How to take advice July 11, 2013Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 6. Castle Tips.
Tags: advice, critique, self-publishing, tips, writing, writing advice
We’ve all seen it on TV programs like American Idol – the would-be star turns up for their audition utterly convinced that he or she is the next big thing… only to have their dream crushed within a few moments of their performance… whatever they had been told about the merits of their performance prior to the audition turned out not to be entirely true. Their performance shrinks under objective critique. But if they are wise, they will take that critique and get better. And that’s what it should be like for authors.
The process of writing tends to be deeply personal. It’s not uncommon to hear authors referring to their manuscript as their ‘baby’. You tend to pour yourself into your writing – you try to make it true – true of yourself and your experience of the world. When that goes public, you are not only putting a piece of yourself on display, you are putting your abilities as a writer up for critique. It’s a big call! A lot of the books that Castle works on are autobiographical and by first-time authors… so the feelings of risk can be even higher for the author.
All going well, as an author (whether you are a first-timer or more experienced) you will have people in your life who really believe in what you are doing and are a source of encouragement. These are your supporters – the people that want to see you do well. They boost your confidence with praise and other types of support. This is a good and wonderful thing. But you also need people to critique your work – not to pull it down for the sake of pulling it down – but to help you make your work the best it can be.
The American Idol illustration is probably an extreme example and it’s not directly applicable to writing. But you can’t help wondering whether, if the performers had sought genuine critique prior to standing before the judges, they could have been much better prepared.
I’m not a believer in ‘either you got it or you ain’t’. I believe that some people have a natural gift for writing but I also believe that with some hard work and help, anyone can tell their story in a meaningful way. And it needs to be said that even those with a ‘natural gift’ need to work hard and have their work critiqued to achieve the best from their gift.
So here’s the thing: benefit from the unconditional support of the people close to you, but also seek out genuine critique. Sometimes your unconditional supporters might be the people who are able to give you the critique – that would be an amazing relationship to have. Other times you might find it easier to seek the critique of someone separate from your circle of friends. The important thing in either case is to be wise about who you seek for critique – make sure they know what they’re talking about! Make sure you seek the critique of people with wisdom.
When you approach someone for feedback, take a deep breath, be brave, and then give them permission to be objective. Tell them that you want their honest opinion – that frees them up to give you their best advice without worrying that you might take offence. Sometimes what they say will be hard to hear but, again, be brave. Discuss their critique with them. Remember, it is your work under examination, not you personally.
You’re the artist
Then it’s back to you as the author – the artist. Sometimes as a creative person seeking the opinion of others, you find yourself pulled in different directions. But, having taken advice and critique, the ultimate decision and direction is yours alone to make. Shelve some advice, and take some on board. Do it with humility, but you are the author. Sometimes the big decision is in fact to make a compromise (you may encounter this when dealing with a commercial publisher who has strong ideas about ‘what the market wants’), but nonetheless, take ownership of the decision.
The ability to seek critique and then to know what to do with it is an important skill to have.