detailed critiques back, and now you're getting short summarized critiques, you might want to think about why no one is bothering to try to help anymore.

You might also worry if you once had plenty of critique partners and now no one will swap work with you. Or any work you post to online groups gets ignored (or only new people critique you). If you have a reputation for ignoring advice, it's more likely no one will answer your request for feedback.

Is this you? Review your critiques and look at the feedback given—not for content but for size and specificity. Did you once get multiple line comments with specific suggestions and now get a few general lines summarized at the end of a chapter? Did you go from pages of feedback to paragraphs? Do critiques have little to say, but it’s not actually saying the work is good and ready?

(Here’s more on asking for feedback on your writing)

3. Do you feel like you ought to do it, but you're blowing it off anyway because "that's what editors are for?"

I see this all the time—folks think their work only needs to be "good enough" to land an agent or an editor, and someone else will fix it after that. Not true at all. Your manuscript needs to be as perfect and as polished as it can be before it goes to an agent or editor. They’ll make it better, but they won’t make it professional, and a clean, solid, manuscript is professional.

One caveat here: If your plan is to pay an editor to edit your work before you submit, or you want to use an editor to help teach you the skills you need, or to find out what the weaknesses of a project are, it's fine to hire an editor. Though be aware that you will still need good editing and revision skills as a professional author, and you don’t want to have pay for it every book—unless you go indie of course. Then you would hire an editor every book.

Is this you? Do you think your writing is “good enough” to be submitted, even though you know it has some issues? Do you think it’s someone else’s job to polish your writing and story? Have you put off learning the writing, editing, or grammar skills necessary to write clean prose? If you know your work isn’t the best it can be and you’re sending it off anyway with a “that’s their job” attitude, odds are it is you.

(Here’s more on finding your perfect editor and editing level)

Critiques groups can be a wonderful way to improve you writing, but only if you take advantage of what they have to offer. If you discard more feedback than you heed, and you don’t feel you’re getting any better, or feel your career isn’t going where you want it to go despite all your hard work, those are big red flags you might be ignoring the advice you need to be successful.

Have you ever ignored the advice you needed? Have you ever stopped critiquing someone who ignored you? Share your stories! 

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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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